Birkat Kohanim at the kotel.

I had never seen it, and my dad is of the priestly persuasion, so the three of us went down to the kotel in the Old City yesterday to hear/see/be present at the ginormous Birkat Kohanim for chol hamoed Sukkot.

Birkat Kohanim – known as ‘duchaning’ in Ashkenaz circles – is like a representation of the old days, when the kohanim would bless the people of Israel. On the 3 regalim – Pessach, Shavuot and Sukkot – it got more intense, since those were pilgrimage holidays. Jews from all over Israel would travel to Jerusalem, to the Beit Hamikdash, to deliver their sacrifices and be blessed.

So this was a mini pilgrimage of sorts – a traveling to the Old City, which I very rarely do anymore.

It was bursting with people, and it was the first time I’ve ever gotten a sense for what it must have been like back in the old days, when Jews would pack themselves in to even smaller spaces. It felt crowded, it stank and it was incredible to behold.

Originally, when I was considering going, I thought I was going for the view – hundreds of Kohanim gathering under their tallitot at the front of the wall. But the scene wasn’t spectacular like I thought. It was actually what I heard – the sounds of the blessings, the voices of the Kohanim, the amens of the Jewish crowd.

Take a peek (or more, take a listen) of the service here.

And the diversity, of course, can always be described in the photos:

Yom Yerusha-what?

Last night, I completely forgot it was the evening of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). If I had remembered, I might have at least considered going down to the Old City to pay my respects and tributes.

What is it about modern Jerusalem that makes it so easy to forget? Is it the modernity in it? Is it the politics? The imperfection?

Part of it for me is the political implications. Sure, 41 years ago today, Jerusalem was ‘reunited’ – on paper. In some of our hearts. In some of our minds.

Part of it for me is the general apathy. The municipality tries to make the city more attractive, tries to find the bridge between ancient and holy, and modern and successful. It’s not working though. People are leaving. The city is becoming more Charedi, Arab and touristy.

Part of it for me is the letdown. For the first 12 years of my life Jerusalem was a holy city, untouched by rubbish. When I visited here for the first time, I was severely disappointed. Blame the high expectations on my diaspora yeshiva education, on my enthusiastic tefillot, on my imagination, but the fact is – it’s just not even close to the Jerusalem I thought I was supposed to long for.

I suppose the main thing about a reunited Jerusalem of 41 years is the attainment of the Old City. Maybe later I will go down and there and say a word or two. Or maybe I won’t.

East siiide.

City feature: Caesarea

Caesarea is one of those Israeli cities that, when coming up in conversation, everyone nods their heads and says, “Oh yes, beautiful place, I’d like to get back there one of these days.”

After hearing that for over three years, I decided it was time. We took a day of our chol hamoed and drove up to the coastal city, leftovers of what was once a Herodian entertainment center.

Part of the intrigue was the famous aqueduct built there by the Romans. Here’s what websites have up, beckoning you to come see the magic in person:

Because it’s a historic site, I figured the photos would be true to the reality (or is that the other way around?) but I seemed to have forgotten where I live and who my country men are… Because this is what we found:

Ceasarea aqueduct

Caesarea aqueduct

Despair not, however; Caesarea is still a beautiful city resembling a giant golf resort with mansions surrounding… After all, the aqueduct beach is the only free area in the city, so, you know.

The old city, which is reminiscent of Yaffo and Akko, was worth a walk in the 40 degree sun:

Caesarea old city view

mosaic old city Caesarea

Caesarea old city ruins

old city Herodian pillars

Herodian amphitheater