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Writing of Students

 

Caleb Stutman-Shaw

I had been looking forward to the service since May. The moment I decided to come to Israel, my mom, in her Rabbinic excitement, made sure to tell me to attend Kabbalat Shabbat services with Nava Tehila. Nava Tehila is a group that holds progressive, musical, and often outdoor Shabbat services in Jerusalem. They are famous for their gorgeous original melodies that are shared with musical Shabbat services around the world (including mine back home!). Knowing that I was going to be away from home for so long, I was thrilled at the prospect of attending a service that would remind me so much of my own. Last Thursday, I did my weekly tradition of going onto the Nava Tehila online calendar to see if they were finally having an in-person service, and that week, they were! My friends can attest to my excitement; ten months of waiting was finally over. I would soon get to join in the ever-comforting song and prayer and dance of my home. I couldn’t wait.
Excitement built as I waited at the bus stop. My eyes repeatedly glanced down at the bus schedule on my phone, making absolutely sure I would not miss the bus. I had brought two of my closest friends along with me, and I wanted to make sure that everything about the experience would be perfect; this was my opportunity to really introduce them to my Jewish experience. We hopped on our bus and rode it quite far, to an area of Jerusalem I had never been to before. I noticed the beautiful buildings, the green trees, and a lovely bike path that wound through a small park to the side of the road. But that is not what we were there for. When we arrived at our stop, I ran to the entrance of the synagogue where the services were going to be held. I reached out my hand to emphatically open the door, and…it wouldn’t budge. “OK,” I thought, “the real entrance can’t be too far away.” I circled the building three times, trying every door that I could find, before I settled on the obvious answer: there were no services being held at that synagogue. Pulling the calendar back up on my phone, my heart dropped at a line, directly after the location of the service, that I had somehow neglected to read: “occasionally at other locations.” A quick Google search alerted me that the services were not, in fact, at that synagogue that week, but at a park 20 minutes away. I was so disappointed that I wasn’t able to attend the service, but was perhaps even more disappointed that I had lost that opportunity to show my friends. And so I walked, head down, my friends on either side of me, back towards the bus stop, until my foot landed on the logo that I have become so familiar with in my time in Israel: that of the city’s bike paths. We had managed to wander back to that gorgeous park, with the trees, and benches, and winding path, and after a few nods of acknowledgement, we decided to take a small detour. I spent the rest of the walk with my head raised, seeing this entirely new part of Jerusalem for the first time. I hadn’t gotten to go to my service, but it ended up being as special a Friday night as any other. I walked with my friends, side by side, down the bike path, back home.

I had been looking forward to college for, well, years. I imagined a time of complete independence and freedom, and looked forward to the incredible friends I would make and classes I would attend. Although I did love my high school, I was excited to truly begin my life as an adult. My friends and I were about to begin the next chapter of our lives, and while there was of course an air of fear of the future, we couldn’t wait to head off. Just a few more months, I remember thinking, until our lives really begin.

I remember the day I learned that I wouldn’t, actually, be going to college in a few months. I remember a feeling of disappointment that I wouldn’t be opening a new chapter of my life like I thought I would be. And I remember thinking to myself, “what in the world am I going to do with my life for the next year?” Initially, the plan was to do a big hiking trip down the coast of the United States, but that plan never came to fruition. I thought about road tripping across the country, but that, too, was far too complicated. My mom, one night at dinner, pitched the idea of going to Israel for the year. A gap year in Israel was something that had always been discussed, but I had never seriously considered doing it. I had always been, of course, too excited to go to college. Eventually, though, the excitement of getting to spend nine months across the sea with a bunch of other teenagers won me over. As sad as I still was to not be going to school, as I boarded the giant plane to Ben Gurion Airport, I was thrilled to begin the trip. And, of course, I have had a fantastic time. I am so fortunate that I had the ability to push off college for a year and travel, and that I found such great people while doing so. I was wrong to think that I wouldn’t be opening a new chapter of my life; in fact, I am writing one of the most interesting ones to date. I will get to go to another service in a few weeks, and college is waiting for me when I get home. This has been one of the greatest years of my life, and moments like that walk along the bike path are the reasons why.

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Tel Aviv 6610910
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Jerusalem 9462503

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