Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Trip to Israel, Part I (the highlight)

So, I’m back from Israel and am still attempting to get my sleeping patterns straightened out, but oh what a time! I will be posting several stories over the next few days and will hopefully get to posting the pictures this weekend. All-in-all, it was an amazing trip.

So everyone keeps asking me what was the most amazing part of the trip. There are so many moments that stand out, both good and bad, that although it sounds cheesy and cliché, it really is hard to chose just one. After thinking about it though, I’d have to say spending Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) in Jerusalem was what stands out the most.

There are several reasons for this. The first is, well, I’ve never prayed with that many Jews before! Friday night at the Kotel (Western Wall) was truly amazing. Thousands of people dancing, celebrating and praying, all from different backgrounds, from so many different countries around the world, but all with the single binding fact of being Jewish. For my Christian friends that probably doesn’t sound like much, but to put it in perspective, think that only 2 people out of 100 in the United States are Jewish, and that’s the second highest percentage behind only Israel! Jews make up 0.2% of the world’s population. They’re ain’t many of us out there!

But you ask, “Redneck, there are so many other religions out there too, surely they are just as small.”

Well, here is a list of just a few of the religions that have more adherents than Judaism:
Christianity (duh), Islam (double duh), Hinduism, Buddhism, primal-indigenous, African tribal, Sikhism, Chinese traditional, secular humanism and Spiritism. Never heard of some of these? Neither have I. You get the point. So, for someone from outside Israel to be surrounded by 90% Jewish people, it is truly a rare event and one that is hard to articulate.

Looking across the Kotel and seeing the shtreimel (fur covered hats of mostly Russian Jews), spodiks (somewhat taller fur hats) and kippot (a.k.a. yarmulkes) of all kinds and colors was beyond surreal. Call it Kafkaesque, but without the bad hangover. :)

The other amazing part is I have never been in a city that almost completely shuts down for Shabbos. After sunset (when Shabbat begins- remember, no Rolexes 3,000 years ago) the city streets of Jerusalem are almost completely empty of cars. We enjoyed a leisurely walk back to the hotel and spent half of it walking in the middle of the street. The following morning we walked to services and even stopped, waiting on people to catch up, in a rotunda that the day before was like the Indy 500. Saturday morning though, not a car in sight. It was like a post-apocalyptic zombie movie, sans the blood and the brain eaters.

There was a calm, peaceful quiet about the city. Shops were closed, streets were quiet except for people talking and their laughs echoing down the street. Even the air seemed a little lighter and crisper than before. Whether you believe in G-d or not, you would have to agree that seeing a city of 750,000 people come to a near complete halt for 24 hours has a calming influence that we rarely encounter, and is something we have a hard time comprehending.

If you feel like it, in the comments share the moment in your life where it seemed the calmest your world ever was.

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