Our Feet Our Standing At Your Gates, O Jerusalem: Our Journey “Home”

Final reflections from Rabbi Sobel and group participants from Temple Isaiah’s Chanukah 2016 Israel trip: A Journey “Home.”

As clear as wine, the wind is flying
Among the dreamy pines
As evening light is slowly dying
And a lonely bell still chimes.
So many songs, so many stories
The stony hills recall…
Around her heart my city carries
A lonely ancient wall.

Yerushalayim all of gold,
Yerushalayim bronze and light
Within my heart I shall treasure
Your song and sight.

Jerusalem of Gold by Naomi Shemer

How does one capture the totality of a journey to one’s spiritual home? The walls have so many stories to tell, the wind carries sweet fragrances, the land cries of blood and sweat, of beauty and nature, of God and spirituality, of longing and hope, of war and peace. How does one encapsulate a journey with friends who become family, a journey where strangers become friends, a journey where “home” now derives new meaning.

We might live in the United States, but we know that we all have a “home” in Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel. 

Home is where we can be ourselves, live out our hopes and dreams with those whom we love and who share the same values and ideals. Yet, at times, home can be fraught with tension and anxiety. We know that we cannot always choose our family members, or choose our neighbors, and sometimes, “home” is not always a comfortable place to be.

We must figure out a way to make our home a place of refuge, a place of peace, a place of serenity and calm. So that all who live within its borders feel safe and secure, knowing we can “kick off our shoes” and live harmoniously with others in our own home. And what about the “neighbors?” How do we live in security in such a difficult neighborhood? There are no easy answers. But we cannot walk away, for this beautiful “home,” is the abode of our Jewish heart. To paraphrase medieval Jewish poet, Yehuda Halevi (c. 1141) “My heart is in the east, and I am in the uttermost west.”

Yes, the walls have centuries of stories to tell. Every peak, every valley, every vista have seen wondrous events. The evening light is more beautiful than one can even describe. The food incredibly delicious. But it is the people – from all religions, all denominations and every walk of life, who add vibrancy, spirit, vitality and uniqueness to this special place.

Carole-Ann Gordon, one of our trip participants and her daughters, Michelle and Rachel Stolowicki, walked to the Old City of Jerusalem the last Friday of our trip. They happened upon a “larger than life” puppet show that exemplified the diversity of the family that lives in our Jewish homeland.

The Many Faces of Israel, Photo by Carole-Ann Gordon

It is our dream, our hope, our wish, that our “family members” can always be walking like this side-by-side, in harmony and understanding, peace and unity.
As the group prepared to depart on our flight home, I shared with them the Prayer for Jerusalem, based on Psalms 122 and 128:

Our feet are standing at your gates, Jerusalem. Jerusalem built as a city bound firmly together, where tribes once went up to give thanks to the Eternal, where thrones of justice were once set, thrones of the House of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love her. May peace be in her walls, tranquility in her towers. May God bless us from Zion and let us see our children’s children and peace upon Israel.

Yes, we too, as North American Jews, feel our feet standing at Israel’s gates. We have one foot in our North American home, and one foot in our spiritual home, the land of Israel.

We pray that God “may bless us from Zion and let us see our children’s children and peace upon Israel” and all who dwell there.

A Few Final Reflections from Some of Our Participants Upon Returning Back to the USA

From Lori Stern, with input from Howard (first time travelers to Israel):

“Thanks so much again for this wonderful trip. Israel is a complicated but beautiful country, full of history, archaeology, culture and wonderful people. It was great to see the extremes in landscape, religion, weather, synagogues, etc.

I will never forget the delicious tomatoes and persimmons, salad for breakfast, hummus and of course, the very ‘interesting’ bathrooms (inside joke for our trip participants).

I especially loved the Palmach Museum, Rosh Hanikrah, the Tunnel Tour beneath the Western Wall, the Chagall Windows, the B’nai Mitzvah service, the Old City, Sarona Market, and the Ari Synagogue and shops in S’fat. Masada and the Dead Sea experience was truly inspiring! We had such a great time with so many wonderful temple members!”

From Ricki Budnick, with input from Larry and Steven (first time travelers to Israel):

“Words cannot express the deep emotions and gratitude I feel about sharing this journey to Israel. You made it a wonderful learning and spiritual experience for our family.

Today was the first time I looked at the blog and was so touched by the moment we shared together. Thank you for helping create a memory that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

You have renewed our faith and reinforced our identity. Thank you again.”

From Michele and Joe Goonan: (first time travelers to Israel):

“Words can’t describe our experience! What a special group we had!

We learned so much about Israel and have a much better understanding about the challenges faced by the many people living there.

It was truly the trip of a lifetime and we feel blessed to been able to make the journey.”

From Ilene and Glenn Steinhauer (first time travelers to Israel):

“We can’t stop talking to everyone who will listen about our amazing experience in Israel.

As a first-timer, it was so hard to imagine what this would be like. It far exceeded our expectations! Thanks for all the hard work you did before and during the trip. We really appreciate it!”

L’hitra’ot Israel! We cannot wait to return “home” again!


