Day 7 in Jerusalem “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget what its supposed to do”

28 May

       For many, a Saturday is simply a day to enjoy not having to attend school or to work. People enjoy themselves by shopping or grabbing lunch at the local restaurant. In Israel, Saturdays offer a much different experienc. Saturday is the Sabbath, a holy day for the Jewish people. Since the majority of Israel is Jewish, the entire state shuts down essentially to observe the laws that go along with the Sabbath. As a practicing Jew, seeing the roads empty of cars and filled with families dressed in modest clothing walking to and from synagogue is an amazing sight. The simplicity of the day is due to the fact that Sabbath commemorates the seventh day in God’s creation of the world. The day he rested. Similar to God, the Jewish people rest by not spending money or using electricity.

        In addition to resting the Sabbath, the Jewish people also pray to God  in the morning and read from the Torah which God has given us. Each Sabbath we read a different portion of the Torah which is called the “parshah.” I attended one of these services at a modern orthodox synagogue which was a beautiful 20 minute walk through the city of Jerusalem from my apartment. At the services, I was warmly welcomed by the Israelis who belonged to that congregation and they made me feel as if I was in my synagogue back at home in the states.

Throughout the services, I was very familiar with all the prayers that were being said and the tunes that were being sung. However, something happened during the service that caught me off guard and it was something I had never seen before. The modern orthodox sect of Judaism has always been a male only led service because of their interpretation of the religious laws. This is what I have been used to my entire life as a modern orthodox Jew and I expected no different in this congregation. That expectation was quickly proven wrong when I heard the voice of a sobbing woman chant the prayer of one who goes up to the reading of the parshah for an “aaliyah.” I quickly looked up to see if my ears have heard correctly and my eyes affirmed the amazing breakthrough in the Jewish religion, women were now being included in the prayer services. After the woman finished the blessing, she wept and screamed out to the congregation  in Hebrew that this had been her first time ever having the privilege of saying this blessing and she thanked everyone in the room for allowing her to participate in such a meaningful way in the prayers.

This women allowed me to see how important it is for religion to progress parallel with society. If religion remains stuck in the traditional times, then certain laws and traditions will be outdated and no longer applicable. Or it may, like in this case, not take into account the advancements certain groups have made throughout history and simply be holding back the entire congregation from keeping up with society. And I believe the entire congregation realized this because every member, including me, had a smile from ear to ear because of the excitement that this woman had over her participation in the congregation.

ImageAs Shabbat came to an end, there was a feeling of excitement in the air. People were starting to enter the streets again and get ready for the regular life in Jerusalem to once again resume. However, in Judaism there is a proper way to bid adieu to the Sabbath queen and that is through the ritual called havdalah. As this was my first havdalah in Israel during our trip, I wanted to make it a special one. I chose to walk to the holy Western Wall and end my Sabbath with so many others who were doing the same. I made my way through the empty marketplace which is as a result of the Sabbath, and I finally reached the Kotel with the full moon right behind it lighting up the sky. The scene was a beautiful one and I could not have asked for a better Sabbath here in the holy city of Jerusalem. Until next time, Shalom meh Israel!

-Matt Horowitz

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