My first memory of Israel? Being woken up by the flight attendant.
Israel is a place I’ve for years dreamed about visiting. Never though I’d be visiting while dreaming! The distance finally caught up with me, and at some point during the flight I’d fallen asleep. The flight attendant roused me shortly before we began our descent into Tel Aviv, after which the passengers next to me apologised for not waking me for my meal – they figured it was better to let me sleep. I honestly didn’t mind, it seems I needed it!
Immigration had been pretty smooth until now, but as was to have been expected entering Israel was a bit more involved. The immigration officer I spoke to was polite enough, but it was early in the morning and there were plenty of passengers waiting to pass through. I made it as easy as possible – I was there for a pair of weddings, so I kept both invitation on my person and had the contact details of both couple available if needed. After a brief interview I was let through.
Since I didn’t want to leave the airport until daylight, I stuck around waiting for one of the couples to arrive, as the family of the groom were due on a later flight. We shared a minibus to Jerusalem then relaxed at their apartment before I left to check in at my hostel.
It wasn’t until I was moving on foot that I could really get a feel for the city. Jerusalem was like nothing I’d even seen before. I headed in the general direction of the old city, getting a little bit lost near the American consulate. The guards seemed a little nervous about a stranger carrying heavy packs so close to the gate, so as soon as I realised what they were guarding I put some distance between us.
I’d picked up an Israeli sim card at the airport, but was having trouble making calls and could not yet get online. My friend Daniel was nearby and was texting me what landmarks to look out for, but I was not having much luck. We eventully bumped into each other almost by chance, then headed off to my hostel.
After checking in and dumping my luggage, Daniel asked me to join him on a brief errand. He wouldn’t tell me exactly what he was up to, but I still felt like walking and it was a good chance to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in months. After waiting in an office where everything was conducted in Hebrew, Daniel was given an envelope and we left the room. He then showed me the contents it turned out we were there to pick up his ketubah (marriage contract)! Pretty big moment, I was honoured to be there for it.
After an early night catching up on lost sleep, I woke up early then decided to explore my surroundings for the next two weeks. The nearby Montefiore Windmill had featured on my desktop wallpaper in the month leading up to my trip, so I went there first to see it in person.
Daniel invited me to come to Kabbalat Shabbat prayers with him at the Western Wall later that evening. After having only seen a small part of the Christian Quarter, where my hostel was located, it was great to explore some of the Jewish Quarter. The wall was smaller than I expected, but even more impressive than I’d imagined.