If it’s Tuesday this must be…hmmm…not really sure where we are. Northern Israel, I think, and today we’re finally heading to Jerusalem, the beating heart of Israel.
On the way we stop at the Orde Wingate Children’s Village, an educational housing and healing center on top of Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It was established in 1953 to provide a home to Jewish children around the world who had no place to go, especially orphaned children who survived the Holocaust. It now houses 432 teenagers, including many Ethiopian Jews. The kids struggle with emotional issues, particularly depression and anger, and the Village counsels them on being contributing members of society.
We hear from a young Ethiopian Jewish mother. She tells us that she left Ethiopia when she was 5 years old as part of the original Operation Exodus. She loves Israel, her “homeland”, as she calls it, with all her heart.
“For as long as I can remember,” she says, “I wanted to go to the Promised Land.”
She still vividly recalls arriving in Israel as a child and being completely shocked that there was such a thing as white Jews! She also remembers being freaked out by being in an elevator, or, as she called it, a “magic box.”
She got emotional when taking about her parents. For years, they had to hide their Jewishness out of fear of anti-Semitism in Ethiopia. To escape, they literally had to walk to Sudan and then hope for a boat to Israel. Her dad said he thought he may not survive the trip, but always said “If I can one day be buried in Jerusalem then it will all be worth it.”
As we leave and hug her goodbye, she tells us that now that we know about the plight of these children, we must spread the word to America.
“Wisdom kept inside”, she says, “is like a light inside a box.”
After the Village, we head south and one hour later we arrive at a Druze village where we meet a Druze tour guide. We get a crash course on the history and modern day life of the Druze people in Israel. Druze people practice a separate religion that was established about 1,000 years ago. They number about 139,000 in Israel and are full Israeli citizens and even serve in the Israeli army. In 1948, the Druze stood by the Jews over the Arabs. According to our guide, the Druze have no ambition for their own land and love that they enjoy full freedom of speech and religion in Israel.
He quotes a Hebrew saying that, he says, applies to both the Jews and the Druze: “I have no other home.”
That about sums things up pretty well.
After an authentic (and delicious) lunch in a Druze home, we get back on the bus and head to Jerusalem. It’s a two hour ride and this crowd is understandably beat, and in no time a number of us fall asleep.
The weather turns ugly and soon we find ourselves in a pounding rain, a bit disappointing since we had hoped to arrive in Jerusalem in sunshine.
We finally hit the outskirts of Jerusalem and for the first time see the sacred city. The loudspeaker on the bus begins playing the beautiful, classic song ‘Yerushalayim Shel Zahav’ (the version by Shuli Natan – if you don’t know it, YouTube it!). It’s the perfect way to welcome one to Jerusalem.
Soon we pull up to a spot that looks out over all of Jerusalem, with the Old City right in the center of our view. Suddenly – as if on cue – the clouds part and the sun comes out (Naturally! We had two rabbi’s with us). Rabbi Loss and Rabbi Yedwab gather us in a circle and we all lock arms while we are lead in prayer, song and a moment of silence. The emotion overwhelms us all, and people begin tearfully hugging each other.
We’re here. In Yerushalayim. Joyous, celebrating, worshiping,
The Jerusalem magic once again delivers, instantly and powerfully.
Night begins to fall and people anxiously await the morning. Tomorrow the journey goes to a whole new level.