A good friend of mine, MG, arrived in Israel Wednesday night.
My sister called me on her way home from the pool, with my two younger kids. When I told her that MG was at my home, my sister scrapped her plans to take my kids out to pizza. Instead, she picked up extra pizzas and joined us for supper!
We hung out for a while, then my sister went home. MG wanted to go to the Kotel (Western Wall).
"Now?" I asked, hoping we could just hang out at home.
I am not such a big Kotel person. Jews started praying at the Kotel because non-Jews ruled the land of Israel and forbid Jews going up to pray on Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount). The Kotel is not inherently holy; rather, it became our spiritual destination because it was the closest we could get to our holy site, Har HaBayit. Now that Jews rule the land of Israel, we should return to praying on Har Habayit.
Ideology aside, my friend really wanted to go to the Kotel... now. So, I abandoned all hope of going to sleep early, and took her to the Old City.
It was 11:30 at night, and there was no traffic. As we drove into the Old City, I turned to my friend and said "You know, with my "handicapped parking" sticker, I think we can drive right in and park next to the Kotel." If I was wrong, at that hour, it would be quick to drive around the Old City again. "Let's try it," I said with a grin.
We parked in the plaza. It was pretty cool.
My friend went up and davened (prayed) next to the Wall. I hung back and thought about... things (Har HaBayit, politics, my family, my health....). Eventually, I picked up a Sefer Tehillim (Book of Psalms) and recited the first few psalms.
Afterwards, my friend mentioned that she has a good friend that lives just outside of the walls, to the left....
"Oh," I responded, "I drive home that way all the time."
My friend thought I must not have understood correctly, since left is towards "East Jerusalem" (where mostly Arabs live) and right is towards "West Jerusalem" (where mostly Jews live). But, when there is a lot of traffic, I often cut thru Ir David (Silwan), and Abu Tor, to get home quicker.
It turns out that her friend lives even further to the left, on Har HaZeitim (the Mount of Olives), in a relatively new neighborhood called Ma'ale HaZeitim. When the neighborhood was founded, apartments were really cheap. Today, people are lining up to buy apartments there! (you can still rent for cheap, but if you want to own a place, you better start saving!)
It was almost midnight, but we decided to go visit. I had never been there and I was curious.
MG's friend MW was so cool!! We had a great time!!
At one point, MG's kids called to talk and MG was just chatting away. I felt a little anxious, because I needed to get home and bake a cake for my youngest daughter's birthday party!
No problem! MW suggested we put together the dry ingredients at her place; then I could just "shake and bake" at home! (referring to a commercial product from our childhood)
As you know, I'm not a big baker. I bake three times a year. (my husband does not even get a cake for his birthday!). But this was fun!
It was 1:00 in the morning, and I was baking with someone I just met, in a really cool Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem!
Just before we left, I went outside, onto the front porch/entrance of the building. We were literally meters away from the Jewish cemetery. Suddenly, a thought struck me: Can cohanim (who are prohibited from entering a cemetery) visit here? Turns out, this is not a simple question and there are different opinions. (I'll have to look into this further)
MW explained a bit of the history of the land. It was purchased as agricultural lands by Chabad, during the time of the Ottoman Empire. The Jews of Jerusalem used the fields to plant wheat for shmura matzas for Pesach. In 1948, the lands were confiscated by the King of Jordan and the fields lay dormant. In 1967, when East Jerusalem was recaptured by Israel, the lands were returned to their lawful owners. Irving Moskowitz purchased the lands and is developing the new neighborhood.
I was interested in hearing more, but it was late, and we were all tired.
As MG and I drove back home, I could not help but be amazed at how close these people were living to Har HaBayit.
What a zchut (privilege)!
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,
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