So...we've been together a long time....today is our last day together. We started with another (yummy) breakfast briefing at the hotel. Today we met with a Lone Soldier and a Lone Student (these are young people who've made aliyah alone without their families. Some are in the Army and some are in University) -- this is a new program for these young people; the Jewish Agency helps them out and gives them a little bit more of the family feeling that young Israelis feel when they're in the army or in university (meals, extra phone cards to call home, laundry, appliances, etc.) We met with the had of the program and two young ladies who were very articulate about their lives and their choices to come to Israel without their families. We didn't really have a lot of time to ask them questions, but it certainly blows my mind to imagine coming here at 18 alone. I'm not so far removed from 18, as I'm often reminded, and I know that I would not have been ready to move half-way across the world from my family to go into the Israeli Army. I have a great deal of admiration for these young women who've made this choice.
After the briefing, we went on a short bus tour of Har Homa and Gilo, two "hilltop neighborhoods" that are right along the green line. We stood and looked into BetLechem and felt very safe even though these are areas where there have been snipers and other kinds of attacks. Our guide, Yoram, read the following piece, that we giggled at but I think really gives you a sense of how Israelis view their situation. Check it out here: The Freezer in Gilo
Then we went on to Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, for a "caucus" -- a chance to come together and "process" our journey together. I wish we had been able to do this more along the way, but it was great to hear everyone's thoughts and comments and to share what we each saw as the highlights of our journey.
Then we were on our own for lunch -- many of us chose felafel, after all, who can go to Israel without felafel!? Then we did some last minute shopping, took another quick trip to the Old City...everyone packed up...and then we were off for our last meal in Jerusalem. (The Last Supper, some termed it.)
Now, I must admit that we have been largely blessed with the weather on this trip. Except for the very cold and snowy day in Moscow, even here in Jerusalem, it's been almost perfect....until the last night. And of course, it seemed appropos for the group to be flying back in again bad weather after our journey from Moscow....but still. So it was pouring rain as we went to the Mount Zion hotel for dinner in their beautiful restaurant. It was, I believe, one of the only meals the whole trip without a speaker attached to it, but we had great music provided by a small Klezmer band, and we made our own toasts, etc, to say goodbye and thank you. (oh, and the food was good too -- how could I fail to mention that!)
Truly the journey was wonderful together. I felt so blessed to be a part of this great group of rabbis who could come together and create a sense of community. I know that what we are doing here together is God's work in its most incredible sense -- we are sharing ourselves in order to make our community at home stronger. I was so lucky to be a part of it, and for me, as a young rabbi in Chicago, it was a chance to make connections with my colleagues that I will treasure throughout my rabbinate.
The group left for the airport, leaving some of us (like me!) behind in Jerusalem for a few more days. I am so excited to spend the next few days (through Shabbat) with Liz and Leah in their apartment, with the joy of relaxing and enjoying Jerusalem on my own. I look forward to revisiting some of our old student-day haunts and revelling in the Jerusalem atmosphere. I'll keep you posted....