Have you been on a pilgrimage? Leaving behind the familiar in search of spiritual fulfilment, answering a calling, perhaps paying homage at an evocative site.
In Judaism, which enshrined three Pilgrimage Festivals – Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot – that site was the Temple in Jerusalem (Zion).
Entire families often made the pilgrimages – including from the Diaspora. During the Second Temple era, the Babylonian Diaspora sent massive pilgrimage delegations.
To lament the loss of Zion, during the Middle Ages pilgrims visited the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb.
Pilgrim travelogues revealed faraway personalities, practices and ideas. Renowned pilgrims Judah ha-Levi (1140), Maimonides (1165), and Benjamin ben Jonah of Tudela (1171) left enduring impressions. Moses Montefiore made his last pilgrimage at 91 (1875).
Then there are pilgrimages to the gravesites of holy men and women, a time-honoured tradition in Israel and beyond in the Middle East and North Africa, extending to Europe and North America. Candles are lit, prayers recited, written petitions left.
To pay homage to pre-Holocaust European Jewry, Elie Wiesel journeyed to Sighet. Others go to the Venice Ghetto, Alfred Dreyfus’ gravesite in Paris, or to Franz Kafka’s Prague tomb, especially on the anniversary of his death.
Connecting the individual to the collective can also form a spiritual experience. After the Iron Curtain fell, many Polish people recovered their hidden Jewish ancestry. From South America to South Asia, lost Jews traced their newfound lineage. For many, discovering their Jewish heritage has been an emotional experience.
Taglit-Birthright, a non-profit program, brings young adults to encounter Israel.
For some self-discovery might be achievable not by traversing the globe but close to home in quiet contemplation.
The essence of a successful pilgrimage? Perhaps openness to encounters along the way, returning home safe and revitalized.