No Problem Finding a Minyan Here…

Last week I wrote about how (outside of Bethlehem, Nazareth, etc. of course), Christmas was basically invisible here in Israel, where I am visiting. New Year’s Eve celebrations are a bit different. In Tel-Aviv, there were parties and celebrations long into the night. In Jerusalem, where I am, other than the American kids who are here for the year, it was pretty much a night like all others. I can’t say as I missed all the hoopla too very much. It was oddly calm…

One thing that has been a constant for me throughout this brief trip- as it has been a constant since my mother’s death in May of 2009- has been the unrelenting recitation of Kaddish, no matter where I happen to be. As you might expect, here in Jerusalem, finding a minyan is not a question of “if,” just of “which one.”

By and large, people here tend to start work at 8AM, so morning minyanim start very early, as early as possible, in fact. At this time of year, with the days so short, that’s at about five minutes to six in Jerusalem. I’m totally used to the seven o’clock starting time in my own congregation in Forest Hills, and that usually feels kind of early for these old bones. Six in the morning is really early; that’s the minyan that starts with first light. There’s one near my hotel that starts at 6:50- such an indulgence! Actually, at most of the larger synagogues here, there are numerous minyanim in the morning- 6:00AM, 6:50, 7:30, etc. And all of them are well populated.

When you’re in mourning, it’s comforting to know that getting a minyan- often a challenge in Diaspora Jewish life- is no challenge here.

I have, unexpectedly, found great spiritual meaning in davening in different morning minyanim here in Jerusalem, depending on where I was staying and what I was doing.

One morning, when my wife and I were staying in the Arnona neighborhood, I davened in the Shai Agnon synagogue, a block away from where the Nobel laureate lived, and the synagogue that he actually called home. It was surprisingly powerful for me to know that I was offering up my prayers- and my kaddish- where he did. Beautiful sanctuary, sunlight pouring into the room after starting the service in pitch black… lovely!

Another morning, and most afternoons, I availed myself of the very conveniently located minyanim in Jerusalem’s popular Hovevei Tzion synagogue, just a five or ten minute walk from my hotel.

That particular minyan was about 80% Anglo-Saxon, and felt totally familiar to me. Yet another morning my wife and I attended a Bar-Mitzvah service at Robinson’s Arch, along the southern end of the same western wall that further north is called the Kotel. It is the only section of that wall where mixed male-female prayers services are allowed… but that’s a different topic for another time.

In a totally personal way, this kind of peripatetic kaddish exercise has helped me feel that the impact on my mother’s neshamah– her soul- has been powerfully enhanced by virtue of my prayers emanating from so many different venues in this sacred city.

Every place I have davened, I felt a sense of solace that I rarely feel in New York. Of course, it is an extraordinary city, and being away from home makes everything feel that much more special.

But still, when you’re waking up at ridiculous hours like I am, on your vacation, trying to get your legs excited about navigating Jerusalem’s notoriously hilly streets, you tend to notice things that make you feel good, and special. And this I have noticed.

When someone is observing a yahrzeit- the anniversary on the Jewish calendar of a loved one’s death- it is customary to wish him/her length of days (a beautiful Sephardic practice), and also that the departed’s “neshamah should have an aliyah;” that the soul of the deceased should be elevated higher and higher towards ultimate re-unification with God, who is the source of all spirit. I couldn’t help but feel that, during this trip, my mother’s soul was indeed being raised higher and higher. And it felt so comforting…

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.
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