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September 2, 2015 | 18th Elul 5775


June 16, 2001
Marc Rosenstein

All of a sudden we realized on Wednesday evening that none of the kids would be home for Shabbat, there would be no group in our seminar center, and there were no special events at the synagogue - nor did I even have an assignment for reading Torah or conducting services. So a few quick phone calls, and we organized Shabbat in Jerusalem, something we haven’t done for at least a year.

It is a three hour drive to Jerusalem, highway all the way. There always was something romantic about the approach to Jerusalem, as the road winds higher and higher from the coastal plain into the Judeam mountains, new vistas unfolding at each curve. And something of that romance remains, despite the widening of the road, the thickening of the traffic, the clouds of exhaust from trucks straining up the incline - despite the housing developments and malls that enrich or mar the landscape, depending on your point of view. We bypass downtown and drive straight out to our friends’ apartment in Talpiot, on the south side of the city. The only indication we have of “the situation” is the presence of a cluster of police vehicles at the intersection near the prime minister’s residence. Interesting that in planning this trip, we never even thought about danger or safety. But I wonder if we would have hesitated if our friends lived in Gilo...

Kabbalat Shabbat at Kol Neshama, the “in” place with the liberal crowd - a Reform synagogue with a unique, musical, “spiritual” style of worship; and a strong commitment to social action - and a full house on Friday evenings. The sidewalks of Talpiot and Baka, two middle class residential neighborhoods with a mixture of old houses and new apartment blocks, are full of people in Shabbat dress, all walking in different directions, to and from different synagogues or to friends or family to dinner. And there is plenty of vehicular traffic as well; this is definitely a mixed area, comfortably so. Dinner on the patio - we have to borrow sweaters, having forgotten one of Jerusalem’s best features: located on the edge of the desert, even on hot summer days, the temperature drops drastically after sundown.

And if I missed any of the liberal Jewish educators, immigrants from the US, at Kol Neshama, I encounter the rest of them on Saturday morning at Ma’ayanot, a Conservative minyan that meets in the Masorti high school. I chance upon the bat mitzvah of the daughter of an old friend, quite an amazing performance. Her voice is so high and clear that I can hear every word, despite the fact that I am sitting in the last row and the place is overrun with babies and young children. In his remarks, the father jokes that all seven tourists in the country are present in this room; and emotionally thanks those relatives who came especially because so many others wouldn’t... All the conversations at kiddush seem to come back to Eric Yoffie’s now famous explanation of the cancellation of NFTY’s summer trips - and to the massive response it has generated here, from the thoughtful conversations of educators to the hysterical and hypocritical rantings of politicians and pundits.

Lunch with friends, visits with others in the course of the afternoon. A Shabbat with lots of talk, lots of food, and even a nap. After havdalah, at 8:30, we drive out of town, expecting typically heavy Saturday night traffic and a frustrating trip. But traffic is light, the evening pleasant, and we are home in record time. On the way we listen to a tape the kids have left in the car, by Simon and Garfunkel, singing songs of the 60s. For example, “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream;” somehow the 60s universalist idealism in which I came of age feels sad and foreign here and now. During the final leg, through the winding roads of the Galilee, there are almost no cars on the road, and when we arrive at Shorashim the silence is total except for the dogs barking when we walk down the path from the parking lot.

We’ve never reconsidered for a minute our decision, 11 years ago, to move to Shorashim, a small community on a mountainside in the Galilee. And there is something very satisfying about coming home to here, to the challenge of building and maintaining community, to the stimulation of living in the midst of the multicultural mosaic of the Galilee, to the peace and quiet and natural beauty. We never considered living in Jerusalem, though all of our friends thought we were crazy. Yet every decision has its price, and the intensity of the social interactions of this Shabbat - not to mention the glimpse of the rich professional and intellectual environment of Jerusalem - make clear the price we are paying.

Jerusalem and the Galilee have always been opposite poles, ever since Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai complained that he had lived in Arrabeh (now an Arab village a few miles from Shorashim) for 18 years and never been asked a single halachic question. Sort of like Washington DC and the rural midwest. Center and periphery. Come to think of it, I always loved to visit Washington. And Jerusalem. And then to go home.


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