After a very hot and sweaty visit to the Kotel at high noon, I am back in the air conditioned comfort of Aroma in the Mamilla Mall. I was going to visit a different one, but it is just to blasted hot out there to walk any further than I have to do to anything. At some point I do need to walk back to where I am staying but I am not thinking about that right now. Right now, I am thinking about my yummy tuna salad, my icy “Iced Aroma Diet” and writing about my trip to the Galil and Tsfat.
On Sunday morning Yiscah and I picked up a rental car and headed out of town – well, after a drive the whole way around Jerusalem to end up back where we started to head out of town in the right direction – towards the Jordan Valley. At the edge of Jerusalem there is a tunnel and when you come out of it you are literally in the desert. It was a shocking transition. We were waved through a checkpoint (this was our experience at each one) and on our way. We passed “Sea Level” and headed down into the Jordan Valley and top of the Dead Sea.
After lunch, I wanted to at least dip my toes in the Dead Sea but not bad enough to pay 50 shekels at the “public” beach at the top of the Sea. Settling for a view and a couple of pictures, we headed north towards Tiberias. Steve and I drove south on this same road last year. It is partially in a Palestinian area and partially in an Israeli area. In both there are many greenhouses and farms along the road. We passed many places offering camel rides but I decided to save that experience to share with Steve – next summer perhaps.
We also did not get to dip our toes in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) as it also was not free. It was beautiful and looked very inviting but there was not time for an actual swim. We took a wrong turn in Tiberias and ended up far above the city at a fantastic viewpoint – from which we located the road that we were supposed to be on and also took many pictures of the whole Kinneret Valley. We head back down into Tiberias and back onto 90 and headed north again. We stopped at the Mount of Beatitudes – whose name in Hebrew is actually much nicer – Har HaOsher – Mount of Wealth or Happiness. The views here are also gorgeous. There is a very strong wind here in the afternoon as the air rises off the Kinneret and moves down the valley. I thought that we were going to blow away as we paused to daven in a quiet corner on the grounds.
Just a short drive further and we were at K’far HaNasi – home of Cousin Max. He was glad that I arrived with both my luggage and vehicle intact as the last two times Adlers have shown up at his house that hasn’t been true! Yiscah and Max hit it off great and made dinner together for us. Max asked us our plans for Monday and then proceeded to tell us what he thought we should actually do – which is what we, more or less, ended up doing! Monday we went to the pool on the kibbutz for a morning swim. Yiscah convinced Max to let her take him to lunch at Aroma in Kiryat Shmoni which meant he had to go along with us on our “ridiculous” outing to the Na’ot factory store. Despite his opinion of women and their obsession with shoes (this is after all a man who has lived on a kibbutz since 1948 and was wearing the same pair of shoes this visit that he had on last summer), Max had fun taking pictures of us shopping. He sent these pictures to me in an email with the subject line “Women in Ecstasy”. I wrote back and told him I was afraid to open it as I thought it contained porn! The shopping was a success and the outing for lunch was great fun. The highlight for Max was finding his favorite toothpaste at the SuperPharm next to the Aroma as no one near where he lives sells it. He also enjoyed seeing how much places had changed – he has lived in this area for 50 years but since retiring doesn’t get out much past the local market. It was fun helping him explore his own neighborhood.
We returned to Max’s for the non-optional afternoon nap and then back to the pool for the required afternoon swim. We had fun race-walking across the pool with Max – this appears to be the preferred excercise in the pool for the older set. We got to meet a few of Max’s friends and catch up on the Kibbutz gossip – which was the same as last year – deciding if/how long time haverim (members) can “own” their homes and pass them on to their children when they die. Max is strongly in favor of this being done but not interested in the details since he won’t be here to deal with them! We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Max who cared for us like the best Jewish mother – constantly offering us food, hoking our chinik (nagging) us about our use of electronics for useless things like Facebook and making sure that we had everything we needed. I love staying with Max as it is relaxing and fun and he is so dear.
Tuesday morning we left Max and headed to Tsfat – which is only a short drive from K’far HaNasi but most of it up a steep climb. The country side was stark but beautiful. Yiscah, who lived in Tsfat in the 1970s, was struck by how much Tsfat changed and I was struck by how difficult it was to navigate. We wound our way up and down hills and narrow one way roads until we were able to find the zimmer where we were staying. Last summer Yiscah and I met Lorelai at one of our more memorable Shabbat dinners in Jerusalem. She and her husband run a zimmer in Tsfat as well as teaching people to eat better and care for their health in a Jewishly informed food based manner. The zimmer was very cute and cool and comfortable. We left our luggage and headed out to find our way around the Artist Colony and Old City of Tsfat. There are many studios and shops with working artists in them in Tsfat and so much beautiful art, jewelry and Judaica to be admired and possibly purchased. I love microcalligraphy and so wandered into the first place displaying pieces. It turned out to be the studio of Leon Azoulay. I have a piece by him that friends gave Steve and I for our wedding. He has done beautiful pieces for the parshiot and books of Torah, for the Book of Ruth, the Pesah Haggadah and other Tanach related stories. They are amazingly beautiful and I was not sure how I was going to pick one to buy. I had narrowed it down and was helped in the process when it turned out that one of the ones I had narrowed it to was also Leon’s most recent work and his personal favorite. It is of Parshat Ethanan and contains the Sh’ma and the Ten Commandments. It is beautiful and I was able to get 2/195 in the series. We returned to his shop Wednesday morning to deliver greetings from a friend in Seattle and were invited in for coffee and had a great chat with him. He tours the US every year and if he comes to an art show near you, I highly recommend going. His work is unique and beautiful and he is a real mensch.
