Monday, March 28, 2016

Shabbat: Lifting Our Eyes Up

Photo by Susan Weinberg
March 26, 2016 by Meryll Page,

Shalom Aleichem—Welcome to the Shabbat angels, welcome to a different rhythm, a day of reflection, a day of extending our hands to each other rather than a day of creating. As the sun set near Robinson’s Arch in the walled city, we gathered to welcome Shabbat together. For me, our t’filot (prayers), our song, our dance renewed my spirit. In the background we heard Shabbat melodies echoing from youth groups. As the sky began to darken, birds circled above.  Perhaps they, too, were enjoying the scene of so many who come to this place to let their souls soar.
Photo by Josh Awend

For some of us, the Maariv we chanted together brought us to tears with its beauty.Connected to each other, to our own longings, and to this place—Jerusalem--Shabbat entered us. Walking back through the Jewish Quarter in the Old City I felt safe and protected by the walls, the group and the soft amber glow cast by the buildings onto the twisted paths we walked.

Although the mood was broken by the uproarious crowds of families and groups at the hotel dinner, once we regrouped on the terrace after dinner to study together and chant Birkat haMazon, the feeling of a very unique Shabbat returned.  For me it was captured by the idea of ascent—our spirits rising even as we studied about the olot (burnt offerings) and the Songs of Ascent.

The beautiful walk to Shira Hadashah on Shabbat morning, following the park pathway with fragrant purple wisteria hanging from the arbor. set the tone for our experience at Shira Hadashah.  It is aptly named Shira Hadasha, a new song. With full voice, the congregation sang their way through the morning. To be with an orthodox congregation where both men and women led services, read Torah, and shared a d’var Torah was inconceivable 20 years ago.  There was much to celebrate this Shabbat in the congregation as a couple named their newborn daughter. Listening to the couple weave the story of their new daughter’s name to the parasha and to the congregation heightened the intensity. Even those who didn’t understand the Hebrew words, understood the emotion of the moment.

By study time after lunch we were all talking about the community we have built with each other and how it has lifted us beyond any individual experience we could have had. As we moved into Shabbat afternoon, we each found our own way to enjoy even a rainy day in Jerusalem. 

Gathering again at Havdalah, we sang the Shabbat out as darkness fell over the city just as we had sung to welcome Shabbat.  We wished Robyn and Josh—tzaitkem b’shalom—may they leave in peace- as they travel home to their three children.

We can now close our eyes and see our Shabbat experience in our mind’s eye again and again.

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