Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage is available in paperback and on kindle and is being reprinted on Catholic News Agency with author’s permission. Cheryl’s non-fiction book is called Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with Her Past.
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2
The urgent knocking at the door startled Beth from her sleep. At first she couldn’t quite rouse herself and simply turned onto her side and pulled more covers around her neck. She was caught in between sleep and wake and preferred sleep. However, the knocking wouldn’t stop and Beth shook the slumber from her brain. Who is at the door? she wondered. And then, as if a bolt of lightning ran through her, she sat straight upright. Stumbling, she made her way to the door.
The stranger at the door stared at Elizabeth. While Beth stood motionless, trying to get her bearings, the young woman smiled and Beth immediately saw the resemblance between her and Mrs. Goldfarb, Ayala. Beth knew that this woman who couldn’t take her eyes off Beth’s snarled mane must be Ayala’s daughter. Beth raised her hands and made a meager attempt at calming her hair down but knew it was no use. Beth was blessed with beautiful, thick sandy blonde hair that had a mind of its own. Since Beth had fallen asleep with it wet, she knew it was, at that very moment, a tangled mess atop her head. She smiled sheepishly and said, “You must be Ayala’s daughter. Please, come in. I’m sorry, I fell asleep. The exhaustion…”
Beth’s sentence trailed off as the Goldfarb daughter simply said, “Please, please, do not worry. We know you are exhausted. We did not want you to sleep too much though, because your whole schedule will be off. We want you to come over and have a good Sabbath meal and then we will let you get back into bed. I believe my parents have plans for you tomorrow and you need to be well rested!”
“You are too kind,” Beth paused, wanting to use her name but nothing coming to mind. She couldn’t remember if the Goldfarb’s had told her or not. She stood embarrassed, but only for a fleeting moment.
“My name is Miriam. And I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Beth. Now please, take your time, get dressed, and come across the hall. We are looking forward to sharing a meal with you.” At that Miriam turned and crossed the hall. Beth closed her own door and reflected on her good fortune at having found such a warm and inviting family as her neighbors on this trip. Yes, God sure was watching out for her!
Making her way to the bathroom, Beth devised a plan to get herself in a presentable way that wouldn’t take another hour. She couldn’t make her gracious hosts wait on her account. She ran her hairbrush under the water and pulled it through her mop of hair. Using a blow dryer Beth stood in front of a mirror in an attempt to remove some of the volume that had erupted during her sleep. Beth watched her reflection, in quiet dismay, as her arms, one raised above her head holding the blow dryer and the other raised holding the brush, showed her age.
Of all the things that she couldn’t get used to, it was the loose area of flesh and skin under her arms. There were less and less signs of age that she could cover up and she considered her flabby arms to be her Waterloo. She spent countless hours doing arms presses on the weight machines her sons had at home. Diligently, she walked the local track or rode her own exercise bike. But to what avail? Drying her hair she thought it was time to accept defeat and move into the next phase of life, toneless arms and all.
Putting down her brush, semi-satisfied with her clean up job, Beth looked at the clock. She knew she needed to call Luke but had been putting it off until she had a reason for it to be a short, painless conversation. Dinner with the Goldfarbs was the perfect excuse for a ‘I’m here and fine. Please tell the kids I love them. I have to go’ contact with her husband. She picked up the phone and dialed. It was late-afternoon in Israel which meant it was around eight in the morning in Michigan. Luke should be at work and Beth dialed his direct office number.
One of their agreements, after counseling, had been that Luke put in a direct line so that Beth wouldn’t always feel like a “client” or “customer” when she called. She adored Luke’s secretary but often felt odd asking to speak to her husband. One time Meghan actually hesitated, not seeming sure if she should put Elizabeth’s call through to Luke. That did it and Luke installed a private line the next day.
“Hey, my little world traveler!” were Luke’s first words to Beth.
Taken off guard, Beth’s heart filled with emotion for her husband. “Hi, honey. How are you?”
“Except for the hole in our morning where your presence was sorely missed, I’m great. The kids got off to school just fine. Sophia was more than helpful with Sammy and that made the morning better than I expected. She also threw in a load of wash on her way out. She said she’ll put it in the dryer when she gets in from school. I don’t think she’s working this afternoon. I gave everyone a few extra dollars for lunch and asked each of them to call me when they got home from school. We should be fine so make sure you enjoy yourself. How was your flight?”
“Actually, everything went quite well. I did my best to sleep but ended up taking a nap just now. And, of all things, I’ve been invited to dinner by the neighbors. They are wonderful and are waiting for me so I want to get going.” There was a slight hesitation as neither seemed to know what to say.
