May 21, 2021  By Roni Wolk  Category: Travel,

I walked the bible on my first trip to Israel, and it will stay with me forever

When I traveled to Israel for the first time in May of 2014, we entered Tel Aviv air space and I felt a rush of emotion. I felt gratitude my Jewish journey had led me to this moment. I also felt tremendous excitement and a sense of anticipation. Surprisingly, I was even a bit fearful. Would this trip be all I had hoped for? Tears came to my eyes. I felt a lump in my throat and I couldn’t speak. I grabbed my husband's hand and together we watched our descent into Israel, totally in awe of the experience. We'd made it to Israel! Was this really happening?

Who could have predicted 20, 30, or even 40 years ago that I would be visiting Israel? Not me! I didn't come from a very religious or Zionist family. And what did I learn in religious school? Just words on a page that didn't reach my heart. But since becoming involved with Jewish National Fund-USA, my world has grown. Israel and its people now have a permanent place in my heart.

Everyone had told me, "You must be in Jerusalem during Shabbos. You must visit the wall on Friday night!" We did, and it was one of the highlights of our trip! It was a joyous, where-do-you-look-first experience. Hundreds of folks, men and women, young and old, ultra-orthodox and not, were jubilant, singing, dancing and joining together to welcome Shabbat. We just stood there, taking it all in and feeling a part of an ancient and current-day tradition.

Then, I visited the wall. It was much bigger and more commanding than I had imagined. And yet, with its worn and softened stone edges, it was much more intimate and welcoming than I could have envisioned. I could touch it. I did touch it! There I was with hundreds of who were complete strangers, but in a greater sense, also part of my family. We were all part of the Jewish story. Again, I was overcome with emotion. There I was following a holy tradition, just like Jews from all over the world had done for generations, since biblical times.

Roni & Alan Wolk - Israel Museum

We visited many places in Israel. We walked the broken and crumbling pathways through the markets in Jerusalem. We drove through the stark yet beautiful desert and my eyes took in the sights of old and new mingling. We schlepped up and down the massive stone steps and through the winding alleyways of Old Jaffa talking to the shop owners. And we stood in silence atop bold and majestic Masada thinking about the brave Jews from ancient times who had lived and died there.

So, this was what Bruce Feiler meant when he wrote the book Walking the Bible. I was walking the bible. It completed a narrative in my mind that had begun so many years ago with Sunday school and Hebrew school, but until now had remained unfinished and more like someone else's story. Now it was personal. Now it was my story too. Upon our return, I created a detailed photo book to commemorate our trip. But it wasn't necessary. The memories and the impact of our first trip to Israel will stay with me forever.

Author, Roni Wolk, is on Jewish National Fund-USA's Women for Israel Executive Board and JNF-USA's Atlanta Board of Directors.