Tuesday, January 26, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 8

Tuesday January 26, 2010

If I was not jet lagged and thus writing this at 4:00 AM, it would be hard to believe we are home. Our last day in Jerusalem (was it really 2 days ago on Sunday?) was so full we had to actually skip some things so people could do their final shopping!

We began our day by attending the Scottish Church service at St. Andrews in Jerusalem. St. Andrews was established in 1927 and dedicated by General Allenby who had liberated Jerusalem from the Axis Powers in WWI. We chose St. Andrews as the Presbyterian Church in the United States was born out of it in colonial times. It was a nice service. The minister's sermon spoke of Martin Luther King Jr., his faith and his spirit.

We left the church and headed to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest to plant olive trees (a theme I will come back to later.) The last time I planted trees with a group in Israel was with my second group from Anchorage. We went to a greenhouse, purchased fruit trees and planted them on our guide's army base as a symbol of peace as the Torah teaches (Deut. 20:19-20) that one cannot cut down fruit trees in time of war. This time was equally as meaningful as we were planting these olive trees (also a symbol of peace) just a few days before Tu B'shvat, the Jewish New Year of Trees (sort of a Jewish Arbor Day.) We knew Tu B'shvat was near not only from the calendar but because the almond trees were in bloom. Historically, the almond tree is the first tree to blossom in the Land of Israel. Today, it has competition from a plant we in Western New York are particularly familiar with, the forsythia which according to the Wikipedia article is a relative of the olive tree.

After a brief stop at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel for lunch we proceeded back to the Old City to see the Upper Room, a possible site of the Last Supper. A group was already in the Upper Room when we arrived and holding a service to reenact the Last Supper. Even without the echo in the room, their harmonies were inspiring.

Just outside the Upper Room is the supposed site of King David's Tomb. While this is possibly the least likely site of King David's burial place, I couldn't resist taking a picture of David next to the statue of King David. I don't know about you but I see an uncanny resemblance!

The last touring stop of the day was at the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a lovely site with a beautiful church. It is still an olive grove containing a 1750 year old olive tree. While the Garden of Gethsemane is an important Christian site not a part of my Jewish tradition and in fact, because of the Gospel's account of Judas's betrayal of Jesus, it is a site I associate with historic Christian anti-Judaism, it seemed to me to be the perfect last stop for our tour. There we stood, Jews and Christians, among ancient olive trees, a universal symbol for peace and wholeness at least since the Biblical story of Noah. We started our journey as separate individuals from multiple traditions and ended our journey as a united group. While at times it may have felt like we were together for 1750 years, in reality it was only 10 days. But in those 10 days each of us was enriched and transformed.

We let everyone go do their last shopping and relaxing in the ancient holy city and regathered at the hotel to walk across the street for our goodbye dinner at the most appropriately named restaurant, Olive and Fish. We had already said goodbye to M and A as they had left earlier in the day for an add on trip to Egypt and G. R. who caught an earlier flight to D.C.. The rest of us gathered with our superb guide Julie Baretz and our incredible driver, Yossi for a wonderful meal. We shared some reflections and memories, noted how long it will really take us to process everything from our trip and enjoyed some more laughs before heading to the airport and our long flight home.

At that final dinner I said some thank-you's, five of which I would like to echo here.

First to our guide Julie Baretz. I do this hesitantly because I'm afraid if I say too much everyone will want to have her guide them and she won't be available for us next time. I requested Julie to be our guide for this trip for two reasons. One, she guided our last trip and was incredible. Two, she specializes in guiding Christian groups as well as Jewish groups. We were her first real interfaith group and as wonderful as she was on our last trip, she truly outdid herself! Her sensitivity to both faiths and her ability to integrate and combine information, sites and us exceeded my already high expectations.

Second, Rev. Tom and Carol Yorty. We have known each other and worked together since my arrival in Buffalo in 2000. I knew them as wise, kind, caring and sensitive people. But you never really know how you will relate to someone on this kind of whirlwind trip until it happens. Again, my high expectations were exceeded. There are really no words to express just how much they added not only to the group experience but to my personal experience as well. From colleagues and acquaintances before the trip, I now feel them as partners, friends and counsels. They don't come any better than Tom and Carol.

Third, Rabbi Shira Joseph. When Jeff from Ayelet Tours told me that there was a rabbi who was going to Israel for part of her sabbatical and wanted to experience our interfaith trip, as I later told her, I thought she was crazy. A day or two perhaps but the whole trip? I glad beyond words that Shira joined us. Her gentle way kept inspiring me to do better. She was there as extra help when asked and while she came to learn from us, she was a great teacher to me. I gained a new colleague and friend.

Fourth a huge thank-you to Michele. I work hard on these trips and am not as available as I should be. Thank-you for your patience, understanding and keeping me steady.

Finally the group itself. Without you this trip would not have been possible. But more, each of you individually and as a group made the trip the incredible experience it became. We all had our quirks but each of those quirks added to the whole experience and made it unique. In Hebrew the word for "holy" is Kadosh which implies unique and special. That is what you became, Kadosh, a holy congregation of Jews and Christians. What more could anyone ask?

שלום וברכה - Shalom uv'racha - Peace and blessings upon you all, Jerusalem, Israel and our world,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

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