I was going to write about a few sites I've seen but they pale in comparison to the dinner I had last week in Jerusalem. Friday night marks Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath) in Israel. It lasts from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Shabbat is taken quite seriously here. I'm travelling with a Jewish Peace Corps friend and she got us invited to Shabbat dinner. The wife of the family, Gallia picked us up from our hostel at 3:30pm. they don't drive during Shabbat so she had to come early. Her son-in-law drove us to their home on the other side of town. On the way she pointed out some interesting points in town. She showed us the house where her husband Roni grew up. Two buildings away she pointed out pock marks left over from the 6-day war in 1967. Her husband was just a boy then but he remembers running with his family to the old city for protection. When we arrived at their apartment about 4pm, all the lights were already on. They do not flip switches or press buttons during Shabbat. We were given the task of tearing toilet paper neatly into strips. They do not tear things on Shabbat. Also, most of the dinner was prepared ahead of time because they don't cook on Shabbat. I know it sounds like a lot of rules. To me they seem trivial, but to them it's quite important.
The men and young boys of the family went to Synagogue to pray when Shabbat began. When they returned we sat down to dinner. There were 13 of us crowded around two tables. One of the sons poured wine into a brass cup for his father. There were two fathers in the house actually. Traditions states they should bless their children every shabbat. I watched as the younger father put his hands above his daughter's head and began to pray. I think he avoided touching her head because she was busy eating and he didn't want to disturb her. The older father took his children one by one pressing their heads against his. He prayed and finished by kissing them on the forehead. He then took his place at the head of the table and prayed over the wine, pouring a small amount for each guest at the table. Next, he blessed the bread and broke a piece off to eat. Then he offered a piece to his wife before sharing it with the rest of the table. The dinner was a feast. We had green salad, roasted red peppers, hummus, cucumber salad, chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes, baked chicken, rice pilaf and probably something else I forgot. For dessert we had apple pie, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and mint tea made from fresh mint leaves. Oh, and they sang songs of praise in Hebrew before and after the dinner. The only reason they spoke english the rest of the night was for us.
It was powerful to be in that house. I feel like we saw what it was really like to live in the Jewish faith. We experienced first hand their traditions and kinship, and they welcomed us just like family. I was particularly impressed with the father, Roni. I think he is the type of father I would like to be. His children mean so much to him. That was made evident from the gestures and many stories that were shared at the table. By the time we left I felt such a strong admiration for them I almost cried.
Here are some pictures. The first is from Egypt at Karnak Temple. The second is at the top of Mount Sinai.