One of my friends has told me that when her teen-age son was asked by the director of his school what he liked to do for fun, the kid said that he liked to visit kivrei tzaddikim. The director laughed.
Well, I got to tell you the way it is done here in Israel, visiting Holy Sites is not a hobby, it is a national sporting event!
I wonder if people train for it in advance, building endurance. I sure could have used some of that training.
Well, last Monday I packed up my Ample Shawl, some diapers, a few water bottles and other miscellaneous supplies. DD #1 took her travel pillow and her new camera. And since we know what is good for us we took some crackers for the baby. DD #4 was riding in the sling this time. I just could not face the jumping baby for hours on the bus. This way she was strapped to me and very, very happy. She got to be up close and personal to me and could always get some milk to go with the crackers. This decision turned out to be the most important one for the success of our expedition. There is no way we would have been able to squeeze through the crowds with the stroller and some places would have been simply impossible to get to with the baby carriage.
The bus left at 4 p.m. I have noticed that most things start either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. The midday brake is build in into most schedules.
The Jewish tradition of visiting the graves of Tzaddikim (Holy Men) is an old one. There we go to pray for material and spiritual things, seek counsel and consolation. There are different places famous for different things. For instance, huge crowds go to Meron to visit the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, to give the first hair cut to 3 year old boys on Lag B’Omer. There is a special meaning in visiting these places on the anniversary of the passing of these Holy Men. We were supposed to visit 6 such sites in different points of Israel. We were told that the trip would last approximately 5 hours and we should be back around 9 in the evening. This estimate turned out to be very optimistic.
Well, as soon as the bus started up, I pulled out my knitting and happily knit on my Ample Shawl. Everyone (by the way – it was ladies only trip) was very excited, the view out of the window was breathtaking! The Land of Israel is truly beautiful!
It took us about an hour to get to the first site, the tomb of Rabbi Yishmael Cohen Gadol.
Here I realized how “American” my expectations were. First of all, it is located in the middle of the Druze village. The tiny narrow streets curving on themselves can give vertigo even to the bionic woman. We stopped about 10 minutes away from the tomb and walked the rest of the way. It was worth it! Absolutely wonderful feeling of Holiness! Lots of people, but they tried to be considerate, no outright pushing and shoving. We prayed there for about a half an hour. Then we were off to the next site, the tomb of Rabbi Abba Chalafta. In contrast it was literally in the middle of nowhere.
Just off the side of the road. We and our bus mates were the only ones there. Another difference was that the tomb here was under the open air. It was very easy to pray there.
Then we got back on the bus and were off to Meron. This time the trip took us about two hours. The baby was well behaved and I got a lot of knitting done. When we got out of the bus one of the ladies pulled out a plastic container with various fruits so we all could say a blessing on fruits, thanking G-d that we are alive and able to partake of the new fruits of the season. Then we were off to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
It was very different from the two previous stops. The beautiful complex is very large. There were places to sit and rest too. It was very easy to pray there. The prayer felt like a song, just coming out on it’s own accord. By the time we left Meron it was almost 9 P.M.
Despite the lateness of the hour we made a decision to continue to at least one more site – to Amuka. Only now I understood the significance of so many young single ladies in their twenties on the bus. They wanted to ask a blessing for finding the husband. This Tzaddik was famous for help in finding a life partner.
By the time we got there the darkness was complete. The bus drove on the winding forest road. Many times I forgot to breathe, it felt like the bus was constantly on the edge of the precipice. And it kept climbing higher and higher! Finally we where there. Or as close as the bus could get. It took us about a half an hour of brisk walk to reach the tomb of the tzaddik. First we walked on gravel road, then pavement, than gravel again. Just to make matters more “interesting” the lights went out about the half-way there. It was more than a little scary with the baby in the sling and not knowing exactly where we were going. Thankfully about five minutes later the lights were back again. By that time I was very tired. But also very excited. I prayed for my friends, who need to find a good marriage partner. I also thank G-d for finding such a good partner – my DH.
It was after 11 p.m. when we started on our way back home. By this time the winding mountain road did not bother me one bit. I was simply too tired. DDs fell asleep and I was knitting quietly. We got home after 1 A.M. exhausted but very happy.
And we are definitely hoping to do this again.