“You do not come to Israel to learn. You come to Israel to feel,” said a speaker at Israel Independence Hall. My feelings were so deep and profound that tears welled up uncontrollably often on Congregation Or Chadash’s mission to Israel, March 5 to 12.
Let me try to recreate some of those tearful, joyful moments:
• Our first morning, standing together on Haas Promenade, overlooking Jerusalem with our rabbi, Tom Louchheim, leading us in the Shehecheyanu prayer.
• Standing at the Kotel, seeing all of the thousands of folded prayers stuck between the stones and adding my own; touching the cold stones with my palms and my forehead, filled with gratitude for this moment.
• Kabbalat Shabbat at Robinson’s Arch (at the southern end of the Kotel), singing Lecha Dodi. It was recently opened for mixed services, and as we sang, another small congregation sang, and the Muslim call to prayer from the Temple Mount mingled with our voices.
• At the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed, seeing the Aleppo Codex, known as the Keter, or “crown” of Aleppo, the oldest known manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, written in the 10th century. It was saved in 1947 from the burned Great Synagogue of Aleppo, Syria, then hidden for 10 years before being smuggled into Israel. I could only imagine the rabbis who wrote and touched and studied that book over the centuries!
• Yad Vashem — who cannot cry at the horror displayed? And who cannot cry joyfully at the end as you step out onto a deck overlooking Eretz Israel, symbolizing hope and survival and the future. Another teary moment for me was revisiting the display of shoes of victims of the Holocaust for whom I have been saying Kaddish since my last visit, two and a half years ago. Then there was the Children’s Memorial, where one yahrzeit candle is reflected over 1,500,000 times by mirrors, representing the children who were killed.
• Mount Herzl National Cemetery, standing at the grave of Hannah Senesh and singing her beautiful song/prayer asking that the sand and the sea last forever.
I will end where I began — Israel Independence Hall. The speaker played a recording of Ben Gurion reading Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I was flooded with a sudden memory of hearing that broadcast over a static-filled radio with my parents in our small front room, when I was seven. When we joined in singing along with the original recording of Hatikva that ended the ceremony I was not the only one with tears of joy streaming down my cheeks.
Harriet Kronman was the trip coordinator for Congregation Or Chadash’s mission to Israel, which included 24 participants.