I had the privilege to spend this past year in Israel studying advanced topics in Judaism at the Darchei Binah seminary in Jerusalem. As I furthered my knowledge in Judaic studies, I also delved deep into the study of my heritage.
As I studied, it dawned on me that so many of the events that occurred to our forefathers happened on the same cobblestones that I walked on daily. Once I realized this, I began to take every opportunity to venture out to different parts of the country.
I spent one Shabbat in a yishuv (community) called Ma’alei Chevar, located not far from Chevron. It is protected by a fence because it is surrounded by Arab cities. This yishuv is built on the top of a valley from which you can see almost all the way to the Dead Sea. At night, in the distance, you can see faint flashing lights coming from Jordan.
Before Shabbat started, our host took us into his backyard, which overlooks the vast valley. He pointed out landmarks that could possibly have been the exact place where different biblical events occurred, such as the destruction of Sodom and the writing of the Book of Psalms by King David. It was incredible to spend a Shabbat in the exact area where my forefathers stood thousands of years earlier.
I also spent time in Kiryat Arba, a settlement on the outskirts of Chevron. I had an opportunity to take a tour of Chevron with an English-speaking tour guide who lives in the settlement. I walked through the Arab village to get to Mearat Hamachpela, the burial place of our forefathers and mothers. As we walked through the village, we met up with IDF soldiers who protect Chevron. We handed out lollypops to show our appreciation to them for protecting us. Our guide showed us around Chevron, highlighting different locations where Jews live surrounded by Arab homes!
Before leaving Chevron, we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the Arab shuk. We walked through the shuk with IDF soldiers surrounding us. We saw many stores selling many different types of items, from spices to toys to dishes. It was an incredible opportunity to spend Shabbat in a holy city where our forefathers are buried.
I also had the great fortune of having my school located in a great area, just a short bus ride from central Jerusalem and the old city. The first time I walked into the old city, I could feel the history of Judaism seeping from the stones.
The old city is always hustling and bustling with activity. People from all over the world come to the old city and the Western Wall because of their history and holiness. The old city and the Western Wall are an integral part of Judaism and the formation and history of Israel.
Throughout my education in Jerusalem, I was able to learn about my heritage and the history of the Jewish nation, and watch it leap to life in front of my eyes through its residents and Jewish life. It was an incredible year of learning and traveling in Israel.
I am so thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend an entire year in Israel, the land of our people, and to walk on the same paths that our ancestors walked. My experience in Israel has transformed my life. I’m so proud to be part of this incredible nation! I would like to thank the Jewish Alliance and everyone who made this opportunity possible for me.
CHAYA KAPILEVICH is a graduate of Providence Hebrew Day School and New England Academy of Torah. She is continuing her studies in Israel for another year. Grants for Israel travel are available to area residents through the age of 26. Contact IsraelDesk@jewishallianceri.org