This Shabbat was an experience like no other! We started out eating dinner at the hotel. Hold on, I am mistaken. We actually started out waiting for mom to get down so that we could start kiddush. She must have missed the memo to turn her clock off of Jewish Standard Time (being late to everything). No worries though, we still had a very lovely Shabbat dinner as one nice kfutsa, group. We then moved upstairs to the chapel where we sang some of our favorite kabbalat Shabbat tunes and did some of Maariv.
Following that, cantor took those that wanted to, to the Kotel so that we could experience Shabbat there. This was such an amazing experience. One of the most memorable things for me was the walk to get there! It was truly fascinating to see all the shops closed and pretty much the whole country shut down. It was such a peaceful walk, along the streets of Jerusalem. It was incredible to see all the thousands of people walking back from the Kotel and all the thousands still praying at the Kotel. It was also amazing to see all the different sects of Jews and their customs and variations in clothing. We even got to walk down the middle of the road! It was an all-around unique and amazing feeling to see a whole country shut down for the Jewish day of rest! Once we arrived at the Kotel, it was so amazing. We were able to go all the way up to the wall and daven. Afterwards we went to the back common area where we sang some nice Jewish melodies about Jerusalem! This was such a beautiful experience!
Moving onto today! We had the amazing experience of visiting a couple synagogues here in Jerusalem. Both of the synagogues were vastly different and it really surprised me to see how different they were. The first one was a very small Sephardic synagogue. I was in absolute awe over how beautiful the arc was! It was so lovely to hear all the different tunes! The whole congregation seemed very tight knit which was so special! As we were on our way out, the congregation was in the Torah service! What happened next was unbelievable! It was time for the Levi Aliyah, but they had nobody for that Aliyah so they were asking around if there were any Levi’s. Before I had a chance to say anything, Cantor was pushing me up on the bimah. This was such a special moment and had we left 30 seconds earlier, this would not have happened. What makes it even better is that the same exact thing happened to my brother, Jeremy, six years ago on his confirmation trip. This was an experience which I will never forget.
Moving onto to the next synagogue, The Great Synagogue! I think there could not be a more perfect name for the synagogue! It was beautiful and enormous! There were three major highlights from the synagogue which will be memories we will carry with us for a long time. The first was getting to listen to the chief Sephardic Rabbi of Jerusalem recite haftorah! The second was just happening to sit in front of us – one of Cantor’s brother’s congregants and choir members! The third was viewing their spectacular mezuzah collection! The collection included historical mezuzahs and mezuzahs from famous artists. Every mezuzah in the collection was unique and beautiful with its own story. It has inspired me to create a mezuzah of my own out of clay once I get home. One of the most famous mezuzahs in the collection ironically was probably the least sophisticated one. It was literally just a small wooden box. It was made from a tiny piece of wood from the chair of the saintly great grandson of the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov whose name was Reb Nachman of Breslav. The magnificent chair made by one of his admirers was passed on from generation to generation and then brought to Israel after being disassembled. It was then expertly recreated, but a small remnant was saved to make that plain but so important mezuzah!
After our visits to the synagogues, we leisurely walked to a nearby park for a nice, enjoyable picnic lunch and then retreated back to the hotel for a nice shabbos nap/free time. Following that, we met up for dinner in the hotel. We then held a lovely havdallah outside. It was such an amazing feeling to be outside in a public area doing havdallah.
Following our havdallah, everyone else went back inside to gather their belongings so we could wander to Ben Yehudah street, but my mom and I stayed back and, from a distance watched another group do havdallah. They eventually saw us swaying to Eliyahu Hanavi and invited us over to join their circle! It was such an amazing feeling seeing others doing the same prayers as us and then inviting us over and making us feel included. There is truly nowhere else in the world where something like this can happen. To me, this is simply mind blowing!
After this beautiful experience, we headed over to the shuk, which ended up being a bust as it was still closed due to Shabbat. We then headed over to Ben Yehudah street for some shopping! I was lucky and found an American University kippah (Go Eagles!) and decided to start a shofar collection because I find them so fascinating! I have one that my grandparents got me, one that I made at summer camp, one that I got our first day here, and then one that I got last night! I have decided that every time I visit Eretz Yisrael, I will add one shofar to my collection and hopefully one day I will have a collection like the mezuzah collection we saw at The Great Synagogue! After shopping we headed back to the hotel to say lilah tov for the night. Overall, an amazing, unforgettable Shabbat experience!!!