Friday, November 24, 2006

An enjoyable Wednesday afternoon followed by Turkey Day!

Yesterday afternoon, since I didn't have any scheduled class, I decided to get out and see Jerusalem, and this time my travels took me towards the Old City, Jewish Quarter, and finally the Kotel! I walked down Agron st. past the US Consulate, David's Citadel Hotel, and arrived within ten minutes at the Jaffa Gate, which I decided to enter through. I hung a right past the Tower of David, and passed through the Armenian Quarter to get the the Jewish Quarter. Once I got there, I spent a little time walking around, and made my way to the Moriah bookstore, where I browsed for about an hour. I left there just as the sun was setting, which I watched as I was walking down the steps to the Kotel. A few minutes later, it was dark enough to daven Maariv, and interestingly enough, the first minyan I found was sefardi, so it was an unusual, yet still meaningful experience. Although the Kotel may just be a wall of stones, every time I go there I am able to feel an important connection to both the history and present of the Jewish people, as this wall was not only a Jewish holy site for two millenium, but is also the focal point of prayer all over the world.
Although Thanksgiving is unknown in Israel except among expatrite American Olim, it is very much a marked occasion on Nativ. Thanksgiving serves not only as a time to bring together all of the Bogrei Nativ (Alumni) who have made Aliyah, but gave those of us on Nativ the chance to reflect on our year so far. This morning started normally with Tefillot at the Yeshiva, Talmud class, and a lunch of grilled cheese. In the afternoon I had on of my favourite classes, Contemporary Issues in Halacha with Rabbi Dr. Pesach Schindler, where today we discussed how Judaism views the death penalty. We then davened Mincha and I had a few hours to read and relax, and around 5:30 we gathered together, both current and former Nativers and staff. Before dinner we had a ceremony to introduce this year's Thanksgiving in general and as well to honour the memory of Michael Levin ז"ל, a Boger Nativ who was killed thiis past summer in action in Lebanon. As part of the ceremony, I sang the son Lo Yisa Goi along with the Nativ Acapella group. We then got to come together in the Chadar Ochel for a pretty authentic and traditional thanksgiving dinner, including a real carved turkey with stuffing! After dinner the Acapella group sang Lean On Me, after which we saw a slide show of our year so far! Chag Hodayah (Hodu) Sameach! Happy Thanksgiving (Turkey Day)!

Monday, November 20, 2006

This past Shabbat I, along with my friend Avram, traveled to the neighbourhood of Ramot in Northern Jerusalem, to spend Shabbat with our teacher, Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, who is also a good family friend. Again, just like last week, we got ready for Shabbat before leaving home and took a cab up to Ramot. It was actually a beautiful ride, taking us through Kiryat Hamemshala and past the Knesset, and onto the Menachem Begin highway, heading towards Ramot. As we ascended the hill, i got my first glimpse at the breathtaking vista afforded looking south towards central Jerusalem. We arrived at Reb Mordechai's house, and after chatting for a bit with him and one of his sons who is studying at Yeshiva, I noticed some chassidic music that could be heard in the background. I asked about it, and he replied that we were hearing the 'pre-shabbat music' that's played in his neighbourhood every Friday for 10 minutes before the siren so people know to put their last dishes in the oven. How amazing and convenient! After candlelighting, we went to shul with Reb Mordechai at the local Ashkenazi Beit Knesset, where there was a somewhat quick, but nice Kabbalat Shabbat davening. We came home and had an amazing Shabbat dinner filled with good food, zemirot, and divrei Torah. After Birkat hamazon, I read a little from Reb Mordechai's amazing Sefarim collection, and then got some nice shabbat menucha!
Shabbat morning, we woke up, had a snack and said ברכות השחר (Birkot Hashachar) since in Israel tefillot start with מזמור שיר (psalm 30). Shul started at 8:30 and even though we didn't go too fast, we were done davening by 10:30 even with a D'var Torah. We came home for lunch where we again had good food, zemirot and a d'var torah! I repeated the same process of the previous night of getting a nice nap, and before I knew it it was 4:20 and time to daven mincha. As per general practice in Israel, went back home for seudah shlishit, back to shul for ma'ariv, and home for Havdalah. Sadly, then, it was time to return to Beit Nativ, but this time we got a ride for Reb Motredchai's son Netanel. A belated שבוע טוב!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tiyul Time: Tel Aviv uncovered…

