I just completed another quite meaningful weekend that I couldn't wait to share with everyone. This past friday, after a two week hiatus, I got to return to my regularly scheduled routine of waking up early, davening at Yeshurun, eating breakfast and spending the morning volunteering at Hazon Yeshaya. this week my friend Avram's mother joined us in our vegetable chopping pursuit. It reminded me that despite the sadness that there are so many hungry people in Jerusalem and all over Israel, it is good to know that there are warm, caring places like this to try to alleviated the problem somewhat. On our way home, I walked through shuk Machane Yehuda, the city's Jewish marketplace, witnessing the sights, sounds and smells of a city getting ready for shabbat. As we walked by Marzipan, a bakery famous around the world for their rugelach, I spotted some gigantic sufaniyot (חנוכה donuts), which were only 3 shekel a piece. Although they are traditionally filled with jelly, Marzipan also had chocolate and vanilla, and I got a very tasty chocolate one! I ran home for a quick lunch, after which I showered and got ready for Shabbat, which I spent in Modi'in with three of my friends at the home of my Talmud teacher, Dr. Josh Kulp (who by the way my abba used to babysit for back in New London, CT when Josh's father was his Cantor) and his family. We started walking towards downtown, stopping at Marzipan (again!) to pick up some fresh חלות and rugelach as a host gift, and then walked over to the bus stop a block away. Unlike most of the country, which is served by the Egged bus company, the Modi'in region is served by the Margalit buses, which are much more comfortable than usual. The bus took a very interesting and scenic route, first driving through Meah Shearim and the surrounding religious neighbourhoods, before passing through Ramot and exiting Jerusalem to the Northwest. We then drove along Highway 443, the northern Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway which speeds through the Judean wilderness, passing by the Yishuv of Givat Ze'ev on the way. Modi'in is a relatively new city, being established only in 1993, despite sharing a name with the ancient home of the Macabees. The city was built to function as an עיר העתיד, city of the future and was built with many parks, beautiful streets and now over 70,000 residents.
We arrived at Josh's house just before shabbat, after getting a little bit turned around, and quickly put our things away since it was almost time to leave for shul. Josh, his wife Julie and their three cute kids Yadin, Zohar and Anan daven at a new minyan begun a year ago called דרכי נעם, which meets in a school about a 15 minute walk away from their house. Their minyan is quite innovative in its attempt to try and balance adherence to the Orthodox interpretation of halacha, and a commitment to egalitarianism. Therefore, the model of 'Shira Chadasha' was adopted, where men an women sit separated by a Mechitza, but women are allowed to lead prayers which do not require a minyan, such as פסוקי דזמרא and קבלת שבת, as well as parts of the Torah service. Friday night tefillot were very inspirational and filled with singing, as well as many families with young children. After shul we took a leisurely walk home, and after a game of Spiderman Uno with the kids, it was time for a delicious shabbat dinner, a few zemirot, and some time to relax before getting some nice Shabbat rest.
In the morning, as I had been warned, we were indeed awoken by Josh's kids quite early, though I still got a decent sleep, and a little later we had a light breakfast of (real!) cereal before we were off to shul. As with the previous night, we again experienced a very spiritual davening, complete with shacharit led by my friend Josh Goldberg, and my getting to chant the Haftarah. We came back from shul and relaxed again for a while, after which we sat down for a Shabbat lunch of make your own burritos. After a nice Shabbat nap and a quick mincha service at a local shul just a block away, we passed the time until maariv with a few rounds of 'whoonu', a game where one is given four cards with nouns such as 'sleeping in,' popcorn', or 'the olympics', and each player has to decide which item the judge likes best. The player who is judging then ranks the others' choices, and points are awarded based on how much the judge likes each item. It was a great way to have fun and learn about each other at the same time.
It was then time to daven Maariv, say havdalah and have a light dinner before heading on the bus back to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the bus didn't travel through מרכז העיר (the city centre) on its way back, and we had to get a bit of exercise walking back from the central bus station near the city entrance.
On Sunday, we got to participate in a tiyul of the Conservative Yeshiva to both the archeological park of Beit Guvrin and the Children's home of Neve Hanna. The morning was somewhat fun in that we got explore ancient cities that are very significant in Jewish and general history, as well as climb through caves, which was a nice bonding experience. However, it has lost a bit of its charm being art the site for the third time. After a picnic lunch and mincha, we moved onto the part of the day that would leave a lasting impression. Neve Hanna is an amazing place in the development town of Kiryat Gat, which takes in kids from dysfunctional families an places them in a loving, caring environment. Unlike the reputation of other childrens' homes, Neve Hanna pioneered a method where they place the kids, aged 4-14 in units of 10-12 kids, with a mix of boys and girls, and two educators who care for them. Neve Hanna also has a petting zoo, which is used as therapy for the kids, and a bakery, which even supplies to El Al and Elite, to teach the kids the value of working and earning a living. A last feature which distinguishes the facility is its long-term relationship with the Conservative/Masorti movement, which has existed since its founding in the 1970's, which is manifested by the teaching of Judaism to the children and regular weekly tefillot. The movement also sends rabbinical students to serve as interns at Neve Hanna, which have included my Abba and my midrash teacher, Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein when the studied in Israel in 1980-81. After an overview of the facility and a tour, we had some time to socialize with the kids, and kit was great to see how much they appreciated our care and interest. Overall, Sunday's tiyul was a great way to get in the spirit of חנוכה, by learning about our past and attempting to create a better future for those less fortunate.