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Israel Journal (2012-2013)

Day 5: December 28, 2012 — Jerusalem
by Robert M.

Looking out over Jerusalem »

TODAY IS A DAY of opposites. We go from quiet remembrance at the Holocaust museum, Yad VaShem, to the extremely present-day chaos of the Jewish market; the festivities of the Western Wall to the quiet of Jerusalem on a Friday night; the lowest place on earth to the city most connected with God.

Our day starts by the Dead Sea — 1,400 feet below sea level. Driving through the Judean mountains up to Jerusalem, we pass thousands of years of Jewish history. We pass the cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Masada (Spoiler: We climb it on Monday) and Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. We finally arrive on Mount Scopus and say Mah Tovu looking out over Jerusalem just as Balaam said it looking out over the Israelite tents. (Numbers 24:5) Jerusalem stretches out in front of us in a beautiful jumble of ancient houses, synagogues, mosques and churches. The city is blindingly bright. The walls of the Old City glow warmly, the golden Dome of the Rock dazzles the eye, and every house seems to have at least one face fully exposed to the sun. For the first time, gazing at Jerusalem, I feel the sense of homecoming that defined the Zionist movement.

From there, we drive to Yad VaShem, the Holocaust memorial museum and research institute. The museum is a huge triangular room, stretching over a cliff on the lower end and ending in the sun-drenched balcony looking over Jerusalem. This layout parallels the journey of the Jewish people toward the light of Jerusalem and a Jewish homeland. We then say the Mourners’ Kaddish in the memorial for those who died.

Lunch in the shuk, the open-air market, on a Friday in Jerusalem is overwhelming. People shove (the only way to move) in all directions, and the air is filled with the smells of meat, fruit, flowers and almost anything else with a smell. The bakery and pastry shop Marzipan sells what is undoubtedly the best rugalah in the Galaxy. (Rabbi Zeidman whole-heartedly agrees). The shwarma, falafel and pomegranates are excellent. The transition from the minimalist silence of Yad VaShem to the hyper-stimulation of the shuk is both jarring and deliberate. It reminds us not to dwell for too long in the past and to continue life in the present.

Even at 3:30 PM when we leave the market, the city is beginning to calm. Shops are closing, people walk with a hurried purpose and a bag of groceries, and men with enormous fur hats begin to fill the streets of the Old City. At the hotel, some of the people in the group go through the Old City to the Western Wall to see the beautiful festivities of Shabbat at the holiest location in Judaism. Singing and dancing break out around the wall as darkness falls over Jerusalem. The rest of the group goes to a lovely service at the Reform synagogue Kehilat Har-El.

During the service, Rabbi Ada Zavidov invites Rabbi Zeidman and all of the children of the congregation to lead the blessing over the wine during the service. Cantor Evan Cohen is accompanied with a magnificent and beautiful sounding harp. One of the founders of the congregation also welcomes us and tells everyone about the historic and important connection between Har-El and Temple Emanu-El. After services, the group splits and each family has dinner with an Israeli family from the synagogue. Everyone’s Shabbat is filled with life, light, laughter and good food.

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