Like any good holiday should, Hol HaMoed gave me a lot of opportunities to relax and take things easy. The short window of hol turned out to be fairly stress free and very vacation-friendly, as I sort of just said. So here's what went on:
I woke up at around eight and walked to the Old City, to the Kotel, to find a holiday minyan at the very place to which our ancestors once did and hopefully our descendants once again will make pilgrimage. The Kotel Plaza was packed, as people wrapped in tallitot filled almos the entirety of the davening area. Even from the end of the Cardo, when still on high ground, one could see heads covered in the white of the tallit, hearts raised to the God above. I entered, and having a hard time finding a new minyan, I joined a minyan that had just ended P'sukei D'zimra and caught up. Things were normal and fairly uneventful until the end of the Torah service, right at the start of Musaf, when guards begin clearing an aisle in the men's section. I was praying towards the left of the Kotel, and we were boxed in right there as the aisle separated us from almost all of the other worshippers. Security guards are going haywire, trying to keep the area under control and a leather chair was set up near the wall. I quickly learned that the Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the giant Haredi posek of today, was coming to visit the kotel. We awaited his arrival for a long time; people were getting impatient and others pulled out their cameras. Finally, a car arrives, and a horde of people chases it all the way up to the wall itself. Security guards are trying to get people to move away, even pushing men in black in white, so that the rabbi can emerge from the car. He never did. They drove off, people were free to move, and I went back to Agron to check out.
After I got back, knowing I'd have a couple of free hours to spare, I went to Independence Park to read. The sun shone bright, and I lay and peacefully read for an hour and a half. Gelb and I agreed to meet at the Central Bus Station at 2 p.m., so I went to SuperSol to buy us some food, and then I made it out to the station to eat lunch. We got a bus to Ashkelon, arrived, and took a bus out to the National Park, where we would be camping for the night. The park was vast, very green, and people filled it, enjoying afternoon BBQs. We walked over to the campground, put our stuff down, and strolled around the area, including the beach. Shortly before dark, we ate and chilled and were sleeping by 9 p.m.
We played it chill in the morning – hung around the campsite, and I went to the beach to read for a little bit. Checkout was at noon, so right around then we went back to the Ashkelon bus station. Gelb went to Tel Aviv, and I had lunch at the mall before heading back to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, I stayed at the apartment of one of my B'yachad facilitators and a former USY shaliach, Moshe. I hung out there, and made plans to meet a friend from home, Ilan, at a Moshav Band concert on Emek Refaim. At that point, I called Michelle to find out what cheap restaurants are open on Emek, and she told me Schnitzi's was open. Two seconds later she called and said that they were making matzah pizza at the apartment and I was invited over… so I got some cheap food on Emek Refaim that night J The concert was good – the band performed very well – just a little meshuga ba'rosh in certain ways. By the time it was over it was late so I walked back.
I went to a café on Rechov Aza in the morning to have breakfast and read, since I had some time. It was more expensive than it was worth, oh well. I saw Roni from yeshiva at the café. Shortly after I went to the bus station to head to my Shabbat residence in Elkana, a settlement just over the green line.
To be continued…