Today I had the pleasure and great opportunity to take a guided walking tour of Tel Aviv with my classmates from the Conservative Yeshiva. Our outstanding guide was Rabbi Julian Sinclair, who is working on a doctorate on the life and effects of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of modern (pre-state) Israel. Our tour focused on Tel Aviv's role in the history of Zionism, including both its religious and secular forms. In the morning, we started out looking out onto ים התיכון (Mediterranean sea), standing with Jaffa to our right, Neve Tzedek in front of us and bustling central Tel Aviv on our left. We then preceded to spend the morning touring Neve Tzedek, which was the first Jewish neighbourhood outside the old city of Yafo. We followed in the footsteps Rav Kook, seeing his former home and synagogue that he occupied for eleven years. Because of the expertise of our guide, I was able to imagine the neighbourhood in its heyday, when the Rav mingled with leaders of the Yishuv, including some of its most prolific writers, Shai Agnon and Yosef Chaim Brenner, and the artist Nachum Gutman. The culmination of the morning touring was a mincha service, which I was honoured to lead in the ruins of Rav Kook's synagogue, which was needless to say, a very moving experience. We then ate lunch in the plaza of the Suzanne Delal Centre for the Performing Arts, which was established in the past decade in the heart of Neve Tzedek.

After lunch, we made our transition to the second part of the day when we walked from Neve Tzedek into the original part of Tel aviv and along the way saw some of the original sights, such as the city's first movie theater, opened in 1913, and some other original buildings. Our next stop was Independence hall, one of the highlights of any trip to Tel Aviv. Although I was there a little over a year ago on USY Pilgrimage and not much had changed, it was still a nice opportunity to relive that amazing day of 5 Iyar 5708 / May 14, 1948, and reflect on the miracle of the State of Israel. After spending some time there, we continued our walk and passed under the Shalom Tower, formerly the tallest building in the Middle East, after which we passed through Nachalat Binyamin, somewhat of a cross between the shuk and Ben Yehuda Street. At the end of the pedestraian mall, I and a few friends found the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when we found a Kosher Shawama stand. Even more amazing was the fact that they used real lamb meat, and and I got a pita's worth. It was very tasty, probably one of the best one's I've ever had.

We ended the day down the street in a quiet circle outside the custom-built home of poet Hayyim Nachman Bialik. We studied a few of his poems, and discussed their meaning, especially in relation to how we view Zionism today. While we were discussing, a secular Israeli overheard us and joined our discussion, adding in his post-Zionist, universalistic view. Our Rosh Yeshiva chose to engage him and we witnessed a cordial, but heated debate on the importance of even Jewish studies, religion aside, in secular Israel. As we would say in the Yeshiva, it was definitely some l'ma'aseh (practical application) from our studies today.
To cap off the day, as we were preparing to leave Tel Aviv, the bus drove along the Mediterranean and I was able to capture this beautiful sunset!

Monday, November 13, 2006

A relaxing Shabbat in Talpiot, followed by מוצ"ש (Motzei Shabbat) in Carlebach land!

After another enjoyable and meaningful Friday morning at preparing and serving food at Hazon Yeshaya, I came back, had lunch and prepared for Shabbat. I then traveled to Southern Jerusalem to spend shabbat with our family friends in Talpiot. Janet, the wife is Ashkenazic and hails from North Carolina, and Herzl, the husband is Sefardic and hails from Iraq. This background, a microcosm of the Israeli experience, helped make my Shabbat so interesting and meaningful. After ariving, I caught up and chatted a bit, read the מעריב Newspaper in Hebrew and relaxed. Soon afterwards, it was time to welcome in shabbat, and I went with Janet and Herzl's daughter and her friend to the Ashkenazi Shul, which is named for the writer Shai Agnon. The tefillot were very nice (despite the poor acoustics) and the nusach reminded me a lot of home. As an additional treat, I got to see my friend Dan Goldman, who worked with me at Ramah this summer!
We went back home for Shabbat dinner, which was spent with Janet's family, their friend Shabtai, and as an additional treat, two of my nativ friends, Koby and Daniel were invited. Besides for the great company, I greatly enjoyed the tasty home-cooked seudah. After dinner I talked/read/studied for a little bit and got to bed early, managing 10 hours!
Shabbat morning, I davened at Beit Boyer, a startup Ashkenazi minyan in Talpiot. It was a nice, normal davening with a short D'var Torah and tefillot were finished by 10:45. We went back home for an early lunch a bit after 11, and joining us was my Madrich Jesse, who is a close friend of Janet's family. After lunch I went to daven Mincha at a nearby sefardic shul. Although the tefillot were a bit different than usual it was pretty cool to see the Torah read from a sefardic scroll, and to hear the different nusach! I relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and took advantage of a talmud class in the neighbourhood. We went home to a meat(!) seudah shlisheet, followed by Maariv and a sefardic Havdalah.
Following Shabbat, Janet drove me back home, where I met up with a group of friends to walk over to בניני האומה (the Jerusalem convention centre) for a huge concert in memory of R' Shlomo Carlebach's 12th Yahrtzeit. As soon as the concert started around 8:45 (1/2 hour after the 'prompt' starting time, in typicl Israeli fashion) with a Carlebachesque havdalah service, it was 3 hours of non-stop singing, dancing andkavanah in memory of Shlomo,. It was a really amazing experience to be a part of and a really great way to end off Shabbat. Here's some photos from the event:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