In addition to shops and studios, there are also many old synagogues where famous rabbis once taught. We visited the synagogue of Joseph Caro who wrote the Shulchan Aruch as well as a few others. In Caro’s shul there was a wall of ancient, crumbling sefrei kodesh (holy books). I can’t imagine you could even move them to find out what they are. I was also thrilled to see old Sephardic style Torah cases (tik) which are different than how Ashkenazic Jews wrap a Torah. Sephardic tikkim are like a box and the Torah is inside it. I wrote about them in a paper for graduate school. Another shul we went into was beautifully decorated with painting on the ceiling. We were able to find (on the second try) the house where Yiscah lived all those years ago.
In the evening we went with Lorelai to an event at the art gallery of Miriam Jaskierowitz Arman. Miriam is an amazingly multitalented woman – she is an artist, a poet, teaches master classes in vocal training and is a heck of a speaker. I won’t say she’s special because she taught – in her talk – that we are all special and none of us more special – but I will say that she is very impressive and has had an interesting, if challenging, life. She read two poems – one was a long tehilla (psalm) that she wrote in Argentina after visiting a ruined synagogue abandoned when most Jews left Argentina due to the financial situation. It was so moving and deep. She connected this idea of the ruined shul to the destruction of the Temple 2000 years ago which we will be marking on Tisha B’Av. She then held forth on what it will take to rebuild both this shul and the Temple. It was very moving and clearly deeply felt. She feels that we each have the Temple in us and that we need to build up our piece so that the actual Third Temple will be built by God in return. At the end she asked us each what was our Beit HaMigdash (Temple). I wasn’t sure what I was going to answer and then it came to me that it was my classroom. I spoke about it being the place where I build up my students to be knowledgeable Jews who know their responsibility to better the world and care for each other and all of humanity. I hope to keep this idea of what I am doing in mind as I move into and through the coming year. It certainly has/is always my goal but can get lost in the mundane details of day to day teaching and dealing with middle school students.
Wednesday morning we headed out with the goal of walking to the Old Cemetery to visit the graves of many famous rabbis. We headed down hill and at one point, looking at how much further down we had to go and, more importantly, how far up we would have to come on the way back, and thinking about the fact that it was supposed to be 100+ soon, we decided on a bit more shopping and then to drive to the cemetery on our way out of Tsfat. This proved to be quite easy and we visited the graves of Joseph Caro, the Ari (the founder of Kabbalism) and others. There were several tombs that you could go down into and these were very cool. At the more important graves there are separate sections for men and for women and, of course (sadly), the women get the back end of the tomb. This was quite frustrating and so, when all the men had left, Yiscah and I went into their section so we could see the front of the grave as well. I found this quite ironic since that morning I had read a comment on a friend’s post on FB about women only events from some male Orthodox Jew who was apparently feeling excluded! I asked him, quite politely, if perhaps there weren’t a few places he went in his Jewish life where women weren’t welcome and said that I was in favor of full inclusion at all events.
We then headed a bit further north to Meron where R. Shimon bar Yochai and his son are buried. Shimon bar Yochai is traditionally considered the author of the Zohar and was a real character. He and his son were so outraged at what Jews were doing that they hid in a cave for years where God caused a well and a carob tree to spring up to sustain them. At his grave I was struck, as I am at the Kotel, by women openly sobbing as they pray in a holy place. I can’t imagine the pain or grief in a person’s life as well as the deep faith that would bring about such a reaction/experience. Young girls weeping into their prayer books till the pages are damp and tearing, old women mumbling desperately and weeping – it is so moving to behold but so beyond my experience. I don’t know whether to be grateful that I don’t feel that broken or disappointed that I can’t be that open to the experience of connecting to God. It’s not like I wasn’t thinking about difficult or sad things – and I might even leak a tear or two – but open sobbing? For better or for worse, that has not been my experience.
One the drive between Tsfat and Meron we passed the burial places of many other rabbis including R. Tarfon. I would love on another trip to stop and hike into some of them. The countryside there is covered in grape vines and is green and lush. Really beautiful. The drive the rest of the way back to Jerusalem was not terribly exciting. We went back down the Jordan Valley the way we had come up. The most excitement was probably the two times trying to get gas, which is a real trial here. Each station has a different set up and wants different information. I thought, after last year, I knew what to do, but I was wrong. The first place wouldn’t let me use my credit card without prior approval and I had to tell them how much I was going to spend to get that. I had no idea how much gas I needed. The second place had a whole list of “operations” that you could try to do at what looked like a pay at the pump station like we have in the states. We just gave up and went inside. Thank God I had Yiscah with me so she could handle the advanced Hebrew necessary for these transactions.
I now have my final Shabbat in Jerusalem and then to Mazor to visit cousins before heading home on Sunday night. It has been a wonderful trip but much too short. I miss Steve, my bed, my home and Seattle, but I love Jerusalem and feel more and more at home here each day. Today I finally walked across the Bridge of String and through new areas of the city. I know living here every day is hard, hard, hard but I love being here and feel I come home a much better person and a much better Jew after each trip. Wednesday night I learned that we (Jews) all need to talk to each other -especially here in Jerusalem and Israel. That there is no point all being here if it just pushes us further apart. Shlomo Carlebach talked about being at the Kotel on Tisha B’Av in 1970 with 100,000 Jews and they didn’t talk to each other. So, I have been making a real effort to say “Shalom” or “Shabbat Shalom” or to strike up a conversation. As Shlomo Katz said Wednesday, if your learning drives you apart from other Jews – then it wasn’t real learning. Just as last summer – what I have learned is that we all need to love and accept and care for each other if we want the world to be a better place. Amen v’Amen.