On Friday evening, we attended a joyous Kabbalat Shabbat service in the egalitarian section of the Kotel at Robinson’s Arch before having a just few minutes for photo-taking at the Wall before the start of Shabbat. As the sun set, we then had time for private prayer and reflection at this holiest of sites and to write notes to God and place them between the ancient stones.
This video gives you a sense of the quiet beauty of the moment:
On Shabbat morning we attended the nearby Moreshet Israel synagogue for tefillot, following by a late afternoon playing sports and other games in a nearby park after the heat of the day broke.
From Shabbat, we entered Shavuot, and at 4 a.m. today, we joined the tens of thousands of worshippers making their way from across Jerusalem to the Kotel in the blessedly cool air of the pre-dawn. It started with a trickle of people, many dressed in white, filing in from every side street to join us in our walk down Jaffa Road as if drawn by a powerful magnet. Most had been awake all night studying Torah.
As we got closer to the Jaffa Gate to the Old City, the crowds in the darkened streets grew thicker, until there was barely room to move. We made our way with anticipation through the Jewish Quarter to the stairway leading to the Kotel plaza. Below us was the largest gathering of Jews any of us of had every seen. Every rooftop and inch of sidewalk seemed to have a minyan, with sounds of prayer coming from every direction.
As the sun rose over the Western Wall, with birds swooping overhead and the voices of the throngs of people rising in prayer, Noah had the privilege of lifting the Torah during the service at Robinson’s Arch. Michael then had the honor of reading for the first aliyah, which he did bravely and beautifully. We then crossed over to the main section of the Kotel to stand with the tens of thousands of people gathered in an experience none of us will ever forget.
Today was spent catching up on sleep, as well as spending time together at an old train station converted into an outdoor park before Havdalah and heading to Ben Yehudah Street for one last Jerusalem dinner.
It’s hard to believe we are approaching the end of our Israel adventure, but Eitan gave us some inspiring words of advice as we approach the final days of our trip. He shared the tale of a boy who tried to outsmart King Solomon by posing the riddle: “I have a butterfly in my hands. Tell me, is it alive or dead?” If the King had replied “dead,” the boy planned to open his hands and let the butterfly go free. If the King said “alive,” the boy would squash the butterfly in his hands. Instead, the King replied, “ha-kol b’yadecha – it’s all in your hands.” The story, Eitan explained, is a parable for the next two days. The trip is in our hands, he said, either to remain closed off, or to embrace all that Israel has to offer with full hearts and open minds.
Now on to Tel Aviv …