Monday, January 14, 2008

תן שבת ותן שלום בעיר ירושלים Grant Shabbat and Peace to the City of Jerusalem

As Friday and Shabbat were my last few days in Jerusalem (and Israel):( (for now :)), I decided that I’d try to make the most of them, and I think that I succeeded pretty well. On Friday, I’ll admit, I was pretty exhausted from a busy week at the yeshiva, and I was ready to take the day easy, but in the end, it turned out to be pretty productive. I woke up around 7 and went to shacharit at Janet’s shul (Beit Boyer), and came back and had some breakfast. I then went to the store with her to do some Shabbat shopping (actually, it wasn’t just any store, but Rami Levi, another ‘real supermarket’ in the same neighbourhood as the SuperSol Deal, very different from the places where I shopped last year in Mercaz Ha’ir (the city center). I chilled for a few hours, and around noon, even though I had seen most of the people and places I had intended to, I decided to use some of my remaining punches on my כרטיסיה (10 trip bus ticket), and go to the old city and the kotel for one last time. It took a little while to wait for the bus, but It was a quick 10 minute ride once I got on, and before I knew it I got off in front of the David’s Citadel hotel and started walking through mamilla to the Jaffa Gate. The Jewish quarter was mobbed that afternoon, but since I still had plenty of time before Shabbat, I waited in line (along with almost an Birthright group, for my last shawarma (#6). I then walked down to the kotel and spent a few minutes there. I got back to the Moshe’s around 3, and I quickly showered and got ready for Shabbat. Erev Shabbat I davened at Yedidya, where I had never been before on a Friday night. I had a very special moment on my walk over to shul, as I walked westward on Rechov Rivka. Walking directly towards the setting sun, and looking towards the neighbouehoods of Katamon, Pat and Malha, I could see the buildings, made out of Jerusalem stone, shining with a golden hue. This must have been what Naomi Shemer had in mind when she decided to name her anthem to the city Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. The shul was pretty packed, especially with a Birthright group there from UMASS-Amherst, and the davening was a lovely carlebach-style one, spiritual from Yedid Nefesh through Yigdal, but not excessively drawn out. I went back to the Moshe’s for a very nice (and delicious Shabbat dinner), and stayed up chatting until about 12.

Shabbat morning I went back to Yedidya for another nice davening, and after Kiddush, I had lunch with our family friends the Ablemans, whom my abba has known since he was in elementary school. I headed back to the moshe’s after lunch, and when I told Herzl that I hadn’t been to Mincha yet (he had already gone at 12:30), he told me that there was another davening at 3 at the sefardi shul. Sefardi tefillot are something that I rarely get to experience, and though there is a significant difference from what I am used to, I was still able to follow along with the general order of the service. Following the Israeli custom, the Moshes eat seudah shilshit (meat) at home, and we did so around a quarter to 5. After we finished the meal, we ran back to the sefardi shul for Ma’ariv and Havdalah. Both at shul and when we did havdalah again at home, we followed the Israeli custom of using fresh plants instead of dried spices, which is nice for many reasons – besides for just smelling nice, it is also great to use the produce of the land of Israel for the bracha. I only had a few hours after Shabbat in which to relax and get ready to sadly leave Israel. Although my time in Israel this visit was way too short, I think I made the most of it including seeing friends, learning about options for Aliyah, eating Shawarma and studying at the Conservative Yeshiva. While I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be back in Israel again physically, I have no doubt that there will always be אהבת ישראל בנשמה – love for Israel in my heart!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Yerushalayim, Orah Shel Olam / ירושלים, אורה של עולם / Jerusalem, Light of the World

While this quote is definitely a good overall description of Jerusalem’s special character, this post, covering the beginning of my week on my own in the city, which besides for being special and spiritual the center of world attention, is just a cool place to hang out.

Motzei Shabbat, I left the hotel and schlepped with my bags over to Rechov Hamelech George, and after waiting for a few minutes, caught an articulated #14 bus to my chevruta (study partner) Miron and Naomi’s apartment right on the happening street of Emek Refaim. After catching up a bit, I went down the street and met my friend Yoni Zierler, who I had been close with in preschool and hadn’t seen for about 12 years. We had dinner at New Deli, and spent a while catching up and hearing about his time in the army, as he had officially made aliyah. It’s just one of the amazing things about Jerusalem, how many people you can run into or catch up with, even without having seen them for years.

On Sunday morning, I went back to the Conservative Yeshiva after a six-month hiatus. I arrived in time for davening at 7:30, just like old times. After tefillot, Reb Mordechai Silverstein, of my favorite teachers, gave a dvar tefillah, and I went across the street to supersol to grab some breakfast and also took the opportunity to do laundry at Beit Nativ. Just like old times, I went right back into Dr. Josh Kulp’s Talmud class, learning in chevruta with Miron and Rabbi Marvin Richardson, a close friend of the family. Although JTS in no Jewish wasteland, it’s just so nice to be back in this amazing place and learning torah lishmah. For lunch, I ran across the street and got some pita and hummus (whose label assured me that it was extra kosher for the shmitta (sabbatical) year. After mincha, I was sitting in the Beit midrash checking my email and my friend from back home in Toronto, Naomi Cooperman, who is on Nativ this year, sent me an instant message. In turned out that she was sitting a few dozen feet away in Beit Nativ, so I ran upstairs to say hello and we hung out for a while. I also got to see Reena Saks and her parents, who are close family friends and used to live in Philadelphia when I did.

