Day 13: Kabbalat Shabbat in Efrat.

by Alexandra Rutkowski

Compared to every other day, today was a bit more laid back. Until I thought about it. It was pretty intense. 

Today was “Kabbalat Shabbat in Efrat” – I came up with that rhyme at the beginning of the trip and it actually came true! We’re accepting the Sabbath in Efrat. Yes, God has a sense of humor.

We began the day at the Ohr Koli Museum, a memorial of the modern-day site of Gush Etzion, a Jewish village that was sieged by the Arabs in 1947 I believe. They had the choice to flee or stand their ground. They remained to fight for their freedom, and in turn were slaughtered by the Arabs. 

We walked the path of the Patriarchs through the mountains today. At least two miles. Wow, that view. I still can’t get over it. There were actually literal milestones. As in, at the end of each mile, there was a large stone marking the distance. Who knew! When Christ said that if a man asks you to walk a mile, then to walk another as well, he was talking about this. Back in the day, Roman soldiers would force Jews to carry their equipment for one mile in the hot weather. By willingly going another mile, not only did that shock the soldier, but it opened up the door to conversation on the motivation behind it. Jesus knew what He was talking about! Anyway, the mountain path that the Patriarchs traveled was breathtaking. And full of grape vines on the side of the road. I must say: THE most delicious grapes I have ever tried in my life. Mhmmm..

(And on the topic of delicious foods, we stopped at a bakery at the end of the path and picked up, what else, mango nectar. For some reason, that’s super popular here in Israel. Any restaurant that sells Coke or Sprite will have nectar. Oh joy!)

After a quick pitstop at a local grocery store where I picked up even more nectar, the afternoon lectures began. This is where the work begins. We are currently staying at the Center of Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, the first Orthodox Jewish center in the world to ever theologically dialogue with Christians. Since Jews often saw themselves as a minority within the Christian world, often they found the purpose of Christian debates were to “save the Jews.”Also, there was a common fear among the people of compromising their faith to satisfy others. Rabbi Freedman, our lecturer today and tomorrow, started the meetings by saying, “I want you to stay Christian. I want you to believe in the divinity of Christ and the Messiahship of Christ. I don’t want you to change that.” He just asked for that same respect in return. The purpose of these lectures/debates are not to convert the other side, but to gain insight into the different views of various topics we all have in common. It’s going to be intense. The next 24 hours are going to be deep discussions never tested among any other Eagles’ Wings groups before. As rabbi said, “This ain’t 101. It’s 401. This is gonna be deep stuff.” I’m looking forward to it. What we covered today was the foundations of Jewish prayer and the topic of intercession. The latter was very fascinating. Tomorrow’s lectures include forgiveness, atonement, conversion, predestination vs. free will, and all that jazz. We also get “Ask a Jew Anything” time with him. It’s where we can just ask any question that we normally wouldn’t ask so we can learn more. He’s heard just about any question we can think of a thousand times… so it’s great. Lots more of it tomorrow. This really is a historic event of a coming together of those that share in the covenant and have so many beliefs in common. 

So here we are, being educated in this classroom, and I’m staring out the window. What do I see? This is the land where the union of Ruth and Boaz took place. This is where the Maccabees fought great battles. There’s the path that Abraham took to sacrifice his son. And over there? That’s where David chilled with his sheep and wrote some psalms. This is surreal. This is the only time it’s ok to stare outside of a window during a lecture. 

Shabbat (Sabbath) started today at sundown and lasts until tomorrow at the same time. That means no work. I wish. We’re just not allowed to do any physical work, that doesn’t include mental tasks. It’s so strange how this permeates every inch of their society. For instance, I’m in the lobby right now at 2 in the morning and the “Shabbat elevator” is running. Since pushing the buttons is considered work, the elevator starts on the top floor on stops on each floor for thirty seconds on its own. It’s kind of creepy in an empty lobby with a phantom elevator, but hey, Shabbat Shalom. We dressed very modestly and headed over to the synagogue down the street where we attended the Shabbat prayer service. There was a wooden divider running down the middle of the room- women on one side, men on the other. Everything was in Hebrew, obviously, so we had no idea what we going on, so we just followed the cues around us. Even though we have our differences, we were worshipping our God together straight from the psalms. I was amazed at their reverence. At their unity. At their passion. We can learn from them in a lot of ways. I was also shocked to see that the ratio of men to women was about 85-15. And all the men were singing loudly. I wish we saw that in our churches today.

After the service, we met Rabbi Rishkin back at the center for dinner. What a wonderful man! This rabbi is literally world famous. Renown. In fact, I was going through Logos Bible Software today on my computer and the first commentary I looked on just happened to speak about Rabbi Rishkin. The fact that he took time to spend with us is almost too good to be true. As Rabbi Freedman said earlier this afternoon, “I don’t think you understand what a big deal this is. You get a whole meal with him. I don’t even get five minutes with him!” Over a delightful dinner, Rabbi spoke on eschatological topics as it relates to the Jewish tradition. What an amazing dinner. That’s something I’ll never forget.

Learned something fascinating today in the last minute of our lecture. It was quick so I didn’t catch everything, but here’s the gist of it:

  • The Hebrew word for man is ish, spelled alpeh- yod– shin
  • The word for woman is ishah, spelled aleph- shin- heh.
  • The letters yod and heh combine to form the Hebrew name of God. 
  • Removing the letters yod and heh from the words isha and ish leave you with aleph-shin, the Hebrew word for fire.
  • So basically, if you take God out of the equation when it comes to marriage, you’re left with fire.

Remove God, you’ve got fire. Crazy, huh? Something to think about. 

Shalom! -Alexandra