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Taking a step back for a moment (you didn't think I'd leave you wondering about security on Israel's airline, El Al, did you?), we should have known our vacation was going to be interesting given our shake down just to get on the airplane. 

Getting through El Al security both on the way there and back, was likened to being interrogated by someone who looks strangely like Agent Smith, casually letting you know he's packing heat by exposing the gun under his jacket with the guise of "let me just grab my pen here." Flashing a smile, he began asking us, in the nicest of ways, all the personal questions you never thought you'd be asked at the airport before. Mr. and Mrs. G, how long have you two beautiful people been married? Oh? What day exactly was that? Where did you say you this joyous occasion took place? Did you guys have a house already? Yeah, the address. Now. What are you doing in India again? Why are you coming to Israel? What are the names of these "friends" you're traveling with?  

Of course, the whole time, our palms were sweating, our eyes were darting back and forth to each other before answering any of these seemingly simple questions. Maybe this was the reason we got pulled aside and had our luggage gone through, I have no idea. But I know that they made our TSA agents look Winnie the Pooh. 

So back to where our story left off. Our caravan left Tel Aviv and arrived safely in Jerusalem in the evening. When we pulled up to the beautiful house where we'd be spending the rest of the week, we were greeted with a burned out car sitting right in front. Maybe we were all a little on edge, but when we saw the car parked out front, I can only speak for myself when I tell you I did not believe the property manager when she claimed "cigarette fire." 

Whoops. Guess I forgot to put my cigarette out.
The house, named The Sultan's Palace, was gorgeous. It had an amazing view of Jerusalem, looking out toward the Mount of Olives and the old city, not to mention a sweet little cat who really, reaaaally wanted to come inside. It also had a Kosher kitchen, was something entirely new to me. There were separate sets of dishes, cooking utensils, pots and pans, and even different sides of the sink for dairy and meat. We went out that evening into the cool autumn air to find a grocery store (and when we finally found it, it was amazing), and prepare for the rest of the week ahead. 

Having grown up in a Christian home, I had seen many photos and videos of the faithful at the Western Wall, known to some as the Wailing Wall. When I was young, a teacher of mine had visited Jerusalem and brought back a Star of David for me, which I had worn for many years, and still have to this day. I remember hearing stories from among our church and school community who had visited, but never thought that I would go. It was definitely a sight to behold, people from all over the world congregating at the Wall. Everyone there could take a small slip of paper to write your prayers that you could then stick into the Wall, wherever you could find the room. R handed me slip, and I wrote my deepest wishes in a totally self-serving manner. R held up his slip so I could take a photo of him, and not really wanting to pry into his prayers, I accidentally what he had written. I should have went back and wrote on my prayer slip how grateful I am to have such a selfless and wonderful man for a husband.

After visiting the Wall, we took a tour underground, which made me feel like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. I take every and all opportunities to feel this way, and it was pretty amazing to see history being uncovered right before your eyes. Our tour funneled us out into the ancient, twisty streets of the old city. We walked down the Via de la Rosa, which is supposedly where Christ walked before his crucifixion…and where there were many people renting crosses from little shops to carry down the road. The rest of our day was spent wandering around here for awhile, visiting shops (R had to get a kippah to wear for the Bar Mitzvah, afterall!), spice stalls, and snack counters, which also made me feel like I was in an Indiana Jones movie.
Ben’s Bar Mitzvah, aka The Whole Reason We Were Here, was on Thursday, our American Thanksgiving Day. There was a lot to be thankful for- because it was heavy on our minds, namely the ceasefire for Israel and Hamas announced the day before.

I had never been to a Bar Mitzvah ever. I felt pretty awesome that my first one was that of a dear little friend, who always made our Teen Book Club discussions very…lively, and we had travelled all the way to Israel for the special day. The location was a beautiful restaurant called Rama’s Kitchen, serving all organic and local food, much of it coming from the surrounding gardens. Here, we were perched in the Judean Hills, overlooking the magnificent Jerusalem hillsides. The grandparents (proud as ever), and the awesome Israeli couple we had visited on our first day, were all present along with a couple of very friendly dogs that lived on the premises. R looked quite the part in his kippah, and Laura remarked afterward how he would make such a nice Jewish boy. The kids were also very curious as to when we would become converts.
Our man of the day had clearly put a lot of time into readying himself for the big day, reading his Hebrew flawlessly and giving speeches genuine enough to make grown men cry. Abigail, his sister, gave a hilariously cute speech that seemed a little more like her brother was leaving the earth rather than turning 13. I hope that one day when she gets married, Ben remembers her speech and reciprocates in the same manner. When I heard that Abigail was getting married, at first I felt so sad, because I knew she wouldn’t share our last name anymore. But then I felt so happy, knowing that she was just getting another name, and getting a wonderful man to share the years with, too…

Oh, there were many amazing things that happened after this particular point on our holiday. In fact, one of the things (spoiler alert! We get held at a checkpoint in Palestinian controlled West Bank…) that happened is maybe to this day one of my favorite memories from a trip, ranking much higher than the El Al shakedown. Don’t worry, I’ll try to add some variety in here too, breaking up the infamous Israel trip into several parts so you’re not so tired of hearing about it you don’t ever want to visit that amazing place.

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