407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

Shabbat.  What a great concept that seems so difficult to take advantage of.  25 hours of complete disconnect, rest, and enjoyment.  For some reason, we struggle with it.  Yet in Israel, it becomes second nature.

We began Friday by walking to the Great Synagogue.  It’s a building I fell in love with the first time I saw it and last year I even went to services there to experience it.  We began with a great session led by Harry Rothenberg.  Harry is the best Jewish Educator I have ever experienced and it’s not even close.  He makes it accessible, relevant and interesting.  You could hear the buzz and the back and forth.  The hour flew by.  And the best part is that Harry’s day job is as an attorney!   He’s going to come back to Orlando and when he does, don’t miss the chance to experience him.

In the Great Synagogue.

After Harry finished, we had a break for coffee, tea and snacks.  One thing about Israel – you eat nonstop!   Ari Shabat then talked to us about Shabbat, the opportunity it is, and shared a bit about his family history.  It was a great hour session as well.  And then, around noon, we were free the rest of the day until it was time to head to the Old City for Shabbat.

We took off walking to Machane Yehuda, the shuk in Jerusalem.  On Fridays it is jammed packed as people get the rest of the things they need for Shabbat.  It was no different.  The aisles were packed, you had to push to get through, and the energy was incredible.  I made sure to get to Gluless for my Gluten Free Challahs (they are delicious), get some dates (they are amazing here) and a few other items.  Then it was time to head back to my hotel for a little nap before we left for the old city.

As I was getting ready to walk to the old city, dear friends who were here from Miami for the Alyn Children’s Hospital bike ride messaged me.  They were in the old city so we made arrangements to meet at the Jaffa Gate.  It was so great to see them and hang out for a little bit to catch up.  As I have said before, one of the best things about Israel is who I get to see because they happen to be here.

Meeting with friends.

Then it was off to Aish HaTorah for our Shabbat prep.  We had a chance for a nosh (it’s Israel so you eat before you eat) and be prepared for the experience by Charlie Harary.  We walked to the Kotel, gathered together, and began services.  Having 160 men plus staff there was incredible.  We made a huge circle around Charlie and we prayed, sang, and danced.  The energy level was unbelievable.  People around us began staring and videoing us.  A group of Israeli soldiers joined us with the singing and dancing.  A few Hassidic men joined us as well.  It was infectious.  I never felt like I was being observed before until I looked up at all the people videoing us!!  I saw one of the guys on our bus get a video so I asked him to send it to me.

After being exhausted from praying, singing and dancing, we went back to Aish for dinner.  It was a great festive dinner with too much food and lots of fun, culminating with dessert on the roof of Aish, one of the great views in the world.  It’s truly inspiring to be that high up – to see what would have been the Temple Mount and to imagine what it looked like 2000 years ago.   We walked home and I crashed hard.  I have the beginning of a little head cold and really felt it.

On Shabbat morning, the head cold had gotten worse so I stayed in bed instead of hearing the two speakers.  I’ve heard them before and they are both amazing but I had to get a little better.  I walked to Shabbat lunch and joined the group where we had a great time.  On the way back we stopped at First Station for coffee and the hang out and talk.  The weather was amazing, there was live music playing, and we had a great time.  I think one of my favorite things about this trip is the deep conversations we have naturally.

It was time to head back and get ready for Havdallah in the Old City at the home of Aba and Pamela Clayman.  It is a truly spectacular home overlooking both the Temple Mount and the plaza of the old city.  We had snacks while they talked to us about the work they do to help IDF soldiers and had a chance to hear from 4 different soldiers about what they do to keep us and the State of Israel safe.  Although I heard about this organization last year, I was inspired once again.  Then we headed to their roof for Havdallah.  Incredible views.  Lots of singing and dancing.  A true celebration.

The view from the Claymans.

But the day isn’t over!!  We headed to the Mamila Mall leaving through the Jaffa Gate.  Mamila is a rebuilt property that has the ancient feel of Jerusalem with modern stores.  We sat and had coffee and talked until it was time for dinner.  We went to a dairy restaurant in Mamila that was incredible.  Once again the conversation was outstanding and we had a great time.

We left dinner and headed back towards our hotel.  As we walked, what did we see?  A Hassid playing the guitar.  Instead of Israeli or Jewish music, he was playing Hotel California.  We got behind him in a semi-circle and began to sing with him.  It was a blast and we laughed, sang, and then tipped him nicely.  Only in Israel!!

On the way back we stopped at the windmill for some views of Jerusalem at night.  It was beautiful and a great chance to enjoy the weather and the company.

Shabbat was an incredible day filled with fun and meaning.  Tomorrow is the last day of the trip which is sad.  I am staying an extra day which will help a little bit with the depression that always comes when I leave Israel.

This country is filled with so much.  If you haven’t been or haven’t been in a while, I urge you to come or come back.  It will change your life.