OJC’s March of the Living – Days 9 and 10, Shabbat
Let’s see, where were we? Oh yes, Friday! Our first full day in Israel. We prayed on the hotel terrace toward the Old City in the morning, to the sounds of traffic and jackhammers and the sight of the national bird, the crane, all across the horizon. And there was not a more perfect sanctuary in the world.
Our major stop on Friday was Har Herzl. We bridged our Holocaust experience with the State of Israel by learning stories of those soldiers who gave their lives for the sake of building a homeland. Some of them Holocaust survivors, each of them representing a precious story. Rank, office, and title mean nothing in this national cemetery. Every grave represents a story that is meant to be told, and we were moved by so many. This cemetery is a place of life, in stark contrast to the cemeteries of Eastern Europe. And we were asked to build upon these stories as we move forward in our lives in celebration of this land.
We affirmed this covenant by visiting the bustling market of Machaneh Yehudah, where thousands busily jostled for position among the vendors to make their final Shabbat preparations. We sampled the many ethnic foods of Israeli culture, bumped into friends and strangers, shared several laughs, and headed back to the hotel.
We welcomed Shabbat in Ezarat Yisrael, the newly designated area for men and women to pray together at the Kotel. We sang and prayed, other visitors joined our community. As we finished Kabbalat Shabbat, a group of children led by my colleague, student and friend, Rabbi Ari Lucas, descended to the platform, gathered beside us, and the rabbi and children started their prayers. Our songs occasionally clashed, and at times we joined each other’s melodies. And I felt something that I have never felt before at the Kotel. Total joy.
The OJC group closed down the dining room with a rousing rendition of Birkat Hamazon, and we were all primed to enjoy a well-deserved Shabbat rest.
Shabbat was a day of joyful rest, with some of us sampling services at different synagogues, some of us enjoying a walking tour, and some of us playing with family at the pool. We joined Rabbi Jim Rosen (Ariella’s father) and the Beth El community from West Hartford for a discussion, Maariv and Havdallah.
We ushered in the 18th day of the Omer with dining, shopping and witnessing the streets of Jerusalem crowded with people at play.
As we head toward Memorial Day on Sunday night, I pray: To those who gave so selflessly in order for us to have such joy, we thank you and hope to be worthy of your sacrifice.
Rabbi Craig Scheff