Last month, 14 members of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue Choir, with me among them, went out on tour in France and Germany with cantor and conductor Eli Jaffe to mark half a decade of a united Jerusalem.
The first major stop on the tour was at the Paris's Grande Synagogue de la Victoire, which is considered one of the biggest synagogues in the world. There are close to 2,000 seats in this beautiful synagogue, which was founded in Paris's 9th arrondissement in 1873.
The neoclassic de la Victoire, which stands 26 meters (85 feet) high and extends 44 meters (144 feet) wide, looks more like a cathedral than a synagogue. The wealthy banking family Rothschild has been praying there for many generations, frequenting it to this very day, along with other prominent Jewish families in the city.
The synagogue also has an important Israeli connection. "The idea to establish a state in the Land of Israel began here, in 1894, when Theodor Herzl visited Paris as a journalist," the synagogue's president, Jacques Canet, told Ynet.
"He wanted to meet the synagogue's president, Gustave de Rothschild, after Rothschild bought lands in Rishon Lezion and Zikhron Ya'akov. Three years later, Herzl came up with the idea of holding a Congress in Basel."
Ahead of the concert, the choir gathered at a nearby synagogue for final rehearsals along with cantors Shmuel Shapiro and Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, the latter considered one of the greatest cantors of our generation. The Paris synagogue's own cantor, Aron Hayoun, also took part in the concert along with the local synagogue's choir.
On the day of the concert, just as we were about to leave the hotel, sirens filled the air. A police officer was attacked by a terrorist at Notre-Dame Cathedral, a short walking distance from the synagogue.
France as a whole, and particularly the capital Paris, has been on high alert following the series of major attacks carried out by Islamists in the country in recent years, which claimed the lives of some 240 Frenchmen and women within two years.
But the synagogue's rabbi, Moshe Sebbag, is not worried. "The Jewish community feels safe here," he said, noting the Jews in Paris are not afraid to walk on the street or take their children to school. "Community life continues freely here."
With security arrangements outside the synagogue complete, the audience—including ministers, parliamentarians, rabbis and many other public figures—settled in their seats.
During the concert, choir members joined the cantors in singing songs about Jerusalem, and the audience rewarded them with roaring applause.
At the end of the concert, conductor Eli Jaffe received a heavy tome detailing the history of the synagogue with a dedication from the synagogue's president and rabbi.
The next day, the choir took the fast TGV train, making the 600 km (370 miles) trip from Paris to Frankfurt in less than four hours. It was still a great time for the choir members to get some sleep before the second concert—a KKL-JNF event at the Westend Synagogue, the main house of prayer for the Jewish community in the city.
Five hours later, the synagogue was packed to the rafters. In the audience was Frankfurt's mayor, who is considered very pro-Israel. How pro-Israel? He proudly wore a pin of the Israeli flag alongside Germany's flag on the lapel of his jacket.
KKL-JNF donation boxes were everywhere, as the audience joined in to say the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel and sing the Israeli national anthem as well as songs by Naomi Shemer.
When the choir joined cantor Yoni Rose for "Jerusalem of Gold," all levees broke with the outpouring of emotion in the room, even among those who don't really understand the words. When a Jew hears the word "Jerusalem," he can't help but feeling a lump in his throat.