Har Meron

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The highest of the high. Going to Har Meron for the weekend was an inexplicable experience. At first, I wasn’t even going to go. I knew it was the place to be for Lag BaOmer, so I really wanted to go and experience it, seeing as my time here is running out. So at 2 AM I make impulsive plans to go and meet Sam the next day.

Between the disconnect from what I left behind, being in the wilderness, Shabbat and all the incredible people I met, this Lag Chag Weekend has been beyond remarkable.

They say it’s never supposed to be easy to go visit a holy person’s grave. I didn’t know this until I arrived after a not so easy journey. I was on my way to visit Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, or as you might know him, Rashbi. Rashbi’s yartzheit is actually the day of Lag BaOmer, and the day we celebrate his life and his teachings (he wrote the Zohar).

The bus was stopped at the busiest stop thus far. A huge crowd of charedim rushed their luggage and hat cases towards the bus at warp speed. As they all tried to get on, a man starts screaming curses in Hebrew in front of children. I still have no idea what sparked this whole ordeal, all I know is that the man had a temper that brought the police and kept us idle for at least 30 minutes. I happened to be sitting next to a uniformed member of the police force, who was less than happy to stand up to deal with this nut while off-duty. Meanwhile, a group of religious women tried to get on the bus from the back door and were promptly asked to leave by the bus 2014-05-16 14.16.36driver who was having difficulties controlling the situation. The whole situation was oddly entertaining? After a while, we finally got to our destination, and that’s what matters, not the frivolous hassle.

I visited Rashbi, danced, drank, amusingly got scolded multiple times for not being tznius enough, soaked up the fire, learned the teachings of Rebbe Nachman while in a hammock and even played Cards Against Humanity.

I met so many new people and felt the best of vibes all weekend long. The only way to commonly try to describe my time is to picture camping with religious hippies. But that’s not at all accurate, it 2014-05-16 15.59.58was so much more than that. We really were in high spirits and high elevation, you know, being on a mountain and all. We rejoiced in song and prayer and every single person felt so real and so 2014-5-16beautiful inside and out. While singing, jumping and clapping to מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד “it is a big good deed to always be happy,” it really summarized the essence of everything I believe. I truly felt I had found my calling. Words and people and an environment that really spoke to my soul.

I really wanted a petek. I felt that I had been surrounded by such great spirit all weekend and I wanted it to continue to surround me. At first, I scoped out one with a periwinkle heart. There was so much soul and passion in every word and every niggun and every meal this weekend that the heart resonated with me. But, it felt way too generic. So I found a similar one that had a Chamsa on it. Then I saw ones that said “HaAish Sheli,” or literally “My fire,” and it really spoke to me. I am my own spirit, 2014-5-16-1burning brightly in the paths I choose to take. It is a strong signifier of free-will to me, with the reminder that Gd is leading us to each of the decisions we make. I asked the guy at the stand what it meant from his point of view, and he said it’s like my fire burns until the Moshiach comes. This is a hopeful message to me, like the fire, however beautiful, warm and useful it is, it is also destructive, and must be played with carefully. (I also met and witnessed people who spin and breathe fire – too cool!)2014-5-16-2 It is also white. White is not only pure, but with the necklace being physically white, I know it will get dirty. However, this is okay. We cannot be perfect. It is representative of life. If we only had successes we would have nothing to live for. So, while my necklace might get dirty, I can try to live with the purpose of preventing it from getting dirty, to keep my soul holy and free from evils. And while it becoming a little dirty is inevitable, I can then have the  purpose of making it clean again, of re-sanctifying the soul after many tainted mistakes. Also, I met someone named “Levana” and I’m like “oh, like white” and she responded, “like moon.” And it was beautiful. We watched the moon rise over the men as they stared into the east, davening in the new day. I want this to serve as a constant reminder that a new day begins at night. While it feels it might begin when we wake up, it is because we are given multiple chances to welcome the numerous opportunities before us and truly appreciate them.

I shared with another new friend a little bit about Rashbi and what he shared with me made me 2014-05-16 14.00.08mamish trip out on holiness. He said that Gd is the one white light up above. We can’t always see Him, because He fragments Himself into different colors and shines through in ways that make it hard to notice Him in everything He does. My interpretation of this: Think of the idea of a prism. Gd is one white light above us. He radiates down in all different wavelengths of colors, and it is our mission in life to try to find and absorb as many colors as we can. Once we have absorbed, understood and appreciated every wavelength possible, do we combine these colors to elevate back to Hashem, the one white light.

