Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 22

Saturday, 6:50 pm

I’m outside the hotel with Moshe and Miriam and Levi, waiting for Chani. Officious Cohen Man suddenly appears; he’d been MIA all day. Turns out he wants to get onto the Jerusalem bus even though he hasn’t paid for it, and feels perplexed about what to do. I tell him he can have my seat. Through the window, we see that Avi has brought out more sufganiyot to the folks in the lobby. I tell Officious Cohen Man “now is your chance to atone for yourself.” Two minutes later he has come out, sufganiyah in hand, and says “this is for you.” Much better!

Miriam, Levi and I pile into the back seat of Chani and Moshe’s car. Miriam says “What do you say about visiting the grave of Rabbi Akiva?” I suspect that she is hoping to delay or prevent our visit to the Druzes, but we all like the idea, and Levi, the new immigrant, happens to have been there once and remembers the way well enough to point us in the right direction, before we drop him off at a bus stop so he can get back to Safed.

Rabbi Akiva is buried, along with Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (the Ramchal) on a hill overlooking the Kinneret. There is a beautiful gazebo-type structure built over the graves, and the view is gorgeous.

The Ramchal’s tomb is above ground, very stately-looking. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, was buried 2,000 years ago (or so) in a little underground cave whose entrance is now covered with glass. It’s basically a glass-covered hole in the wall with the gazebo and terrace built around it. I try to look through the glass but just see the first couple of feet of what looks to be a tunnel, and feel a little spooky for a second.

Rabbi Akiva was known as a loving person, and his spirit permeates the place. There aren’t people crying to God, like you find at, say, the Western Wall or Rachel’s tomb or the tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness. In fact, a religious family has come to Rabbi Akiva’s grave and set up cakes and sodas and pretzels, to provide a festive Melave Malka (traditional post-Shabbat party) for all the visitors at the tomb, directly next to Rabbi Akiva’s resting place. It’s actually a beautiful evening to have a picnic with a night view of the Kinneret. I wonder what Rabbi Akiva would think about Jews of 2004 having a Melava Malka at his gravesite.

Rabbi Akiva was truly a righteous dude in every way. Somehow I think that he would be happy, if he knew. Maybe he does.

There is a poster with a prayer to say, and Chani and I stand together and whisper the words. Happily, my Hebrew is now good enough that I understand almost all of it even though the text is new to me. There is an entire paragraph devoted to a prayer to find one’s partner and raise God-fearing children. I hope that saying this at Rabbi Akiva’s grave will help, because the Shabbaton certainly has not.

The four of us climb back into the car, and start out for the home of Azzam Azzam.

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