In went back to the Yeshiva for Maariv, and in the evening, had dinner at Tal Bagel with some friends from Toronto (Shira Zeliger, New York (Ben Herman), and both (Rina Goldberg).

Monday was another busy day, with Talmud in the morning (when I learned with Shira), a pizza lunch sponsored by the AJULA (aka University of Judaism). After lunch, I took a walk and noticed of the first signs of the event of the week (and the year to date), the first visit of George W. Bush to Israel (albeit less than a year before he leaves office). Although I’ll admit that I’m not his biggest fan, it is still a historic (yet somewhat annoying) time to be in Jerusalem. In any case, the first sign that I saw to welcome Bush was the official renaming of Kikar Paris (Paris Square), right between the Fuchsburg Center for Conservative Judaism and the Prime Minister’s house, to ‘Freedom for Jonathan Pollard Square’ by the Jerusalem City Council indefinitely until his release. Although it is possible to argue about whether Pollard deserved jail time or not, the 23 years he has been imprisoned is one of the longest ever for spying, especially against a friendly country. The Fuchsburg Center also put up their own sign welcoming the President (which I was told by Rabbi Lebeau, the director that he waved when he saw it).

That afternoon, I went back to the Yeshiva and attended Midrash class with Reb Mordechai, my favorite midrash teacher. In the evening, I went baxk to Miron and Naomi’s, had dinner and relaxed.

Tuesday was another busy day. Being Rosh Chodesh, we had a lovely davening in the morning, complete with Shacharit led by Reb Pesach Schindler. Tefillot were followed by breakfast with a d’var torah by the dean of the education school at UJ. I spent much of the morning practicing Torah reading, and lunch (of falafel) was provided, along with a talk by Dr. David Breakstone, the Conservative/Masorti movement’s representative in the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency. After Mincha, I took a bit of a walk to Meah Shearim and bought a few things, and was back at the Yeshiva for Ma’ariv. In the evening, we had a nice relaxed dinner with Naomi’s sister, who studies at Pardes.

Wednesday was the ‘big day’ of Bush’s arrival, and even from the moment we stepped out the door to walk over to the Yeshiva, one could tell that things were different. There were very few cars to be seen on the roads, and fewer pedestrians than usual as well. We managed to have a relatively normal day at the Yeshiva, starting with tefillot when I led P’sukei D’zimra (just like old times), and another great morning of Talmud class. On our way from the classroom building back to the beit midrash, it was eerily silent, and there were no cars or pedestrians to be seen on the street. We found out that shortly afterwards, Mr.Bush’s procession passed by while we were eating lunch. Lunch came with a talk by Rabbi Charlie Savenor, the assistant dean of the JTS Rabbinical School, who spoke about the history of Kashrut and Coca Cola. After Mincha, I walked across the nearly empty Rechov Agron to the SuperSol to grab a light snack, and came back with an illustration of the joys of living in a Jewish country- a sufganiyah on sale for the end of the season, and an early Ozen Haman (hamentshen). In the afternoon, I attended our Rosh Yeshiva Reb Shmuel’s Halacha class just like old times. After Ma’ariv, I walked back home, which was somewhat difficult, since there were police barricades on both sides of us as we walked down a narrow piece of sidewalk on Keren Hayesod, and required police permission to cross Rechov Hamelech David. After going back to Miron and Naomi’s and relaxing for a while after another busy day, I went down the street to get my 5th shawarma at falafel adir, with their special round ציפ'ס (fries).

Thursday was sadly my last day at the Yeshiva until I manage to find my way there again. I left at 7 and made it to the Yeshiva without any trouble or being stopped, though unfortunately there were less people at shacharit than usual. I got hagbah. After breakfast (when I finished the pita and hummus that I had bought for the week), we had chevruta and shiur for Talmud. Following Talmud, it was time for our weekly sicha with our Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Shmuel, who spoke very inspirationally about what makes our ‘Conservative Yeshiva’ different from those that thrive on coercion, and the special challenges that it entails. After a pizza lunch, we finished the day with Parashat Hashavua and mincha. In the afternoon, I went shopping with Miron at the shuk where I got a few things for myself as well, and then at ‘SuperSol Deal,’ which is much larger and nicer than the other one, with plenty of free samples as well. (On the way back from the shuk we saw the same huge security presence as yesterday, with police officers on every corner an a radius of barricades both around the Prime Minister’s House and the King David Hotel). As another indication of the joys of living in a Jewish country, it was great to see the signs all over the produce department saying ט''ו בשבט הגיע (Tu B’ishvat is coming), as well as of course being able to wish the cashier a Shabbat shalom! After we finished at the supermarket, I said goodbye to Miron and Naomi and headed back to the Moshe’s home for my final Shabbat in Israel (only until the next one!).

