It is with deeply mixed emotions that I write the first entry in the 2012 edition of my Journey to Israel blog. For any of you who may want to see the photos and read the thoughts that I shared two years ago, you can find it here: Israel Journey 2010
Why mixed emotions? Rachel, Matt, Ryan, Jake, my parents-in-law, and I are returning to Israel tomorrow to celebrate the bar mitzvah of my son Ryan. This is, in many respects, a Jewish parent’s dream! A little more than a year ago, as we started to plan the festivities related to this right of passage, Ryan declared that he wanted to become bar mitzvah in Jerusalem. We discussed this with him to make sure that he understood that we could not do both! He could not have this wonderful (and costly!) trip to Israel and also have a big blow out bar mitzvah like he is accustomed here in NJ. We asked him to think about it, and he did.
He read there once before. At the age of 10 he read Torah as a part of the ceremony we held in honor of the b’nai mitzvot of his brother, Matt, and cousin, Noah. He did a remarkably beautiful job reciting the small passage that he had taught himself…and apparently it made quite an impact on him and his sense of Judaism.
So off we go. But wait…what about my parents, and my brothers, and Rachel’s siblings? What about Ryan’s 15 first cousins? What about the numerous close friends and other family members with whom we would have found great joy in celebration?
Here’s what I have come to realize. At the heart of it all, this is not about how I feel. It’s not about any of those important people in our lives who will feel disappointment in missing this occasion. It’s not about the money or the party after the service. At the core of it all, it’s about the fact that this young man feels so passionate about becoming bar mitzvah in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, that he is willing to sacrifice those celebrations for the opportunity to bond with the deepest roots of his heritage. How could we say no?
I had a feeling this would happen! In 2010, we were in Israel for three weeks. We stayed in a small village in Northern Israel near Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee or Kinneret), called Yav Ne’el. We lived in a very nice rental home and used it as home base for daily excursions around the country.
One day I realized that Ryan had been wearing a Yarmulke (kippa) each of the previous several days, and as I noticed him placing it upon his head as we prepared to leave the house for the day I told him he didn’t need to feel obligated to wear it. “I know, Dad” he told me. “But it just feels right if I do!”
So, as much as I know that those who could not join us will miss this, and as much as I will clearly miss them, how could we deny this opportunity to Ryan? It will admittedly feel odd to be at my son’s bar mitzvah service without my parents, my brothers, Rachel’s siblings and their families, and others who are truly meaningful in my life. However, I am confident that we are giving my son a gift that will remain inside of him for eternity, and do so hoping that he will pass that gift along to my grandchildren some day as well! I hope, if that happens, that I will once again return to Israel to join them.
Stay tuned over the next 9 days, and join me and my family and we continue this journey. We are all extremely excited and have been looking forward to this trip for quite some time! I’m know that there will be many thoughts and photographs to share along the way…they will range from personal, to political, to religious, and more. Upon our return, those thoughts and images will be turned into a book that I will give to Ryan so that he will have a permanent record of his Dad’s perspective on this important journey!
- From generation to generation! (scottkasperphotography.wordpress.com)
Monday Aug 2: Today was an amazing day. Two of my sons have now accomplished something that I never have…they each read Torah in Jerusalem next to the Western Wall. I am awestruck. I am awestruck by this place and its significance. I am not a particularly religious person in my day-to-day existence. However being in this place and standing in front of what remains of King Solomon’s Temple, I can’t help but feel more connected to Judaism, its past and its future. Wars have been fought over the ground on which we stood this morning, and regardless of which side you are on, that ground over which those wars have been fought is the holiest of holy ground. How can one not feel a deeper connection? The stones in the walls and the walkways are thousands of years old. King David, King Solomon, Herod the Great and so many more people in our history (not just Jews) have stepped on these very stones and leaned against these very walls. The place is inspiring, but more than the physical place, its meaning and its significance to so many people leaves me awestruck!
Even beyond that, I am awestruck by my sons’ inextricable connection to both that past and that future. Having now davenned in the holiest place that Judaism has to offer, they will always have a connection to their heritage that will hopefully maintain a special and significant place in their heads and in their hearts. To say that Rachel and I were proud of their accomplishment today would be a gross understatement….wait…what exactly did they accomplish?
The morning started out waiting for the Rabbi by the Dung Gate. Common folklore states that this is the gate named so because the City’s garbage was removed through this gate. I am told this morning that this in untrue and it has to do with other ancient translations of that word. Anyway, we waited by the Dung Gate until the Rabbi arrived.
Many people were passing by, but the gates to the Western Wall do not open at 0700, which is the time at which we arrived…that is unless you hire a Rabbi who has a connection with the gatekeeper who let us in well in advance of the general public. We essentially had the place to ourselves.
DISCLAIMER: I took 246 photos during this ceremony. There are only a few of them posted here. It will take me a great deal of time to process all of them, so these are just to give you the flavor of what we experienced.
The Bar Mitzvah itself was a typical Monday morning Torah service.
As the Grandfather of the two boys Herb did the honor of the first aliyah. The first torah reading, or parsha, was shared between my nephew Ari and Ryan….that’s right, Ryan read from the torah for the very first time right here in Jerusalem!!! He did amazing!!!
For the honor of his Bar Mitzvah, Rachel (Judy’s daughter, not my wife) shared the parsha with my nephew Noah. His Bar Mitzvah in the US is coming up in October. If he does nearly as well then as he did here, we will nail it as well!
Last, but certainly not least, Matt chanted the final parsha.
Having just completed his Bar Mitzvah at home, this was fresh for him, so I think that made it a bit easier than it would have otherwise been. That said, he did this essentially on his own. Adam had made a recording for him, but I think he only used it to check himself. Rachel helped him with the Hebrew just a bit, because he really just did not need it. Words cannot describe how proud I was of both of the boys, and the rest of the family as well…like I said…awe inspiring!
At the conclusion of the bar mitzvah, we returned to the hotel for breakfast. We met our guide Yaniv once again, and he took us to the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the book. This is the location of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Photographs were not allowed there, so I don’t have much to share as far as that goes.
Lunch was in a small vegetarian restaurant that overlooked the walls of the Old City. I wasn’t crazy about it, and frankly I would have rather grabbed a falafel along the way and continued seeing the sights. One could spend a month here and still not see all there is to see.
After lunch some of the group was tired and wanted to head back to rest. Others headed out on foot through the Old City. Then there was Jake and me. Initially, Jake wanted to walk, so off we went with the group. We got through the Jaffa Gate, one of the eight gates of the city, and about one block and he had his late afternoon melt down. It was nearly 5, we had been up since 0600 and he is, after all, only 7. So onto my shoulders he went and we started the long trek back to the hotel.
Wow….what a long, wonderful day!!! So ends the second entry of the journey to Jerusalem. Today, when the rest of the clan wakes up, we will be exploring the old city, the western wall and its tunnels, and the Temple Mount. You may not hear from me for a few more days, as I do not have access to the internet easily and may not be able to post again until we get back to Yavne’el on Thursday night.
In the mean time, I hope you are all well!! Shalom!