Jerusalem — A Familiar Trip of Memorable Beauty

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Kotel plaza

Dateline Jerusalem — I have been blessed with a rich and rewarding life that includes a wonderful family, numerous friends, and freedoms from having lived in the two greatest democracies in the world, Israel and the United States.

Thank you, G-d.  Therefore, what better way to express my thanks than to travel to Jerusalem and pray to G-d where it is said that His Divine Presence rests, at the Kotel, also known as the Western Wall and the Wailing Wall.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, last remnant of the Second Holy Temple destroyed 2,000 years ago. The Kotel is its retaining wall.

The Second Holy Temple replaced the First Holy Temple, which was built by King Solomon and destroyed 3,000 years ago.

The Temples were built where G-d created the world and mankind.

Therefore, Jews throughout the world pray in the direction of the Kotel as the heart and essence of the Jewish nation.

Interesting to note that the Palestinians, who claim Jerusalem as their capital, pray with their backs to the mosque that was built over the Temple Mount, their faces toward Mecca, Islam’s holiest site.

Jerusalem has always been the eternal capital of the Jewish nation — and must remain so.

The trip to Jerusalem from Rehovot takes an hour without traffic.  The scenery is spectacular. Orange groves, grape vines, olive trees, rows of corn and onions, and various colorful flowers line the roadway.

Israel is the No. 1 exporter of flowers to Europe.

Up and Away

Then the road twists and turns as it begins to climb and instead of acres of farmland, there are forests of trees.  Israel is one of two countries where there are more trees now than at the turn of the century.

As the highway gradually winds through the hills of slate and Jerusalem stone, one can see apartment buildings and terraced homes built into the mountainside.

Along the way are isolated tiny ancient stone buildings with crumbling facades and glass-less windows, and broken-down rusty old trucks and tanks left along the road as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the War of Independence and liberation of Jerusalem.

From a distance, Jerusalem is a mass of pristine white buildings sparkling in the sun.

Up close, though, the white becomes peach, apricot and beige colored flagstone or blocks of vanilla colored Jerusalem stone.

Jerusalem stone is a type of limestone ranging from white to beige to pinkish in color that has been used in construction of Jerusalem buildings since ancient times. Old and new blend as ancient historic remains from biblical days mix with magnificent modern glass and steel high rise buildings.

The city can be futuristic with its modernity and at the same time make me feel as though I am living history.

Now This Is Different

As I approached the entrance to the plaza that adjoins the area of the Kotel, the skies of Jerusalem seemed to get progressively clearer and bluer.

A camera could not adequately capture the unique blue of the sky above the Kotel.

I got shivers running from the top of my head to my toes,  goose bumps on my arms, tears in my eyes.

This leaves no doubt in my mind that the Divine Presence of G-d sits atop the Wall.

To be able to experience this physical and emotional reaction is indescribable.

It is as if the land of Israel has called out to me, embraced me, lured me like a siren enticing lost ships.

I feel at home, that this land of my ancestors is my home and always has been.

A Beautiful Ritual

I walked to the women’s prayer section of the Kotel, took out my siddur (prayer book) and started to daven (pray) with concentration that I never seem to be able to achieve at home or in synagogue.

Then I took out little pieces of folded paper containing my personal requests to G-d.

I placed them in crevices in the stone Wall.  With both of my hands on the cool stone, I kissed it. With tears, I mourned the destruction of the Holy Temples, the pain and anguish and sufferings of the Jewish people.

I thanked G-d for my wonderful life.

With my body still facing the Kotel, I took small steps backwards, as anyone who sees a king would do, for it is an insult to turn one’s back on a king.  And G-d is King of the Universe.

I continued to walk backward until I was out in the plaza area.

Other than the unusual heat and humidity, it was a perfect day.  A friend from Rehovot and I visited with a close friend of mine for his 93rd birthday.

His home sits atop a terraced hill overlooking Jordan and the Dead Sea.  Five times a day he can hear the Muslim call to prayer in the neighboring Arab village.

He earned a silver star for bravery during World War II while serving in the American Army.  An ardent Zionist, he then went to Israel and fought for its independence in 1948, again distinguishing himself as a hero.

Yet this mild mannered religious man never boasts of his accomplishments, taking everything in stride without vanity or arrogance, even though accolades are well deserved.  I also met two other friends, one a new bride. The other, a woman who recently made aliyah, I have known since the second grade.

We all walked around the old city of Jerusalem enjoying its ambiance.  There is something so peaceful about it.

That evening my Rehovot friend and I went to my favorite Jerusalem restaurant, an all you can eat glatt kosher/mehadrin Brazilian restaurant noted for their Brazilian Table.

According to ancient Brazilian folklore, coffee farmers and their workers would celebrate a seasonal “meal of meats” after all the crops had been gathered on the hacienda.

This restaurant had the best meats I have ever eaten.

The waiters placed an hourglass timer on the table.

When turned to the green side, it meant “bring us more.” They would bring plates of food and carve racks of beef right at the table.  The red side meant stop. Green was up most of the time.

In addition to several dips and salads, bread, rice, beans, roasted potatoes, yams in sweet chili sauce, and assorted vegetables, the main attractions were the meats.

The waiters started with slices of marinated London broil, then carved a slab of entrecote beef (prime rib roast) and a slab of asado (beef from short ribs).

Grilled chicken drumsticks, skewers of marinated spring chicken, teriyaki flavored chicken breasts, slabs of turkey.

My friend especially enjoyed the chicken livers with fried onions. For those who like spicy, there were ground beef kabobs and chorizo sausages.

My favorite dish was the skewers of chunks of marinated braised veal that melted in my mouth.  Having been there before, I concentrated on my favorites, the veal, the entrecote, and the asado.

I did not eat everything offered to me.

I could never understand why people stuff themselves with salads and starches instead of the meats.  They do not get their money’s worth.


L’hitraot.  Shachar

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