July 13, 2013 Shabbat of a Lifetime

Yesterday was magnificent, a day teens will long remember. Anticipation of Shabbat arriving at sundown filled the air all around Jerusalem. The atmosphere feels different than any other day of the week. People hustling and bustling about, greetings of “Shabbat Shalom” or “Good Shabbos” from almost everyone we met, made us feel like we truly belong here.

We began the day with a beautiful hike at the Sataf, where kids had the opportunity to be up close and personal with nature. The trees, the seven species (mentioned in Torah), little springs inside little caves, filled our senses with delight. Hiking is a favorite pastime for many Israelis. With such a beautiful land to explore, it is easy to understand why this is so.

Then it was on to Macheneh Yehudah (the “market”) for a shopping and eating extravaganza! It seems like every resident of Jerusalem must have been at the market with us! The sights and sounds were incredible, as were the smells of freshly baked goods (bubka of every kind, rugelach, etc.). Kids ate and shopped to their delight! I took pictures of the bounty for you all to see—huge watermelons, peppers, cucumbers, fish, and all kinds of other goodies—that are for sale (at great prices!) at the market. I couldn’t help but think about all the delicious Shabbat meals that would be enjoyed that evening, in honor of Shabbat, made from the fresh goodies available at one’s fingertips.

Teens spent a good part of the afternoon resting and enjoying the gorgeous pool at the hotel. We wanted them well rested and in good shape for our Shabbat of a Lifetime.

Around 6 p.m. we departed our hotel for the Old City, making our way to the Kotel (Wall). We stopped along the way to begin preparing ourselves mentally and spiritually for Shabbat. For some teens, celebrating Shabbat is a regular occurrence. For others, this was a first. For all, it was a once-in-a-lifetime Shabbat. We warmed up our voices and got our feet moving as we sang and danced our way to the Kotel. Once we arrived there, it was pure amazement.

Thousands, literally, thousands of people were there too. Jews from the world over. We were all there because we are Jewish. It is the place that beckons to us, regardless of what we believe or how we worship, if at all. Kids didn’t know where to look first. They had about an hour to spend at the Kotel, singing, dancing, praying or just taking it all in. And, they did it all.

Ladies on one side, guys on the other. It seems like there were tens of thousands of men when I peered over the divider. At the Wall and for several rows back, I saw a sea of black hats and coats. Very religious men totally engrossed in their prayers. The rest of the area was filled with men singing and dancing, scooping up every guy to join in their dancing circles. It was unreal!

Many of our guys were swept up into dancing circles, and swept up with emotion. They never experienced anything like this. The feeling of one, of family. Dancing with strangers, who are family. One of the boys told me the moment that had the most impact on him was when a guy to his right hooked arms with him, as did a soldier on his left, and in he went, around and around. He became one with the others. The theme of unity and oneness is what this Y2I teen said he felt.

The ladies’ side was remarkable as well. Our ladies danced in many circles on their way to the Wall. They, too, were deeply moved by the spontaneity of it all. Fun, family, friends, all wrapped up like a precious gift at this most special place. Our time at the Wall is an hour of their lives they will remember forever.

Following our visit to the Wall, we split into bus groups and went to private homes for a traditional Shabbos dinner. I was part of Bus 1’s group, hosted by Rabbi Hillel and Chaya Lester, co-founders of Shalev Center for Personal Growth. Wow, did we grow spiritually last evening! They were gracious hosts, giving of their time, patience, smiles, knowledge, and their home. Almost forty of us enjoyed dinner together, one that included foods from Jewish communities around the world. Dishes from Jewish communities of Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and others filled our bellies with food that was prepared with unbelievable love. The kids literally ate it up!

Rabbi Hillel explained Shabbat evening home rituals, including kiddush, ha-motsi, blessing his wife, and more. Chaya facilitated a great discussion amongst us, allowing everybody at the table to share what they were feeling about Israel. I only wish I could have recorded for you what they said. Y2I is having a life-changing impact on them already. She asked them to describe their feelings. Here is a sampling of some responses: “Feels like home.” “Feels like family.” “Feels like I belong.” “Feels like I finally found myself.” “Feels like I get it—what being Jewish is all about.” And on, and on, and on.

Teens shared their favorite moments too, which ranged from the “Welcome Home” greeting and handshake at the airport to Being at the Kotel on Friday night, and those moments In between, such as dancing circles and tunnel walks. I look forward to hearing more from teens about the impact that Y2I and Israel have on their Jewish identity at the end of our stay here.

This morning we strolled to the Israel Museum and viewed the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are amazing. Lots of wonderful exhibits at the Israel Museum, including sculptures and the beautiful grounds.

Another restful few hours, and then we wrap up our stay in Jerusalem with a visit to Ben Yehudah Street this evening for more shopping, fun, sites and sounds.

Tomorrow we will be off for the desert! Camels are waiting! Along the way we will pick up 24 Israeli teens for the mifgash (encounter), and they will join us for the next four days.

You kids are great, having fun, changing and growing every day.

Will write to you after our stay in the desert.

On behalf of Y2I 2013, with love from our last day in Jerusalem,

Debbie Coltin

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