Day Three of our 10th annual mitzvah mission proved to be an emotional roller coaster. We returned to Ahava, anxious to finish our projects, determined to dedicate a final product at the end of the day. We worked hard and fast, skipping lunch. As we waited for the cement stools to dry and the tile mosaics to set, a young girl by the name of Efrat entertained us with her exuberant dancing, magnetic personality and charming smile. We danced and laughed as the final touches were completed. Finally, the work of our hearts and our hands was permanently memorialized. Efrat and her friends quietly stood with us as David Klein spoke of his son and Rob, and of the significance of our community shoveling soil together once again, this time for the purpose of planting. Two ficus trees now stand side by side, one in memory of Rob Katz and one in memory of Danny Klein. They will grow together and ultimately become intertwined. They will spring large leaves that will offer shade to those who seek shelter sit in “Rob’s Corner.” We charged the children to care for this corner of their lives, always remembering how they witnessed a group of adults sharing raw emotion, love, respect, comfort and care. We had come to Ahava to offer comfort, but in the end, amidst our tears, these children comforted us.
Driving into Jerusalem, we stopped atop Mount Scopus to see the city from afar. We stood next to Christian pilgrims who sang songs of praise. The Muslim call to prayer rang out atop their song, and we stood quietly in a tight circle for a moment to take in the significance of these three faiths in momentary peaceful coexistence. We then offered our own pilgrim’s prayer, thanking God for the ability to give of ourselves and appreciating the opportunity share the moment together.
Day Four began with a morning service at the Masorti Kotel. We were completely alone in the archaeological park. We celebrated several “firsts” as Miriam led Shacharit, Linda and robin read Torah, and Lesley received her first aliyah. Once again, the ability to pray together and stand side by side at the wall was not lost on any of us. We drew together in a circle of prayers for peace, comfort, healing and gratitude. The sentiments pulled us closer to one another, and the prayer became one.
The final stop before our closing lunch was Hand in Hand, a school in Jerusalem where 600 Israeli Arab and Jewish children learn together. As the children grow through their high school years, they engage one another openly in confronting the difficult challenges that their conflicting national narratives present. They come to recognize that hearing each other’s personal family narratives, and appreciating each other’s suffering, is the most important lesson if they are to be able to move forward constructively. They recognize that there are many extremists (and not-so-extremists) from their respective communities who don’t support their decision to coexist in this fashion. A year ago, the students saw their school set afire by Jewish arsonists. Graffiti on the walls of their school is not uncommon. Their response: We may disagree about the past, but we have a shared future whether we like it or not. The teens with whom we met were not idealists; they recognize the many challenges they face. But they are determined–even in a time of fear and anxiety–to continue living their shared lives. We thanked them for their courage and determination, and we prayed that their glimmer of hopefulness would carry them bravely into the future. Perhaps their voices will one day proclaim peace in the land.
A final lunch gave each of us the ability to reflect on what we had accomplished and on the gifts we received from one another and from being the community that we are. Due to the intentions we bring to this experience, our circle is one that is able to expand easily, and to welcome those who are similarly committed. We invite you to join us, next year in Israel.
As I finish writing this entry, I am watching news about 2 more attacks today, one in Tel Aviv this morning and one in Gush Etzion this evening. The second hits closer to home than any of the attacks thus far. It is suddenly harder to leave than it was before. I want to remain in a place of hope, and I want to do my part to bring hope to others. And I don’t want to have to wait until next year to do it.
Perhaps Mitzvah Dy this Sunday back at the OJC will restore a measure of the hope we have felt all week long.
Rabbi Craig Scheff