This time last year I was a 38-year-old Jewish community professional who had never been to Israel. I had never travelled alone. I had never been away from my family for more than a few days at a time.
All that changed in December, when I set off to Israel for a two-week whirlwind networking and conference-filled trip.
Now, when you are travelling on your own (and you are me) you find yourself constantly worrying about if you are doing things ‘right’ and it’s hard to relax into soft spirituality when you are a brave and intrepid explorer — as I had labelled myself so as not to collapse in a heap of Rescue Remedy and silliness.
I arrived in Tel Aviv into what would later be recorded as the wettest weekend in the rainy season, with some areas — I think specifically the ones directly above my head — receiving 50% of their winter rainfall allocation in just a few days.
The city was washed out, with grey skies, drippy buildings and rivers flowing down the sides of Ben Yehuda and HaYarkon streets. My weekend in Tel Aviv was so utterly different from the sunny beaches that had been in my mind that I was a little thrown. Here I was, intrepid explorer, all alone in a rain-soaked city.
Sitting in my hotel room for 48 hours felt like a total waste of my new-found bravery, so I zipped up my jacket grabbed an umbrella from the concierge desk, and headed out into the storm. Not one minute later I was running back towards the hotel, shrieking, my umbrella inside out like a dead spider.
All in all, it took me about 45 minutes to get out my hotel and away from the flooded beachside roads. The staff in the foyer would smile to themselves as I would come back in muttering about trying some other approach, or new protective gear or alternative exit. That day I ended up walking over 30 000 steps through Tel Aviv. I also counted over 50 dead-spider-umbrellas, abandoned along the pavements and in bins along my route. It was pure magic.
On the last leg of my trip I reached Jerusalem. I was too busy trying not to get horribly lost or commit some unspoken faux pas to properly relax and just be.
As soon as I arrived in Jerusalem I wanted to go to the Kotel. But the logistics of finding the Wall in real life were nowhere in my memory and I didn’t want to do it ‘wrong’.
I ended up taking a ridiculously convoluted route when you take into account how close I was staying. But that route took me past Martef HaShoah, which had such an impact on me, and which I wrote about in my September column. I then worked my way confidently past a group of soldiers on a day-trip, through a checkpoint and into a queue waiting to reach The Wall.
As the queue slowly wound its way along, the Kotel came into view. It was like a squeeze in my heart, the entire history of my people represented in stone. My excitement rose with every step closer… and then my confusion grew with every step over and past.
Turns out I was in the wrong queue. I had gone to the Temple Mount. Wrong turns and false starts being the price you pay for boldly going where you haven’t gone before.
When I left Israel after over two weeks of crazy beautiful experiences and wrong-turns-turned-right I sat on the plane just before take-off and said a prayer: ‘Thank you for this amazing opportunity, but please, please can I come back here and do this again, without having to be quite so bold and intrepid?’. It was a crazy prayer. There was no way to justify for work to send me again so soon, and I didn’t want to sacrifice our family holidays for me to travel alone to Israel. It seemed like a far-fetched ask, and as we took off my eyes got a little teary. Must have been ‘allergies’.
Fast forward to my first week back at work after the trip. I get an email from Herzlia offering an 8-day trip to Israel for Jewish Moms. I jumped at the opportunity, after laughing out loud at the perfect timing.
As you read this, I am in Israel, with 600 women from around the world, and wonderful, experienced guides to allow me to close my eyes and free-fall through a totally different experience in Israel, all soft spirituality, not so much bold intrepidness, and probably just a few more ‘allergies’.
To download the November issue of the Chronicle, click here
To read the most read story in the October issue, click here