When trying to explain to someone its small physical size, people frequently compare Israel to New Jersey. But what you don’t hear as much is that Israel feels much smaller than New Jersey.
I gained a new appreciation for this small-world feel when I went to a quaint cafe across the street from where I live in Jerusalem. To my surprise, I found the sitting prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, eating lunch with his wife and son. Of course, there was a security detail surrounding the cafe, and a guard asked me a few questions before letting me in to eat. Not twenty feet away from my table in the courtyard sat Prime Minister Netanyahu, who, when finished with his meal, took a picture with me after I asked. He even insisted on a selfie!
Being as effortlessly close to the leader of a country as it was in this case is a remarkable reflection of how real and small this country is. At home, I have never met my senators, representative, or governor, let alone the president. Thus, meeting the prime minister in such an average-Joe’s setting was awesome.
The holiday of Chanukah happened at the end of December, and experiencing it in Israel was outstanding. To see so many people lighting their Menorahs in their windows every night of the holiday was inspiring and beautiful. In fact, in some places, people have special glass boxes to enable them to light their menorahs outside! This concept doesn’t quite exist in the United States, so seeing a different way others practice the same holiday was wonderful. Chanukah also made me feel a unique sense of community.
In other news, I’ve spent some time visiting places around Israel lately, from the alleged tomb of Samuel, a biblical prophet, to a tour of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament building. I even got to sit in on a live plenary session! I also went to Masada, an old mountaintop fortress overlooking the Dead Sea, followed by a short hike in a nearby oasis called Ein Gedi.
Lastly, because Jerusalem is a city considered sacred by all three Abrahamic religions, I went to the Armenian and Christian Quarters in the Old City on Christmas Eve to explore how another religion celebrates its holidays. There were lights everywhere and people coming and going from mass and holy sites. The Old City felt harmonious and charming .