Jewish Heritage Travel: An Emotional and Spiritual Journey Through Israel and Europe

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I’m departing from my usual travel news coverage to write about a long trip I took last summer. It ended up being a voyage of discovery, of pride, promise, pathos, hope and that most Jewish of emotions, questioning.

The main reason for the trip was a bat mitzvah in Jerusalem. I was hoping it would be at the Western Wall, where the Israeli government had recently announced a special section where men and women would be able to pray together, but that hadn’t materialized (and has since been abandoned). Instead, we were at another location nearby called Robinson’s Arch, on a platform overlooking archaeological ruins near the Second Temple.

During the service, a shouting match broke out at the Robinson’s Arch entrance, between some young ultra-Orthodox men and the security guard. Although my Hebrew was not good enough to understand, clearly it was quite heated. Through it all, the bat mitzvah girl remained poised, focused and composed as she led us in prayer and read from the Torah. I could not have been more proud.

Later I learned that the young men, though uninvited, were yelling that they wanted to come celebrate the bat mitzvah with us. The guard knew they had come instead to intimidate and disrupt the service, out of the belief that men and women should not pray together, and that women should not even touch a Torah scroll. He called the police.

Read the full story on my Forbes site.