Saturday, April 28, 2012

Day 6 – Driving the Rift

We started out the day with a visit to an ancient synagogue on the outskirts of Tiberius.  The synagogue happens to be located to the hottest hot springs in Israel.  According to legend, the source of these local hot-springs are little demons who were condemned to the depths by King Solomon, forced to heat up the water.  However the people were afraid that when the demons found out Solomon was dead, they would rise up and attack humanity.  To solve this, they made the demons deaf, so they would never learn the news of Solomon’s death.  Thankfully WiFi service around Tiberius isn’t great, so they are unlikely to find out the news from the Internet either.

Vies from my Room
One of the amazing elements of this synagogue is its mosaic floor.  This floor is one of the most elaborate in all of Israel.  However what is really fascinating about it is the use of a zodiac.  Clearly the people just walked over it, which meant it was not an object of reverence.  But its presence also indicates the pervasiveness of Hellenism in the Jewish world. 


We then headed off on a drive through the rift valley towards Jerusalem.  We saw the beginnings of the security fence.  We saw the borders with Jordan.  We encountered camels at a local rest stop, which several of our fellow travelers actually rode.  And we saw flocks of goats tended to by the increasingly less nomadic Bedouins. 


And then through a tunnel, and behold, the wonders of Jerusalem.  As Mike, our guide indicated, one always goes up (alah) to Jerusalem.  To celebrate the moment, we gathered together at Mount Scopus to recite a schecheyanu.  We also took many pictures, though we did manage to avoid the local chotchkee seller.

Jerusalem was my home for nearly one full year, so I tend to remember it, what little I do, on a micro scale.  I remember the markolet where I would pick up some noshes on my way home.  I remember the grocery store that I would go to rather than the shuk, because I am not incredibly fond of crowds.  I remember walking past the Prime Minister’s House everyday on my way to class.  Strangely enough, it’s the same Prime Minister. 

We then dropped the group off at Macheneh Yehuda the very popular shuk (market) in New Jerusalem.  The first order of business was to get some falafel in lafa which is more like a wrap, and in my opinion, much tastier than pita.  And then we took in the sites, sounds, and smells.  It seemed like everyone was there in preparation for Shabbat.  Ultra-Orthodox, ‘secular’ Israelis, however the majority of people appeared to be tourists.  However since my last time in Israel, an increasing number of tourists appear to be from non-English speaking countries.  I have heard several Spanish dialects along with German and at least one sassy Aussie.

Many of us purchased items for our hosts later that evening.  And all were impressed by the solid mass of humanity that were huddled in together in pursuit of either really tasty vegetables or just the right inappropriate t-shirt.  I was reminded equally why I like Machaneh Yehuda so much, and also why I would go there so little. 

We then got cleaned up at the hotel, and headed off with our guest driver to Birkat Shalom, a reform congregation, located in Kibbutz Gezer on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

There we were joined by Rabbi Miri Gold, her husband, members of the Kibbutz, and two HUC Rabbinic interns.  These interns and Rabbi Gold led us in a fun, lively, and in my opinion, almost camp like service.  I mean that in the highest compliment, for I hold camp services (as opposed to campy services) deep in my heart.

We then joined with various families for wonderful meals and significant conversations relating to life for liberal Jews in Israel.  Needless to say, it is not easy for anyone, and especially for those trying to live a liberal Jewish life on a kibbutz.  Many are ex-pats, though there were a good number of Israelis as well.

I think it was eye opening for many on the trip, and it was a great way to kabbalat Shabbat, to welcome in the Sabbath.  We had so much fun, that it took an extra half hour just to convince everyone to get on the bus.  Hopefully there were connections made that will last well beyond this trip.

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