A first-timer in the Old City during COVID

Photo: Ava Rosen

There’s one thing the Old City in Jerusalem has that most other communities across the globe do not – a deep history. And I felt it. Walking into the Old City for the first time felt like entering a different time period. It’s not that it looked different; the same Jerusalem stone made up the buildings, and people walked by like any other part of the city. Maybe it was the cobblestone that has seen millions of footsteps or the layers of history buried underfoot. But something about being inside the Old City walls made me feel like part of something monumental, bigger than myself.

Many shops, restaurants, and cafes had their doors shut to the public due to the pandemic. For someone who’s never been inside during a normal year, it was heartbreaking. I imagine it’s even more devastating for those who dedicate their livelihoods to living in the heart of the Middle East and sharing their passions with tourists and people around them.

Photo: Ava Rosen

As my friend and I made our way toward the Western Wall, we maneuvered through narrow alleyways filled with running children and happy families. Some shops were open, their owners desperately trying to sell anything they could in these hard times. Usually, hundreds of tourists stroll the streets, buying mementos and souvenirs to remember their visit to the Old City. We passed by places selling jewelry of all kinds, from handmade woven bracelets to hamsa necklaces and more, as well as shops selling more diverse items like bags, sandals, hats, and antiques of all shapes and sizes.

I’ve been wanting to buy a new ring since arriving in Israel and saw the perfect opportunity at a little jewelry place. In Israeli shops, bargaining is key, and something I’ve gotten used to doing regularly since living here. I’ll give this owner some credit though, he was a good seller. He showed me the engraving of real gold on the inside, and let me try on different sizes and materials before I chose the one I wanted. After a lot of bartering and negotiation, I ended up buying it for a good price. I like that it’ll remind me now of the quirks of the Israeli lifestyle, and the beauty and experience of the Old City.

Photo: Ava Rosen

Finally, we got past the shops and found the entrance to the Western Wall. Prayer areas were sectioned off and so much emotion was in the air. My friend and I sat down and wrote our notes to add to the wall. It felt so meaningful that I felt hesitant to write something that wasn’t perfect.

Photo: Ava Rosen

When I first touched the wall, I felt a surge of emotion. Everything the world has gone through recently, all the hardships I’ve felt about leaving home, it all came to me at once. But it felt positive; like we can all get through this. There’s something amazing about a place so impactful, even a pandemic doesn’t have an effect on its importance. Women all around me were crying and praying, so obviously overtaken with emotion about this special place.

Visiting the Old City was something I had wanted to do forever. The world has lost many things this past year due to COVID-19. But one thing that will not be affected is the impact of faith and connection to special places like the Kotel. It amazes me how some things never seem to lose their significance no matter how tough things get. Exploring more of Jerusalem has made me feel lucky to get to experience such a rich culture, especially as a first-timer. And getting to touch the very wall that is such a significant part of the history of Israel is special. There’s certainly nowhere else in the world that encompasses such distinctive archives and people.

Ava Rosen
Ava Rosen is a creative writer, athlete, and recent high school graduate from New Paltz, NY. She’s currently studying with Aardvark Israel in Jerusalem, and has already loved finding the very best foods, views, and rich history that this city has to offer. Travel is very important to Ava, and she hopes to continue to find new and exciting places to visit in the coming years. She has hopes to study somewhere in Boston next year and aspires to become an author or business owner.