I am so thankful that somehow Shimmy found his way to the campsite where I was. I really wanted to see Akiva, as last time we were in the same place we didn’t make it happen. So 2014-05-18 06.10.49instead of sleep, I chose to go back with Shimmy to visit Akiva. After a little bit, I woke up Akiva even though I felt a little bad doing so. But I am so thankful I did, and I really am thankful to Gd that I am able to think about ideas and to talk about them with such holy people like my friend Akiva. I talked about a whole variety of things with Akiva, but here are some that stuck out particularly. After sharing with me about my name, he told me the story of his namesake. Rabbi Akiva at the age of 40 was far from rabbi level. He was a simple uneducated shepherd. There was a guy (forget his name) who was the richest man at the time. His daughter, Rachel, for some reason wanted to marry Akiva. She sensed something within him and wanted to be his wife. Her father couldn’t understand why she wanted this guy, when she could have her pick of any guy out there. Her father gave her an ultimatum stating: if you marry this guy, I will cut you off from all my riches. She didn’t care, she wanted to be with Akiva. First, she made him go to schooling for 12 years. He was actually in the same class as 6 year olds learning the Aleph Bet. He learns and  learns and when he gets out, his wife requests he spend another 12 years studying. After these 24 years, Rabbi Akiva becomes one of the greatest talmid chachams of his time. At this point, the father realizes his foolish ways and wants to undo the vow he made, but he needs to be in the presence of a rabbi in order to so. So he gets the most well renowned rabbi to null the vow against his daughter. Little did he know that this great Rabbi was really Rabbi Akiva, the same originally simple Akiva his daughter married. WOW! What a story. There was another small story of Rabbe Akiva’s where he witnessed a drip from a stream hit a rock, and over time it made a dent in the rock. (My friend) Akiva said this was when Rabbi Akiva noted how you must persevere and you will eventually get what/where you want. I could also see it as every little force in your life can impact you and you might not even realize it. Every person, every thought,every letter in learning can make an indent on you and make you who you are today. Being surrounded by nature, I thought both interpretations were very beautiful.

Akiva went on to tell me about my name. Everyone I met this weekend felt so holy when they introduced themselves with their Hebrew names. I don’t like my Hebrew name that much, because I love my English name so much. I never really liked how my Hebrew name sounded and could never really relate to it. Akiva’s grandmother’s name is also Tziporah, which he said is literally “little bird.” But, it refers to the canary, the SINGING canary. Never have I felt such a strong connection to my name. If you don’t know me, I sing, like, all the time. My voice was even beginning to hurt from singing/mingling all weekend. One of the main reasons I didn’t like and understand my Hebrew name is because I don’t really like birds; crows totally freak me out. But I feel like I was named Tziporah so I could overcome my fear of birds and to overcome my dislike for my Hebrew name. I needed to learn in the right time the further meaning to my name and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Also, I had always thought that Esther implied queen, because of Queen Esther. In reality, it means hidden, because Esther had to hide her identity (changed her name, did not reveal she was Jewish) in order to save the Jewish people. I’m not really so sure how the ‘hidden’ part of my name applies to myself, but, all in good time.

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Hebron

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The day I went to Chevron (with the glutteral Ch, not the gas station) happened to be a great day to go. There was a festival going on there, and the Ma’arat Ha’Machpelah (keep reading…) would be open!

2014-4-17-birkat-cohanimThe morning started off with Birkat Cohanim at the Kotel. I had never seen more people at the Kotel then this morning. It was an incredible experience to be blessed with the rest of klal yisrael in such a holy makom.

We had to go across the street from Jerusalem’s central bus station, crossing through a cool 2014-04-17 17.11.01underground graffiti-ed tunnel, to get to the particular busses leaving to Chevron. We paid for a round-trip ticket and boarded the bus. The avid adventurer and window-seat-girl in me was disappointed by the cloudy scratched yellowed windows on the bus we had to take. I made a remark about not being able to see out of the windows, and a friend noted that we were on a bullet proof bus. It hadn’t even occurred to me. The reality of the journey had gotten, well, more real.