The Conservative Movement and Jonathan Pollard?!

P.S. I as I promised my Hebrew teacher from last semester, Rabbi Joel Roth, I attempted to pick out some grammatical errors in Jerusalem street's what I found:

נַפְתּלִי was missing the dagesh kal in the tav

הַיֵּרְדֵּן - missing the dagesh hazak in the yod follwing the hey hayediah.

and הַמֶּלֶךְ ג׳וֹרְג׳ was missing the dagesh hazak in the mem. Oh well, maybe dikduk m'dakdek (exact grammar) is a bit of a lost cause.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Mastering my future? אולי Touring every Israeli University and spending time in my Homeland and having a blast in the end? בודאי!

On Monday (12.31.07), I began participating in a program sponsored by the Sochnut (Jewish Agency) for students considering spending a significant amount of time in Israel after graduating college and possibly making Aliyah. I am one of twenty participants in this six day program, one of seven who are bogrei Nativ, and of the remaining thirteen, about half are also in college and the other half have already graduated. While many parts of the program so far have been interesting, especially seeing all of the universities, some of the speakers we have had were somewhat less engaging. On Tuesday, we began with a few speakers from the Sochnut, including Rabbi Paul Freedman, former international director of USY and one of the biggest proponents of Aliyah in the Conservative Movement. In the late afternoon, we traveled to the Jerusalem Post to speak on a personal level with David Horowitz, the Editor in chief of the paper about his experiences as an oleh and current issues. In the evening, we visited an absorption center called Mercaz Hamagshimim in the German Colony, which is supported by Hadassah, and met with some of the residents there.

On Tuesday, I woke up and went to the 7 am minyan down the street at Yeshurun, where I had davened every Friday last year, and then came back to the hotel, where we began to check out for a few days and begin our grand tour of every university in Israel. After breakfast, we traveled to Baka to visit Ulpan Etzion, an ulpan run by the Jewish agency with free tuition for Olim. After that, we went to tour Hebrew University, which was pretty neat for me since most of my Nativ friends (except for the 13 others who did Yeshiva with me) studied there for the first semester last year, and I had never been there before. We toured the whole campus, including the impressive Hecht synagogue (with a window facing the temple mount, the only such one in the world) and the Rothberg International School, and had lunch at the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria. After leaving Hebrew U, we traveled to Tel Aviv, where we visited Tel Aviv University. It had a large and impressive campus, but seemed a bit overwhelming and impersonal. We then went to the Tal Hotel, had dinner and a lecture on the workplace culture in Israel before we had the rest of the evening free. A few of us decided to walk on the tayelet along the beach, and later got ice cream at the yotvata restaurant.

On Wednesday, after a great breakfast (the food at the Tel Aviv hotel was much better than in Jerusalem), we took a bus over to Bar Ilan University in Kiryat Ono. Bar Ilan is unique in the fact that while it is a public university, it was founded as a ‘religious institution.’ This does not mean that it is only for religious students, since at least 50% are secular, but it does mean that all students, no matter what their major, must take at least 7 courses in any area of Jewish Studies. BIU had a very impressive campus, and our tour guide was an olah from Toronto. There is a definite possibility that I would consider studying there for a graduate degree. In the afternoon, we visited the interdisciplinary center in Herzliya, the only private university in Israel (and by extension, the only one that we visited that wasn’t at least 80% on strike). They are well-known for their BA programs taught entirely in English, in which a few of my friends are enrolled, and discussed their new masters programs in English. After that visit, which was relatively short, we went up to Haifa and had a visit to Haifa University. That visit consisted mostly of being taken up to the 29th and 30th floors of the main building and being shown the magnificent view from there, and then basically being told that that was the reason for us to come to their university. In terms of programs, especially after seeing Hebrew U, Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan, Haifa didn’t do such a good job in distinguishing themselves. But in the end, we did get a free view, some כיבוד קל (light refreshments), and an impression of the university. That night, we went back to Tel Aviv, had dinner (not bad for a hotel), and I decided to stay in the hotel and just hang out since it was raining.

On Thursday morning, I davened, had a pretty good breakfast, and checked out as our group said goodbye to TA and started the two hour drive to the development town of Arad, near the Dead Sea, where we visited the WUJS program, a 5 month Israel experience for college graduates. We saw a bit of the town, saw the absorption center where the participants live, and were treated to a pizza lunch. After we left Arad, we headed to Be’er Sheva and visited Ben-Gurion University, the last of Israel’s major universities on our tour. We arrived, were met by a student who was originally an olah from Ukraine, and before touring the rest of the campus, met with some of the admissions representatives. Although my understanding of Hebrew is close to perfect, it was still pretty disconcerting that the representatives refused to speak any English and didn’t show that they were so interested in us coming to their school. Afterwards, we had a tour of the campus, which was very pretty nice but kind of institutional and 1960’s looking.

