Shabbat Dinner with a Rabbi in Jerusalem

At the very beginning of our world tour, we were staying at a hostel in the middle of Jerusalem, on Jaffa street. In that hostel we met and befriended a Jewish family, a dad and his grown up son and daughter. Every sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, all of Jerusalem observed the Sabbath day (shabbat), a day of rest. It was common on Thursday for everyone to rush to the main market, or shuk, called Mehane Yeduha. It became a mad scene of people stocking up on groceries for both Shabbat dinner and food to sustain them until all the shops opened again on Sunday. A fun part of shabbat was exchanging the greeting of “Shabbat Shalom!” with friends and strangers, both religious and otherwise.

The Jewish family invited us to spend shabbat with them at a near-by rabbi’s house. We were surprised at the invitation at first since we are not Jewish. But this particular rabbi had a generous heart and a gift for hospitality. For every shabbat, he opened his home to whomever was interested in celebrating it, no questions asked.

Before the dinner began, everyone gathered outside together and talked. We met people from all over the world, with a notable amount from Latin America.

The rabbi himself had something like 14 children, two of which sang at the dinner with the most amazing voices. About another 100 people, including us, joined his family that night.

The women and men were separated for the meal, although still in the same room together. We were served many courses of food while the rabbi taught a fascinating, in-depth Bible lesson about wine, joy and enjoying the Lord’s creation. The teaching was in both Hebrew and English.

The whole experience was as authentic and heart-warming as it gets. As I sat there, I could imagine Jesus doing the same hand washing ceremonies and singing the same Hebrew songs we were. Plus, I made a good friend out of the girl that sat next to me. 🙂

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View from the roof of our hostel

My family and I were touched by the sense of community and sharing. We paid nothing for our meal, as it was a gift. For a couple of quite elderly ladies at our table, it was obvious that this shabbat meal was the most they had eaten in a long time. It was sad to see their hunger, but as wonderful as it was to see them become satisfied, we were also able to speak with them as well. Thanks to their knowledge of English, we heard a bit about Jerusalem in the past, when they were girls, and the changes that have taken place since.

The gathering was a big production and a lot of work for those hosting us all, but we felt welcome there. We left around midnight although the socializing continued long after we left.

Overall, even after almost 11 months of traveling, this remains my fondest memory made abroad. There’s nothing like sitting among a community, sharing a part of their ancient and present culture and feeling at home.

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A rooftop view of old Jerusalem

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