“Okay, then. I’m glad you are in good hands. I know you told me not to expect daily calls, but I do hope you will try to call a couple of times a week. I know it is difficult for you to say because you don’t know what your trip will hold, but still, give it a try.” Luke was doing his best to give Beth her space, as if Israel weren’t far enough and she needed more.
“I will,” was Beth’s response. “Have a good day and give the kids a big hug and kiss for me. And tell Sophia how much it means to me that she is pitching in. It makes me feel like somehow, somewhere, you and I have done a good job, Luke.”
“We love you,” was Luke’s safe reply.
Elizabeth also remained in neutral territory, “My love to everyone.”
Opening her luggage, Beth decided to get a few things hung up before she headed to the Goldfarb apartment. She was already getting deliciously lost in the silence that surrounded her and felt as if she could, for the first time in ages, hear her own thoughts. There were no televisions on in the background, no kids arguing with each other, no one calling her name. If there was a still, small voice wanting to speak to her, she would finally be able to listen.
Beth knew that Sabbath began shortly before sundown and could feel the beauty of the occasion in the air. The sun was low in the sky and the weather could not have been more cooperative. She pulled on a light, long sleeved cotton jersey shirt and a pair of stretch denim-like pants. Both the shirt and pants were complementary tones of forest green, Beth’s favorite color. The shirt had a bit of embroidery around the scoop neckline and sleeve cuffs. She stood, looking in the full length mirror attached to the back of the bedroom door and contemplated tucking in her shirt. She had a belt, so it wasn’t that. She just was at that point where sucking in her stomach had lost its appeal.
It wasn’t as if she were really overweight, there were only an extra ten or twelve pounds on her frame. It was just that they were all in her waist and bottom. Where she once could get by with one piece outfits and tucked in tops, she now bought clothes that hid her mid-section. She wasn’t coping well with the onslaught of middle age. Thinking of her request for water on the plane and the entire idea of this trip, Beth decided to continue with her carefree wild streak. She tucked in her top, ruffled through her bag to find her belt and pulled on a pair of cream colored socks. She grabbed her brown shoes and went into the living room. Sitting on a dining chair, she pulled on her shoes and grabbed the keys off the counter. She surveyed the room, nodded in approval, and headed towards the door. Letting herself out, her back still to the Goldfarb’s apartment, she could smell all the wonderful Sabbath aromas as they filled the hallway. Smiling, she walked over to Meir and Ayala’s and knocked.
“Shabbat Shalom!” welcomed Meir. “Please, come in,” he motioned for Beth to move into their inviting home and join his family.
Beth awkwardly realized that she had nothing to offer her host or hostess and did her best not to begin apologizing. “Shabbat Shalom,” she responded. And, walking into the room exchanged greetings with the young woman who had so kindly roused Beth from her sleep. Sitting next to Miriam on the couch was a young man who looked strikingly like Meir. Beth often marveled at how she could see resemblances in other families but never in her own. People always told her how her children looked like Luke or looked like herself, but she never saw it. She smiled at the young man as he introduced himself.
“Shabbat Shalom. I am David Goldfarb, Meir and Ayala’s son. Welcome to Israel.”
Both Goldfarb children looked to be in their twenties but it was difficult to tell. Beth was never good at telling ages and had long given up. More likely they were in their thirties, based on the Meir and Ayala’s ages who looked to be in their sixties. “Thank you so much. I am delighted to be here and cannot believe my good fortune at having met your parents. They are wonderful and kind people.”
David smiled knowingly, “I’ve long ago learned that Adonai’s hand is in all things and am not surprised that you are under the care of my parents. Yes, they are wonderful and kind people.”
Taking the pre-offered chair that she had sat in that afternoon, Beth made herself comfortable. Meir had pulled up one of the dining chairs and was talking animatedly with his children. There seemed to be a tense moment or two and then they all remembered that they had a guest. Ayala kept busy in the kitchen and Elizabeth simply succumbed to the atmosphere of food and family. How ironic that she would find herself so at ease in the home of strangers, albeit warm and friendly ones. What was drawing her in so fully, so completely?
“Could everyone please come to the table? I would like to begin our Sabbath meal.” Everyone stood up at Ayala’s request and made the few necessary steps towards the table. Meir brought with him the chair he had been using and placed it at the beautifully set table. Either Ayala had gone all out for her visitor or the Goldfarbs celebrated the weekly Sabbath to the degree that Elizabeth celebrated Christmas and Easter. What appeared to be the best china, bone colored with a silver trim, was set upon a splendid lace tablecloth, obviously hand sewn with great love. Water goblets and wine glasses caught the light from the hanging chandelier. The silverware had long handles with what looked like intricately carved ribbons on the end of each piece. Linen napkins, the same color as the plates, completed each place setting. The table was full of large and small platters filled with aromatic dishes and a small tureen of chicken soup.
