Mitzvah Market Magazine: Finding My Place In The World In The Holyland

Mitzvah Market Magazine: Finding My Place In The World In The Holyland

By Lila Mueller
Breathing hard, I pushed myself to the top of the next stair, stopping for a quick rest. I looked out over the landscape in front of me. Weeks earlier, I never could have guessed that hiking to the top of Masada meant waking up at four in the morning, groggily pulling myself into the car, and walking up an impossible set of ancient stairs so that I could view the sun rise over the Dead Sea. But sure enough, that was exactly what I was doing. The air was still cool, but the temperature was sure to rise soon, so I continued on, determined to make it to the top before the real heat settled in.

My Bat Mitzvah at home in New York City had happened nearly a month earlier. Being surrounded by my friends and family for one unforgettable night had been so much fun, but in Israel, I felt more connected to Judaism than I ever had been before. During my entire time there, I never picked up a Torah or a prayer book, but I didn’t need to. Everywhere I went — the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea in Ein Bokek, or the lofty Golan Heights — all held with them a sense of family, a feeling of belonging in the land that the Jewish people fought so hard to call home.

Wherever you walked, Biblical figures had stepped thousands of years before. The landscapes were rich with history, and it was almost overwhelming to look upon the scenery of some of the most monumental events in the world and know that you were connected; still are connected.

When I told my friends that I was taking a trip to Israel for my Bat Mitzvah, I was met with different reactions. Some people’s faces twisted into concerned uneasiness. “Isn’t there… like… a war there or something? Isn’t it really dangerous?” they would say. And while they weren’t completely wrong, I never felt unsafe during my time there. True, it was a bit unsettling to see hotel security guards ready to grab their guns at a moment’s notice, but it was actually reassuring to know that everybody was prepared.

Some friends looked at me with pitiful, almost laughing gazes. “Have fun,” they said without feeling, and I could tell they felt almost bad for me that I had to spend time in what was in their eyes, such a boring place. They couldn’t be farther off. The vibrancy of the newer cities, like Tel Aviv, combined with the power of the older cities, like Jerusalem, made for a country so full of life that sometimes you had to step back and just breathe. The overwhelmingly beautiful countryside and the culturally rich architecture and museums were never dull and always exciting and new.

Being in Israel also put things in perspective and helped expand my world view. I soon came to realize that constant war and violence, raging mere miles away, was simply accepted. I also realized that Israel is not just a place for Judaism, but for many other religions and people. From the Armenian, Christian, and Muslim quarters of the Old City to the Druze villages in the Golan Heights, Israel is truly a homeland of acceptance regardless of where you come from.

During our stay in Jerusalem, we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance museum, which was an important, although sad, experience. It showed me that people may hate you for whatever reason they have, but there will always be good in the world.

Being in Israel was such a great experience in general. I had so much fun every day, doing wildly different things all the time. I never could have imagined that a trip to Israel would include driving ATVs up a mountain, swimming in the Jordan River, walking through ancient tunnels under Jerusalem, and so much more, all in less than 10 days.

Going to the Holy Land of the Jewish people was uplifting and helped me start to realize my place in the world. It was such an amazing trip and I hope to be lucky enough to go back someday.

Read A Mother’s Take: Visiting Israel For My Daughter’s Bat Mitzvah by Jennifer Unter here.

Lila Mueller is an 8th grader at The Anderson School in New York City.

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