Wednesday, 27 February 2019, JERUSALEM
By Lise Stern
We are a tribe of 12 from both coasts of of the United States, gathered in Jerusalem by Dr. David Bernat, Executive Director of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts, for a trip themed The Synagogue Then and Now. We are diverse in religion, genders, and occupations, ranging in age from 21 to 86.
Our Israeli tour guide is Dr. Dudu Cohen, who also has a doctorate degree in Biblical Archaeology. He tells us that the lobby of our hotel, Prima Kings, is known as a meeting spot for religious couples who have been set up on dates, and indeed, we see several such couples chatting around the room.
We head to Mamilla for our first dinner, Luciano's, with excellent Italian food, which arrives family style in waves. Dudu gives us a background of where we are, and David leads us in a discussion of our personal concepts of sacred spaces. For some, we find it in synagogues, others in nature, while bicycling, in our home. Good preparation for the more formal sacred spaces we'll be visiting tomorrow.
Thursday, 28 February 2019, JERUSALEM
By Lise Stern
We start with a sumptuous Israeli breakfast, then head out into pouring rain. Dudu tells us it's supposed to be the greatest amount of rain fall in one day this winter.
But we soldier on, heading to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Our first stop is a four-fer: the Four Sephardic synagogues, which are separate but interconnected synagogues representing different communities, dating from the 1500s to the 1700s.
The rain steps up its game as soon as we step outside again, turning into hail. Our next stop is a Karaite synagogue, said to be the oldest in the Old City, built at the end of the 12th century. Gratefully, we settle into seats in a small theatre, where we watch a short background film. The Karaite foundation is the Tanach--that is, the 24 books of the bible--the five books of Moses, the Writings, and the Prophets. No post biblical law--no Talmud, no Shulchan Aruch. Do Karaites keep kosher? Yes, but it's a different kashrut--no pork or shellfish, but yes meat and milk together--just no cooking an animal in the milk of its mother, because that's all the Torah says. Men and women pray together. Their are no seats in their synagogue; rather, congregants kneel or stand.
We end our time in the Old City at the Kotel, the Western Wall. Given the weather, it is not crowded, but there is something powerful about seeing the rain-washed massive stones, the spaces between stuffed with rolled paper notes in white, yellow, orange, pink, forming a veined topography of prayers and dreams. I touch the wall through the mayim chayim, the living waters, and feel the millennia of devotions that have also touched this space.
The day ends with a grand feast at Haztot, a meat restaurant near the Mahane Yehuda market that has been in operation since 1970.
We have seen many spaces today that are holy to diverse Jewish communities. Experiencing such a variety broadens and expands our own sense of the sacred.