After we left Be’er Sheva, we returned to Jerusalem and had a short session to learn about a post-college program called Otzma, and then we were free for the evening. I went with my friend Shira Zeliger and got a Shawarma at Shwarma Hashamen, one of my favorite shawarma places which Josh Goldberg introduced me too my last week of Nativ, and now opened a branch downtown so I don’t have to schlep out to Yochanan Ben Zakkai street. After our shawarma, we went to supersol, which brought back some good memories.

On Friday, I went back to Yeshurun for shacharit, and then relaxed until everyone else woke up for breakfast. We had a couple wrap up sessions that morning, including one with a representative from the sochnut and some lone soldiers to talk about the army. We were free for a few hours before Shabbat, and I went with my friend Andrew to walk around the shuk and then get a shawarma (my 4th!) at Maoz. After showering and preparing for Shabbat, I walked over (in relatively steady rain) to Yeshurun, for their monthly Carlebach-style kabbalat Shabbat with cantor and choir. It was just as nice as I remembered it from when I used to go on Nativ. That evening, we ate Shabbat dinner at Beit Nativ (aka the Fuchsburg center), which brought back nice memories but the food was as relatively unappealing as ever. When we got back to the hotel, we hung out and then had an oneg before I went to bed around ten in order to get some nice Shabbat rest.

The next morning, I left the hotel around 7:40 and walked all the way doen to Baka to my favorite shul in Jerusalem, Kehilat Yedidya. The walk wasn’t as long as I expected, and I was one of the first people at shul, and ended up being asked to lead P’sukei D’zimra. Davening was also just as amazing and spiritual as I remembered, and I saw a number of people I knew. After davening and Kiddush, I walked back to the center of town and ended up at the apartment building across from Beit Nativ, specifically at the home of Rabbi Paul and Nina Freedman, who had invited us over for Kiddush. Rabbi Paul, who was international director of USY for almost 30 years, and his wife are very special people, and it was a pleasure spending time with them and of course singing Nina’s family tune for the Shabbat song menucha v’simcha.

We went back to the hotel for a not so tasty lunch, but one that ended with some nice singing. I took a nap and read for a while, but late in the afternoon I got a knock on my door from my friend Shayna and my new friend Shira, who asked me go walk with them to the old city. I decided to go, and had a great time with them. We ended up at the kotel, which I rarely get to on Shabbat, and which was nice to see being so much emptier and less touristy. I found a minyan for mincha, which was sefardi, and it was neat to daven in a setting that is slightly different than usual, with such changes as habah being done before the torah reading. We walked back to the hotel as the sun was starting to set. Before we knew it, Shabbat was over, and I davened Ma’ariv and we did Havdalah as a group. I then ran upstairs, packed my stuff, and said goodbye to all of my travelmates/friends, new and old.

Monday, December 31, 2007

A wonderful Shabbat on Sa'ad שבת בסעד!

