Young Judea at Ascent and Meron
Words and pictures by Dan Posner
May 21-24, 2008
They came, ninety young boys and girls, Jews from the United States and England, for a year long program that was due to end in a week or two. Then they all pack up and return to their respective countries. But before leaving this Homeland, a last experience to remember, they made one more trip back to Tsfat (Safed). Not for just any Shabbat, but a Shabbat that would include Lag B'Omer.
These young people, from all types of backgrounds with one thing in common, are the future of the Jewish people. On Wednesday, the day before Lag B'Omer, they came, in busloads, like an invasion, arriving at the Ascent of Tsfat for what would be an experience to talk about for a lifetime.
For three and a half days at the end of this year long odyssey they learned, danced, sang and connected to their roots. They brought with them their clothes and their expectations. They left with a deeper meaning of Torah and their connection to it.
The first part of their adventure in Tsfat was a bonfire and dinner in the woods on the top of the hill at the Metsuda Fortress. With music supplied by Elyahu Reiter of Simply Tzfas, they dove right into the spirit of Lag B'Omer.
This also was an opportunity to clear their minds and souls so the learning would have a place to enter. The next twenty four hours of study that would end with the Lag B'Omer festivities in Meron would prove to be a daunting task.
Thursday started with a few classes. An introduction to the Zohar, Kabbalah and Tsfat was first. Connecting these three things with the events of later that day was no easy feat, yet Ephraim Ehrenberg did a masterful job. He taught these master level concepts from his heart, and each student took with them the knowledge, wisdom and understanding that they could use to integrate some of the greatest Torah thoughts.
They learned some mystical insights into the Torah concept of Ahavat Yisrael, love for your fellow Jew. This concept is the basis of all Torah, as taught by Hillel and Rabbi Akiba. They learned the deeper meaning of Counting the Omer from a Kabbalistic perspective. These morning classes were designed to begin to prepare them for their time on the mountain.
Then they were off on a short walking tour, where they stopped at some of the most special places in the old city of Tsfat. The Alley of Moshiach, where they were told the story of the woman who leaves food out every night for Eliyahu HaNavi so when he comes to announce the coming of Moshiach he will have something to eat.
In the main square where they learned about the War of Independence and the Rabbi who had the whole town prepare food on Shabbat for the soldiers that fought to liberate Tsfat in 1948. Then they made their way to the Shul of the Holy Ari, to help them make the connection between the great sages and these venerable stone streets.
The last stop on this walking tour was at Beit Abu, to take part in the Torah parade. Every year, the Abu family carries this special elaborate Sephardi-style Torah case through the streets of the old city of Tsfat and then on to Meron for Lag B'Omer. Only after the scroll arrives are the giant bonfires lit and the festivities begin. The story behind this Torah is it was rescued from Spain during the time of the Inquisition and brought to Tsfat. The colors, dancing and festivities are according to the original traditions of the Abu family. The music and songs are sung in Ladino, the language spoken by Jews in Spain over one thousand years ago.
Making their way back to the Ascent they had time to reflect on these events and start to prepare for the trip to Meron.
Rebbetzin Chaya Bracha Leiter introduced the students to the stories and importance of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. This was followed by Rabbi Shaul Leiter's explanation of the events they could expect on the mountain that evening.
With all this they needed time to unwind and prepare themselves for the nighttime journey to Meron.
The experience on the mountain for most lasted from midnight until the sun came up the next morning. Totally exhausted they made their way back to Tsfat. By noon on Friday they were ready to prepare for Shabbat.
That's when it happened. All the preparation for that night on the mountain and the experiences they had, unleashed the most beautiful and impressive feedback session. These young people, the future of the Jewish Nation, connected with Ahavat Yisrael in an admirably deep way.
They were dismayed that other attendees of this most special event would look the part but not act the part. They identified a prevailing "me first attitude" that brought their souls great pain.
They called on the Rabbis, whom they identify as the leaders of this generation, to call on all Jews to practice Ahavat Yisrael. No matter how the behavior was explained they insisted that if it is in the Torah it must be so, and so it is up to the leaders of the generation to demand from their followers that Ahavas Yisrael be observed.
These young people understood at a most basic level the depth of the commandment love your fellow Jew as yourself.
After Shabbat they packed up what they brought with them and the things they learned and departed. Of all the comments heard as they waited for the buses one stood out above the rest. It was related, "I had a most amazing host family. The other girl that was there with me was allergic to gluten and the host family made everything gluten free-- even the challah!-- so my friend could share fully in the meal".
This one story continued and summed up the Ahavat
Yisrael theme. These ninety young people will take what they gained back to
their communities and spread the message. They have the potential to be the leaders
of the next generation, and to be part of saving the Jewish People, making us
the Nation of Israel, not just the State of Israel, and bring the coming of Moshiach
speedily in our day..
Daniel Posner is a computer maven and photo journalist who recently moved to Tsfat from Crispin in the Golan.