The sun is setting on my last shabbat in Jerusalem.
Our front door is cracked to make a cross-breeze through our kitchen and our birds are napping on their perch to the sounds of pigeons cooing. A dog barks in the distance and a neighbor is scraping dishes. In an hour the traffic will pick up as the sleepy city emerges from its shabbat. Mosquitos and car horns will pour in through our windows as the birds prepare to sleep after the cannon that announces the end of today’s fasting for Ramadan.
When the stars begin to light the darkened sky, I will light the braided candle, pour the wine, and smell the sweet spices one last time in my home. I can see the walls of the Old City from the windows in our kitchen, and tonight I will sing to them as I perform the ritual acts of havdalah, separating shabbat from the rest of this difficult week; separating the holiness of rest in my home from the beautiful chaos of departure. Separating Israel from America before I cross the sea back to a place that is supposed to be home.
My throat tenses and it’s hard to swallow when I think of leaving it all behind. I get dizzy and irritable when Alex makes plans for our future or talks about what we need to accomplish during our month in Texas before we make a new home in New York City. I don’t want to live in that noisy place that never sleeps. My heart is here in Jerusalem where the stores close on Friday afternoon and time freezes just long enough for me to catch my breath.
I have prayed on the beach before. In fact, before coming to Israel, that was the only thing I have ever truly enjoyed about the beach. Standing on the wet sand as the waves wash over my feet, gradually moving forward to the East as I wade in the water, finding that on the coast of Texas I can be as close to Jerusalem as possible in the Gulf of Mexico.
When I pray on the beach in Tel Aviv, I cannot face Jerusalem. A popular progressive synagogue in Tel Aviv has made that a part of their unique worship experience. Perhaps something as intrinsically holy and perplexing as the ocean can be just as worthy of our attention as the remains of the Temple.
I lit shabbat candles on the beach with Alex and our friend Muhammad. We sat and listened as the waves crashed in, drank cheap vodka, and marveled at how quickly Israelis run home when the sun retires. I sang a few songs and we made kiddush on the beach. By early July we had made a lifelong friend in a country in which we had lived for only three weeks. I had not yet grown accustomed to shabbat in Israel, yearning instead for the routine of Friday night prayers followed by dinner out with friends. In the glow of the shabbat candles, I thanked the Universe for friendship that glowed like light even when the lights of the city went dim.
It is time to light the candle that ends shabbat. I am tempted to postpone the ritual in hopes of greedily stealing more time, but I know my efforts are fruitless. We will leave this place and this time. We will leave these beaches. We will leave our friend.
Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, who distinguishes between the holy and the ordinary.