While I will write about my evacuation from Israel in a future blog, I first want to share my reflections on my amazing first six weeks spent living there.
Waking up every morning in the Old City of Jerusalem is an experience unlike any other. At 7:30 a.m., my classmates and I walked through ancient Jerusalem stones to reach our Yeshiva (Jewish learning institution), where we prayed while overlooking the Western Wall. Afterwards, we started our classes, each one taught by a Rabbi. My morning class was divided into two sessions: I first learned from the Talmud, which is a series of texts providing Jewish law and commentary. My class focused on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. I then concluded the morning slate listening to philosophy lectures on a variety of inspirational topics, including the existence of God and the consideration of morality versus immorality.
After the morning classes, we had a three-hour break during which I would usually do one of the following activities: exercise in the gym, play in an intramural basketball game, or explore Jerusalem. I always looked forward to this time of the day because it allowed me to be active and mentally refreshed for the later slate of classes, when we would continue to study Jewish law and review our morning Talmudic studies.
Although this daily schedule reflects my usual routine, not all days were the same. For instance, one of my favorite days in Israel was our “Tiyul” (Hebrew word meaning excursion) to the Jerusalem forest. I spent the day hiking along with many classmates and Rabbis, a great bonding experience early in the school year. We enjoyed a scenic view of Jerusalem from the mountains, and ended the day with a fun poolside barbeque.
Additionally, being in Israel during the Jewish holiday season was extremely meaningful. Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) is one of the most serious days in the year for Jews. Therefore, many prepare for it by praying at the Western Wall the night before. Because my Yeshiva is located in the Old City which houses the Western Wall, I had the unique opportunity to view hundreds of thousands of people praying at the Wall from a rooftop nearby, a sight I will never forget.
The beginning of my gap year was incredible, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have lived and studied in the Old City.