Not alone in Elul: Singles walk through history

As a single, you have prayed deeply for years. A trip to Shilo, where Chana prayed alone and was answered, has special meaning.Op-ed

Juliette Lawrence ,

Shiloh
Shiloh
Zichron Mishkan Shiloh

One hundred and nine degrees, the sun mercilessly beating down on us, a small bus pulls out from Agrippas Street, the modern metropolis of Jerusalem - grown up from the ancient, it began a journey to another ancient part of Israel, perhaps a little less known. An Elul Trip to Ancient Shiloh, a trip for singles, all organized by a dedicated volunteer named Lisa Rubin, who, when not on a Corona-forced leave of absence, works in tourism.

Our bus took us through bumper to bumper traffic, until the surroundings became more countryfied, open fields with crops, Bedouin tents, and vineyards proudly showing off their grapes. After riding forty minutes north of the capital city, we arrived at an open, rustic site, with picnic tables and refreshments greeting us (with masks offered to us re Covid-19 standards.) The atmosphere was friendly and open. There were some initial ice-breakers activities, however, I felt it was the essence of this trip that connected people.

As the sun began to go down, and the sky turned from a deep pink to hot orange, we began our trek to the ancient site, with a history from 3000 years ago. Our tour guide was Eliana, whose love and passion for Shiloh knew no bounds. With the sun having set for the day, we approached an impressive-looking building, surrounded by twelve windows, representing the twelve Tribes of Israel, that became a movie screen re-telling the story of the Tabernacle.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I felt like I was walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. It brought to life the story of Chana, the righteous woman who prayed for a child at the Mishkan. The son who was born from her prayers was Shmuel, the great prophet of Israel. We learn from Chana, that the most genuine form of prayer is from the heart, naturally talking to G-d. Yet Chana learned through her challenges, and after praying for many years, that by praying for others first, then your prayer is heard.

This is perhaps not the easiest of messages to swallow, when as a single, you have been in the position of praying deeply for many years. You have experienced the friends you grew up with 'moving on' and getting married, and possibly, even their children reaching that milestone in life. Well-meaning people voluntarily and openly offer you solutions and websites, to your 'problem', rarely thinking of what might actually be good 'for you', on an individual level.

There are singles that have very fulfilling lives, people who have used their challenge as a unique path to self-discovery and appreciation. They have questioned and understood their calling, and often work in jobs where they make a unique difference to those they work with, or in the world as a whole. I can promise you, they are not always living ‘unfulfilled lives’ as society might label them. Does that not mean, that at holiday time, family occasions, even your own birthday, there's not a small part inside that is aching to build a relationship, a family? You learn to celebrate in others’ happiness, but here and there the phrase: 'I never thought it would be me ...' can creep into your mind.

Eliana shared some heartfelt stories, of groups and people she had guided, many of whom had returned excitedly to tell, and even show their miracles. Those stories lit up the night sky - and afterwards I think, everyone's hearts had done invisible somersaults ... we walked down the hill, to pray - where Chana - the Mother of Prayer - prayed.

The lights were not on, the ground was rough, with pebbles and stones. There was a two-meter-tall wall, of dark stone, possibly representative of a Holy Wall our ancestors have leaned on, and cried their tears on since Temple times. Whether inspired by the holiness of the place, the urge to pray, to cry out from deep inside, or possibly to just sit and contemplate in the open night air, I'm sure that this group 'of brothers and sisters', all had their own prayer to offer up, in the darkness, under the stars.

On the trek back, people were mixing and chatting and we were met with a delicious dairy meal, with white chocolate pieces on the top of the chocolate mousse!

Were we hungry? Perhaps we had already been satiated, filled with food for the soul - I felt Lisa understood this, since she had organized a trip of a deeply rich experience.

It was not a large singles party, putting yourself on display and met by hungry matchmakers. No, it was a deeply meaningful trip, a walk back in history, acquainting us with our heritage, an opportunity for singles to go to a significant and interesting site and, by the way, meet each other in a relaxed low-pressure setting.

Even though we are in the digital age, online meeting can never compare be a personalized walk through Jewish history. This was a singles event that connected people at the soul. My prayer for Rosh Hashanah is that everyone's tefilla will be answered l'tovah, that the participants at this event felt an opening in their hearts, a channel to 'come and return to', on this unprecedented journey of life.

No expectations ... but perhaps down the line, a little Shmuel or Chana will be brought here in a few years' time, by their parents, and told their miraculous story ...

For now, though, just wishing everyone a Healthy and Good New Year.

Shana Tovah U'metuka!

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Juliette Lawrence, an Olah from UK, participated in Lisa Rubin’s Ancient Shiloh Elul singles event. For more information, to participate, or assist in subsidizing an event, Lisa can be reached at lisarubink@gmail.com



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