Earlier in the week, while walking through Jerusalem’s center, I was fairly certain that I found the little Syrian synagogue that had repeatedly blinded me with Rose Water on many Shabbat mornings when I lived here. (If you do not recognize this reference, then clearly you need to work on your Shabbat morning attendance!)
So, waking up early, I went back to that synagogue to revisit sacred, old memories.
On the way, I walked past the Italian Synagogue. I haven’t thought about the Italian Synagogue in years, but it is another synagogue where I spent many Shabbat mornings. (It is a beautiful place with a wonderful Italian-nusach davening, but no great perfume stories.)
When I finally arrived at the intended synagogue and walked inside, I knew that I wasn’t in the synagogue of my memories – interior layout definitely totally different, and not new enough to be a renovation!
But the synagogue was wonderful. The Rav, sat next to the lectern from which the Shaliach Tzibur led the service, which was in the front, next to the Aron Hakodesh, facing away from the congregation (I hesitate to say where it belongs, or where it traditional is/was, where it used to be). The Rav did nothing while various members of the congregation led the various parts of the service, with warmth and a sense of kevannah, but not spectacular voices. It felt like home, like a place I would want to be.
Those in attendance were a diverse crowd – Ashkenazim, Sephardim, some Chasidim, some general Black Hatters, and some hard to identify. It was absolutely mixed seating, though it was men only!
When I walked in, I noticed a window on the far side of the room, so assuming it was going to get hot as the morning progressed, I went and sat down next to the window. Only later did I realize that the window wasn’t to the outside, it was to the Ezrat Nashim – the women’s section, a whole second room right next to the one I was in. I tried not to imagine what they thought when some stranger came into their home and made a bee-line to go sit next to the Ezrat Nashim – one more lecherous American!
Again, the davening had a sense of love and caring. As is common in Israel, people were using a variety of different Siddurim and page numbers were never announced.
The Torah was read from the beautiful Bimah in the center of the room (sorry I justify that off my previous description). I was honored to be presented with Hagbah.
Anim Zemirot was led beautifully by a boy of about 8. I enjoyed being able to follow the whole Hebrew Alphabet through the song! (Again, if you miss the reference you either need to work on your Shabbat morning attendance, or if you are a regular attending, when we conclude the service pay special attention to the first letter of each line of Anim Zemirot and notice that something funny happens in the middle.)
As we were singing, the back tables were set for the Kiddush. I was standing for Kiddush, and Amnon, the fellow who led Musaf, invited me to sit. I said that I was fine, but he insisted – really adamantly. So I sat. When I did I found myself next to Amnon, across from the Rav and the fellow who had sponsored the Kiddush and led Shacherit. I think it was the Kiddush equivalent of the head table.
Kiddush began with the singing of a beautiful Aramaic poem, written by Rabbi Nachman of Chernobyl. Beautiful. We will find the right way to take a look at it together when I come back to San Diego.
At the Kiddush, the Rav gave a wonderful drashah.
Sadly, I had to head out since we had company coming for lunch.
Eitan joined us for Shabbat lunch. You may recall that we had seen Eitan twice before, the previous Shabbat and Monday at the Conservative Movement’s barbecue, and that he is the brother of an Ohr Shalom groom.
After lunch, we walked over to the park, and while Shayna and Nadiv played, Maital napped, Jen watched, Eitan and I were engaged in a meaningful conversation about his explorations that brought him to Jerusalem and his musings about new directions for his future.
First, he is a bright, engaging, gut-neshamah young man, and I very much enjoyed talking to him, telling him my stories and offering him my insights. It reminded me of the years I spent at BCI, a powerful program for young Jewish adults. During my years there, I engaged close to 500 Jewish 20-somethings, and pushed them towards Jewish exploration and self exploration. Those are sacred memories of mine.
Of course it also reminds me that it was BCI that Jennifer attended (before I worked there), that led her to Israel, that led her to graduate work in Jewish Communal Service and Social Work, that led her to an internship at the American Jewish Committee, that led her to me. (Which also reminded me that Rabbi Gary Greenenbaum, the director of the AJC in Los Angeles who is partially responsible for our meeting, was in Jerusalem and I forget to tell Jen that he said ‘hi’.) And BCI is also the place we got married – even more sacred memories!
Anyway, I hope the conversation was at least thought provoking for Eitan. It certainly raised a lot of wonderful memories for me.
After a while at the park, we walked over to the home of Rabbi Menashe, Donna and Ayala East, and all together strolled to the Old City.
It was Shayna, Nadiv and Maital’s first sojourn to the Kotel – another sacred moment in our life as a family. I can’t show you the pictures, because it was Shabbat and they are all in my head, but they are there forever!
At the Kotel, Jennifer took Shayna and Nadiv, and I took Maital.
At the Kotel, I explained to Maital about the tradition of kissing the wall, and then I kissed it. This made her smile. So I kissed it again. She smiled again, and then she took her hand and pushed my face against the wall, so I kissed it again. She did it again. And again. And again. Then I took my hand, and gently pushed her face towards the wall, and she kissed it – a beautiful sight! Then I kissed it. Then she kissed it. Then I kissed it. Then she kissed it. Then I kissed it. Then she kissed it. This went on for a while, with huge smiles on both of our faces, and the beginnings of tears in my eyes.
Finally, I sang her words of Psalms praising and thanking God, and offered a prayer thanking God for protecting my baby from injury.
Then we all had a wonderful picnic dinner on the plaza in front of the wall.
When Shabbat ended, almost 8:30 PM, we leapt into cabs, came straight home and put the kids right to sleep.
I would have been more than happy to go right to sleep with them, but I was outvoted, and instead we had another wonderful night of strolling and laughing, shopping and ice cream, walking around the Midrochov (center of town).