For the past three years (since I was on Pilgrimage in the summer of 2005), there have been many times when I was supposed to visit (or live on) kibbutz Sa'ad, and each time, something, either the security situation or other shabbat plans I had. While I thoroughly enjoyed my four months living on Kibbutz Ein Zurim and working on the communal Moshav Massuot Yitzhak, I still felt like something was missing not having lived on Sa'ad or at least visited there, since every Nativ for the first 25 years of the program had done so. Yael, our madricha had told me last year, that I will come back to Israel relatively soon, and that I will visit Sa'ad.
Well, she was right on both counts. When I knew I was coming to Israel, I immediately made plans to spend a shabbat on Sa'ad in order to to finally visit the place I had heard so much about, visit Yael and my fellow Nativer David Landau, who has made Aliyah and is now living on Sa'ad.
After walking around the shuk for a while and getting a shawarma on Friday, I headed over to the Tachana Mercazit (central bus station) and caught the #443, a once a day bus that travels directly by Sa'ad via Sderot. The ride took about an hour and a half, and was very pretty and relaxing, between the fact that the bus was relatively empty (unlike most egged rides I've taken) and that we got to pass by my old digs of En Zurim, Massuot Yitzhak and Negba. It was quite an interesting experience to drive through sderot, the town that has been the focus of Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. While it was hard to see too much from the bus, what I could see is that a small, beautiful community which was simply trying to make a life for itself and its children, has been uprooted from its normal routine and forced to wait at every second for the tzeva adom (red alert) siren to go off in warning of a kassam rocket.
A few minutes after leaving sderot, the bus let me off outside kibbutz Sa'ad, and I did immeaditely notice how I could easily see Gaza on the horizon, but I still felt safe being on Sa'ad, even having never been there before.
David met me at the gate (unlike En Zurim and Massuot Yitzhak, whose gates barely exist, Sa'ad has an operational fence and gate surrounding the kibbutz due to the proximity to Gaza), and we immediately went to say hello to Yael at her family's home and do a little catching up. Before shabbat, David borrowed a car and we went on a grand tour of Sa'ad's fields which seem to stretch on endlessly, at the end of which we even got to have have some clementines that hadn't been harvested.
We then went back to David's room to get ready for Shabbat, and soon departed for tefillot in the kibbutz synagogue, which reminded me of the one at En Zurim, except that Saad's was muxh larger (being a larger kibbutz), has a more liberal women's section (on the sides of the mens section instead of upstairs, and is slightly more beautiful. Tefillot were conducted in white I feel is typical kibbutz style, quickly but without sacrificing the feeling or the necessary singing of tefillot such as Yedid Nefesh, L'cha Dodi or Adon Olam.
After tefillot we attended a short shiur, and then went to the Shlomi family, who are David's adopted family on Kibbutz, for Shabbat dinner. (at this point I should mention that this weekend was a great opportunity to practice my Hebrew speaking. While my Hebrew comprehension is close to perfect, and my speaking is relatively good for an american, I realized that it could still use a decent amount of improvement). We had a very nice dinner with good food and good conversation. Ofer Shlomi comes from a yemenite family,which explains his meticulous Hebrew pronunciation, and he and his wife Tzafchi have 7 children and three granchildren, despite only being about my parents' age. After dinner, Yael came over for dessert, and all of us hung out and chatted for a while. David and I went to bed relatively early since i was still getting over jetlag, and I managed to wake up in time for Shacharit the next morning at 8:30.
Shacharit was pretty quick, just as on En Zurim, and tefillot were over by 10:15. After musaf, Ofer gave a fascinating shiur about the birth of Moshe, and we went back to the Shlomis following the shiur for kiddush. David, Yael and I ate lunch on Shabbat with another family that he had become close with, and had another great time. In typical kibbutz/Israeli style (although not everyone goes all the time), David and I ran across the walk to the Beit Knesset for mincha, and were back at the lunch table in about 15 minutes. In the afternoon we relaxed and hung out with some of the kids, while also getting to see the Kibbutz school and petting zoo. As Yael had told us last year, it was easy to see that the entire school had been covered with an extra overhang that the government provided to stop kassam rockets from hitting the schools. This step was very sad for the kibbutz as a constant reminder of the situation, but it was in the end necessary in case of an attack.
We relaxed for the rest of shabbat, and after maariv, David, Yael and I chilled at her house and in his room, and watched a movie. Later that night, David's roommate Eli returned from the army for the night, and I got to meet him and hear about his experiences in the paratroopers.
On Sunday morning, I decided to be crazy and wake up for a 6 am Shacharit, which was pretty well attended. Around 7, David and I walked over to the Chadar ochel, where I made a quick sandwich and ran out to the gate. Although I unfortunately missed the one bus per day which goes directly to Jerusalem, a taxi pulled up a little later and agreed to take me there for a reasonable rate.
Later that day, after dropping off my bags, I took a leisurely walk downtown, and strolled around ben yehuda, took a side trip to meah shearim, and had a late lunch at Pinati.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Who renews each day in His lovingkiness המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד

I arrived in Israel around 10 am on Thursday, and after davening quickly at the Airport synagogue, I hopped on a Nesher taxi to Jerusalem. An hour and a half after leaving the airport at 11, and following a grand tour of Meah Shearim, I was dropped off at Beit Nativ and left my bags there for the afternoon while I reacquainted myself with Jerusalem.

Well, even though the changes I've noticed haven't come directly from God, I figured this would be a good place to talk about all of the changes I noticed since I last left Israel, and the quote, from weekday shacharit, is fitting since after all, this is Israel. Some of them are pretty minor, but after living here for almost a year and then coming back 7 months later. Here's a quick run through:
-The new kvish 9 is open at the entrance of Jerusalem, which goes directly from the main Road to Ramot and Har Tzofim.
-No more jaywalking from Beit Nativ to Supersol...the finished the construction across the street, and now there's big barriers there to prevent that.
-The Beitza Ayin (ask anyone from the Conservative Yeshiva) delivery motorcycle now has a big egg on top.
-Remember that old, run down restaurant on King George south of Hillel; it's now being turned into a new Cuppa Joe (Kosher, of course).
-The first stage of the Mamilla project is open (directly across from the Jaffa Gate) and includes a collection of upscale shops and cafes.
-There's more traffic than ever.
-Remember the 'museum of taxes?' ein od! That whole block is currently a mess, and it and the former palace hotel (where mishehu larutz ito was filmed) is now being turned into a lucury hotel/condo complex.
-The Hurva synagogue (where the commerative arch used to be in to Jewish quarter) is a long way into its reconstruction, and the exterior shell is almost built.
(addendum)-you may remember the block at the top of Ben Yehuda which was open for cars...that's no longer, since the municipality decided to permanently close this and a few other streets surrounding Ben-Yehuda to cars and add to the pedestrian mall. right nown, the area is a mess, bu when the changover is complete, downtown shouls be even more pedestrian friendly.
Well that's it for now. After spending last night with the Moshe's in Talpit, I'm going to head to Kibbutz Sa'ad to visit friends for Shabbat, which should be lots of fun.

