Shabbat Shalom from Israel,

I took a quick walk to the old city earlier.  I say quick, but it ended up taking a couple of hours as everything in Jerusalem seems closer to me than it really is, and I’m getting around solely by walking.  Jerusalem is an ancient city, but it’s also remarkably modern.  Perhaps it’s a bit like London that way, although the walls around the City of London are almost non-existent at this point.  The Old City of Jerusalem is still completely encircled by its walls.  I should say, however, that most of those walls are not the walls from the time of the Bible.  Those walls are buried deep below the city.  Jerusalem has been built and rebuilt many times over thousands of years.  Anyways, ancient and modern.  Before walking into the old city by way of the Jaffa Gate, you walk through a thoroughly modern mall with restaurants and stores such as the Gap, Top Shop, Rolex and more. Keep walking though and it feels like you step back in time.  I made it to the Western Wall and took some time for prayer there.  The Wall itself is not holy exactly, except it’s the closest one can get to the old Temple destroyed two thousands years ago without actually going on top of the Temple Mount (where the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque is).  Why is this place so special?  The rabbis taught that everyone should direct their prayers in that direction.  If that’s what Jews do, then not only are they facing the Temple, but they are facing each other.  Russian Jews face south, American and European Jews face east, Middle Eastern Jews face west, African Jews face north, and so on.  We’re not a separate community, blind to one another.  We’re a community bound together from all over that makes it a point to face one another.  Of course, that’s an ideal, and it can be achieved metaphorically when we direct our hearts towards Jerusalem, not just orienting our bodies.

We’re still a few hours away from Shabbat in Israel, but the feel of Jerusalem changes considerably on Friday.  Unlike Shabbat, when the city becomes very tranquil as businesses close and people make their way home, to a synagogue, or perhaps a park, Friday is buzzing with a great deal of energy as everyone does their last minute food shopping and preparations for the weekend.

My morning started off like the others, with a chance to learn with my chevruta (study) partner followed by a lecture on tzedakah.  We all know that it’s a very important mitzvah to help the poor, but what exactly is required?  What are the limits?  What requirements, if any, should be placed on the person receiving tzedakah?  More on this when I return.

After the morning studies, it was off to the shuk, the giant market in Jerusalem, to pick up food for Shabbat.  Of course, there is a modern supermarket a bit closer to us, but the shuk is a cultural experience not to miss.  It’s a crammed, lively, busy middle-eastern style market.  Besides, at the shuk, there is a bakery called Marzipan where they sell the world’s best rugelach.  I’m not even sure they should be called rugelach, as they are in a category all by themselves.  See the picture below with the crowd buying their vegetables, hummus, pita and those heavenly Marzipan rugelach.

Jerusalem market

Each evening at the Hartman Institute we have a special presentation on a variety of subjects.  The first night we had two Palestinian-Israelis talk about being a member of the Arab minority in Israel.  Two nights ago Rabbi Arthur Green, a popular author and head of a rabbinic school in Boston, talked a bit about everything–contemporary synagogues, Chasidism, mysticism and God.  Last night was a very powerful conversation about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement against Israel, commonly called BDS.  What do you think of when you hear that?  Anti-Zionism?  Anti-Settlements?  Anti-Semitism?  It means many things to many people and depending on who you ask, it’s either completely justified, completely illegitimate, legitimate but ill-advised, it’s a small nuisance to Israel or a major threat to Israel.   Now some Jews and Jewish groups are involved in BDS as well.  On Tisha B’Av at the synagogue I will be talking about BDS, the values behind it, and its place in the Jewish world.  Don’t miss this very important evening and conversation.  Come along for it at on 25 July at 7:30pm at Bromley Reform Synagogue.

That’s it for now.  I look forward to sending another update along early next week.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Holtz