My heart trembled for a week in anticipation of Yom Kippur’s last shofar blast on Saturday night. No, I didn’t fear being indicted as irredeemably wicked despite plenty of missteps in the past year. My worry was that the “almost in Israel” feeling I had brought back to DC after Elul would disappear upon the shuttering of the high holy day gates.
Turns out my concerns were unwarranted as I spent the better part of Havdalah last night gushing over my recent backpacking trip with friends old and new at Mesorah DC which held services again this year at Sixth & I synagogue.
Indeed, I could barely eat as we broke the fast, thanking Rabbi Teitelbaum instead for invoking the moving image of Masada at daybreak in preparing the congregants to make our final Viduy. It is, in fact, my most cherished memory from the first visit to our spiritual homeland I just completed. My only regret at Masada being that I didn’t think to bring my Siddur as other pre-dawn hikers had done; instead, I prayed selfishly not to lose my footing during the steep climb along the Snake Trail and that I reach the summit before sunrise.
Thankfully, both of those pleas were amply answered, as well as the desire to increase my observance of mitzvot going forward. While I don’t foresee becoming a perfect tzaddik after just 20 days trekking between hostels in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Tzfat and Haifa at roughly 90 shekels per night, the solo journey was as easy and inspiring to undertake as every insider whom I pestered in advance for advice had promised.
Besides the many souvenirs I mailed home to myself, some other keepsakes from my wanderings include: improving my fluency in Hebrew on the fly and habituating myself to incorporate more berachot throughout each day. I also did some research afterward and secured a fellowship in Jerusalem next Spring, working to reverse the anti-Israel propaganda I witnessed on my stop in Hebron.
So, far from extinguished with last night’s final call to redemption for the new year, my newfound personal connection to Israel only promises to flourish with the ushering in of 5774. I wrote this post to urge you, too, reader, to listen to your heart and follow when it calls. Israel’s buses are easy, the food is delicious, and the people are warm, friendly, and helpful. Don’t wait until next year to see Jerusalem! If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to start saving and planning to embark on such a soul-transforming adventure
Lisette Garcia is earning a master’s degree in political management from The George Washington University. She anticipates putting her additional skills as a Freedom of Information Act attorney to work for NGO Monitor in Jerusalem from May through July 2014.