Reader Post: A Magical Pilgrimage 13 Years in the Making

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13 years ago, Eddie, my friend who lived in California, called me in Israel to tell me about the birth of his baby boy Royce. Mazal Tov!

In passing he mentioned that he’s going to bring Royce to Israel for his Bar Mitzvah. What a sweet thought, but nicely putting it, I thought, “yeah, okay! ”

Boy was I wrong for doubting Eddie!

12 and a half years later Eddie messages me that he’s ready to start planning Royce’s Bar Mitzvah trip to Israel!! For a second I was uncharacteristically speechless, but without missing a beat I told him that he needed to find someone who would:

  • Arrange having a minyan for when he does his Torah Portion at the Kotel (as we, and a friend of Eddie’s from culinary school are the only people they know in Israel)
  • Find the right rabbi to teach him his Torah portion
  • Make sure they hit all the must see locations
  • Find exactly the right guide for them, knowing they have limited knowledge of Jewish history but a genuine desire to learn about their roots.

Thankfully I knew of someone who ticks all these boxes and could organize the absolutely perfect itinerary for their trip of a lifetime.

That’s when I connected him with the amazing Adena Mark of A to Z Events Israel…. and as they say, the rest is history. Adena created a unique itinerary, taking father and son from north to south, and from east to west. The perfect first trip to Israel, leaving them hungry for their next visit before they even left!

Last week I was blessed to be part of the Royce Bar Mitzvah Adventure. I’m still replaying many of the beautiful moments in my mind as I organize my thoughts from the incredible experiences of the past week. I can’t even begin to explain the full range of emotions I went through while being privileged to participate in different parts of it.

When the Jerusalem leg of their journey finally came around, Adena and I joined Eddie and Royce for dinner at the First Station; their energy from their journeys thus far was palpable. Their excitement for the upcoming Thursday morning celebration at the Kotel could only be described as electric.

As we ate dinner my husband and kids dropped by to say a quick hello and the kids all clicked immediately.  Royce asked if they could come Thursday morning and before I was able to respond my kids simply said “Sorry we have school.”

The morning of the Bar mitzvah, I decided to ask my girls again if they wanted to come (even though it was the last week of school and they would have to miss class parties.) They decided they didn’t want to miss the parties so off to school they went.

Slightly  disappointed that they didn’t choose to take advantage of the chance to take part in this wonderful mitzvah, I understood. They had only met Royce for all of 15 minutes a few nights earlier and I did, after all, give them the choice.

Not 20 minutes later, my daughter Kira called me from school to say that she realized she wanted to be a part of helping Royce celebrate his Bar Mitzvah even if it meant missing a full morning of parties.

Off to the Kotel we left and after fighting a bit of crazy Thursday morning Old City traffic, Kira, Orly, and I ran the last 100 meters. We arrived just as Royce took a breath to start the blessings for his Torah Portion.

Photo credit: Levi Dovid Photography

Little did Adena and I know, just days earlier how much we would adore sweet Royce or how truly Meragesh (moving) the Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel was going to be. (Thank you Shari and Avi for joining us to celebrate.) There I was, standing with my girls, listening to Royce recite his Torah portion, watching their excitement grow as they celebrated this huge milestone for a boy they had only met once, because “Ima, that’s what we Jews do,” I cried as I was completely overcome with emotion.

To hear Royce and Eddie’s laughter as we ‘pelted’ them with a barrage of candies and sweets as he finished his perfect recitation of his Parsha, and to see the fatherly pride in Eddie’s eyes as he watched Royce’s huge smile spread across his face as strangers lifted him up on a chair as we sang ‘Siman Tov U’Mazal Tov’… moments I will always cherish.

As the Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel was winding down Royce kept yelling up to my girls from the other side of the mechitzah, that we should tour with them for the rest of the day. I thanked him, but not wanting to infringe on their father-son time, I reminded him that spots had to be reserved in advance for the tours they were doing.

But Royce wouldn’t hear of it. “Papa can’t they join us?”

Their guide was told that the group they were joining was full, but Eddie and Royce insisted we go to the ticket window with them to give it a try and hope for the mercy of whoever was manning the desk.

As fate would have it (according to their amazing guide Amir), lady luck was with us!. After hearing that this was the last day for these “cousins” to spend together before Royce and Eddie return to the U.S., we were waved through.

The rest of the day was simply a dream;

While in the Kotel tunnels, I had real Nachat (pleasure) to see my tuition “dollars” hard at work as my girls knew so many of the obscure answers to the questions the tour guides asked the group. Not to mention the chills I got as I watched Eddie and Royce and Kira and Orly each in turn take a moment for a private prayer at the Kotel and more so at the point in the Kotel Tunnels that is closest to where the Holy of Holies was in the Temple.

As we progressed to each location, whether an archeological dig site or a 3D informational video, the awe and wonder in Royce and Eddie’s faces at hearing the history behind each was amazingly touching.

With Eddie being an accomplished chef, I was a bit concerned about where we would eat but good ol’ shwarma and falafel were perfect. During our falafel lunch in the Jewish quarter Royce and Kira bonded as they joked about how their parents are similarly annoyingly strict. And I can’t forget the last part of the afternoon. The craziest part of the day, when, still in my dress and jewelry from the Bar Mitzvah, I was convinced to join them for the half km underground walk in thigh high water through Hezekiah’s tunnels.

It was extraordinary to see my Israel through the eyes of first timers who were just getting to know Her. Watching as they fell in love with the city I adore was a truly a visceral experience. I can’t wait for their return so we can even can share a family Shabbat with them.

As the day wound down, and my girls waved goodbye to Eddie and Royce as they got in their taxi to go home, I noticed Kira and Orly getting a bit teary eyed, and it really brought it all together. I was so proud to see Kira and Orly not just embody the values we have tried to instill in them of “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh LaZeh” (that all Jews are responsible for each other) but go beyond obligation to connecting and feeling that my friend of nearly 15 years and his extraordinary son were now family.

You can go here to see more photos from our magical day.

Photo credit: Levi Dovid Photography

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