On the (early) morning of Day 4, we headed over to the Haas Promenade. A piece of land that overlooks Old Jerusalem. Where God first showed Jerusalem to Abraham. Not too shabby.Our group was dressed in their Sunday best as we got off of the bus and made our way over to the area that had been set up, under a tree, for my niece and nephew’s B’nai Mitzvah.
We were introduced to the rabbi. A Bostonian transplant with a really mensch way about him. He had skyped with the kids a few times and, surprisingly, there was a really strong sense of familiarity between the three of them.
We took our seats under the tree and the services began. Everybody had a part in the ceremony. A few of the grandparents did aliyahs, some carried the Torah around and I got to read the English translation of the Torah portion.
It was intimate. And moving. And so amazingly touching to see these two kids, young adults, concentrating, focusing really hard on doing their best at reading the Torah. (It was also a little hot but we had water.) I was filled with aunt pride.
And when it was done, and 13 people finished hugging and kissing each other, dabbing their tears and saying “Mazal Tov!” a hundred times, we got back on to the bus and headed over to a restaurant called the Grand Cafe for a celebration. As well as the best roasted eggplant I’ve ever had. In a yogurt sauce with cherry tomatoes and lots of fresh herbs.
After a brief return to the hotel, and a change of clothes, we made our way over to the City of David, the birthplace of Jerusalem. Really, really old. And went way underground, walking through a tunnel with really cold running water. It was actually the ancient underground water system. Not all of our group walked through the tunnel of Shiloh because the walls are very narrow. But I did. And it was exhilarating.
After we changed out of our water shoes, we went to the Western Wall. It’s a surviving piece of the wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard. Growing up, I had always heard it referred to as the Wailing Wall because people went to it, put their prayers on tiny, folded up pieces of paper and then cried, out of sadness or just pure emotion at being so close to something so old and holy.
I wrote out a few prayers and made my way to the wall. (Men on the left, women on the right. Separated by a very tall fence.) And tried to drown out all of the other sounds around me. Just to focus on this moment and soak it all in. And I was able to. A couple of deep breaths and I really felt that I was in the right place at the right time. Not easy for me to do.
After that experience, we toured the Western Wall Tunnels. But honestly, I was exhausted at this point. And as interesting as it was to be underground, and as charismatic as our tour guide was (we found out later that he was a well-known former actor), it went in one ear and out the other. At this point, we had been going for five days at a very fast pace, without a morning of sleeping in. And I kind of just zoned out.
We got back on the bus and made our last stop before we were leaving Jerusalem for Tel Aviv. It was a Moroccan restaurant called Darna. We sat in a back room. (Good for my rowdy and loud family, myself included.) And feasted on a lazy susan stocked wth ten salads and spreads. More of my roasted eggplant favorite but also beets, cucumbers, chick peas and a really spicey pepper dip. I was really happy that I had ordered Goldstar, an Israeli beer, to go with it.
Once we had ordered our food, we all took turns going around the big round table and sharing some thoughts about the Bar and Bat Mitzvah. The grandparents, the cousins and me, the sole aunt. And I think this was one of my favorite parts of the day, if not the trip. My niece and nephew handled being the centers of attention with maturity, listening closely to what each person had to share.
For my part, I talked about not really knowing how being an aunt would make me feel. That it’s only been in the last five years that I’ve truly appreciated, and come to cherish, it. And that I’m in love with who they are and with what I see them becoming. And I also promised, that no matter what, I would always make them chocolate and butterscotch chip pancakes. (My one and only specialty.)
After dinner, we got back on the bus and drove the hour or so to Tel Aviv. By the time we checked in to our new hotel and got situated, it was around midnight. I’d like to say that I lay in bed for a few minutes thinking about the day. But I was too tired. Before I knew it, my alarm was going off. Again. And it was time to begin the last day of our trip.