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My Visit to Israel

2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry
My Visit to Israel
by Dexter Matilla, Philippines

It has long been my belief that if I want something so bad, I'd just wish for it and it would come true. It's as if I had my own imaginary wishing well that listened to my innermost needs, well, desires actually.  

Growing up reared in the teachings of the Catholic church, the allure of Israel has always been strong. Never mind that the news would almost always report about the conflict that's happening there and very rarely about the technological and agricultural advancements being made by its scientists and engineers. 

Thus, in my list of five must-visit countries, Israel was on top. And I thought that the only way I'd be able to visit the Holy Land was as part of a pilgrimage tour, years after my retirement, and when repeated bathroom breaks have become a necessity.

But there I was, at 27, taking my sweet time standing in front of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Another wish granted. Before saying my prayer in front of practically the biggest wishing well/wall, I looked around if anyone was looking at me, hoping that someone would at least take a picture of me standing there. Pictures of important people who visited the Western Wall showed them touching their foreheads to the wall, sometimes bracing their weight with one hand, sometimes with both hands. To which I thought, were they afraid that the weight of their heads would be enough to topple the wall? 

Unfortunately, whether I used my hands or not didn't matter as my classmates and I went on the Sabbath. And as custom, pictures were not allowed to be taken that day inside what I have endearingly called, that's right, the no photo zone. 

I was hoping that my good friends John, from Kenya, and/or Nenad, from Serbia, would have stolen one click with either their point and shoot cameras or even their camera phone so I'd at least have something to post in my Facebook profile. 

Imagine my envy when I found out later that night, as we started uploading pictures in the computer room in the basement of the Golda Meir Training Center in Haifa, that our female classmates were able to take a couple of pictures on their side of the wall. 

Realizing that no one was going to take my picture except for the surveillance cameras all over the area, I decided to just go on with it, touch my forehead to the wall, say my prayer, and insert my piece of paper into a tiny crevice. 

Days before, just as we were starting with our first few lessons inside the classroom, I let my mind wander and come up with scenarios of what would happen when I finally got to touch the wall. Would I experience an epiphany? Will something be revealed to me? Wll I have super powers? Or would I be speaking in tongues after? 

I settled with epiphany and hoped for super powers as bonus. 

And then I thought, how about those who have been here most of their lives? Do they still feel excitement when they wander around the Old City of Jerusalem and look at the Western Wall? I'm no history buff and I know very little but I know how I react every time I pass by our National Hero's statue in Luneta. And almost always, when I see tourists having their pictures taken with Jose Rizal in the background, I would think, when the hell am I gonna do that again? 

I could have asked the locals during one of my leisurely strolls around Haifa but if there's one thing I found out early, it's that some tend to be cautious when a stranger such as myself would talk to them. I understood because that's how I am as well. But I'd learn eventually that once a certain level of trust has been established, they are actually very charming. (Hey! Just like Filipinos!)

Yep, just like Filipinos. 

I never got to ask that question though and in the midst of my thought, I could sense that my companions had finished saying their prayers and were making their way out of the no photo zone. Fearing that saying "Toda" and "Boker Tov" might not be enough to bring me back to Haifa in case I got left behind, I touched my forehead to the wall. 

Right then and there, something happened. A nothingness. Nothing was happening. I thought maybe a little later something will, after I say my prayer. 

I knew what I was going to pray for, on top of the prayer intentions I had written in a small square piece of paper during the bus ride. I usually start my prayer by giving praise to God, thanking Him, asking for forgiveness, asking for healing, and then asking for my personal needs. I left out my personal needs during this one because I felt that I was already given too much just by being there. 

Despite doing all of these, I still wasn't speaking in tongues so I lifted my head, took out the piece of paper from my jacket's pocket, and looked for a nice-looking crevice that would be the home of my hopes and dreams for the next couple of hours. (I found out that they take out the papers at the end of the day to make room for the next day's visitors.)

Unfortunately, all possible crevices that I could reach--whether by crouching or by tiptoe--were filled with papers of different colors and designs carrying prayers of all possible languages. I settled for one that was easily within my reach and with no further dramatics, turned my back to it to join my friends.   

I felt bummed out when I touched the wall, still waiting for my telekinesis to kick in. Certainly, I wasn't the only one. But perhaps like most, I put too much into the wall and expected too much in return. I was in Israel seeing nothing but the positives that the country has to offer, I have good friends from different parts of the world, and I have a family waiting for me back in the Philippines.

Clearly, my wishes had been answered long before I asked for them.