But stepping off the bus on the other side, the loud Jewish music blaring immediately clouded any hesitation I had about entering Chevron. Walking up a small set of stairs, I was swarmed by Jews and absolutely loving it. The Na Nachs greeted us with their jumping airplanes and undying spirit; my unmodest impulsivity wanted to join them so badly. Their ruach was infectious in the best way!2014-4-17-awkshomerpic

There were so many different vendors, but we tried hard to ignore them and made our way to the 2014-04-17 13.28.06Ma’arat Ha’Machpelah, to visit the ultimate Bubbe and Zeide: Avraham and Sara. And Yitzchak, Yaakov, Rivka and Leah. The Patriarchs and Matriarchs of our people! The holiness just oozes! 2014-04-17 13.49.51We only get to see decorated above-ground versions of their graves, because they are really buried beneath the building, supposedly. Ma’arat Ha’Machpelah translates to “double cave,” 2014-04-17 14.14.23which is the original plot of land Avraham purchased to bury Sara. Islam refers to this place as the Ibrahim mosque, as it is a mosque for the majority of the year. It is only occasionally opened to Jews as well.

The neatest part about the site is this small veiled vent on the floor that leads straight to the caves. They say its as if you are breathing in the air of Gan Eden, the only tangible worldly connection to the heavens. However, it was pretty upsetting to see everyone push and shove to get to the holy spot. It was hard to get to it, and even more difficult to escape the suffocating crowd. I went to the vent and crouched down so my face was directly over it, trying to take in the sweet scent of Gan Eden. Expectation: vague, but high, hoping for a spectacular mix of personal elevation and vanilla fresh cut grass. Reality: a harsh metal taste of the vent itself, while feeling an indescribable Gdly gust grace my face, while trying to ignore the pushy women preventing me from standing up again. The scent was indecipherable, but the connection incomparable. I felt closer to my ancestors and loved ones than ever before.

Here are some thoughts I had while at the kever….When it comes to prayer, prayer is personal. I’m so content though that I pray for our nation as a whole. I realized that when our relatives die, they are another person from Am Yisrael gone and joined the forefathers in the cycle of 2014-04-17 13.55.07life. Our forefathers are here. This place is holy for Arabs too because they are their forefathers as well. Why can’t we realize we are from the same people? We have the same mother and father. So what if there was a sibling feud. We are family. We need to learn to get along. To share things equally and fairly. Because what is family if we are constantly shedding blood?
So to everyone filled with hate and resentment for the past: that’s what the past is – it has passed, it’s gone. But remember a key point in all of our past is that we have the same roots. As important as our respective religions are to us, we can still get along harmoniously. We are still falling from the same people, the same mom and dad. They don’t want to see us fighting any longer. Neither does Gd, Allah, Hashem, or whatever you would like to call Him.

When we left the synagogue part of the kever, I lit a memorial candle in memory of mainly my 2014-04-17 14.08.23sister, but also our forefathers and the other beautiful souls that have left the world that we know. It was an honor to be able to bring her light to Israel, to visit them, even though she already got to meet them way before she should have.

We found a delectable kosher for Pesach barbecue buffet for lunch. While enjoying some shnitzel and way too many “chiips,” suddenly a uniformed man hurriedly mutters in Hebrew something that I totally miss, but from the actions of others he was requesting we move over to one side of the tent we were eating under. It seemed urgent, and though we were unsure what to do, we pick up our things and move quickly. Apparently, someone had left their backpack unattended, and the situation was neutralized and everything was totally fine. Still, we left immediately.2014-4-17-hebron

We venture off on a personal tour of Chevron, courtesy of a potential future resident. As we walked the side roads, the military presence in Chevron was heavily felt. There were soldiers everywhere we looked. A tank casually adorned the side of the road. Numerous soldiers patrolled the road in a confusing throng of threat and protection.

We went to a free museum depicting the past of Chevron. It was not for the weak stomached. 2014-04-17 15.21.14Images of bludgeoned limbs hung on the walls, all belonging to Yeshiva students who were injured in a threat in Chevron. I’ll spare you from seeing them until you are able to visit the site as well.

Here, an IDF soldier patrols the occupied territory of Hebron. To the left fly Palestinian flags in the distance.

Here, an IDF soldier patrols the occupied territory of Hebron. To the left fly Palestinian flags in the distance.

When we left the museum, we walked through a back ally and could really see the occupation. The huge Israeli flag dominates over the Palestinian homes.

Our final stop on the mini tour was a shul with an amazing story that you’ll have to check this post again in order to read.

Before embarking on my trip to Chevron, I assumed all responsibility for my actions and any events and consequences that could possibly occur.