Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sukkot in the Country!!!

It's now Motzei Shabbat here in Jerusalem, though still Yom Tov at home in Toronto, and I just returned from spending an amazing sukkot in Efrat, a breathtakingly beautiful modern Orthodox community located in the countryside just 20 minutes south of Jerusalem. My journey began Friday afternoon when I set out with my friend Josh (who was visiting his relatives at the other end of town) towards the Tachana Hamerkazit, the Jerusalem central bus station which is in reality located t the entrance to town across from the convention centre. The bus station was huge, and beautiful (as I think it was completed only a year ago), and offered a lot of security, including going through 2 metal detectors and sending bags through an Xray machine, which made me feel so safe. The first 2 levels of the station are actually an upscale mall, and the buses themselves only leave starting on the 3rd floor! After asking for help (in Hebrew!), we found the gate for the Efrat #167, and got in ‘line’ (do they have those in Israel), which was a good thing, since we were lucky to get two seats next to each other, as the bus was more than standing room only. After making 2 more stops in Jerusalem, the bus wound through Gilo and started down the tunnel road, which bypasses Beit Lechem and brings you directly to Gush Etzion, the region of Jewish settlement south of Jerusalem. Soon we arrived in Efrat and started dropping passengers off in the various neighborhoods, which are named for the seven species of the land of Israel. I got off at the last stop in Givat Rimon (pomegranate hill) and after one wrong turn, found the home of the Schwartz family. I was immediately welcomed into the family, and as well met their nephew Yedidya, who is studying at Maale Gilboa and went to Bronx Science for high school, providing a lot of Jewish geography. Soon after catching my breath and showering, Shabbat/Yom Tov came in and we walked over to the main shul for the Rimon neighbourhood (one of seven in Efrat, each named after the seven species) called Neta Binyamin. The service was packed, a combination of the importance of Sukkot for this modern orthodox community, and the many guests in town who had also come to spend Yom Tov in the country. After maariv, I went back ton the Schwartzs’ for a very festive and delicious Yom Tov meal, including some nice singing and learning. After dinner, Yedidya and I had the opportunity to study a bit with Baruch and appreciate his scholarship. A bit later, I was able to witness a somewhat homegrown Efrat custom of sukkah-hopping, where kids of all ages travers the entire community, stopping at each sukkah and having a snack so they can make the bracha leisheiv basukkah, to dwell in the sukkah. After that, we collapsed the sukkah table and brought out mattresses to sleep on for us young people-it was pretty comfortable, since it didn’t get too chilly even in the middle of the night. It was actually one of the best sleeps I’ve gotten in a while.
In the morning, I woke up and went to shul with Baruch, Yedidya and Shlomo at 8:15. It ended up being a little longer than usual for them (we were still done in under 3 hours!), due to the reading of kohelet (which was read in its entirety from a kosher scroll, meaning that a bracha was made over it just like on Megillat Esther) and a Bar Mitzvah, who read the Torah reading and Haftarah very well. Due to the Bar Mitzvah, we were treated to a nice Dvar Torah by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, one of the founders and Chief Rabbi. Following Tefillot, we returned to the Sukkah for Kiddush and appetizers. At that point, we were treated to an interactive Shiur by Baruch on the biblical roots of Sukkot. We continued with the main course and quickly said birkat hamazon, since Mincha was at 1 PM. At the quick mincha service, Yedidya got Hagbah and I did Gelilah. We went back for some light dessert, after which I ended up taking a nice nap for a few hours. A bit after I woke up it was already time to go to shul for Maariv. We made Havdalah in the sukkah, and since Chag was over, turned on the TV and caught the last few minutes of the Israeli soccer game against Russia, which it tied 1-1 in some last minute action. We had dinner in the Sukkah again, and then I had a real treat. The Schwartz’s friends who live a few blocks away have an Arava (willow) tree in their yard, so we went and cut fresh aravot- it was so neat to make the bracha on Araba Minim that I picked out (and picked). A bit later I met up with my friend Josh, who had been spending sukkot at the other end of Efrat, and Shlomo dropped us off at a unique Efrat institution- the Trempiada, where one can wait for cars leaving the city who have extra seats, and catch a free ride. We lucked out, and after a little while, found a ride whose destination was only a block from Beit Nativ!
Moadim l’simcha!

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