The Hanging Tree - a Mission thought
On Thursday morning, five of us went to the Kotel to daven vatikin - attending a minyan which synchronizes its prayer such that Shema is recited just before sunrise, and the Amidah with sunrise.
I first did this on a Federation mission six or seven years ago, when a rabbi from Minneapolis organized a bus to the kotel for such a minyan. It was an experience I hope to retain always. The weather was not great, so all of the minyanim were in the indoor alcove, crammed together among breakfast-noshers and tzedakah collectors, chaos and cacophony reigning as the multitude of minyanim prayed simultaneously but at different paces, Jews of all kinds together - and all of the sounds and noises converged slowly as we neared sunrise, so that Shema was recited aloud in near-unison, and then Tzur Yisrael was overwhelmingly loud - and then there was utter silence as sunrise hit and we began the amidah. I can't begin to describe in words just how stirring that silence was.
After that, I did it again a few times, but not in the past 3-4 years. This time the experience was rather different, and not as powerful. Part of it is that we had fine weather, so we were outdoors and more spread out and echo-less. Part of it is that a minyan right behind me was out of sync, taking their time, so that they broke the silence of the amidah with their own Shema. Still, thank Gd, it was good.
The morning's program was a tour of Ir David (City of David), Chizkiyah's tunnel, the Davidson Center and the southern wall of Har haBayit (the Temple Mount), but before all of that we heard from Rabbi Michael Melchior, MK and Cabinet Minister. He spoke about trying to bring religious and secular Israelis together in tolerance, and he was generally eloquent.
I was very much in agreement with his remarks until someone asked him about the "ultra-Orthodox" who "don't share his vision." Then he went off in a diatribe against those nasty ultra-Orthodox Jews who wield their power and threaten not to recognize his conversions, and how he had personally outfoxed them on a bill to help agunot. I was disgusted by his portrayal of his adversaries as greedy, power-hungry people who would trample women for the sake of their own hold on power. Maybe it was just because he had been battling them on this bill, or maybe I'm naive and his portrayal is correct, but I just don't believe in vilifying the opposition.
In the afternoon we visited Yad vaShem's newer section. I was surprised to find that a cousin of mine was our guide! She was fantastic, and the tour was most moving. I actually had not wanted to go; I know what this sort of thing does to me. But I had to go, as community rabbi, so I did.
Then, after we returned to our hotel, I grabbed an eish tanur shawarma at my favorite Yerushalayim restaurant, Maoz, and headed for the airport. The rest of the tour group is still there, remaining into this week (and some beyond), with chesed projects and more touring.
There was much more on this trip, but hopefully this digest will provide a sense of what it was like. Perhaps it will influence others to go, whether on Federation mission trips or on their own.
The bottom line:
*Federation trips are packed with activities.
*The speakers and programs represent a spectrum of left and right and a chance to hear some great presentations.
*The activities mix chesed projects, touring and free time.
*This is an opportunity for spiritual growth as well as activism and community.
*I didn't talk about this much, but the food is great!
טובה הארץ מאד מאד ("The land is very, very good" - Bamidbar 14:7), but the trip was way too short. Oh, well... next time.