Shalom from Shabbat in Jerusalem
Posted June 22, 2015
Friday afternoon at precisely 6:30, the time he said he would meet me, I see the sun-like smile of my friend Eric Solomon. The rabbi at Raleigh's Beth Meyer Synagogue, he bounds into the plaza at the Western Wall with his usual kick in his step and welcoming spirit.
"David! Shalom.Thank God you're here. Thank God," he says.
You would never know that he had arrived in Tel Aviv a few hours earlier and run a 10K race soon after he departed the plane.
"You must be exhausted," I said.
"I'm fine. Fine! We have a little more the an hour before we begin our walk to dinner." (That walk, by the way was up the steep grade of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City – several more hills. It was so worth it).
Before we leave for my first Shabbat dinner, we approach the Western Wall. This shrine is considered the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people. It is the last remnant of the Temple. Jews from around the world gather here to pray. People write notes to God and place them between the ancient stones of the Wall.
Jews aren't the only ones as I stood there before those massive stones for several minutes. I was lost in all space and time. Prayer, meditation, contemplative time. How many millions have stood where I am standing over the years? What messages did they leave on tiny scraps of paper placed in the wall? What prayers were uttered? Tears shed? Frustrations and fears yelled, wailed? If the stones could only talk.
Solomon and I leave and make our way into a room underneath the wall. Devoted Jews, men only, are here studying, praying, discussing and sometimes disagreeing. "What do these men do when they're not here? Do they work? If so, how do they find the time to come and pray?" I ask. The rabbi explains some have independent means, "some do work, and some are supported by the government."
We walk back to the outside area which is much more crowded now. Sunset is approaching and many will come, men on the left, women segregated to the right of a partition, all here for the beginning of their Shabbat.
After a few minutes of watching and listening, we leave. Along our 45-minute hike to his friend's apartment, I ask Solomon, "Do you ever think there will be peace here, in the way we as Americans define peace?" After a thoughtful pause he says, "I hope so. But I'm just not sure. All we can do is pray for the peace of Jerusalem and this land every day. Every day."
The Shabbat dinner is quite an experience. At sundown, the BEGINNING of the new day, we begin with prayers softly being sung. I follow along with the English translation of the Psalm that reads of angels watching over us. It's a blessing in the truest sense. We toast our wine and begin.
Two university professors, both originally from the U.S., Rabbi Solomon and I discuss several topics including life in Israel. Both professors struggle with the current official status regarding the Palestinians. The conversation is, at times, intense and impassioned. We end the evening with another sung prayer, and it's time to say thank you and good night.
The next day, before heading to a Shabbat lunch, I spend time at the United States Consulate General compound. One of the directors is an energetic young man.
Rabbi Hillel Lester and his wife, Chaya, a clinical psychologist, are hosting this group of Orthodox Jews and this Christian. Their gracious hospitality is overwhelming.
Also there among the nine small children is Lev and his wife, an attorney. Lev was recently ordained rabbi in a ceremony that included the first Orthodox women to be ordained in Jerusalem.
The third young couple were gentle and somewhat quieter than the rest: Leah Levitt and her husband, Gary Kravitz. Full beard and thin, Gary spoke of marketing and branding. I wasn't sure exactly how all of this fit in until I learned he was connected to godaddy.com. Yes, THAT GoDaddy. He sold his enterprise, Mad Mini, to GoDaddy for some $42 million before moving his family to Jerusalem.
Again sung prayers and rich discussion. And again, the question of Palestinians and how "we have to find a way to live in and on this land peacefully."
On Saturday evening, I sat in the rooftop restaurant of the Notre Dame Hotel overlooking the city, one of the most prolific views of Jerusalem. As my gaze stretched out towards the Judean desert I thought, "As far as the eye can see, I can't see any borders! I see urban life mixed with ancient history. I see farmland. I see desert, and I see space occupied by the three great religions of the world."
My thoughts are interrupted. BOOM! I jump as I'm sipping wine.
"What was that?" Then I saw a puff of smoke in the air. A canon fires an unarmed ritual shot at sunrise and sunset during Ramadan. The canon fire reminded all who could hear it for miles that on THIS Shabbat was also another holy time.
In this great city I was privileged to partake and be included in something that happens once a week – Shabbat – and something that happens once a year – Ramadan.
It's a story unto itself. It's also a significant reminder to ponder the words of the poet Yehuda Amicai who wrote:
"From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood."