The mystery deepens in the middle of the night. At 3:27 pm California time, it is merely 1:27 am (in the MORNING) in Jerusalem. Sitting in the lobby, I note with exhaustion the hordes of energetic college students on the Hillel Birthright trip have taken over the hotel cafe. At first glance, aside from the Hebrew on the exit signs, the café menus and the conversations of the hotel staff, I could be sitting in the lobby of a hotel anywhere in Europe. And yet I know, we are in Jerusalem.
We are in Jerusalem. Like generations of Jews, we have ascended the heights to this spiritual center. Here we stood at Hebrew University looking out over Jerusalem. There were the walls surrounding the Old City, demarking its holiness to countless pilgrims. Somewhere in its midst sat the Kotel, the Western Wall, focal point of Jewish prayer and yearning for generations. Tomorrow we climb those walls, pray at that Kotel, and meander through the ancient streets of this ancient city. How can one put into words the excitement of seeing the holy city again? How to find language to capture the excitement of seeing the city for the first time? Rather I would show you the beautiful sunset descending over the hills as it bathed the city in a golden hue. It is just like we sing in that famous song Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold. I would invite you to breathe in the freshness of the air. It opens the lungs, refreshes the soul. I would ask you why you, like the others here on this hilltop, are crowded so close together. Surely we huddled together because the air was chilly. Yet as I held my own family close and surveyed the faces of other Or Ami families, I witnessed something else: the need to hold others close so as to share this moment of transformation, this song of ascension (shir ha-ma’a lot), this feeling that we are once again home. L’chaim we toasted. Yes, to the fullness of life, that brought us to this very special moment. We are in Jerusalem. We have come home!