a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Travel bLog-Entry #3 – Shabbat in Jerusalem

Posted on: July 9, 2016

13603223_10208786022380523_4679016779557525279_oMy first Shabbat in Jerusalem and I’m alone on purpose.

I attended a Minyan at the recommendation of a friend. The room was packed – standing room only. I felt a bit out of place and the Hebrew in the siddur and around me was overwhelming and intimidating. But the רוח ruach, the spirit, of the room helped to slough off my anxiety and I allowed the melodies to penetrate my ear and stir an awakening I’ve been craving for so long in my soul.

I blinked back tears of … happiness? sadness? longing? spirit? joy? pain ?

Release.

I needed this Shabbat alone to take in and absorb it all.

I posted this Facebook entry and photo last night after returning from Kabbalat Shabbat Service at Tzion last night. To say that the service was good is to put it lightly. It was spiritually overwhelming and just what I needed.

I’m in a country whose language confounds me. Granted, I never did put much effort into learning it, which I hope to change in the coming weeks, months, years. I attended a service that was entirely in Hebrew with a siddur entirely in Hebrew (thank goodness I brought my own). But I didn’t need the transliterations or the translations for the niggun to have its effect on me and my spirit. And by the time we got to Yedid Nefesh (chanted in the melody of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen) I literally had to fight back tears.

©Erika Davis Old City Views with Dome of the Rock

©Erika Davis
Old City Views with Dome of the Rock

This place.

This Holy place is so overwhelming in it’s beauty and spirit and joy.

And pain.

The first time I went to the Kotel, five years ago, our tour guide said something that’s always stuck with me. Three times a day Jews around the world face towards to Kotel to pray so that when we stand before the Wall to pray we are not just present in the Holiness, but that the eyes of all of the Jews praying around the world are fixed towards you as well. I feel that weight when I’m there, those prayers, those people all davening with all of their hearts and souls. And I guess I have to same sort of visceral reaction to being here. It’s not that every single person here is a spiritual or religious person, but that the space we live in, the streets we walk, the geographical place the land holds is filled with such an ancient, yet alive spirit.

I feel my Christian roots here, I feel my Jewishness and I feel the spirit of my Muslim brothers and sisters. I feel this pulling of my spirit from the people who are here and the people that have come before and the people who will come and it’s just overwhelming.

So I’ve spent a lot of time crying. Not heaving ugly cries, but an unexplained and unexpected wetness on my cheeks. The tears just spill out of my eyes and I rarely know when it’s going to happen. I allowed tears to fall from my eyes and didn’t wipe them from my face as I walked home in the cool night after service. I was greeted with Shabbat Shalom from everyone that I passed on the street and when I came home to my simple meal and the welcoming silence the apartment afforded it was enough.

And then I woke up on Shabbat morning, helped set the Shabbat table and engaged in what I would call a very typical Shabbat lunch. There were twelve of us of varying ages and backgrounds; some Israeli, many Americans like myself in Jerusalem for the summer. The conversations overlapped and happened both as the larger group and in smaller individual conversations. We were loud, we interrupted one another, we debated the idea of compassion through mitzvot, shared desert stories, talked about how and why we were named, and pondered the why some Jews find so much spiritual inspiration in other faiths when some Jews (like myself) can seek and find the spirit in our own faith.

The food was delicious and filling and by the time Shabbat Nap came along (my favorite non-religious part of Shabbat) I happily collapsed into bed.

And I slept fretfully, as I have been since arriving in Jerusalem.

Orientation at Pardes begins tomorrow and I’m excited that I’ve had 3 days here to get my barrings, even if those barrings are overwhelming.

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