Shomer, Shomer Yisrael

This past Thursday-Saturday my classmates and I traveled to the North for our final tiyul together. We left early Thursday morning to begin our journey through the lives of the rabbis. Our first stop, Ceasaria. Half an hour before we arrived, our guide put on an “educational film” so we could get ourselves into the right mindset, “Gladiator.” This brought ample cheer to our tired spirits from a week of classes.

We arrived and I am instantly greeted by the bluest of blues, the sky and the ocean, the stone remains stand out, jump out at me, speak to me. I am shocked, so much blue, so much history. And I am reminded that just over 2 hours earlier I was in Jerusalem and the sea seemed forever away. What a land, what a place, so much history. Shomer Yisrael, this is our place to protect, our beauty. And I become teary-eyed. SO many will never see this beauty. So many will never make it to his place which intersects with so much of my history, so much or who I am, and represents a perfect space in my eyes of God’s creations. And a tear streams down my cheek. So many I love will never come to this place again. So many who I am so close to will never be able to share in this beauty with me. I am momentarily lost in thought, saddened by the realization that this place which s so beautiful and so tied to me will never be visited my those who deserve to see such beauty. I pull myself away from this moment and back into the present, the now, the moment that I am living in, and I return to the group. We read texts about the amphitheater in the Talmud, we learn in the place that perhaps Rabbi Akiva was killed, we learn in the place of the rabbis. The moment passes and we move on to our next spot, with the Talmud alive and well in our hearts, heads and life.

Our next stop, Beit Shearim, the burial place of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the redactor of the Mishnah, the basis for the Talmud. Without which, perhaps my life would be very different. I am taken by the feeling of beginnings and ends that surrounds me. The holiness and beauty of the sight, the green, the flowers, the peacefulness of this place make it seem clear to me why he would choose this place to live. We walk through the burial caves, some of us taking in the history, the stories, the cold stone speaks to us, the empty graves which once contained someone so learned, so important, so wise. Some take the time to say kaddish, to learn a mishnah or two, to study in honor of the men, (yes men) who came before us and set up the system that exists today. And some take the time to see a historical sight and nothing more. Here I learn that each individual makes meaning in their own way, some are able to take it in while the moment is there. Others need to joke and laugh before they can see the beauty and sacredness of the moment.

From there we head to Tzipori, an ancient Jewish town in the North. We see the “mona Lisa” of ancient days, an incredibly detailed and intricate mosaic, like nothing I have seen before. We take in the sights and views, and we heat over to a special, secluded space where study occurred in the days of the rabbis. And here, I have a moment all to myself. Today, I gave my d’var Torah in Hebrew for my classmates. We are all required to give one d’var torah in Hebrew throughout the year. Due to some schedule issues, my D’var Torah was pushed to the tiyul. Here I was, giving my d’var torah, teaching the texts of the foundation of my religion in the exact same place the rabbis stood and taught, and learned before me. What an honor, what a feeling. This was authentic, this is what it is all about. I spoke about “Kehilla Kedosha” and what it means to be holy together, how we can include each other, how we should act, how we can make the world a better place. I spoke about inclusion and supporting one another in times of need. I spoke the values of the rabbis who built the place we sat. We finished with Mincha and each of us wrote our own piyut/poem that was included into the service. A wow moment, a moment I will never forget. A moment where history not only came alive, but I made history. I cannot describe my feelings, only the pride I felt in being who I am, in my learning, in my love!

From there we headed to our guest house, went out for dinner on the kinneret and headed to bed, we were exhausted. Before bed, I sat on the bench swing with my friend A and looked at the moon, the stars, the peacefulness of the kinneret. We sat and talked as if the 9 years between our first meeting and now had vanished.

Friday again it was early to davening, early to breakfast and right on the bus. We kicked in the lower Golan. I am again struck y the green, such a stark contrast to the negev, the growth the life, the warmth. We begin our descent into the valley, quiet, taking in the sights and sounds, the smells of the earth. We reach the valley and begin our hike, our climb through waterfalls, rock walls and cacti. We walk and talk, take it all in. I suddenly feel as though I am learning to walk again. The path winds, the wind blows, the rocks are uneven, the sun beats down on me, the cactus sticks out, waiting to poke me, and the beauty which surrounds me is calling out. Do I look at my feet, watch my footing? Do i take in the sky, the flowers, the colors? I suddenly don’t know how to walk, I am like a child experiencing it for the first time. I take a deep breath, take in the blue sky, the smells and the red poppies, and I find my personal peace. I walk sining “Yehi Shalom B’cheilech.” There should/will be peace in your palace. This place is the palace. This place is a place of peace, this is my place. And I am not bothered by the fear of Lebanon a few kilometers away, or the sun beating on my head, or the work I have to do. I am living here, in my peaceful place!

The hike ends after a tough ascent, and we all pile onto our bus to be split up for Shabbat. We spend Shabbat at two different Masorti congregations in the North. I spent my time at Kfar Vradim, a beautiful village with a wonderful community that welcomed us, fed us well and helped to nourish us. We spent the time learning about their lives. I saw some damage from the war with Lebanon, I said a prayer for peace. Shabbat ended and we all hurried to the bus to pick up our other classmates and arrived back in Jerusalem around 12:30am today… In time for the Israeli High Holidays… keep reading!!

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