On Friday morning (Feb. 4) we took a while to get ourselves packed up and ready (it took me an hour and a half just to figure out what bus connections we needed to make, using the public Egged buses to the privately owned Elite buses that go from Jerusalem to Beitar), and left the wonderful studio we had rented in the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem. I enjoyed this apartment and Jerusalem so much and would have loved to have stayed there longer than the 2.5 days I had available there.
I lived in Beitar Illit for six years, and though I moved from there over ten years ago, still have many warm memories and strong feelings of connection there. So spending Shabbos in Beitar was my priority. Mid afternoon we arrived at the friend who was hosting us for dinner, who sat us down with refreshments and we chatted a bit before we went to the neighbor whose home we were sleeping at. The room wasn’t ready for us, so we decided to take a walk to deliver gifts to a couple of the families we’d be having meals with. Though it was rainy and what you might conside dreary, I was so happy to be back in my old neighborhood that the weather didn’t bother me a bit. Everything looked almost the same to me, and I was flooded with memories everywhere I looked, and pointed out some to the girls that they would have heard about in some way or remember.
We had a little bit of confusion regarding candle lighting, since I forgot that in Beitar the Shabbos siren goes off 40 minutes before sunset, and when our hostess was getting our room and the house in general ready well after that, I was concerned about lighting candles on time. Once I remembered, I realized why she was so relaxed!
We enjoyed dinner with a friend who now has eleven children (we met when she had just had her third and my oldest was a few months old!); her family is beautiful and my girls and hers really hit it off. When it was time to go, her daughters warmly invited mine back to spend the afternoon with them.
In the morning, I went to the English speakers’ shul – this was interesting, since we were one of the early English speaking families in Beitar. As such, we were involved in the hiring process of the rabbi who has been there for 17 years now as well as in the early running of the shul – that’s how it is when there aren’t many people in the community; every person gets involved! When we left plans were underway to begin building the shul and though we had monthly contributions toward the building costs that came out of our bank account for quite some time after we left Israel, I had never seen it. It’s nice to see that the hard work of certain people in particular who really took over the massive responsibility for this project worked out.
On Friday morning I had gotten an email from a friend letting me know that a family I knew would be having a kiddush for their son, who was getting married that week. When we met this family, this young man was a little boy, and now he’s the last of the many siblings to get married! My glasses fogged up slightly as I got into the synagogue foyer, and as I gently wiped them, they came apart in my hand – not great timing when I needed to be able to see people.
Fortunately, I had a strong recurring feeling when packing that I needed to take an extra pair of glasses, which I kept ignoring since I was taking as little as possible and it seemed overly cautious – it’s not like I frequently break glasses, and I would only be away for ten days. But a few hours before I left, I had an insistent feeling about that I would regret not taking them – and then went to sleep for an hour before waking up, then in my haste to leave to the airport forgot all about it. Literally at the last minute when I ran up to the bathroom before leaving, I suddenly remembered the glasses and grabbed them – I shoved it into one of the suitcases and I was really glad I did.
I went back to get my back-up pair of glasses, and when I returned to shul, services were over and I was immediately greeted by several old friends as I came in the door. This was so, so nice – I had an expectation that people wouldn’t remember me or really care much that I was there, which could not have been more inaccurate. I was there chatting for an hour and could have been there much longer except I had to leave for our lunch hosts, who used to be our next door neighbors.
This was another really nice meal – our oldest sons were best friends, and we were very good friends as well, and it was so nice to catch up in person. At the end of the meal, our girls all disappeared to spend time talking together while we continued to chat. I had thought I might have time to return to the place we were sleeping between lunch and the third meal, and told a couple of people I’d try to come by to visit if time allowed, but there really was no time. As it was, I kept my eye on the clock, and finally said goodbye.
From there I went to the neighbor upstairs for a lightning quick visit (another friend), which she was amazingly gracious about. I would have loved to have spend longer with her, but after less than 15 minutes, I had pushed my available time to the limit. We had to be at our hosts for the third meal in a different section of town, a very brisk 30 minute walk away- and we made it there just in time, two minutes before sunset! (Which I’m sure caused them concern since when you have guests, you want to wait until they’re there to begin eating!)
This family was another one we were very glad to spend time with. About eleven years ago I had suggested they meet, as we had hosted each of them as individuals and I felt they were very compatible. They did, and got married; when I left Israel when they were still newly married with no children. It was so nice to be with them in their home and see their four gorgeous children (one of whom I had recognized immediately that morning in shul/synagogue from pictures her mother had sent me).
My only regret was the day was soooo short – there were so many people I would have loved to speak to at more length. It was great to be back in my old neighborhood and reconnect with old friends!