We were fortunate to be able to spend Holy Week in my friend’s apartment in Jerusalem as she, her hubby and baby were visiting her parents in California. She lives in Baka, a very old neighborhood, now vibrant, hip and upscale family area within a mile (walking distance) of the Old City.
I don’t intend for this blog to be a strictly religious site, but this is the Holy Land, and it was Holy Week, so here goes. I firmly believe that G-d hears and answers all prayers: exactly how, the timing, and manner of intensity are up to Him. Last year I made my five week pilot trip to Israel at this exact time of year. I prayed for a Seder (Passover celebration and meal) to attend. One that would be very special. I asked everyone from the airline hostesses to people I met, but nothing turned up. I had always wanted to celebrate in Jerusalem. At the closing of each Seder, ever since I was a little girl, we proclaimed, “Next year in Jerusalem!” so I took this to heart. And I always wondered exactly what did they say in Jerusalem?? Next year in Brooklyn?? I had asked the concierge at the hotel if a Seder was available, but it was exorbitantly expensive. I was put in touch with a Rabbi from the ultra-orthodox Chabad, and was able to attend Seder at their synagogue hall. This turned out to be completely different than I expected. The men and women were segregated into different parts of the room; the Seder did not begin until 8 p.m.; it was completely in Hebrew; and I was definitely an outsider. I was chosen to be the server during the meal, so after the beginning rituals (3 long hours!!), I wound up waiting tables. This was fine with me, and I did so joyfully, as I was just happy to be part of the festivities. Everyone was happy, and it was little different than waiting the huge Seders I hosted at my home in California, just a lot bigger…and more tiring. Even so, I was in Jerusalem. In retrospect, it was the experience of being a slave, part of that Exodus experience as the Children of Israel were first slaves in Egypt, and that’s part of the story.
This year, we would spent the Pesach holiday in Jerusalem, but I had absolutely no expectations. I even schlepped a suitcase with my Seder plate, food, and Haggadot (Seder books retelling the story of the Exodus from slavery to freedom) on the bus with us. We shopped at the bustling Mechane Yehudah market near the central bus station, so I could buy the rest of the food before catching a taxi to our apartment. What a surprise it was, when I received a phone call from a woman I did not know inviting me to their family’s Seder the next night (Our realtor, Tal, who I still haven’t met and am convinced is an angel, had called her friend in Jerusalem to see if they had room at their table for three extra guests)! So G-d did answer prayer – in His timing.
We had a lovely walk to Yaffa & Michael’s home about 35 minutes away. They immigrated to Israel 21 years ago from New York. They had a gorgeous home and eight lovely children ranging in age from 4-23. These were the most beautiful, BRIGHT, and well behaved kids. The family (there were two other families invited) were more than warm and welcoming. As is Israeli custom, the Seder started at 8pm, with a beautifully set table, singing, and lots of questions and discussions by all – and all in English!!! Around midnight, as the ceremony wound down, the most sumptuous meal was served: matzah balls and soup, sweet and sour meatballs, baked chicken, stuffed veal, roasted veggies, and more! After eating, we all went outside into the backyard to sing the “Hallels,” praises to G-d – and after three cups plus of wine, we were quite loud and celebratory. So much so, instead of the tradition of the elusive (invisible in most cases) Elijah the prophet showing up, the cops came to the front door, asking us to keep it down or risk a steep fine. We had been busted by an all-too-unforgiving neighbor. This is a story for the generations!!! We decided to move the festivities back inside with the windows closed. The children did rousing renditions (with modern melodies) to “Who Knows One?” and “Adir Hu,” as we all stood up to do ‘the wave’ raising our hands high every time the Hebrew words “Arise and let us rebuild!!!” poured forth. We ended around 3am on a high note with the most amazing production of “Khad Gadya,” a Biblical type of “I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly” with many, many funny verses. Jaffa and I ‘played drums’ on the table to keep the beat, with the father and oldest daughter leading the main tune, and all the younger children piping in with animal sounds on cue. It was nothing short of amazing, and gave us lasting memories. John, Max, and I walked back home in the wee hours of the morning discussing the evening. Such a wonderful night!!!
In retrospect, I realized that G-d had totally answered my prayers, indeed. Last year, as a slave; I was still living in the Diaspora, not completely free. After one hell of a year, I’m home and celebrated my return to the Promised Land as an Olah Chadashah, new citizen. I really needed the first to fully appreciate this year. I had to go through the hardships and suffering, and now am fully blessed – and have more new friends here. I only regret that I could not take pictures or video, but as the sun had set, it was khag, or sacred time/holiday, and the family was Modern Orthodox, very religious, but not old-style.So G-d does, in fact, answer prayer – in His intensity.
Now, for the Catholic part: the day before Passover, we met up with a priest who invited us to his Holy Thursday services, a Mass memorializing the Last Supper. We attended that night, and he had invited a handful of people to go with him to the Garden of Gethsemane between 11pm and 2am to pray as Jesus had spent his last night in the garden. 24 people were chosen, and the father had gotten the keys from an old monk. I did not know this, but there are two gardens: one, next to the Church of All Nations, is a popular tourist site. This garden was behind that one – behind a high, stone wall, on a narrow, more remote piece of land behind that church, with gravel paths winding up to the top of the Mount of Olives. It was dark, but there was a full moon. We all scattered to meditate privately. You could see the entire back wall of the Old City with the Dome of the Rock and minarets all lit up, rising church steeples, and buildings behind. There were the sounds of hymns emanating from the church below. Arab Christian pilgrims with candles could be seen processing down the mountain from the Church of the Last Supper. We could see and hear a large contingent of Africans with their drums and chants of praise. And between our mountain and the Holy City, cars, taxis, and motorcycles were blaring and honking.
It was bitter cold that night (and if you remember, all my warm clothes in my suitcase were packed by the shippers and are now floating on a boat somewhere between India and Africa!!!), so we just happened to find a tiny stone chapel which was dimly lit at the bottom of the mountain garden. We slipped in, and were greeted by a Franciscan nun, who was keeping vigil in that quiet space. ‘By happenstance???’ she drew back the curtains that ran along the side wall to unveil an exact replica of the Shroud of Turin! All I can say is Wow!!! What an experience for us all!! As if that was not enough, she later took us to a small, plain cabinet, opened it, and let us hold a beautiful golden reliquary with a thorn (ferocious!) from the helmet of thorns that was placed upon Jesus’ head before his crucifixion. We caught up with our group just as they were reciting the “Our Father” prayer in Latin, French, English, and then Hebrew. It was quite a night….