Day 23: Shalom Yerushalayim.

by Alexandra Rutkowski

It’s been five months, and looking back through my archives, I stumbled across this record of our last day in Israel. In all the business of reacclimating myself to “normal” life, I completely forgot about this. Well, better late than never! I think. Here we go.

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Shalom is used both when meeting and parting. When ending and starting a journey. I thought that would be appropriate here. Yes, this was our last day in Israel, bus is this the end? Absolutely not.

After a late night of packing, at 4 am, I planned on taking a sunrise run through Jerusalem at 5:30. Uh… no. That didn’t work out. The moment I arose at 8:00, I had the time of my life running through the streets of Jerusalem, worshipping. There are few things I enjoy more than taking a run or walk with my Best Friend.

A group of the girls (Becky, Hannah, Shoko, Kelly, Rebecca, Francis, Hadassah… am I missing anyone else?) took that time to go to the Old City to get last-minute shopping done for family. After my refreshing run, Joseph and I also tried getting to the Old City. Two directionally-challenged people trying to find their way around Jerusalem on a schedule- not probable. But we were victorious. I even haggled- and got ripped off… again. But that’s not the point! We met up with the girls and shopped around in the small souvenir shops in the Jewish Quarter. The girls went off to find their last Israeli shwarma, and we went to Aroma (the best cafe in Israel, just sayin’) to use their internet and get some kind of glorious mint smoothie. *Mouth still watering.*

2 PM. The group is at the hotel, ready to pack up the buses. All the bags are packed and we are just rearranging things to fit under our weight limits. Caleb is using his FedEx skills to weigh all the bags, Hannah and Becky are showing off their lovely Hebrew jewelry, and there’s a few things to point out:

  • Becky is sitting there rearranging pastries (i.e. baklava) in a box that she bought for her family. I’m drooling from a distance.
  • I have another checked bag that weighs over 20 pounds. There’s only one thing in that bag: rocks. Becky’s got pastries, I’ve got rocks.
  • Joseph’s luggage zipper broke, so he stuffed all his clothes in the inside lining of his suitcase in plastic bags. Oh, security’s going to love that. Since we couldn’t get it closed, and all we had was tape that didn’t stick, we tried to make rope out of it and tie it around. Didn’t work too well.

(I don’t think I ever wrote about this, but this short story takes place at night outside of the hotel in the one place outside of a building I can get internet access. Oh yes, it’s also on Shabbat. My experiences with Orthodox Jews on Shabbat have always been pleasant. They usually get excited shouting “Gentile!” and have me “do work” for them. But not on this particular night. Joseph is sitting there with his laptop, wearing a yarmulke (his mistake) and an Orthodox Jew comes up to him and starts trying to unbutton his shirt and take it out of his pants. He proceeded to get angry and call him Adolf Hitler. Yea, that’s when we left. Well, when Joseph left. I was still out there for a little while longer. Thanks, buddy!)

After we finally checked out of the Caesar, we made our way to the Garden of Gethsemane. What beauty. There is a tree there (the large one in the left of the picture) which is said to the tree that Christ blessed and prayed at (because of Romans 11). We entered into the Basilica of Agony (also known as the Church of all Nations), an impressive Catholic church which enshrines a portion of stone which is said to be where Jesus prayed before his arrest. We spent some time praying in the church before we went into a part of the garden which was not gated off. We were each given around twenty minutes to go off on our own, find a quiet place, and spent time in prayer. I sat down against an olive tree and just lifted up praises to my Father. It’s hard to imagine that He was there. Praying at the Garden of Gethsemane… something I’ll never forget.

We made our way to Golgotha. Apparently, the Catholic church picked the wrong hill when they built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. That’s what I like to hear! It wasn’t anything like I’d expected. It was a small hill, in the middle of the city, and the cross was low. I always imagined Calvary to be high off on a distant hill, but no, it would have been in the center of the city- humiliation was key, after all. And it looks like Jesus would have been only 2-3 feet off the ground on the cross. Strange, huh? But it doesn’t matter where or how it happened. What matters is it happened. (You can also see the shape of a skull in the rock. Before it was even considered to be a place of his crucifixion, it was called “The Hill of the Skull.”)

After having some prayer before the hill, we made our way to one of the most amazing parts of the entire trip… the Garden Tomb. Christ’s tomb. We walked through the garden, had time to pray on our own, and came to the tomb. On the door a sign read: HE IS NOT HERE FOR HE IS RISEN! One by one we made our way inside. A small tomb, it was separated into two parts: 1) The place where the body was placed and 2) the mourning chamber. Each were small, about the same size. Only 3 of us went in at a time. It was silent as we looked upon the place where our Savior had been buried. We had communion in the garden.

After one last (huge) dinner as a group (with raw meat and lots and lots of falafels and shawarmas), we made our way to the airport. Several of us got questioned, Becky lost her passport, and I tried to go through security with a top that had metal on it (worst idea I ever had). I had to change into pajamas. But on the bright side, security fixed Joseph’s suitcase.

After a long flight home, we were all filled with an overwhelming bittersweet feeling as we parted ways at the airport. We’d become a family. It was a month of crazy shenanigans and incredible God moments. We’d seen the Lord move in unbelievable ways as watched as He’d placed a burden for His land and His people upon our hearts. 

And what’s the first thing we did when we got back? Ate BACON. Beautiful, non-kosher BACON. 

And for your viewing pleasure… some footage from the trip. Everything from sunrise at Masada to singing Father Abraham in Hezekiah’s tunnels. Thanks to the talent of the Rebeccas! 

Thank you to everyone who supported us in prayer. Words can’t describe how much they meant. And thanks for reading! Til next time, God bless!

Shalom for now,

Alexandra.

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