I’ve gone the wrong way, taken the wrong bus and walked in the wrong direction more than once since arriving in Jerusalem. Without fail, I’ve ended up exactly where I needed to be. Here’s a story from a trip I made in 2011.
I arrived in Jerusalem one evening and went off to the Kotel. I knew the way on foot, but outsmarted myself. Thinking that I’d get there a few minutes faster, I caught a bus at Davidka Square. We seemed to be headed in the right direction, so I stopped paying attention. I may have dozed. Looking up, neither the Old City nor anything recognizable to me was in sight. In broken Hebrew, I asked the bus driver how long until we reached the Jaffa Gate. He laughed and said that I should immediately transfer lines. I got off the bus at the next stop.
After about 15 minutes, two young religious Ethiopian men walked up to the bus stop and waited, talking to each other in lively, animated Hebrew. When a bus arrived, one man said good-bye and the other got on it.
Abebe was a 21-year-old yeshiva student. His parents had come to Israel in 1985 during Mivtza Moshe, Operation Moses, the 1984 covert evacuation of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan. I don’t remember the size of his family, only that he was the youngest of many. He kept turning the conversation away from himself, asking about me.
I told him a bit of my story, doing my best with limited Hebrew. I explained that I’d come to Israel as part of my healing process after the sudden death of my wife from traumatic brain injury. I explained that the idea of the trip was simply to be in the Land, to soak in the kind of healing only available here, the kind of healing that goes straight to the Jewish neshama.
When Abebe heard that I was going to the Kotel, he decided to come with. He called his family. They were expecting him for dinner, but he told them that there was something important he needed to do. By the time we arrived outside the walls of the Old City, it was sundown.
We walked together. He was part guide, part companion. Abebe narrated our route from Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate, through the Jewish Quarter to the Kotel. We found a minyan and together said Ma’ariv, the evening prayers. I wanted to recite some Tehillim and he found a book of psalms. I sat on a chair to pray and Abebe disappeared, reappearing when I stood up.
After we left the Kotel plaza, he insisted on buying dinner. He was taking great pride and joy in being my host. I could not refuse his generosity without possibly ruining the moment for him. I ordered a small meal, just enough to be a gracious guest.
As the evening ended, we walked together along the exterior wall of the ancient city. I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He thought. I waited. Then he smiled and said, “Bless me.” This young man, this gift, asked me to bless him.
Outside the walls of our ancient holy city, I put my hands on the shoulders of a man less than half my age, my teacher and my brother, looked him in the eyes and blessed him.
In truth, of course, we blessed each other.
I’ve gone the wrong way, taken the wrong bus and walked in the wrong direction more than once since arriving in Jerusalem. Without fail, I’ve ended up exactly where I needed to be. In Jerusalem, taking the wrong bus can bring a spiritual adventure.
Here’s a prayer for those whom we meet on our journeys:
On the Road
G-d of the wayfarer, the traveler, the seeker,
G-d of the inner journey and the outer journey,
Holy One who sends us out to find holiness and light,
Thank You for the gift of kindness from strangers,
The presence of help on the path
And guidance along the way.
With Your loving hand You provide signs and signals
To those who are willing to listen and to hear.
G-d of mystery and secrets,
The path has its dangers,
The road has its joys and struggles
And at times You seem too distant to reach.
For the struggles ahead we turn to You for comfort.
For the blessings of hope and joy,
Succor along the way,
We give thanks.
Blessed is the G-d of All,
You who provides fellow travelers
On the journey out and the journey home,
Give me the opportunity and willingness
To be of service to others along the way.
Blessed are You, G-d who provides companions
On the journey home.
“On the Road” is © 2010 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.