Today is day five of my congregation’s interreligious, inter-congregational adventure in and through Israel. I say not only “in” but also “through” because just as we drive through sights and sounds and tastes and smells, so does Israel fill our hearts and minds through and through. What is this place, and why is there something so “homey” about it? Congregants comment that so many Israelis look so much like their own extended family. The truth is, as we experience this land and its people, there is a sense of a family reunion – and what a miraculous reunion it is!
As we depart today from Accor, having followed the Northern border to arrive and experience the underground grottos and the gorgeous views on the Mediterranean Sea, we then turned our sights on to the Crusader’s Castle, in all its revealed medieval architectural glory. The story of the knights and kings and holy crusaders about whom so much romantic literature has been written over the centuries is truly a horrific one; raping, pillaging, enslaving, and massacring were the staple diet of those knights of yore. Holy War has always been a disgusting and ugly sport, and I am struck by the lack of lessons we humans seem to have learned during the 10 centuries since the Crusaders were first on the scene.
But today, their handiwork is put on display by the great-great-great-great-etc.-grandchildren of some of the folks whom they attempted to destroy. Well, join the club; it’s quite a well-healed clique! Nonetheless, the pride of these travelers to witness firsthand the ways in which Israel is still building and being built up in its own land – our land – is overflowing. To learn the lessons of the past is the greatest reward of all.
Now, as we continue to head south with a brief stop in Haifa and then onto Jerusalem to arrive this evening, we most definitely switch gears. Jerusalem calls to us, to those that know nothing about what she will come to mean and those who have met her before. There’s something daunting about her, something that feels like a dream, something that has caused more than one of my travelers to shed tears at just the mere thought that we will soon stand in her space. In a way, it’s romantic. I know there are ugly realities on the ground in Jerusalem, whether political, religious or economic – but the magic Jerusalem still elicits turns any tourist into a pilgrim. May she cast her spell on us tonight, while standing on Mount Scopus, as we sing Shehecheyanu, the blessing recited to acknowledge beginnings, happy occasions, and festivals. We offer Kiddush, the blessing over the wine. And we sound the shofar, announcing that we have come home once again.
Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss is the senior rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in Houston, TX.