Shabbat in Israel: The Holiest Experience in the Holiest Country

October 31, 2022
Nora Leavey

Baltimore, MD, USA

Class of 2023

Read more from this author →

Holiness is a special word. It can be used to describe a synagogue, a person, the torah, siddurim, or even events. But, have you ever FELT holiness? This is the type of emotion experienced at the Kotel, or the Western Wall, for Shabbat, the holiest day of the week. Spending Friday night and starting Shabbat at the Kotel is magnificent. 

While traveling through Israel for three weeks I hiked around deserts and up Masada, walked all around new cities, tried new foods, and even went on a banana boat! However, nothing compares to the emotion I felt on the last Friday of our trip. We had no idea a Shabbat at the Kotel was even happening, and everyone scrambled to pick out outfits and get ready for the long walk there. 

A few of my friends and I were put in charge of planning the service. Having no idea what to expect, we haphazardly planned to sing a few songs quietly with our group, say the Shema, the daily prayer said when we wake up and fall asleep, and then walk back to our hotel.

As we began our walk toward the Kotel from our hotel, we were dreading the aching of our feets and the hunger we were destined to feel. However, as we walked closer and closer to the holy wall, we began hearing music. The kind of music that fills your eyes and lightens your mood. They were Jewish songs! Jewish prayers! We kept walking closer and the singing continued getting louder. When we entered through the Kotel gates and went through the security scanners, we realized this isn’t a night to dread, but a night to remember and enjoy. 

I immediately circled our group of 30 teens up and we began singing the songs we all know from BBYO conventions, services, and summer programs. Soon enough, another group of teens from a different program joined us in our circle. We were singing and praying as we huddled next to the Kotel, surrounded by Jews of different races, cultures, and backgrounds. 

We then had a silent prayer session, where many of my friends and I went up to the wall and said our own private prayers. Knowing we were standing in a place where thousands of Jews had once stood and fought for made me emotional. I was feeling holiness. Holiness and love. A love for Israel, a love for my group that had quickly become my family, and a love for my Jewish heritage. As I took my hand off the wall, I said the Amidah and the Shema, and reunited with my group as we walked back to the hotel for our Shabbat dinner. 

This moment in my life has been one of the key moments for my Jewish identity, and is one of the only times I felt true holiness. While taking this eye opening experience back to my hometown, Baltimore, MD, I engaged my council in shabbat songs and traditions I learned, showed them programming I was a part of, and of course cooked some Israeli food. This trip made me realize the passion I had for BBYO, and taught me my love for Israel and my ability to practice Judaism in a way that is meaningful and holy to me. Israel is holy, and although “holy” is just a word used to describe places, objects, and people, it is what is felt at the holy Western Wall on Shabbat.

Nora Leavey is a BBG living in Baltimore, Maryland and she absolutely loves cooking but has no talent in the kitchen whatsoever. She is passionate about all things BBYO and loves helping out around the community whenever possible. With a passion for Judaism, educating others and showing them the amazing joy Judaism can give people is something she strives for.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

Explore More Stories

Get The Shofar blasted to your inbox