Beth stood behind a chair indicating her question of appropriateness and was given a nod from Ayala. It was subtle and Beth appreciated Ayala’s comfortable ways. Meir, Miriam, and David each stood behind a chair as well and Beth could see that this was the correct stance for the beginning of the meal. Ayala walked back into the kitchen to get two magnificent candle holders. Each was about the height of the tall water goblets with the candle extending about six inches above. The candle holders were a burnished gold about two inches in diameter. They were fairly plain except for the middle where there was a thick band of gold vines winding their way around each stem. That same band was repeated at the base of the candle holders.
Covering her head in what looked like a lace shawl, Ayala waited while Miriam offered the same head covering to Elizabeth. Taking her cue from Miriam, Beth gently placed the lace upon her head and let it drip down onto the tops of her shoulders. She was transformed as she watched Meir and David put on their own head coverings, yarmulkes. Moving the candle sticks directly in front of her own place setting, Ayala took out a packet of matches and lit the candles. She then blew out the small flame of the match and placed it on the very edge of her plate. She bowed her head down, closed her eyes, and began making a circular motion above the flames. Her open arms reached out as if she were going to hug someone and then circled back in, towards her chest. She began praying, “Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha olom, ah sher keed shahnu be meetzvotav, vit zee vahnu, li had leek neir shel Shabbat.” Ayala repeated this three times and with each time made the same outward and inward circular motions with her hands.
Meir then blessed the wine. “Barukh atah Adonai, Elohaynu, melekh ha-olam, borei p’riy ha-gafen.”
Beth was overcome with emotion and hoped she wouldn’t embarrass herself and begin crying. Menopause was the gift that kept on giving.
Ayala, once again showing her instinctive ability to read other people, looked at Elizabeth and began explaining the Sabbath celebration.
“First, let me begin by sharing with you the meanings of the words of our prayers. When I light the candles I am saying, ‘Blessed are You, oh God, our Lord, King of all creation whose commandments make us holy and who commands us to light the candles of Sabbath.’ When Meir blesses the wine he is saying, ‘Blessed are You, Lord, our God, king of the universe who creates the fruit of the vine.’”
Ayala was serving soup along with her explanation and Beth was agreeing to both. As Beth began enjoying the delicious soup, Ayala continued the Sabbath lesson with Elizabeth intently listening. Meir would add comments here and there to the delight of everyone, even Ayala. Miriam and David clearly enjoyed their parents’ moment in the spotlight and sat back for the lesson as well. All were transformed by the significance of the Sabbath as a call to remember and honor the Lord’s day.
“Emma, I am embarrassed to ask . . . but I forgot why we light two candles,” caught up in the moment Miriam was as childlike as Elizabeth as she listened to her mother and father. Ayala looked to Meir, obviously giving him permission to explain this while Ayala enjoyed her own soup. Meir’s bowl was empty and it seemed like a fair trade.
Before Meir began, Ayala turned to Beth and said, “My daughter calls me ‘emma’ which means ‘mother’ and calls Meir ‘abba’ which means ‘father’.” Beth’s spoon stopped halfway to her mouth as she realized that Jesus called His father, Abba. Abba! Beth loved the sound of it: Abba.
Meir then began telling his audience that two candles are lit because the Ten Commandments appear twice in the Torah. First, they are in Exodus, which was when they were actually given to Moses. They appear the second time in Deuteronomy, just prior to Moses’ death, when he is again sharing them with his people. The Jewish people note that there is a significant difference in these two events. In the first instance, in Exodus, the command is to ‘remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy’ while the second instance, in Deuteronomy, the command changes and the people are told to “guard” the Sabbath and keep it holy. So the two candles signify the two different words used to express the commands regarding the Sabbath. One is to remember, zachor, and the other is to guard, shamor.
While Meir had explained the difference between zachor and shamor, Ayala had cleared away the soup dishes and was serving succulent chicken, vegetables, and blessed company. Beth enjoyed the dinner conversation and could easily see how very close the Goldfarbs were with one another. Eventually the evening came to an end with a cup of thick, rich coffee and a serving of compote, a mouth watering mixture of ripe fruit served in a pretty crystal bowl.
Plans were finalized to attend synagogue the next morning as Beth agreed to spend the Sabbath day with the Goldfarbs. Meir explained to Beth that the Sabbath day was one of visiting, discussing Torah, and praying. Beth was intrigued and looked forward to the day.
Getting up to leave, Elizabeth was embraced, one by one, by the Goldfarb clan. Miriam walked her to the small foyer and watched as Beth unlocked her own apartment door and entered. Beth heard Miriam close the Goldfarb door only after Beth’s own latch had been secured.
Yes, Beth thought, David is right. Adonai’s hand is most definitely in this newfound relationship.
The previous chapters are listed below: