Shavuah tov! A good new week to everyone. I have been in Jerusalem only 32 hours and I have already had enough amazing experiences and met enough amazing people to fill a whole trip! My friend Yiscah, who is also here learning as well as teaching, had asked what she could do to help me with my arrival and I had said that having plans for Shabbat dinner would be lovely. When I asked this, I had no expectation of what would await my arrival in Jerusalem yesterday…which,of course, begs a digression about my trip over.
Both flights went well. I sat next to a very helpful gentleman on the flight from Philly to Israel who even pretend to be my husband (for about 3 seconds) so I could join him in the shorter passport line in the Tel Aviv Airport and let me go ahead of him because he knew I was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem before Shabbat. I was able to sleep for a few hours and arrived in Jerusalem feeling surprisingly energetic. The sherut (shared van) ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem reminded me quickly that I was in Israel. The driver spent the entire trip on the radio kvetching to a coworker about having seven people to drop off hither and yon and how was HE going to get home in time for Shabbat. This was all in Hebrew but since most of us on the van understood Hebrew, it wasn’t exactly a private conversation!
I was finally dropped in front of the building that matched the address for where I was renting a flat. I had expected to landlord to be there, but there was no one in sight. I called him and he said that he had left the key and confirmed I was in the right place. I then saw that my room was down a flight of stairs and then back up an even longer and steeper flight of stairs – not a thrilling prospect with three heavy suitcases! I successfully wrangled them to the room and called Yiscah to let her know that I had arrived. She told me that she had gotten food for dinner and planned that we would eat at my place after going to services. This sounded nice and quiet and low key for the end of a very long day. Little did I know that was far from what would be.
After a bit of freshening up and Yiscah coming by with the food we set off for a walk to the shul where she wanted to take me. It was quite a schlep – not sure of the distance but would guess over a mile. The shul is the minyan for Mayanot which is a Chabad organization that runs learning programs as well as having services. Yiscah promised me that it would be amazing davening (praying) and it was. Now, Chabad is not my usual thing and there is a mikitza (divider) between the men and the women’s sections, which is also not my preference. But, the Rabbi was very warm and friendly and, as promised, the women were engaged and singing along with the men. The men’s singing was really uplifting – the table banging and rousing and extended versions of Kabbalat Shabbat melodies were really gorgeous and touched my soul. Such ruah (spirit) and kavanah (intention) – it really was lovely. I was moved to tears more than once.
During the services we were asked if we had a place for dinner. Yiscah had already said this might be a possibility and that she was fine with us accepting an invitation and eating the food she had purchased later. So, we accepted an invitation and joined Aliza and her beautiful family for a warm and delicious Shabbat dinner in their gorgeous home. Again, it was an amazing experience. Aliza and Ami and their children and niece and nephew welcomed two total strangers into their home as “holy guests” and thanked us for coming. We were there several hours talking and eating and enjoying getting to know each other. They had the most amazing art work in their home and it was a truly gorgeous apartment – I can’t imagine what it costs considering real estate prices in Israel – and with beautiful art and heirlooms all around. The children were charming and delightful and the family so loving. It really was a blessing to be at their table. My one regret was that it was Shabbat and so we couldn’t exchange information but we discussed how we would find each other again. This morning when we returned to Mayanot for services, I saw the children, who all smiled and waved at us, but not Aliza and Ami.
Today was jam packed and we didn’t even make it to all our scheduled gatherings. Services at Mayanot were again lovely. There was a young lady whose family had come from South Africa for her bat mitzvah and the Rabbi spoke about her longer than the boy who was having bar mitzvah and read all the Torah! Yiscah – who has far more Chabad experience than I – was so moved and said she had never seen a Chabad Rabbi congratulate a girl on her bat mitzvah and commented on what a special place this minyan is. After services we had been invited to join the Shabbat table of Asher. Asher is a very interesting man who combines “Polish peasant food” with Japanese macrobiotic philosophy and cooking and holds a Shabbat lunch and “salon” each week. He also gives classes and has other events. Around the table were Jews from Australia, England and the US ( many who have made Aliyah and live in Israel now) as well as a young woman from Brazil who is here studying to convert. Each of us was asked to share something from our past week or a bit of Torah and the range of learning and insight around the table was as wide as the corners of the world represented. Again a magical experience and I hadn’t even made it to the 24 hour mark yet.
After lunch we scurried to another neighborhood to listen to a shi’ur (lesson) being given at the home of BatSheva – The Lady in Yellow. BatSheva is quite famous in Jerusalem, and beyond judging by the newspaper articles on her walls, for hosting these shi’urim each Shabbat as well as other acts of charity. The speaker was a 22 year old young man who is the grandson of a famous rabbi and already an impressive speaker and teacher at such a young age. At this point either jet lag or all the l’chaims at Asher’s had caught up with me and I was starting to fade fast. We had another invite for seudat shlishi (the third Shabbat meal) but decided instead to head back to our respective rooms for a much needed shluff (sleep) and to meet at my place later to eat the food from Friday instead.
In a fitting ending to this amazing and unforgettable Shabbat, we had a unique Havdalah. I did not think to bring my traveling Havdalah set and arrived after all the stores were closed Friday for Shabbat so I had not juice or wine or even milk in the house to use for the blessing. All I had was water and it is the one liquid over which you cannot make the blessing of Havdalah! We also did not have a multi-wicked candle or spices – pretty much everything you needed, we didn’t have. So, one cup of instant coffee, one packet of spiced tea and one modified tea light later, we were ready to say farewell to a blessed and holy Shabbat and look forward to a week that should, God willing, be half as full of new learning, new people and blessings. As I bid Yiscah farewell, I thanked her for such a blessed and amazing welcome to Jerusalem and told her that if I had to go home tomorrow, it would have been enough already.
Tomorrow will be much more mundane and filled with such trivialities as picking up my cell phone, getting some shekels and going shopping. Even these mundane things will feel less so done here where one can meet such beautiful people and feel so welcomed because it is Home. Perhaps after the glow of the holiness of this Shabbat wears off, I will share my thoughts about the young woman who was studying to convert – because even when one is home, or perhaps particularly when one is home, one gets to bask in the comforts as well as confront difficulties and differences of opinion.
It is now past midnight and I should get some sleep so I am ready to face whatever miracles tomorrow may bring here in Ir HaKodesh – the Holy City of Jerusalem.
B’vrachot – with blessings,
Thank you for sharing this beautiful series of experiences. I know your six weeks in Israel will be life changing and energizing. Enjoy.