Shabbos Kodesh in Yerushalayim
Singers sing about it, poets rhapsodize, artists and sculptors try to capture it. People from all over the world long for it, think of it, remember it at their most supreme moments.
It is majesty, it is beauty. It is ancient, it is modern. It is mysterious and accessible and holy and crowded and chaotic. It is prayers and tears at the Kotel, it is falafel at the Machene Yehuda shuk. It is Yerushalmim who have lived here for generations, it is immigrants from America, from Russia, from Yemen, from every continent and country.
It is Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh – the holy city of Jerusalem.
As our bus rolled into Yerushalayim early Friday morning, I felt a lump rise in my throat and my eyes stung. The houses of Jerusalem stone, the rolling hills, the view of the ancient walls in the distance – it was another moment of “can we really be here?” Pinny and I watched through the windows silently as we enterered the city, unable to look away from what we were seeing.
We started our tour in “Ir Dovid” by climbing to a high lookout spot in the eastern part of Yerushalayim. From there, we looked out over the Arab quarter, with its stacks of tiered houses, its laundry lines, its satelite disks. Then it was on to tour underneath the city in an ancient waterway reconfigured by King Chizkiyahu over 3000 years ago. We climbed down and down and down into the narrow, slick, rocky path that was rapidly and secretly built to allow the Jews of the time to have hidden access to water. On our way, we passed “the Burnt House” – an relatively new archaological site that puts names and facts on object from the time of Churban Bayis Sheni – the destruction of the Second Temple.
We climbed up and down, around and around, up steps and down ancient slippery-worn stone streets, dazed with the bright sunlight and heat and sheer amount of information coming our way. The Pool of Shiloach -uncovered when the Jerusalem municipality wanted to build a parking lot -evidently a common construction issue in Eretz Yisroel – dig down a few feet and you discover a generation that lived a thousand years ago. Great for historians, archeologists,and tourists, not so much for construction workers and contractors. The ancient drainage system under the city – passing under the homes of the Arab quarter of the Old City.
Then, rather spent, we traveled by bus to the Machane Yehuda market, where Tova bought us each our choice of a falafel or a shwarma for lunch and Avi sent us off with the admonition “Watch our for pickpockets! Have a great time!” The sights, the smells, the sounds! Produce in an explosion of color and variety, spice stalls, candies brightly arrayed in ourdoor carts. Sellers hawking their wares: ” The best challot!! Felafel – strictly kosher! Come Giveret, have a taste, take a look, come buy – I will give you the best price!” A group of young American- looking men, in caps and tzitzis and kippot srugot, playing joyfully at one end of the shuk, on flute, guitar, violin: tunes of Shabbos. A trio of dissapaited, cigarrette-smoking, payos-swaying guys holding guitars playing some American rock songs from another era. Marzipan bakery, with chocolate rugalach straight from the oven, still finger-burningly hot, being snatched up by eager customers from the huge sheet trays, as they hand over shekalim to the beleagured cashier. And everywhere, a moving mass of humanity, the crowd pushing, seething, traveling almost as one, as we tried to hang on to our group and not get lost!
We all had fun, but were very happy to get back on the bus and travel to our lovely hotel on Rechov David Hamelech, called “The King Solomon”. Downstairs again, a couple of hours later, showered, refreshed, and dressed for Shabbos for the next experience. We traveled to the home of a family who lives in a home facing Har Habayis. The husband/father of the family is a singer of the Carlebach type – actually, he identifies himself as a chassid of R. Shlomo Carlbach. After offering us refreshments, he played the guitar and sang, as we sat on his rooftop, sang along, and soaked in the scene and the sanctity of the moment. It was a really lovely thing. Soon it was time to light candles and go to the Kotel for Kabbalas Shabbos – the prayers that welcome the Shabbos.
How can I describe this? Shall I tell you about the throngs off people from all walks of life, of every nationality,color and stripe, who were gathered there to celebrate Shabbos? Shall I tell you about the group of female soldiers, some in khaki pants, others in skirts, gathered together on the womens’ side singing lecha dodi like angels? Shall I tell you about touching the stones, stroking the crevices where thousands of fingers have touched, crying and praying and connecting? It was all that and more.
There was more – a wonderful, festive dinner at the Citadel Hotel with the Pittsburgh Federation mission, visits to different synagogues, some much needed rest – and best of all, continuing to get to know everyone in our group even better as we caught our breath and spent Shabbos together, even if we were in all different directions at some points!
Truly a Shabbos to remember!