שתי תפריטות-Two menus: A Hassidic Feast and A Nativ 26 Kibbutz Feast

Yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in two feasts, one for the soul and the other for the body! This afternoon, in Hassidut class, our teacher Rabbi Dr. Pesach Schindler brought in an exciting Hassidic drash on the beginning of this week’s Parashah of Vayera from the Sfat Emet, a mid 19th century Rabbi of the Ger Hassidim. The reason that I describe this week’s class in particular as a feast is that because of complexity of the particular D’var Torah, Reb Pesach gave us a סדר, or menu of rabbinic texts to help us prepare for the actual d’var Torah. We started with an appetizer of a Midrash from Bereshit (Genesis) Rabbah, which commented on God’s appearance to Abraham immediately following his Brit Milah, and because of this juxtaposition, interprets that the circumcision removed a spiritual barrier between himself and God. For the salad, we read an assortment of verses from Bereshit, Devarim and Iyov (Job) which would later help us in our understanding of the actual d’var torah. As the soup course, we were given a passage from the Zohar (one of the most important Kabbalistic texts, and not the Madonna type). It described the tradition that Avraham was tested ten times and that he passed them because of the great boundless love he held for God. We then finally reached the main course, the Sfat Emet’s drash on Vayera, where he brings the concept described in the Midrash to a new level when he suggests that by going through circumcision, a Jew rises to a higher spiritual level and also emends the first word, Vayera, he appeared to Vayar, he saw, to give a beautiful message that God looks upon the actions of his creations and is always watching over them. For dessert, we sang one of our favourite hassidic niggunim, מהרה ישמע, M’heira Yishama!

Every Tuesday night our kibbutz subgroup of Nativ holds erev Nativ where we participate in an activity as a group in order to bond and spend quality time together. For this week, we had a blast preparing a gourmet dairy dinner for ourselves. We split into 5 groups to make the different courses, and I, along with my friends Emily, Sarah, Yosef and Andy were assigned to prepare a green side dish. To make it even more fun, we were given a few minutes to make up a recipe, and then 70å to buy the ingredients at the SuperSol across the street. We ended up making a vegetable stir fry, and purchased onions, mushrooms, peppers, baby corn, and soy sauce. We got back to Beit Nativ, and hit the kitchen, where with the background of my music collection the five of us started chopping up the vegetables. We then stir-fried them up with some soy-sauce, and it was delicious. At 8:45, the 28 of us sat down to a royal feast of tuna-noodle casserole, salad, vegetable stir-fry, tabouleh, quinoa salad, and brownies for dessert. There’s no better way to bring a group of people together than over cooking and eating, and this was especially true here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Reason #56 Why I love living at Beit Nativ...

I just walked across the street to SuperSol in my slippers. It was פנאן (amazing)!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A meaningful shabbat that didn't end at Havdalah

