by Liza Milliner
In Hebrew school I was always taught that Shabbat was one of the most important holidays, yet Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur always seemed more important. For those holidays, you prepare; new clothes, special dinners, special foods, family gatherings, etc. For Shabbat, which happens every week, it almost seems like we go through the motions each week and some weeks we may even forget Shabbat altogether. That won't happen in Jerusalem!
We started our day at Hebrew Union College – the reform Jewish seminary - at 8:15am. One of the first comments we heard today was "we have a busy day because we must prepare for Shabbat!" I heard this and thought, "I'm in Israel! Let's get the day started to prepare for Shabbat!"
The morning discussion was about marriage equality. You may think the whole topic was about gay marriage but you would be wrong. In Israel, if you do not get married by an Orthodox rabbi then your marriage is not recognized. We met a couple (woman and man) that were religious but did not agree with the marriage politics so they had a private wedding. In the state of Israel their marriage is not recognized. We met another couple (two men) who got married by proxy in Mexico. While Israel will recognize another country’s marriage, these two men were not able to get legally married in their own country. What's interesting is that the two men are recognized as a married couple in Israel while the man/woman are not.
After these morning conversations about ‘marriage equality’, we went to the Western Wall Tunnel Tour in the Old City followed by a tour of the Jewish Quarter. To get to the Tunnel tour we passed the Kotel (the Wailing Wall”. Again, it was mentioned, how everyone was getting ready to come back for Shabbat. Getting ready for Shabbat was mentioned at least 3-4 times and it wasn't even noon! The Western Wall tunnel tour and the Old City tour were both very interesting. If you are in Israel, you must go experience both!
We had to get back to the hotel by 3pm so we could PREPARE for Shabbat! For us, that meant taking a nap! When the alarm went off to wake up, I felt probably like a non-Jewish child likely feels on a Christmas morning; "IT'S TIME FOR SHABBAT!!" I jumped out of bed, got in the shower, got dressed and then woke Beth up saying "GET READY, it's SHABBAT!".
We took a bus to the Kotel where we gathered at the egalitarian section for Kabbalat Shabbat. How amazing is it that there were 100+ LGBTQ people gathered together praying in unison at the wall for a truly beautiful Shabbat! It was a very emotional, moving and spiritual experience.
After, we all had Shabbat dinner together. The food was delicious, the conversations were engaging and were followed by dancing and singing with the Israeli a Capella group Kippalive. As we walked back to the hotel, the city of Jerusalem was quiet and peaceful. There were no cars on the road and everyone else was home celebrating Shabbat! Everyone could now finally rest after their mad rush throughout the day to PREPARE for Shabbat.
This is what looked forward to; re-living my last trip some 20 + years ago. I was not disappointed!
Photo: Shabbat at the Kotel - Girls on their Birthright trip welcoming shabbat at the Wall!