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Lost... and Found in Jerusalem

‏יום ראשון ‏16 ‏יוני ‏2019

Lost... and Found in Jerusalem 

How many ways is it possible to get lost on the streets of Jerusalem? If you’re me, the answer is “endless ways,” even with a map in hand and GPS on my phone. In February I spent 10 days in Jerusalem volunteering with the Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism, the IMPJ. I walked the hills of Jerusalem, struggling to find my way, getting turned around and unable to tell which direction I was going. And, of course, I got lost going on a straight path in the shuk.

But I found many helpful people in The Holy City, also trying to find their way in a labyrinth of faiths and languages. I experienced the vibrancy and enthusiasm of our Reform congregations and their leaders, going from strength to strength in spite of multiple barriers. In the midst of many languages, my ears found familiar words and phrases in Hebrew...but I easily lost the thread of most conversations.

Jerusalem in February is cold and damp and I definitely lost body heat. Stone sidewalks and un-insulated buildings chilled me to the bone. My quaint Airbnb room had a rather ineffective electric heater, but thankfully my host was warm and welcoming and kept me up to date on the comings and goings in Israeli politics. I stayed in a neighbourhood with lots of cafes and stores...and got lost there too.

Upon arrival in Jerusalem I dutifully bought a transit pass, or Rav-Kav, as I planned to use the bus and light rail system daily. Little did I know that the closest bus to get to the city centre from my apartment did not return via the same route. Lost again...in the dark. A taxi driver rescued me. It turned out I was only three blocks from my home, but I didn’t know it.

At the IMPJ office I found a warm welcome from a team of people committed to bringing inclusion and equality to Jewish practice in Israel. I worked with David Bernstein, Deputy Director General, and his staff to update the English-language website. I also visited several congregations, including Kehillat HaDror in Jerusalem, Bavat Ayin in Rosh HaAyin, and Birkat Shalom at Kibbutz Gezer, and I met Rabbi Rinat Safania-Schwartz of Shoham, near Tel Aviv. I was honoured with an aliyah l’Torah at Shabbat services at Hebrew Union College, and met leaders of the Reform youth movement at Kehillat Kol HaNeshama.

One day I took the light rail to Machane Yehuda to have lunch with my friend Ronit Boytner, an active congregant of Kehillat Yozma in Modi’in and also a member of the board of directors of the IMPJ. The street numbers were nowhere to be found but, amazingly, I eventually I found my way to the wonderful Moroccan restaurant where the food portions were so large that I enjoyed two extra meals from the leftovers.

I found my way to Mt. Scopus and the campus of the Hebrew University. As a teenager I attended a Mechina (preparatory program) there, living in a pre-fab hut with other students. Of course I didn’t recognize anything on the campus today, except for the amazing view of the Judean desert from the top of the mountain.

In getting repeatedly lost, I found many unusual alleyways and colourful characters. I now feel as if I could visit Jerusalem any time...and joyfully be lost again.