Rabbi Grushcow here, reporting on Day 7 of our trip. Appropriately enough, Day 7 was Shabbat. Jerusalem on Shabbat is like nowhere else in the world. The city, at least where we were, was quiet and calm. A small contingent got up for services, while others enjoyed Shaarei Sheina (“Gates of Sleep”). Services were at Shira Chadasha, a self-defined Orthodox Feminist congregation. There, men and women work together to create a community which is as egalitarian as possible within their understanding of Halacha (Jewish law). Women are called to, and chant from, the Torah, and lead parts of the service, and everything is lay led. I Left the service with two strong feelings: respect for those who are committed to this project, and appreciation of our movement’s fundamentally different approach. I have to say, I also enjoyed the chance to have a Shabbat in the pews, taking the time to pray and reflect in a different way.
Our group reconvened at the hotel and went back to the Old City. We saw a large group of Muslim women coming out of the Al Aqsa mosque from their midday prayer, and the vendors (selling everything from Arab bagels to toys to socks) waiting to receive them. Looking at the Old City wall, we spied a bird slipping between the stones to put food in her baby’s open mouth.
We ate lunch and stopped at the Austrian Hospice for apple strudel, coffee, and beer – as well as a 15 minute summary of Christian origins (which hopefully was as interesting to everyone else to hear as it was to me to tell). Then off to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where multiple Christian groups share space with varying degrees of cooperation. France said a prayer for the Habs, which, in addition to those which may have been slipped into the Western Wall on Thursday, seem to be bearing fruit! So much of the intensity of the Old City comes from overlapping faiths, and we got a real sense of that throughout the day.
After the church, some of us took Noam up on his offer of a hike mixed with history. We went to Lifta, a Palestinian town which was abandoned in 1948. We saw the remains of beautiful Crusader buildings with Arab houses and mosques on top. More important than the architecture, though, we got a sense of the other stories and voices which shape this land. It was very strange to see yeshiva boys swimming in what once was this village’s natural pool – not to mention their unhappy surprise at women wanting to join in the swim. It was quite the encounter. Suffice it to say, not enough bathing suits. Most upsetting to me, though, was seeing anti-Arab graffiti on what once had been a mosque. And yet it was heartening to meet a young woman from the Betzalel art school who is working towards the preservation of the site. We hiked down the hill as the sun was setting over this extraordinary city of contradictions. You can understand why the ancients thought Jerusalem was the centre of the world.
We ended the day with havdalah, on a terrace overlooking the Old City. We used wine from Yonatan’s vineyard in the Galilee (day 3, thanks to Stephen and France), spices from the Jerusalem market (day 6, thanks to Leslie and Denise), and a candle from Tsfat (day 3, thanks to David and Michael). Each component had special meaning for us this week. Most of all, just like the separate candles at the beginning of Shabbat are transformed into the interwoven wicks at the end, so too our group has come together through the shared experiences of this trip. I feel privileged to be part of such a thoughtful, curious and caring group. What a gift to see Israel through all these different eyes.