On December 31st, 1988, I celebrated my first New Year’s Eve outside of Canada. I will admit that I don’t remember my exact location, but I know it was somewhere in Israel. Maybe Jerusalem? Or Tel Aviv? Somewhere in the north? My family came to Israel to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah. It would be my first of many trips to this wonderful place.
On December 31st, 2018, exactly 30 years later, I was here again, in Israel, celebrating with more family. During our two-week visit we are attending not just a Bat Mitzvah, but also a Bar Mitzvah and a wedding party. Israel has seen tremendous change over the past 30 years, but my joy to be here has not changed.
B’shana ha ba’a b’yerushalayim. – next year in Jerusalem – is something Jewish people say not only at the end of the Passover seder, but throughout the year. There is a deep historical and personal connection we have with this ancient city. Memories of my first visit there, back in December 1988, will stay with me forever.
As I joked on New Year’s Eve a few nights ago, as we counted down the clock to midnight, I. planned to check that off my list first thing in the new year with a visit to Jerusalem on January 1st! Hey, we all make New Year’s resolutions, and I’m taking mine seriously. Check!
And sure enough, on January 1st, I went to Jerusalem, to celebrate a brand new year and to also, gulp, start planning my son, Matthew’s Bar Mitzvah. My son will turn 13 in 2020. That’s next year. And he, like so many children before him, for thousands of years, will read from the Torah in this most sacred of cities.
I have had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem twice during this trip, and I have to say, I both love and hate this city. I love Jerusalem because it is steeped in history. At every turn you come across a spot that plays a significant role for one of the world’s major religions. The city sits across seven hills, and on a clear day there are breathtaking views in every direction.
Within a few hundred meters of each other you can visit Christianity’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Islam’s Al Aqsa Mosque and the outer walls of Judaism’s Temple Mount. I won’t get into the politics and religious differences in terms of the logistics of actually visiting all three sites, but let’s say, in theory, because of sheer proximity, one can do this.
One of my favourite bakeries in the whole world, Marzipan, sits in the centre of Jerusalem. No one can load chocolate into a small pastry like they can. And behind this bakery sits a world famous market, where you can find a mix of fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, baked goods and nick knacks, and vendors hollering at shoppers and each other!
So you ask, what’s not to love about this glorious city? A lot, I say. Try driving through Jerusalem. It’s awful. Try parking. Even worse. It’s crowded, loud and kind of dirty. No road or path goes straight and we always get lost. Construction. Masses of people always descending upon the city.
And yet, there is no other place where I would want to plan my child’s Bar Mitzvah, just like I insisted for my own 30 years ago. Jerusalem is hectic, crowded and loud. But it’s also mystical and magical. This year in Jerusalem. Check. Next year in Jerusalem – see you there in April 2020.