Reflections from Israel
By Nina Lipkowitz
A few thoughts on Shabbat in Jerusalem. It has taken me several days to reflect on this day and begin to be able to put it into words. I was looking forward to spending Shabbat in Jerusalem. It was one of the reasons I decided to take this trip with Hevreh.
It was a day of fulfilled expectations and unexpected surprises and it didn’t disappoint.
Shabbat morning began with services at Kehilat Har-El, the oldest Reform Synagogue in Israel. It felt warm and familiar yet different enough. From the synagogue we walked to lunch and were warmly met along the way by our host Rabbi Yonatan Neril, founder and director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), based in Jerusalem, and his two beautiful young children. Yonatan and his wife Shana, an incredible cook, Yoga teacher, naturopath and healer. They were both born in the United States into Reform Jewish families and lunch was a vegan culinary delight and a learning, singing, sharing experience. We went around the table and at Yonatan’s request began by briefly telling them a little bit about ourselves and they then shared a little bit about who they are and the work they do. This was a wonderful way to unify the table into one family. One thing I forgot to say was that one surprise happened as we entered their house and were greeted by Shana. When she and Carol Beyer saw each other they both realized that they knew each other. Shana had grown up in Carol’s synagogue and Carol knows her family well. Now our lunch had begun with some extra special joy and a lot of hugging and kissing. By the end of lunch we all felt like we were part of their family. It was hard to say good-by but our day wasn’t yet over.
Our next stop was down the street to the home of Yiscah Smith, author of the book Forty Years in the Wilderness: My Journey to Authentic Living. Yiscah is a spiritual mentor. She is a transgender woman and in her former life she lived as a Chassidic man and among other things was the former director of a Chabad House in Jerusalem. Her story is complicated and hearing about her spiritual journey was incredibly moving. As she began to share her story with us one of our group asked her where she was from and soon realized that she had known “Jeff Smith” and his family from Patchogue, Long Island.
As soon as Patchogue was mentioned another member of our group had known “Jeff” quite well and had actually been looking for him and although the whole story is too complicated to retell now, needless to say this day was becoming one of just too many unbelievable coincidences. Shabbat in Jerusalem didn’t disappoint. It was a beautiful day. A perfect day, filled with moments of incredible beauty and like the rest of this trip deep and complex emotions. It was certainly a day that I don’t think many of us will soon forget.