Every year we sing “Next year in Jerusalem!” as an aspiration to be able to spend our holidays together like we did thousands of years ago when we still traveled to Jerusalem to offer holiday sacrifices in the Temple. I was lucky to be able to spend Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem, where I visited the houses of teachers and friends and opened up my home to friends. Over the holiday, I prayed with the Tzion and Nava Tehila congregations. Tzion has a unique blend of Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs and melodies. The prayer service usually starts with a few minutes of meditation to help focus our intentions during prayer. At Nava Tehila, there is often some meditation throughout the service and many of the songs are small excerpts from the liturgy sung to a lively or powerful melody with drums and dancing. Both were amazing places to celebrate the new year.
Right after Rosh Hashana, I left Jerusalem with my husband and the other students of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and the students of the Jewish Theological Seminary to spend two weeks at Kibbutz Hannaton in the southern part of the Galilee. While we were there we got to take several tours throughout the north of Israel and meet people from various communities in the Galilee including a local historian from Kfar Manda, several immigrants to Israel and a Druze man. Each person had a different set of ideas about their role in Israeli and culture and aspirations for how this county should be run. The biggest lesson I gained from these experiences is that coexistence is a complicated issue and the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know. What is encouraging is that every person we met with seemed to desire a peaceful coexistence and that they were all working towards that goal.
We went to visit the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes to hear one of the monks, Mattias Karl, who lives there speak about the arson attack that happened there. He spoke about the attack frankly and the pain in his voice was evident. He made an interesting comment that the Aleinu verse to destroy utterly all idols spray painted on the wall of his church did not bother him because it exists in a Jewish prayer, it bothered him because it was being used to describe Christianity as worshiping another God, which he believes is untrue. We may disagree about major parts of our religion’s separate theologies, but he feels that we both worship the same God and how could either of our religions see the other as idolaters? There was no answer to this question. How could there be?
I spent Yom Kippur on a silent retreat at Hannaton. I would have liked to be in Jerusalem, but I did have a meaningful experience during the retreat. Spending 48 hours in silent self-contemplation helped me do t’shuvah on myself for the first time. It was strange for the first evening to eat and be around people with no social interactions, but by the middle of the next morning, I started to feel comfortable in the silence. The few moments we did speak, it was in a mindful way that had nothing in the way of small talk. It was a relief for me to express my fears and hopes to someone who listens, knowing that it would not be shared freely and that I would not have to talk about it later. I could tell by some of the facial expression of other people in the room that they might have had a similar experience. It was a strange but meaningful activity.
By the time Kol Nidre happened, I had been living by myself in a large group for 24 hours. I felt a deeper understanding of what it means to say a prayer individually for the sake of an entire community. It was a relief to sing the songs and say the words. It took a conscientious effort to return to my silence after the service. During the day, I sat and walked in meditation instead of going to services. I chose to daven quietly by myself or to continue focusing on my practice and silence. I returned to services for Neila and found a similar experience of being swept up in the songs and prayers for God to forgive and save us. This time, at the end of services, I did not need to return to silence and I was surprised to feel a slight sadness that the retreat was over, even though it was difficult.
A few days later we built a sukkah as a community. We painted designs on the walls and hung paper chains and lights to make our sukkah feel like a home away from home (away from home). Many of us shared stories of our own sukkot at home. We enjoyed spending time in the sukkah playing games and eating meals together and from this many friendships formed and grew. We returned to Jerusalem for the last days of Sukkot. It was wonderful to be able to have a smaller Shabbat in my friend’s sukkah, but I did miss the warm chaos of the Sukkah at Hannaton and the ease of finding someone to play a game with or talk to.
I am happy to have gotten the chance to have the experience of spending those two weeks learning about how the many communities in Israel strive to coexist. I am even more grateful to have made friends who are willing to talk openly about life and their experiences living in Jerusalem.
Pre-school Teacher in Los Angeles
Synagogue: Temple Beth Am
Hometown: Livermore, California