שבת שלום!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Home-Back and Forth הביתה הלוך חזור

The title of this post is also the title of a new song by one of my favorite current Israeli artists, Idan Raichel (you can watch the music video here -it's highly recommended). While the song itself was written to introduce a new movie, Black on White which traces the journey of Cabra Casey, an immigrant artist in Idan's project who was born in Sudan on the way to Israel from Ethiopia, and her trip to trace her journey and discuss her feelings as an immigrant from the Ethiopian community.
I figured that this was a perfect metaphor for my approaching trip, even though my journey and relationship with israel is very different from Cabra's. However, this trip - which is unfortunately, just back and forth - allows me to reflect on my feelings for Israel, after not being there for 7 months, and trying to figure out what is home for me. Although I am very happy here at JTS and Columbia, having just successfully completed my first semester, there is a special, hard to explain pull that Israel has, and which makes me so excited to be going back home, even if its just 'back and forth' for now. While I can't predict exactly what I'll be doing in Israel, my plans include a shabbat on Kibbutz Sa'ad, a trip with the Jewish Agency to look at options for aliyah (AFTER I graduate college), some time with the Moshe family and other friends, and some quality time at the CY...and of course, some good Shwarma!
I hope to restart this blog at some point when I'm in Israel or upon my return, and reflect on my experiences over the next few weeks!
To quote another song lyric, ירושלים, הנה אני בא!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

אהבת ישראל בנשמה Love for Israel in my soul...