The Old Becomes New: Beit She’an, Beit Alpha, Jerusalem. Guest Post by Glenn and Ilene Steinhauer

After another satisfying buffet breakfast at Galei Kinneret, Avi and Ofer took us down the Jordon Valley to our first stop, the ancient city of Bet She’an. Strolling down the city’s once elegant boulevard, we visit the Bathhouses, the spas of the 4th Century. Continuing on Palladius Street, the Fifth Ave of the times, we passed what were once designer-type shops and imagined what transacted between merchants and patrons. Did they have January White Sales then?At the intersection of Palladius and Silvanus Streets Mark Saidens discovered Ofer’s replacement, an automated tour guide. Actually, Ofer has no replacement.

Built in the 1st Century, the 7,000 seat theatre had three tiers of seating, with VIPS seated in the more desirable sections and the lower class with their two-fers possibly acquired at an ancient TKTS Booth, in the nose bleed seats.

Each day of our journey brought about yet another bathroom challenge and our visit to Bet She’an was no exception. However, Howard Stern found the best seat in the house and looked quite at home with these facilities.

From Beit She’an, we drove to the ancient synagogue of Beit Alpha in what was once the Jewish village of Ilfa. Built in the 5th century, the synagogue was uncovered accidentally in the fields of Kibbutz Heftziba. And in 1929, excavated by archeologists of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Our group viewed a cleverly produced video about the creation of the synagogue’s intricate mosaic floor laid at the beginning of the 6th century.

On this day, we actually had lunch during lunchtime, a truck stop that provided anything you would want as long as it was falafel or schnitzel.

As we traveled by the West Bank on our approach to Jerusalem, Ofer and Rabbi Sobel shared historic perspectives about the ever changing borders throughout time. It was also interesting to hear that formerly nomadic people, the Bedouins, eventually settled and got stuck in a land between Jordon and Israel, remaining there today.

Our excitement began to build as we approached Jerusalem and anticipated Ilene’s and my first experience to the Holy Land. The bus climbed Mt Scopus where we disembarked and viewed for the first time the City of Gold, the City of Peace. Overlooking the Temple Mount we recited the Sh’hekiyanu (and – Rabbi Sobel’s note: a special prayer for Jerusalem and our sojourn here) and shared challah and wine and hugs.

With the walls beneath the Tower of David as a backdrop, the evening’s Sound and Light Show told the tale of the history of Jerusalem from the time of the Israelite kings to the present day; a most unique way of kicking off our Jerusalem experience. A cool, but starlit sky enhanced the wonder of the show.

As we learn about Israeli life, we’re learning about one another. Essie and Mark are still on their honeymoon. Glenn and Ilene don’t sit next to each other on the bus. And Rabbi Sobel steals tissue boxes from hotels (Rabbi Sobel’s note: actually, Avi, our bus driver gets them for her b/c she has a cold). And I can relate to Orange and Blue (Rachel and Michelle) – I have an identical twin.

We’re looking forward to continuing our journey with our new friends: our journey of heart, mind, and spirit.

Jerusalem of Gold, of Pain, Fear and Hope.

Jerusalem of Gold, by Naomi Shemer/

Jerusalem of Pain, Fear and Hope by Rabbi Sharon L Sobel

The mountain air is clear as wine

The city air is thick as smoke

And the scent of pines

And the scent of blood and terror

Is carried on the breeze of twilight

Is carried on the lips of those at dawn

With the sound of the bells.

With the wails of the sirens and the cries of the innocent.

And in the slumber of tree and stone

No tree can slumber, no stone remain silent while the river of blood spills forth on the ground.

Captured in her dream

She remains captured – but no longer in a dream. She is captured in a cycle of violence with no end in sight.

The city that sits solitary

Because the world remains silent: is not Jewish blood red? Is not Druze blood red? 

And in its midst is a wall.

A wall of hatred, a wall of suffering, a wall of injustice, a wall of violence, a wall of terror.

And yet..we are a people of hope. Jerusalem means “Iyr shel Shalom – City of Peace”. So hope must prevail.

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light.

Behold I am a violin for all your songs.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may those who love you be at peace. May there be well-being within your ramparts, peace in your citadels. (Psalm 122:6-7)

A Prayer for Peace

As we watch the escalation of events unfold in Israel and Gaza this week, we pray for an end to the barrage of missile attacks on Israel, an end to the violence on both sides.

We pray for a time of peace and harmony. When neighbours do not hate, do not kill, do not treat each other as “less than”.

We pray for a time when Jerusalem can live up to the meaning of its name: City of Peace – Iyr Shalom.

The notion of “Jerusalem” is a metaphor. In our tradition, we have a concept of two Jerusalems: Y’rushalayim shel lamala – the heavenly Jerusalem, and Y’rushalayim shel lamata – the earthly Jerusalem.

The heavenly Jerusalem is the ideal to which we aspire. The earthly Jerusalem is the daily reality of our lives as they exist now.

Thus “Jerusalem” is more of a concept rather than simply a city – it represents a time when all the inhabitants of Israel will live together in peace, when justice will prevail and all will be in harmony. “Jerusalem” is our ideal version of what life should be.

As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 122:2-4; 6-9

“Our feet our standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself.

There ascended the tribes, the tribes of God, testimony to Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Eternal…

Request the welfare of Jerusalem; may those who love you enjoy tranquility.

May there peace in your walls, tranquility in your palaces.

For the sake of my brothers and my companions, I shall now speak of peace in you.

For the sake of the House of the Eternal our God, I shall beg for goodness for you.”

May the peace of Shabbat bring peace to all: in Jerusalem, Israel and all the world. Amen.