The Jaffa Gate (left) into the Old City as seen from the King David Hotel…
Saturday, June 21, 2008
here is just nothing like Shabbat in Jerusalem… Today was a “free day,” so the members of our group took advantage of some down time to enjoy the Sabbath, visit the Arab market in the Old City, see the Israel Museum and relax.
I performed a bat mitzvah ceremony this morning for a member of the congregation who was not on the trip but also happened to be in Jerusalem, but my day got off to a rocky start. When I woke up at 7:30 A.M. to get ready, the hotel had no water. (Apparently it was resolved soon after I left the hotel.) After another wonderful Israeli breakfast of salads, fruit, fresh breads, coffee and amazing cheeses, I headed over to Hebrew Union College’s Jerusalem campus for the ceremony. It was wonderful to go back to HUC after two years away and to see the incredible campus, its gardens and courtyards.
The bat mitzvah ceremony was on the Forscheimer Terrace on the roof of the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s building, which is on the east side of HUC’s campus. The terrace overlooks the walls of the Old City. What a spot to become a bat mitzvah! The ceremony was lovely.
As soon as I returned to the hotel, a few families already were heading out for the Old City. Jen and I took a little while to get going, but we made it out by 11:30 A.M. or so. It is an amazing thing to see the transition from one side of the city to the other. Leaving the King David Hotel and walking over to the Old City is like strolling a street in Spain or another European city. But once you enter the Jaffa Gate, you instantly are transported to the heart of the Middle East. We entered the market and came upon several of our families, whose kids were only too happy to show off their new purchases and to talk proudly about how they bargained the sellers down to 20 percent of the original price.
We walked past the shops selling chess boards, Judaica, T-shirts, rugs and tapestries, and we slowly made our way to the Arab Quarter of the city and the part of the market where the locals do their shopping. Here, in tiny shops used for hundreds of years, you can buy sneakers in one shop, goat meat in the next, electronics after that, and exotic spices or sweets in the next one. The narrow ally was crowded with people: Jerusalem’s Arab citizens doing their shopping; tourists taking pictures; Christian pilgrims walking the steps of the Via Dolorosa; Israeli policemen and soldiers; priests and imams and rabbis.
Jen and I did a little shopping in an Armenian pottery store that we know has high-quality merchandise — a gift and something for my office. Then we made our way to the Damascus Gate. Along the way, I bought a couple of falafel balls from my favorite falafel place in the Arab Quarter. From there we hopped in a cab and went to our favorite restaurant in West Jerusalem, Focaccia Bar, for our final lunch in Israel. Then, to the pool for a little Shabbat rest.
At 5:30 P.M. we met up with the other families to load the bus for the last time. We headed to Terra, a restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, for a wonderful French/Israeli meal to celebrate the great trip we had. At dinner, Zvi finally made good on his promise to give prizes to the kids, and they all received an Israel Defense Forces cap, which they wore proudly the rest of the night.
After dinner, we headed to the park at the top of Yemin Moshe, which has a wonderful view of the lit-up walls of the Old City. We gathered for our final Havdalah ceremony to mark the separation of both Shabbat from the rest of the week and the separation from our time in Israel. We started by breaking into families and looking at maps of Israel with our route highlighted. We picked our “Shehecheyanu” moments, those moments when we did something for the first time or experienced something new and different. Each family then shared one of those moments with the rest of the group: rafting on the Jordan, Shabbat dinner with an Israeli family, the echo in Masada, sharing Israel as a family, swimming in the Dead Sea. The DeLotts shared that their most significant moment was standing in the park at this moment, remembering everything they had done during the trip.
Zvi said some words about returning to Israel and shared with us the powerful poem by Yehuda Amichai — “Tourists.” Saul and I then led the Havdalah ceremony with some help from Josh, Morgan and G.G. I finished with the Priestly Benediction, asking God for blessings of safe travel and peace for our journey home.
It was an amazing trip. We were not tourists, we were pilgrims. It was not a visit, it was a homecoming. We each left Israel with a stronger connection not only to the Land and its people but also to Judaism and the Jewish people around the world. We came together as a group, making friendships that will last much longer than the 10 days we spent together. It was a true blessing for me to lead this trip…one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. From the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every member of our group for making it such a wonderful journey.
Love and Blessings,
— Rabbi “Howie” Goldsmith
Back to Israel Journal (2008)
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