Jerusalem: There’s No Place Like Home

yom yerushalayim joyish

I’m headed to Israel this weekend. Eeeeee! I can hardly think about anything else. My countdown has begun.

I start my trip in Jerusalem, a city I was privileged to live in several years ago. Although spiritual, I’m not the most religious person you’ve ever met, particularly by Jerusalem standards. And honestly, when I imagined myself in Israel, I always thought I’d be in Tel Aviv with my tush in the Mediterranean as much as possible! But when it came time to go, I asked those who’d gone before me: what’s it like?

“Tel Aviv is amaaaaaaazing!” they’d gush, clearly rooting for that choice. “The beaches, the nightlife—it’s like the best of New York meets the best of Los Angeles.”

“Wow,” I’d reply, not really needing to be sold. “And Jerusalem? What’s it like?”

“Well…,” they’d ponder. “There’s no place like Jerusalem.”

I’d lived in New York. I’d lived in LA. So, much to my own surprise, I wound up in Jerusalem of gold.

Being in Jerusalem is like being in Hashem’s living room. You’re so close to Him, you can feel His heartbeat and along with it, the heartbeat of the Jewish people. It’s unexplainable, irrational, and exemplified by this story: A few years ago, I was a madricha (counselor) on a Birthright trip. I brought twenty-or-so 20-somethings to Israel for the first time. Though Jewish by birth, most of them were otherwise disconnected and non-practicing. The tour delighted them of course, who doesn’t love to travel? But then Friday night rolled around.

We were at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall or Western Wall) for Kabbalat Shabbat. As the sun set, Jews from around the world gathered to pray and sing and dance. They didn’t know each other or each other’s languages, but they knew the same songs and sang them together, arms around one another, stranger beside sabra, soldiers beside religious, Jews beside Jews. The reverence of the day combined with the passion of the songs and the thunder of the dance reached high and deep and beyond. The holiness was palpable.

Too soon, it was time to go. I stood at the back waiting for my group. One after another, the participants returned, their eyes brimming with tears. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” they said. “I just, I was there, and suddenly this!” For a surprisingly large number of them, that evening was the highlight of their trip and the most powerful experience of their lives to date. And it wasn’t because they had strong religious upbringings.

Israel speaks to our souls, and our souls respond.

Yesterday was Yom Yerushalayim or Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the reunification of the capital of Israel. Before the Six Day War, Jerusalem was split, and Jews were forbidden to access their holiest sites. Now under Israeli sovereignty all religions’ holy sites are protected and visitors of all denominations can visit and pray in peace. Incredible moments, like the one above, happen regularly. That’s the power of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is at the heart of Zionism, after all, Zion is the ancient name for Jerusalem. What is Zionism without Zion? What is the Torah without Jerusalem?  Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times in the Tanach (Hebrew bible), we pray facing Jerusalem, next year in Jerusalem! We break the glass on our wedding days to remember the temple in Jerusalem, and if I forget you, O’ Jerusalem, תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי…may my right hand lose its skill!

“Without Jerusalem, the land of Israel is as a body without a soul.”
— Elhanan Leib Lewinsky, Hebrew writer & Zionist leader

I am so grateful to have lived in and to be returning to Yerushalayim where the stones that witnessed history’s most epic events shine gold under its people Israel’s flags; to return to the heart of the Jewish people, and to spend time with Hashem in His home, our home. What’s better than going home?

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4 Highlights

With all of my energy left at work, I can hardly form complete sentences. So, I’ll save the talk and instead share some of my week’s highlights in pictures:

  1. Proof that if a dog and cat grow up not knowing they are supposed to be enemies, they can become best and cat best friends joyish
  2. BDS (the vile, anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement) failed at the University of New Mexico. Kudos to my friends at StandWithUs for helping to make it happen. The truth will out.

    dosh_srulik_so sorry_joyish
    Meet Srulik. This lil’ fella symbolized Israel in an Israeli cartoon for decades. Originally drawn after the 6-day War, this illustration is appropriate again this week.
  3. Spoiled and grateful. My boss gifted me with something she knew I’d love just to say thanks, AND a friend sent me tasty treats at work to encourage me to keep going with the blog, AND many of you commented on my last post online and privately to me. I feel the love, thank you. Bottom line: my people rock. henribendel_joyish_bendelgirl_kindawesome
  4. Epic Israel as experienced vicariously through my friend’s pictures. Takes you right back, doesn’t it? No filters here.
  5. Special thanks to Light Matters Studio for these stunning photos.
    Special thanks to Light Matters Studio for these stunning photos.

