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Chag Sameach–It’s Yom Yerushalyim, Jerusalem Day!

Jack’s apartment on Shimshon Street, Jerusalem.

Family selfie with our tour guide Yael.

Celebrating Shabbat in Jerusalem.

As Jewish people all over the world come together (virtually) for Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, I reflect on where I was at this time last year. And that was the City of Gold, visiting my son who lived in Israel while teaching English to Israeli children in middle school.

And now, a year later, Israel is just starting to reopen after quarantining for several months because of coronavirus. I may live thousands of miles away in St. Louis, but like many Jews I always feel connected and at home in Israel.

What I remember vividly about my family trip to the homeland was the simple things, like walking along the converted railroad tracks from my son’s apartment on Shimshon Street to the Old City for Shabbat. But let me back up…Jack’s home in Jerusalem said it all. One day he gave us a tour of his apartment that he shared with five other college grads, men and women in the teaching program, and the plumbing never seemed to work just right. But to him these cramped quarters didn’t matter. It was all about location, and you don’t get much better than the trendy Emek Rafaim neighborhood  located in the heart of Jerusalem. The old tattered couch on the balcony was his favorite place to hang out, especially late at night, and watch people and cats roam the streets below. On Shabbat, music and singing would pour out the windows, there was magic in the air.

Durng the time Jack spent there, he befriended a neighbor, an Iranian Jew named Daniel, who was old enough to be his grandfather and they had a special bond. Daniel often bailed out Jack when he had lost his key again and was locked out of his apartment. Together they sat at Daniel’s kitchen table, drank tea, and Daniel would serve cut up fruit and cookies. The two of them studied the ethical teachings of Pirke Avot. To this day, over a year later, they still learn together on WhatsApp.

Anyway, back to our last Shabbat in Israel…we had spent the last two weeks with a jam packed itinerary exploring Tel Aviv, Tzvat, and Jerusalem, and I gotta say this one particular Shabbat evening was a highlight. We had toured Masada and the Dead Sea earlier that day, and we were exhausted physically but eager to experience an intimate Shabbat with an Orthodox family in the oldest, holiest city in the world. The brother of a  friend of mine in St. Louis lives in the Old City, walking distance from the Western Wall, and he invited us for dinner Friday night, which is customary to welcome guests on Shabbat.

It was about a nine-mile walk to the Old City, with my son leading the way, but it took about an hour to get there. We must have taken the long scenic route, stopping along the way to admire the lush, bright colored flowers cascading down the Jerusalem stone buildings. As long as we were at our destination before sunset that’s all that mattered. Besides, in Israel, it’s always about the journey. People poured out of busy cafes, boutiques, markets, speaking all kinds of languages, English, Arab, French, and of course Hebrew. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry, some carrying wine bottles or flowers to take to family who was hosting them for a Friday night feast. Others dragged a roller suitcase, planning to stay somewhere overnight for Shabbat. We finally got to the Jewish quarters, children dressed in their nice clothes, young girls in flowing lace skirts and party shoes licking popcycles, and boys with kippots sliding off their tossled hair and running through the alley, their shirt partially untucked from their belts. These kids seemed happy, carefree, playful. Shabbat was a treat for them every single week.

We were headed to the home of Tzvi Satt, who is a popular tour guide specializing in history and archaeology of the Holy City. His wife Chaya Rochel greeted us in a very loving, friendly way with open arms as she shuffled her young kids to get ready for bed. They had a house full of guests, including five Yeshiva college students who hailed from all corners of the U.S. and we enjoyed getting to know each other. We sat closely together at a long table, and the aromas of fresh challah, chicken soup, eggplant, hummus, potaotes, roasted chicken, brisket and other delicasies filled the warm air. We sang songs, recited all the prayers, went around the table and shared stories, we laughed, we learned a bit, and I’ve never felt more at ease, even if I didn’t know the words of Shalom Alcheim, but I clapped on the table nonetheless.

Yom Yerushalayim is an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the June 1967 Six-Day War. The day is officially marked by state ceremonies and memorial services. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared Jerusalem Day a minor religious holiday to mark the regaining of access to the Western Wall, which was right outside their door.

I just finished a virtual tour of Jerusalem led by Aviv Wishkovsky, the director of education for Thank Israeli Soldiers. He introduced us to IDF soldiers and commanders who explanined the values they learned while in service. He invited us to make a thank you video for the IDF soldiers who answer the call to duty at age 18 to protect the people of Israel. If you want to see the tour and learn more about what makes Jerusalem feel like home to so many of us, go thankisraelisolder.org HERE!

With my in-laws at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

After a long evening, close to midnight, our bellies were full, and so was our hearts and our souls as we walked back to our hotel and Jack made his way back to his small bungalow down the street, the one with the old tattered couch on the balcony that overlooked the quaint neighborhood where neighbor’s windows were open on Shabbat and the sounds of Jewish music and singing was overheard.

This is Israel. This is home. Yom Yerushalayim is a day to bring Shabbat home, wherever you dwell. So on this Shabbat, there are many ways to bring the taste, smell, sound, sights, and vibe of Israel to your home. Be a balaboosta and try a new challah recipe or join a challah making class via Zoom. Take a virtual tour of the Holy Land--there are so many to choose from, like this recent one with Tzvi, who takes people through the underground tunnels of the Kotel. Listen to this week’s one- minute parshat Bamidba from my friend Ruchi or a more in-depth lesson from any of the great teachers or books, this one is my favorite, Shabbat deLights  by acclaimed author, editor and teacher, Chana Weisberg. For a pandemic pick-me-up, binge on an Israel show, if you haven’t already, whether it’s the smash hit Unorthodox or Shtisel, the IDF drama Fauda, or the cop comedy Hashoter Hatov, which is Hebrew for “The Good Cop.” See recommendations on Israeli shows HERE!

Add an Israeli song to your Shabbat playlist, like popular singer songwriter Ishay Ribo, who I first listened to when we arrived in Israel last year and my son played his song, Lashuv Habaita which means “returning home.” Try a new recipe like this Middle Eastern recipe for shashuka or another favorite dish. And since you are stuck at home anyway on a Saturday night, experience the beauty of a Havdalah ritual when the stars come out and sing the blessings, light the braided candle, drink the wine, smell the spice box. Listen and learn the words of the Israeli national anthem Hatikvah, which means “The Hope.” This is one of my favorite versions by Orthodox Jewish religious singer Ofir Ben Sihtrit.

Chag Sameach, Yom Yerushalyim, Happy Jerusalem Day! On this Shabbat and always, may Israel live in our hearts.


The first day with Jack in Israel, along the Mediterranean Sea.


Lush flowers cascading along stone buildings in Jerusalem.