Ron Hoffman is participating in the joint program between Canadian Friends of Hebrew University and Skilled Volunteers for Israel. Ron shares his experience of Shabbat in Jerusalem on his day of rest from the program’s intense and exciting schedule.
Shabbat morning and we leave our hotel to pray at the Kotel. We go for ourselves and for the many who have asked us to pray for them; to insert their written scrapes of paper into the cracks between the gigantic stones that rise to the sky above. To leave their messages written to Hashem along with the thousands of others who had placed similar missives in the same places over the years.
Shabbat is quiet. Fewer cars, less commotion. It’s a cloudless sky, so blue, and the sun so bright it hurt to look up towards the sky. But the sun has not yet done its work and it is still cool and comfortable for our 20 minute journey.
We walked from our hotel, the Dan Panorama, down King David Street past that grand old hotel of the same name, through the strangely silent Mamilla Mall and then up to the entrance to the most famous walled city in history. Jerusalem, the once and present site of humanity’s three related monotheistic religions. The old city’s ancient stones ever circling, their height fashioned by powerful rulers over the millennia.
The white stone of the Jerusalem rock rises up before us in stark contrast to the modernity of the mall we have just exited. We climb a few stairs and the the Jaffa Gate looms before us, providing the access we require for the route to our destination.
The Kotel itself is tucked into the south east corner of the old city, itself subdivided forever into its ethnic sectors, Jewish, Christian, Moslem and Armenian, inextricably, indivisibly and forever abutting each other.
To get to our destination we must walk through the Arab shuk. We hurry down steps and levels with many, many others. It is busy this Shabbat morning at 9.30, and the crowded stone, tunnel-like pathway, is dimly lit by filtered and artificial light. The passageway is flooded by an alternating stream or torrent of tourists and those seeking to pray, an undulating wave of humanity moving with us or against us, past the stalls of vendors on either side of the narrow passage.
Down, down, down we go deeper and deeper into the bowels of a city that is, well, you know, eternal. Its sights, its smells, and its sounds never changing; the feel of its smooth stones under foot always slippery; it’s mystery unfathomable.
The Old City engages all our senses. Sight, sound, smell, and feel yet we can never be intimate with it; rather we are worshippers of its uniqueness. Around us, we observe and anticipate…..
The sound of the Arab pedlars hawking their wares,
The sounds of prayers chanted by the many minyanim,
The sight of men with tallaisim around their shoulders and strummels on their heads hastening to find a place as close as possible to the Wall’s massive side,
And the women also hurrying to seek their place although they are divided off in their own section, all of them crowding forward in anticipation of an experience like no other.
We continue making our way and as we begin to feel as though this tunnel-pathway will never end or we’ve made the wrong turn, we step down some stairs and emerge into blazing sunlight.
We are looking down at the famous square ( can you picture it?) filled with multitudes of people milling about as they pray at the only remaining wall of ancient King Solomon’s temple.
Before we proceed, we are obliged to navigate an armed checkpoint with a full quota of airport- like X- Ray machines but today perhaps because of Purim the guards are easy and we fly through.
We separate and we pray. We insert our missives. We fulfilled our obligations and complete the prayers of our heart.
We are at peace.
Because we are here in Jerusalem, because the day is beautiful, because it is Shabbat and it is quiet, and perhaps because we are here with ten others motivated only to do good, we are optimistic that someday, somehow, mankind will figure out how to make peace, how to make that feeling we experience on this Shabbat morning , at this moment, become a lasting reality.
May our prayers be answered.