TGIF everyone. I hope as you look back on your week, beautiful pictures come to mind. Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom…a peaceful day of rest, food, connection and schmoozing! The best.

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On deck: Beer and Bugs

bugs_beer_joyish_shabbatWhen her husband’s obligations demanded he miss dinner, my friend took the opportunity to throw a ladies night Shabbat.

The potluck plan came together via text message. I took on salad, ladybug two claimed dessert, and ladybug three offered wine. “Get whatever wine you want, I plan to have beer myself,” my friend said.

Shabbat keeps my girlfriends together in many ways. We’ve been friends for years and have coined ourselves “The Ladybugs.” Over time, we’ve gotten busier and busier. I expect that will continue. But no matter what, Shabbat arrives every week. Time to stop, eat and connect.

Because we’ve known each other for so long, anything goes. Some Shabbats are froufrou, Michelin-aspiring, 4-course meals. Others, like this one, will be part standing, part sitting on the couch, and part plopped on the floor, surrounded by my friend’s kids and their toys.

Perfection isn’t the point. Perfection misses the point. Shabbat is for connecting over a table or over a beer. It gives us a chance to stop striving for 24 hours, to look around and recognize, that even if it’s not perfect, it’s good. It’s a snapshot of now, and this now will change. It’s a reminder that whatever’s going on today should be savored and sipped slowly.

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Happy Making: Israeli Brainy Games

brainygames_joyishGame nights are one of my favorite ways to spend an evening with friends. I have awesome memories of loud nights of Pictionary and Celebrity, where my competitive streak has led my team to glorious victory…or spectacular moping.

However, as kids have come to dominate my cohort’s time, game nights have grown less frequent. Still, I’m always up for a good game of Rummikub, Backgammon or Master Mind, three of my faves that don’t require a crowd. Imagine my delight this week when I learned, completely per chance, that all three have Israeli or Jewish roots! Now I love them even more.

Turns out…

RUMMIKUB was invented by Ephraim Hertzano, a Romanian-born Jew, who emigrated to Mandate Palestine in the early 1930s. Ergo, he was a Zionist. Be still my beating heart. I have fond memories of sitting around my grandparents’ table, playing this game with their wooden set from Israel. Intensely concentrating, I’d try to concoct an incredibly disruptive move that would flip the table upside-down! (My grandfather would usually do it first though.)

Fun fact: There are 3 versions of the game—American, Sabra (Israeli) and International. Modern Rummikub sets only include the Sabra rules, and Rummikub remains Israel’s #1 export game.

When visiting my parents, I inevitably end up sitting across from my mom playing MASTER MIND. I don’t recommend you go up against her. She puts me to shame every time by breaking the code within 3 or 4 tries! And I’m not talking about the cheesy 4-hole version of the game; we only play Master Mind Deluxe in my house.

Fun fact: Mordecai Meirowitz, an Israeli postmaster and telecommunications expert invented the modern game in 1970.

Great BACKGAMMON skills impress me. I’ve played  SHESH BESH (the Israeli name for the game) on dates and judged the guy based on his skills. Does this make me a bad person? What can I say, I like big brains.

Fun fact: Backgammon is one of the oldest board games for two players in history. Called Nard before acquiring its modern names, it was first referenced in…the Talmud!

These are timeless brainy games—that’s what I love about them. They’re mind sharpening and gimmick free: no batteries, buzzers, graphics or props (which, by the way, make them super Shabbat friendly too). Winning requires logic, strategy and a whiff of luck.

Wrapping up, I dedicate this post to my bold brother who launched his first business this week! He’s one of those brilliant freaks who solves puzzles in a blink, and cracks Rubik’s cubes in under 2 minutes behind his back. Brain-bending games are his thing. So having hand-picked the best new adds to today’s market, he’s sharing his finds. Feel free to visit his site, DR’s Toy Chest and wish him Mazal Tov!

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