Yom rishon, 16 Av 5768/17 August 2008, Sunday.
We picked a very hot day to see how people "do summer" in Yerushalayim. If hot, humid Baltimore would adopt some of these hobbies, life in that city might be just a bit more pleasurable, I think. Kids were playing in public fountains all over town -- and no one was yelling at them. In fact, there were fathers sitting and learning nearby. Families were enjoying outdoor barbecues in the parks.
We met some friends for lunch in a busy restaurant in the Ben Yehuda shopping mall. Once again, we were reminded of a positive difference in the dining experience in Israel: in the States, there is a sense of being rushed from one's table for the next customer. In Israel, one dines and shmoozes, and actually needs to accost the waitperson for the check. (Of course, there will always be exceptions. If you can find that sort of restaurant -- other than a serve-yourself establishment -- on the Eastern Seaboard, please let me know for my next visit.)
We stopped in at our favorite bookstore, M. Pomeranz Bookseller, on Be'eri. The books we had ordered had not yet arrived. But we had a lovely chat with the proprietor and one of his long-time employees. That held us in place long enough for a very old friend to stop in. More chatting, and another reminder that there are no coincidences. Call me biased, but this fact seems even clearer in the Holy Land.
In the Old City, an older man walking with a young man, both in tefillin, reminded us of the preciousness of being in our own Land. Was this a father and son, or a rosh yeshiva with a beloved talmid? It didn't matter. In the Rova, every kind of Jew can be himself, without feeling out of place. The shawls handed out to some women at the Kotel may have given them food for thought; but every Jew is welcome.
The main theme of the day was that life is about time with people and Hashem. When we Americans are working so many long hours to live the American Dream, it is sometimes impossible to take time for that reality. Israel can afford us the opportunity to enjoy a simpler life, if we don't try to recreate the USA here. There are no guarantees for an easy life; but I don't remember tripping over that option in the USA either. But Israel has allowed us to emphasize the things we cherish the most: human interaction, time to be ourselves, an increasingly central relationship with our Creator. I am so grateful that we have this privilege. I pray that Hashem will not take it away from us. I pray that more and more of our dear friends will be able to join us at Home.