I began writing this post during our El Al return flight to JFK. The flight, which was originally scheduled for a 10:40 am departure, was rescheduled to 2 pm and then delayed again at the airport two more hours. The rescheduled departure gave us a few more hours in Jerusalem, an unexpected gift which enabled Marilyn and me to enjoy a quiet coffee on the Ben Yehuda midrachov (outside mall) before leaving for Ben Gurion.
Since our return to Jerusalem from three days of touring the north, I concluded my Israel minyanim uneventfully. Friday shachris I walked to the Old City to the Hurva synagogue one last time. After davening, camera in hand, I went up into the ezras nashim (women’s section) to shoot some photographs. Of all the Israeli shuls in which I davened this trip, the Hurva stood out both in terms of the quiet seriousness of the davening and the magnificent beauty of the shul itself. It is a place where, for me at least, the physical enhanced the spiritual.
After davening I took the kids to Machne Yehuda to see how Jerusalemites get ready for Shabbos. They really enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the market – especially when I took them to the candy store to stock up on Israeli candy. And stock up they did!
From there we took the light rail to Shaar Yaffo where we met Marilyn and returned to the Old City for some shopping. There is a store in the Old City, Rivkah’s, where we have shopped for years. The owner was pleased to see us and after making some purchases he took me and Moshe to the Ramban shul to daven mincha. In years past I have davened shachris in the Ramban at the 7am minyan where Rav Nebentzhal, Chief Rabbi of the Old City, attends that minyan daily. This trip this Friday mincha was my first time at the Ramban. It was an efficient minyan attended, as it turned out, by many Americans.
I left it up to Moshe to decide where we would daven Friday night Kabbolos Shabbos. He wanted to return to the Kotel and daven at a minyan (non- Chassidic) of his choice. As the Shabbos siren sounded, we enjoyed a pleasant walk down Yaffo Street to the Old City, thru the Rova (the Jewish quarter) down the steps on last time and onto the packed Kotel plaza which reflected the diversity of the Jewish people – Ashkenazic and Sephardic, Chassidic and Yeshivish, Charadi and Chardalnicks, religious and non-religious, residents and tourists – and of course, especially special during the current times, chayalim (soldiers) in uniform – siddur in hand and M-16 draped over a shoulder. Moshe selected an American minyan next to a Yeshivish Carlebach minyan. The inevitable mixture of sound and nussach added to the unique experience of welcoming the Shabbos at the Kotel. The davening was punctuated by sounds of a nearby minyan which included many chayalim and which began with intense singing and dancing exemplifying the spirit of these young warriors as well as the intense love and respect which the these young defenders of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel both deserve and enjoy.
Shabbos morning we went to the 8am minyan at the Yeshurun Central Synagogue on King George Street. The shul’s physical beauty lies in its dignified simplicity and the davening reminds me of my youth at the Queens Jewish Center; nussach Ashkenaz, a professional Chazzen, no choir and a religious Zionist congregation. It was Shabbos mevarchim Elul and the Chazzen’s nussach was an especially appropriate beginning to the period of teshuva.
Interestingly, while there was large number of attendees, there were only a few saying kaddish. Indeed, much to my surprise throughout our stay in Israel, I found, again and again, that in virtually every minyan I attended I was often the only aveal.
At alaenu someone came up to me and asked if the person standing with him could recite the kaddish together with me. We looked at each other and virtually at the same time asked from where we knew each other. We soon determined that it was from the shul in Columbus. The familiar looking gentleman was none other than Rabbi Ackerman, the rabbi in the shul in which I had recently davened in Columbus.
After davening I walked the two blocks down King George to the Great Synagogue to see if I could catch a part of the davening of the world famous Chazzan Adler. Unfortunately, the services were concluding and I will have to try again on my next visit to Jerusalem. We returned to Yeshurun for mincha and davened maariv in the Jerusalem Plaza hotel where said good-by to Marilyn’s parents who were returning to New York after Shabbos.
Sunday was our last full day in Israel and we planned another full day of touring and education for the kids with Gershon. I davened Shachris at the 6 am minyan in Yeshurun so that we would be ready for our 7:15 am pick up by Gershon. We began the day in Efrat at Caliber 3, an anti-terror training facility that allows tourists to experience simulated training. For the kids the shooting range and krav maga training was great fun. For me the real import of the visit was meeting the people. Our instructor was a man by the name of Eitan, a former Givati brigade special forces anti-terror officer. While he clearly is an extraordinary warrior, he is even more so an extraordinarily compassionate Jew whose mission in life is the defense of the Jewish people. The entire trip to Israel was worth it just to spend time with Eitan.
From there we went to the museum at Gush Etzion. On the way we stopped at the bus stop where some two months ago Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped. The location has become a defiant memorial to these there young souls.
After the Gush we returned to Jerusalem for an emotional conclusion to our visit. We visited Har Herzel and the graves of too many holy souls who have sacrificed their lives for the return of the Jewish People to Eretz Yisrael. We paid our respects to Hannah Senesh, Yoni Netanyahu, the Dakar submarine crew and many others, well known and not so well known, including Nisim Gini, a boy of ten who died in 1948 in the defense of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Each step brought more tears to my eyes. Saying kaddish will never be the same.