We quickly returned to Jerusalem, ran to our rooms to get “appropriate attire”, and made our way to the Kotel, the Western Wall, just in time for Kabbalat Shabbat, the Welcoming of Shabbat. We made a plan that the men could spend some time on the traditional men’s side, and the women could do the same on the women’s side. (We had already spent time together in a location where we could all pray in an egalitarian manner.) The men had a lovely but typical experience on their side of the Kotel, and made their way back to our “meeting place”. But the women – what an utter and incredible surprise.
Many of us made our way to the Kotel to offer prayers and place the notes that we had written and those we had brought for hundreds of others not able to journey with us. As we were walking backwards away from the Kotel (it is customary not to turn your back on the Kotel), we paused toward the back of the women’s section. There was a large group of young women soldiers (we might call them girls if they weren’t wearing uniforms) who began to break out in song, and then in dance. We learned later that they had recently been inducted into the army, and were there with a guide in celebration.
Their energy and excitement was contagious. It felt as if they were sensing the energy from the men’s side of the Kotel, and they wanted to create their own sense of welcoming Shabbat on this most joyous of days. Typically, if a group of women broke out into song and dance on the women’s side, they would be quieted or asked to leave that side. But no one was asking a group of dozens and dozens of soldiers to be quiet or to leave. Instead, they invited us and others around us to join them, and with great joy and pride, we danced and sang with these soldiers. The sense of Shabbat, Israel, joy and celebration was like no other.
We made our way to our “gathering place”, where we shared with the others from our group what we had just experienced. We then found a quiet place in the plaza, looking at the kotel, where we welcomed Shabbat “Makom Style”, and we all knew how unique and special it is to celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem. That moment will stay with us forever!
In Reflection of a Great Journey,
Rabbi Bravo and the Makom NY Israel Participants, 2016