We were followed on this trip — practically everywhere we went.
Our fourth day in Israel, which landed on July 22, was perhaps our closest encounter with our familiar friend: The number 22.
Our day started with a visit to the city of Tzfat.
Tzfat is the center of Kabbalah, also known as Jewish mysticism, which is the belief that ancient hidden secrets can be found in the Torah by a limited number of people with a special shared knowledge. Numerology also plays a part. (It’s much more than Madonna’s red string bracelet.)
It’s something Jackie’s (my wife’s) grandfather was particularly interested in and studied when he could.
Although years apart, and during different months, both of Jackie’s grandparents died on the 22nd.
Ever since, Jackie and her family have noticed the number 22 showing up around them all the time.
It’s been clear on this trip. Starting with our first hotel room in Tel Aviv.
That’s right: Room 2222.
Back in Cincinnati, our initial flight to Israel was first delayed to 2:22 p.m. Our trip itinerary was 22 pages. And, during the trip, we learned the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters.
So, visiting the city of mysticism on July 22 was interesting, to say the least.
Tzfat is also known for its large collection of local artisan shops.
As we were searching through all the artwork for a print we liked, we decided on this one.
It wasn’t until we were about to pay we realized it contained a blessing on the back. A Bible verse we used in our wedding — the same one Jackie’s grandfather regularly read during holidays:
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
This day, the 22nd, was also special because after our time in Tzfat, we made our way to Jerusalem for the first time — traveling by bus through the West Bank into the city.
Just before entering the Old City, we stopped at this lookout point to take in Jerusalem, drink wine, and break bread together. The spot offered our first glimpse at the city’s iconic golden dome which marks Temple Mount — one of the most important religious sites in the world.
Temple Mount has been considered as a holy site for thousands of years by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Judaism in particular, it is the absolute holiest site. Religious Jews believe from here the world expanded into its present form and where God gathered the dust used to create the first human, Adam.
Therefore, they consider Temple Mount to be where God’s presence is manifested more than in any other place. It is the site of the First Temple — where they believe the “Holy of Holies,” the Ark of the Covenant, was kept. According to the Book of Exodus, the Ark was a gold covered wooden chest holding the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. Those, however, are believed to have been lost when the First Temple was destroyed. (Which is why Indiana Jones is looking so hard for them.)
No matter what you believe, it is an incredibly powerful sight to see. Especially for the first time. You’re starring at the center of the world’s three largest religions. And as the Rabbi on the trip said: “Thousands and thousands of years of sadness and happiness, hopes and dreams.”
So many people have come here, for so many, many years seeking something bigger than them. I was truly moved by the view, the history, and the moment.
Next we checked into our hotel and prepared for Shabbat. In the Jewish tradition (and a few Christian traditions) the Sabbath is observed at sunset on Friday. It’s considered a reflective day of rest on the seventh day of the week, on which observers remember the biblical creation of the heavens and the earth. (Most Christians today observe that on Sunday.)
Shabbat is a really beautiful way to end the week. It’s a special time to focus on gratitude, each other, and what really matters. Our group was fortunate enough to have Shabbat services in the Old City, sitting together, near a part of the famous Wailing Wall, or the Western Wall. The wall is what remains of the Second Jewish Temple, built by Herod the Great, on top of where the First Temple (and the Holy of Holies) is said to have stood.
It’s customary to celebrate afterward with a big dinner with lots of fun, food, and drink. We were treated to another amazing meal, this time in a beautiful courtyard at Hebrew Union College. (Which, by the way, teaches Reform Judaism and has only four campuses in the world: Jerusalem, New York, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati!)
Since there is no separation of religion and state in Israel (a Jewish state) the cities (and most of the people) follow Jewish Orthodox tradition. That means no driving and no working during the Sabbath. (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.) Traffic comes to an almost complete halt. Shops close. And the streets fill with people walking instead of driving. (In the USA, imagine if we were a country full of only Chick-fil-A — always closed on Sundays.)
This all starts at sunset. Which on this date, the 22nd, happened to be at 7:07 p.m. Israel time. And our hotel room for this leg of the journey? Room 707, of course.
Maybe it’s all a coincidence. Maybe we’re looking for the numbers. Maybe it’s something special.
But no doubt about it: Jerusalem is an unforgettably powerful place.