Right now, it is Monday afternoon, and I will sadly be leaving Israel in just a few short hours. Although I won't finish this post before I leave, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk briefly about my thoughts at the moment, and then give a recap of the past 9 days, which I haven't gotten around to because I have been so busy doing last minute things and saying goodbye to Jerusalem. Right now it is very hard to leave Israel, which has been my home for the past nine months, and return to the pace of everyday life wherever I will be in the next few year ahead in North America. Although I am very excited to see my family and everyone else in Toronto, it is very difficult to leave not knowing when I will return to this place-my spiritual, religious, and national home, where I feel that I truly belong. However, I pray that as the title of this post proclaims, taken from a song by the band רבע לשבע, that I will always have אהבת ישראל בנשמה, love for Israel in my soul, despite the fact that לבי במזרח ואנכי בסוף המערב-my heart is in the east and I am at the end of the west (Rabbi Yehuda Halevi).
Now back to a week ago Sunday (May 20).I woke up in the morning at 5:40 and davened Shacharit with the kibbutz for the last time. I spent most of the day doing some last-minute packing, stopping for a good fleiching lunch around noon. Around 3 in the afternoon we loaded the suitcase that we wouldn't need onto a truck to put them in storage for the next week. In the evening, we had a party to say goodbye to all of the people that we had come in contact with while on kibbutz, specifically our bosses and adopted families. We came up group by group to make presentations, and at the end we even sang a song that my friend Abi had written, in Hebrew for the occasion. The number of people who came to the party truly showed that we had left a mark on the kibbutz, as well as how much our time there meant to us. Adter we said our final goodbyes to everyone we had our last barbecue and bonfire, as we did very often while living on kibbutz. After we finished eating, we sat as an entire group around the fire and for over an hour shared memories of our time on kibbutz. After the program ended, the five of us who lived in caravan nine set to work cleaning the caravan, and I finally got to bed, extremely exhausted, around 1 in the morning. On Monday, after eating a light breakfast, our group gathered for an extremely emotional last shaharait service on kibbutz, after which we cleared our our caravans, turned in our keys, and said goodbye to kibbutz. We then headed for Jerusalem and arrived shortly before noon. We got our room keys (I was with Avram, in his old room with a cute little balcony looking up King George Street) and had a little, much needed relaxing time before lunch. After lunch, I was able to run by the Yeshiva and join in for mincha; afterwards we went down to one of the seminar rooms in the basement and sat for a while to fill out written evaluations about the year. After the evaluations were over with, we all went into the auditorium and were privileged to enjoy a performance of 'The complete works of William Shakespeare: Abridged', which was initiated and performed entirely by a group of four nativers, who were extremely funny and entertaining. Dinner followed, which was an extremely unsatisfying and gross dairy meal, which I rectified by going across the street to Supersol and buying some packaged food. The evening ended with a Nativ-wide talent show, which was a nice way to begin to end the year. After the talent show was over, I took a relatively early night in order to prepare for the tikkun leil Shavuot the following night, when I would stay up studying all night and into the next morning. On Tuesday (erev shavuot), we had a free day, which I feel I ended up spending pretty well I slept in a bit in the morning and went to the 8 AM minyan across the street at the Great Synagogue, after which I went back to Beit Nativ and ran into a few friends at breakfast, who had also happened to wake up early, so a little bit later my friend Phil and I headed out up King George Street to do some errands, starting in my favourite shopping district of מאה שערים. We went into a few different stores, and got a few small gifts, and more importantly Phil bought himself a beautiful new Talit. After finishing up there, we headed downtown and I stopped at a shoe store and got myself a new pair of Naot. After that, I headed back towards Beit Nativ, but never really made it back to my room for quite a while... As I got back, I heard that the Yeshiva was open and that a few of my friends were hanging out/doing some work in there. I headed down and spent the next few hours, with a short break to go to supersol and get some bourekas for lunch, hearing some of my friends' ideas for the study sessions they would be running (much) later that night, and doing some learning of my own. Around 2:00, I finally (still temporarily) left the Yeshiva and headed back to my room, where I relaxed and got in a short nap. Around 4PM, an idea popped into my mind to take advantage of it being erev Yom Tov and head to the Mikvah for the last time for a while. So I gathered 7 shekalim and a towel, and walked down the 4 blocks the neighbourhood mikvah, and did my dipping. After I returned to Beit Nativ, I had some time to get ready for Yom Tov, and shortly before it was time to shower, I went down to the courtyard, where the kitchen staff had put together a treat of pareve pita pizza for us. We davened that evening at Moreshet Yisrael, which was followed by a pleasant, but not so tasty Chag meal.
As is traditional on Shavuot, I spent the rest of the nriight (from 9:30 PM to 4 AM), in a combination of lectures, discussion-based sessions, and chevruta. Since I had about an hour from the end of dinner to the beginning of the first session, I sat down with a few friends to study the first few chapters of the book of Ezekiel, which was quite fascinating. After that, I went to two formal sessions, the first taught by Rabbi Shmuel Lewis, Rosh Yeshiva of the Conservative Yeshiva about the juxtaposition between the concepts כבוד התורה (honouring the Torah) and כבוד הבריות (human dignity). In the second session, taught entirely in Hebrew by Juan Mejia, a third year JTS rabbinical student, we examined a number of teshuvot written by different rabbis regarding Conversos during and after the Spanish inquisition on a variety of religious issues such a marriage and hows to try to continue to observe Jewish practice. It was already 1 AM after these two sessions were over, and I headed down to the Yeshiva to study some Talmud with a few friends for the next hour. At 2 am, we began a round robin of sessions led by friends of mine for Nativ. The first session I went to was lead by my friend Sarah and talked about Heschel and revelation. After a cheesecake and ice cream break, I went to a second session led by Mendy, about the Rabbis' view of private property.
At 4, after running to my room and grabbing my Tallit and siddur, I headed down Agron street joined by all of Nativ, the rest of the Fuchsberg centre, and the entire city of Jerusalem to the kotel to daven shacharit at the earliest possible time. We held a mixed davening with a few hundred Conservative/Masorti Jews and others at the Southern (Robinson's Arch) section of the kotel, where I became a Bar Mitzvah 6 years earlier. While the idea and location of the service were nice, the tefillot themselves were, in many people's words, pretty awful. Although we started davening shortly before 5, between a half hour P'sukei D'zimra and 40 minute Hallel, the service was way too long and didn't finish until after 8, which was a pretty long davening considering that I had been awake for over 25 hours at that polint. It seemed like a long 20 minute walk back to Beit Nativ, where I crashed into bed and slept until about 12:30. In the afternoon, I walked down to Talpiot and had a very enjoyable and delicious dairy lunch. Around 5, I walked back to Beit Nativ where we davened mincha, had a light dinner and ended chag. fter chag was over, I spent a few hours filling out my hebrew placement exam for next year at JTS.
