We stayed in the Beit Gesher Youth Hostel off of Agron Street not far away from Mamila and a short walk into the Old City. But like most USY Groups, we stayed away from the Western Wall on Shabbat Eve and we headed to Yemin Moshe. On a hillside overlooking the Armenian Quarter, with rosemary and myrtle wafting in the air, we welcomed Shabbat. And while I can remember almost everything about that Shabbat eve, it’s the siren that still sticks with me.
It’s the only part of the experience that repeated itself every Shabbat in Jerusalem without fail. For those who have not had the ability to spend a Shabbat in the Holy City: as the sun goes down on Friday evening, the air raid sirens go off to announce that the transition has officially begun.
Every trip I made to Jerusalem, I looked forward to that haunting beautiful siren. When I lived there for the year, I regularly freaked out as the siren went off because it meant that I was running late in my Shabbat preparation (The one day that it went off on a non-Shabbat, I had a full-out panic attack). Aside from general panic, I looked forward to the siren; it was my sign that Shabbat was really around.
I got to thinking about this last week during the Friday Evening Service in the Jewish Chapel. We rose for the Amidah, and even the kids were being quiet. Before I concluded with Oseh Shalom, I heard a familiar song in the distance:
As the sun goes down on Navy and Marine Corps bases, the flags are lowered: evening colors. Throughout the base, you can hear "Retreat". If you are standing outside, you come to attention. If in uniform, you salute (even if they can’t see the flags). If you are in a car, you stop. It’s pretty intense (see the video).
The bugle call and the siren mark that point of transition. The day is over. Time to reflect.
At Camp Ramah, in the evening, the kids sing “Rad HaYom” to the tune of "Taps" at the end of the day: “Rad Hayom / Shemesh dom / Cochavim notzitzeem bamarom / Laila bah, m'noocha / Shalom, Shalom......” (The day is done, the sun is gone, the stars are sparkling above, night has come, rest time, goodbye – peace).
This past Shabbat, as the sound of evening colors penetrated the chapel at just the perfect time, three distinct aspects of my life came together. I was simultaneously a military man, a pilgrim, and a ramahnik.
Three steps back, bow to the left, bow to the right, bow to the front, three steps forward. Oseh Shalom Bimromav Hu Ya’aseh Shalom, Aleinu v’al kol yisrael, v’imru Amen.
Shabbat Shalom, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires.
Shabbat Shalom, Israel.
Shabbat Shalom, Okinawa.
Shabbat Shalom, Everybody!