From Friday afternoon through Motzei Shabbat, I experienced many interesting and meaningful moments. Friday, before Shabbat, I went downtown to Ben Yehuda street and met up with the Gottesmans who were visiting from Toronto. Besides for getting to catch up with them, I was able to witness the entire city preparing for Shabbat, with the shops gradually closing and the vendors hawking flowers on the street corners. I soon headed back to beit nativ, and showered and got ready for shabbat. This shabbat was a 'closed' shabbat, meaning that we spent all of our meals and some tefillot together. Although I usually enjoy getting around and experiencing the different shuls in the city, it was also nice to spend time as a group and catch up with people over the Shabbat. Friday night, we joined Moreshet Yisrael, the Conservative shul on our campus for Kabbalat shabbat, and the tefillot were entirely led by Nativ. The ruach, kavannah and energy in the beit knesset was palpable as we sang the tefillot and niggunim.
After tefillot, we had shabbat dinner just as the subgroup of Nativ who will be spending the second half of the year on Kibbutz Sa'ad. We had a pretty nice seudah, which allowed us to regroup and catch up with each other. At the end of the meal, before birkat hamazon, we got to participate in a really great activity, where each of us had the opportunity to share our favourite shabbat tradition/memory from growing up, after which we got to lead our favourite זמר (zemer, Shabbat song). I chose to share my memory of my Abba singing אשת חיל (Eshet Chayil) to my Ima, after which we would each receive the traditional parents' blessing and a shabbat kiss. I then led my favourite tune for the song יום שבתון (Yom Shabbaton). After Birkat Hamazon, I joined much of Nativ for our own Hassidic tish organized by our staff. Tish, which literally means table, refers to a celebration which includes singing, divrei torah and food. For almost 3 hours we filled the room with joy from the different songs chosen by each participant.
Shabbat morning, I woke up early as I often do and took a lovely walk to Yedidya. When I arrived I was given the honour of leading the kehilla in P'sukei D'zimra and Shacharit. It was very spiritual to lead that morning because of the beautiful beit knesset, the inspirational harmonizing, and the opportunity to lead the congregation in Birkat Kohanim because of the special minhag (custom) in Israel. Following kiddush, I walked home with my friend Jeff and his father who was in visiting, and came back for a parshat hashavua discussion and lunch with all of Nativ.
During Shabbat afternoon I walked down the street to the King Solomon hotel, where I got to spend some time with the Handlers, who were in Israel for a week partcipating in the Alyn bike ride, a 350 km ride which raises millions for the Alyn hospital in Jerusalem. It was nice to get out and see them, and we took a little walk on my way back through the neighbourhood. Around 4 PM, we regrouped for mincha, again at moreshet, where I got to serve as Gabbai sheni. We then ate seudah shlishit, with pretty bad food (I sure miss Adath for that), but amazing zemirot. This was followed by the conclusion of Shabbat with Maariv and Havdalah.
The Kavannah of this shabbat was not lost when it ended, as Nativ had chartered a bus for about 55 of us to attend the annual memorial ceremony at Kikar Rabin (the same squre where the rally took place at which Rabin was murdered) in Tel Aviv marking the 11th Yahrzeit for Yitzhak Rabin. When we arrived in Tel Aviv, the bus dropped us off a block from where we passed a police blockade. I started walking with my friend Hillel, along with the throngs of others headed towards the square despite the fact that the memorial had started an hour earlier (we had run into some traffic on the way). When we finally made it to Kikkar Rabin, it was an amazing sight to see people crowded as far as the eye could see. (at one point during the event, the announcer said that over 100,000 people were present). I found the memorial a very beautiful and fitting tribute to Rabin. The organizers tried to make the rally apolitical, so the only speeches were by David Grossman (a writer who lost a son in Lebanon, who did provoke some controversy by harshly criticizing the government and suggesting that we must worker harder to make peace with the Palestinians), and Dalia Rabin, Yitzhak's daughter who provided a tribute to her father. The remainder of the 1.5 hours we were there for was filled with songs and poems for peace, many of which I know and love, including (click on the links to hear recordings I made Motzei Shabbat) Ein li Eretz Acheret, Choref 73 , Ani v'atah (one of my Grade 6 Schechter Graduation songs), Livkot L'cha, and Shir L'shalom, the song which constituted Rabin's last words before he was shot. As could be expected, the ceremony ended with a moving singing of Hatikvah. It was nice as well to see the diversity in political views of the crowd, that although there were many posters attacking the government from the left, there were also many more people with kippot than I expected, and I was even handed a flyer by and organization advocating true religious Zionism, which combines Judaism and democracy.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Why I Love Grocery Shopping in Israel...

After shopping for food this afternoon at the Supersal across the street, I've come up with a list of reasons why I love shopping in Israel. Here are a few of my reasons:
- I feel even safer when I get frisked on the way into the store
-The Store flyer is in Hebrew
-Fresh Pita in the bakery
-In preparation for Hannukah (albeit a month and a half early), the bakery was also selling fresh baked Sufganiyot. I bought one, and it was טעים מאד, very tasty.
-All of the product labels are in hebrew, and everything is kosher
-There are three freezer cases full of frozen schnitzel!!!
-The cashiers say בבקשה (You're Welcome), sometimes...
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