Thursday morning began with tefillot as a group, and after breakfast we had a few sessions to think about our futures post-Nativ. They began with Rabbi Paul Freedman, past Director of USY, talking about Project Reconnect, and continued with greetings by Rabbi Jim Lebeau, director of the Fuchsberg centre, and Rabbi Gail Diamond of the Conservative Yeshiva. We then heard from two representatives speak to us about the possibility of Aliyah. We had a nice three hour break in the middle of the day, and I used it to go shopping again in Meah Shearim, this time with my friend Jacob, and then a delicious final lunch at Pinati. In the afternoon, our staff put a lot of effort into a program where they turned the whole lower level of the Fuchsberg Centre into a 'museum ofmNativ', where each room was set up to remind us of a different part of our year. We were given a journal with pages to guide us through the museum, and plenty of time to record our memories of the year.
That evening, my friend Jacob, who is studying at a Yeshiva for the summer, came over to visit. After dinner, we hung out at Beit Nativ for a while, and after davening Ma'ariv, we went downtown to Ben Yehuda along with Shosh and Alana. I got a shawarma, and we hung out for a while, at one point meting up with our friends Penina, Judith and Mike.
On Friday I woke up early like I used to in the fall, davened at Yeshurun, and around 8:30, headed out with Avram to volunteer at Hazon Yeshaya one last time. After peeling potatoes for a few hours, we moved on, and headed over to the shuk to pick up a few gifts. We went for lunch at a restaurant a few blocks away called Sima, where Avram and I both had steak in a pita.. delicious!
After relaxing for a few hours, I got a phone cal and headed down to the Yeshiva for a great way to start our final shabbat together, studying Parashat Hashavua. I then had a very short amount of time to quickly get ready for Shabbat, but I did make it on time. we davened mincha, kabbalat shabbat, and Ma'ariv together, as a group, after which we sat down for our final shabbat dinner. The meal ended with a few traditional zemirot, a beautiful d'var torah reflecting on our year by Nehama, and Birkat Hamazon.
A little later, we held our final Nativ-a-Tish of the year. A tish is a hassidic celebration where all of the faithful sit, eat and drink with the Rebbe. At a Nativ-a-Tish, all of us sit around a table headed by one of our Madrichim and go around the room, each person choosing a song for all of us to sing. Besides for the wonderful singing, the tishes arre always accompanied by treats from the Marzipan bakery and plenty of (non-alcoholic) drink.
On shabbat morning, I walked down for the last time to daven at Yedidya. It was a wonderful davening, which included a bat mitzvah celebration, which meant that we got to hear a d'var torah, and separate mens and women's torah readings were held. I was honoureday b with the fourth aliyah, as the parsha, the longest in the torah, was expertly chanted by two teenagers. After the haftarah, we heard another d'var torah as we waited for the womento finish their leining. Musaf, one of the most beautiful I have ever heard, was led by my friend Avram's high holiday cantor, and was followed by a special kiddush. I made it back to Beit Nativ in time for a relaxed Shabbat lunch, although I wasn't too hungry after the kiddush. In between reading the copy of Ma'ariv I had bought the day before, I had a meeting with Yossi to discuss my thoughts on the year which had just flown by and my thoughts for the future. Before mincha we had a session as a kibbutz group about the decisions we will have to make next year rearding living Jewishly on campus. Although I will be at list next year and not all of the issues will apply, many of them will and we had a very serious and deep discussion about how to confront them. After the session, we all davened Mincha together, and I read two of the Aliyot. Although the food wasn't so tasty at seudah shlishit, the beautiful singing that we had at the end of the meal definitely made up for it. We ended shabbat with Ma'ariv and a beautiful carlebach havdalah led by my friend Shayna, whose image, with all of us circling the entire shul, will hopefully remain with me for a long time. Motzei Shabbat, I took up Josh on his offer to go with a bunch of our friends to Shawarma Hashamen, a stand about a 40 minute walk from the centre of town in San Simon, which he claims was the best shawarma ever. Although the meal was relatively expensive at 29 shekalim, it was definitely a very good shawarma, and I finished both minew and part of a friend's. This made for a very long walk back, between the full stomachs we all had and the uphill grade. When I got back around 11, I just about went straight to bed.
Sunday morning began with our last davening as a full group, after which we had a session with Yossi. It was a serious but meaningful one as we discussed how we would feel returning home after such a life-changing year in Israel, and how we will have changed when we return. We then had a break for a few hours and I walked to the old city with Nehama. I helped her pick out some gifts for her family and friends, we had lunch (falafel for her, shawarma for me), and I visited the kotel for the last time. It was getting late, so Nehama convinced me to take a cab with her and we made it back to Beit Nativ. Before the next session, a group of the Nativ Yeshiva students walked down the Yeshiva, joined them for mincha, which was led by Sarah in honour of her birthday, and then made a presentation, thanking the Yeshiva and presenting a set of עין יעקב. We then had one of our final session as a a kibbutz group, which we spent making and then sharing different kinds of creative pieces to capture the year. While people used a variety of different mediums, I chose to write a short poem in Hebrew, since it's much easier to rhyme than in English. For our final program of the day, we all went down to the auditorium as Yossi gave us his 'final words of wisdom.' He spoke very beautifully and passionately about the need to be strong Jewishly whether we return to North America or make Aliyah eventually. Another important point he made was that the North American Jewish community is too focused on 'leadership,' and really has nobody to follow the leaders. He therefore said that he would be just as happy if many of us would become committed, observant laypeople and rise strong Jewish families. On our way out from this moving session, we received our yearbooks and various other pieces of Nativ clothing. I decided to take a relatively evening for my last night in Israel, and went to have my last meal at Burgers bar (for a while, at least) with Avram, before stopping at Supersol for last time.
Moday was spent mostly with goodbyes and saying להתראות (see you soon). I ended up waking up pretty early, and just in time to daven shacharit at the Conservative Yeshiva one last time. I was aked to lead p'sukei d'zimra, and Yakov Hadesh, a first year JTS cantorial student, led a beautful shacharit. Around 10 in the morning, our kibbutz group left beit nativ and walked together to the Jerusalem theatre, where we held our final banquet. It was a very bitersweet occasion, as Yossi, Mike and Yael, gave us final words, we presented gifts to them, and laughed and cried. I did make it back from the banquet just in time to join the Yeshiva for my(actual) final davening of Mincha there (for now...). In the late afternoon, we had our actual final session with all of Nativ. I had to fight to hold back tears as David Keren, Nahum, and Yossi spoke, the Kehilla 1 a capella group performed, and we viewed a slideshow of our year in review. After a dessert reception, it was time to load the truck with our bags, and head to the airport as we really had to say להתראות to Israel...
Thank you so much for following a long with my adventures over the past nine moths. I can't wait to announce when I return to Israel next.
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