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Erev Tov from Jerusalem,

After a travel adventure and two packed days of touring, the 54 members of the 2016 Park Israel trip felt in desperate need of a day of rest. After sundown on Friday, the group joined Rabbi Skoff to sing, eat, and swap stories about the trip so far. Learning from and listening to new friends is part of what makes this trip special. Sharing that magic serves as one of the most memorable experiences thus far.

Shabbat in the City of Gold began with a late wake-up call and services at the Fuchsberg Center a short walk from our hotel. While the conservative movement thrives in the United States, the vast majority of Israelis either identify as Orthodox or secular. The congregation welcomed us with open arms and Allie and I enjoyed a relatable D’var Torah. The Rabbi had recently spent a few weeks in the United States and was struck by how many Americans were threatening to move to Canada if their candidate of choice didn’t win November’s presidential election. “Do you know how much nicer the winter is in Israel?” he asked.

After lunch, we spent some time catching up with some old family friends. Late in the afternoon, we experienced a new Shabbat tradition anyone would want to get behind: a trip to the pool. The King Solomon hotel sits a few blocks from the old city walls, and the view from the 4th floor sundeck is breathtaking. Even Rabbi Skoff got in on a act, swimming a few laps in his American flag trunks while the kids on the trip cheered and joked that they were now submerged in “holy water.” My expert eye senses some potential in his freestyle. The American team might be saving a spot for him in Rio.

As the sun set, we shared a Havdalah happy hour on the 14th floor of the hotel with yet another jaw dropping view. Our group sensed a magical feeling; spending Shabbat with new friends in the most important city for our people. After a quick change of clothes, it was time for Jerusalem to wake from its slumber. Shops and restaurants open a half hour or so after sundown, and by 9:30 pm, streets were packed. We trekked the mile or so to Ben Yehuda and got in a line for falafel and shawarma at Moshiko. It’s a religious experience. I went back for a second one and am ambivalent about whether I should feel proud, ashamed, or both. Allie enjoyed a chocolate crepe as we explored the shops on our stroll back to the hotel.

Next up: The City of David, a trip to the Western Wall, and dinner at an old train station

Aaron


Aaron Goldhammer is a host and producer at ESPN Cleveland.

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