Our next big day of excursions began with a visit to Mount Herzl, Israel’s national military cemetery. Not only is this cemetery the burial site of national leaders and fallen soldiers, but it is also an incredibly beautiful and well-kept memorial site for various people who have served the state of Israel. It was especially moving to visit Mt. Herzl with all of my new Israeli friends, all of whom are currently serving in the army and many of whom are in combat units themselves. The danger and importance of serving in the Israeli Defense Force definitely hit home while in those moments of honoring fallen soldiers alongside some of the most incredible people I have ever met who are also serving their country in a time of war. Again, I have always felt connected to Israel because of my Judaism but it wasn’t until that moment in that cemetery that I really felt my emotional investment in the safety and security of Israel and the people I now love who live there.
The main outing of the day was to Tel Aviv, a short drive away. Tel Aviv is definitely Israel’s bustling metropolitan, and the urban energy of this gorgeous city right on the Mediterranean Sea rubbed off on us as we toured its shops and streets. We strolled through Jaffa, the artsy “old town” area of Tel Aviv, as well as Rabin Square where Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin was assassinated. We concluded our tour through Tel Aviv with a visit to Independence Hall, the site where Israel’s Declaration of Independence was signed on May 14th, 1948. Being in this historic site was absolutely awe-inspiring and humbling. We truly experienced the roots of contemporary Israeli culture and politics at the place that started it all.
Before heading back to Jerusalem, we had to say goodbye to our new Israeli friends. Getting to experience Israel with them gave me the chance to see Israel through their eyes, as well as see myself and my fellow Americans through their eyes. Both groups were extremely affected by one another and the memories I share with these beautiful individuals will be held in my heart forever. We had already exchanged contact information and made sure to test out our various forms of communication, and upon leaving we made plans to see eachother again. The soldiers all made me promise that I would be in touch all the time and that I would let them host me next time I came to Israel- hell, they were all ready to take me with them right then and there. After tears, hugs, and exchanges of tokens of appreciation, I was the last American back on the bus.
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