Highlights from the Holy Land

March 1, 2019, JERUSALEM
By Lisë Stern
FRIDAY Our synagogue immersion continues, this time through places of worship recreated at the Israel Museum. The museum houses four model synagogues , from three continents. While the differences are striking, the similarities are more so: each has an ark for the Torah, a bimah or stand for the public prayer leader, and seating for congregants. The Cochin synagogue from southern India was built in the 16th century, and those from Italy, Germany, and Suriname (with a sand floor) date to the 18th century.
Friday night we experience a synagogue in action. The egalitarian Conservative synagogue Beit Knesset Moreshet Yisrael is across the street from our hotel, and some of us walk over for the Kabbalat Shabbat, the Friday night service welcoming the Sabbath. This space is a high-ceilinged room with seats arranged in a semicircle, the Torah ark at the back of the room. The service leader, a Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) rabbinical student from Dallas, Texas, stands at a lectern closer to where the seats are. It turns out to be a small crowd - in fact, our group brings in enough people to make a minyan. Small, but spirited, with engaging melodies.
Some of the group opt to go to the Orthodox Great Synagogue , next door to the hotel. Seating for women is up in a balcony. Attendance here is greater, perhaps 200 people, though the enormous space is still more than half empty. This congregation has an acapella male chorus leading many of the prayers.
We all come together for a Shabbat dinner with all the abundant trimmings back at our hotel.

D AY 4
March 2, 2019, JERUSALEM
By Lisë Stern
SATURDAY is Shabbat, a more leisurely day. Some of us opt to go to the Orthodox Italian synagogue with Dudu, who tells us he's visited the shul many times, but has never davened there. He's a Cohen, and is honored with an Aliyah. I opt for Kehilat Har-El, the first Reform congregation in Jerusalem, established in 1958. It's been at its current location, on the first floor of an apartment building, since 1962. It's a small, welcoming community. It happens to be Shabbat Shekalim, my bat mitzvah parsha, and I'm honored with the Aliyah to dress the Torah.
After lunch at the hotel, we have a talk with a representative from the Original Women of the Wall, an organization that is striving to allow women to conduct Torah services at the Western Wall, the way men do on their side of the mechitzah. The group then splits, with some going with Dudu for a walking tour of Mea Shearim, an ultra orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem. Others go with David for an urban hike to the Tayelet Haas , a hillside park with a breathtaking view of the Old City. We're finding that sharing experiences with one another is its own kind of sacred space.
617-244-6506 |