Saturday, December 16, 2006

חנוכה in Jerusalem


I have been having a non-stop series of amazing events, and just wanted to take a few minutes to give you a taste of what it's like to be in Jerusalem for the period leading up to חנוכה. Back to this past Thursday night, the beginning of Erev Hannukah when my friend Mendy and I took advantage of Hamshushalayim festival (חמשוש is an Israeli Acronym meaning weekend, combining Hamishi Shishi Shabbat, Thursday (night), Friday, Shabbat), where different cultural sites around the city were open to the public for three weekends. The previous weekend, I went to Israel museum with another friend and saw the Shrine of the Book, part of the permanent exhibit, and a temporary exhibit on Bread which was quite interesting. This week we visited the Tower of David museum and took a quick rendezvous to the Old Yishuv Court Museum. The Tower of David, which I had walked by many times but never actually gone inside, turned out to be well worth our while, considering we spent a good two hours there. After entering just outside the Jaffa gate, we walked through the museum entrance and into a large and beautifully lit courtyard, which I never knew could exist in what looks like such a small area from the outside. As we found out later, running through the centre of the courtyard from north to south was a wall that is estimated to date from the Hasmonean period and according the exhibit, was attacked by Antiouchus IV, quite appropriate for the day before Hannukah. We continued our visit by ascending the Phasael tower, the bottom half of which dates from time of Herod and named for his brother. At its peak we were able to witness a magnificent and unparalleled view of Jerusalem. From the west side we could see the entire New City spread out before us, and to the East we could see the Old City, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Dome of the Rock, as well as the Jewish Cemetery on Har Hazeitim and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. After descending the tower, we entered a theatre and saw a cartoon history of Jerusalem, which was cute and funny, as well as educational and informative. The next part of the visit, which felt like a maze at times, was viewing the permanent exhibit of the museum, which tells the story of the City of Jerusalem from its begging as a Cannanite town to its present as the Capital of Israel. In between the different exhibits, scattered in rooms off of the main courtyard, we explored the ramparts of the citadel, which was a lot of fun, while enjoying the vistas and history at the same time. Although it was already 11:30 when we finished at the Tower of David, Mendy and I decided to squeeze in one more museum, the Old Yishuv Court. This site, which I did not know much about before our visit, was restored to the way it looked in the early part of the 20th Century, when eight Jewish families lived in crowded one-room apartments surrounding a courtyard, and includes actual furnishings from the period. One room functioned as a synagogue, and much to our surprise, marks the place where the אריזל (Rabbi Isaac Luria) was traditionally born. Although we only had a few minutes to explore the exhinits, it was still a great way to explore a part of the city's history I knew little to nothing about.
As I usually do each week, I woke up early on Friday morning and davened at Yeshurun, this time bringing my friend Jacob along. After breakfast, I went to Hazon Yeshaya for a shortened time and peeled some קישואים (a popular vegetable in Israel, somewhere between a zucchini and squash), before I had to walk back to base. At around 11:00, I got in a cab with Sarah Lopatin, who is on Nativ with me, and Britt Kessler, a Conservative Yeshiva student, to head down to our teacher, Rabbi Dr. Pesach Schindler's home in Givat Masuah for a brunch with our Hassidut class. גבעת משואה is one of the newest neighbourhoods in Jerusalem , built on a hill between Ein Kerem and Malha. Reb Pesach's house is on the edge of the neighbourhood, and is on a hill, meaning that the entrnce was actually one level below ground. We were the first to arrive, though a few minutes later, Liz Freirich, a HUC rabbinical student and her husband Saul pulled up on their bikes, which they had rode from over eight kilometres away. After chatting for a little bit with Reb Pesach and his wife Shulamit and waiting for the others to arrive, they took us up to their balcony and showed us the view overlooking the southern valley of Jerusalem, which has been identified as the biblical עמק רפאים. We then came back downstairs and sat around the table and made a tish, with a little l'chaim, as each one of us shared our own piece of Hassidic Torah (read mine HERE). We then partook in a delicious lunch of bagels and spreads, while we got to know the members of our class and their spouses a little better.
We took a cab back home and arrived around 2 PM, with a little time to spare to get ready for Shabbat and the first night of Hannukah. Around 3:45, we gathered in the ground floor of our building overlooking Agron Street to light our Hannukiyot and eat some gelt and sufganiyot. I lit a Hannukiyah that I had made this past Tuesday, and it was so nice that I was able to arrange all the necessary provisions for a Kosher lighting by myself, with a little help from Nativ! I davened friday night at Yeshurun, for one of their beautiful Cantorial Carlebach services. After Mincha, Hannukah candles were lit in the front of the Shul, an inspirational moment that I felt brought everyone together. We then went immeadiately into the singing of Yedid Nefesh and the Kabbalat Shabbat service led by Hazzan Asher Heinowitz and the Yeshurun Choir. For someone who loves both Hazzanut and Carlebach, the combination of the two is even better and I had a lot of fun, even joining in the spontaneous dancing that took place after L'cha dodi. Following Yigdal, I walked back to Beit Nativ, and about 45 minutes later, set out with ten others to have dinner across the street at the Home of Rabbi Paul Freedman, former Director of USY and his wife Nina. We had a great time chatting with the Freedmans, catching up with each other, and partaking in some delicious food, including some tasty latkes. During Zemirot, Nina did her famous M'nucha V'simcha routine (for any USYers out there, the word is צאתו, not SATO). Before leaving, we checked out the gorgeous view from the Freedmans' 6th floor balcony.
This morning, I returned to Yedidya after a long hiatus, and was blown away by the beautiful Hannukah tefillot. Shacharit and Hallel was led by a man with a beautiful voice and I recieved the 4th Aliyah. After a delicious Kiddush, I headed back for a small, but nice Shabbat lunch, followed by a much needed Shabbat nap. At 4:00 I walked next dpor to the Conservative Shul Moreshet Yisrael for Mincha, where I read Torah. After a very rushed Seudah Shlishit, I set out with a group of Nativers, to daven Maariv and participate in Candlelighting at the Kotel. After a scenic walk towards the old city, we walked down to the Kotel and passed through security. After washing our hands and walking down towards the prayer area, we were lucky enough to find a group of about 7 people waiting for a minyan, and we joined them and davened Maariv. After the end of tefilot, we joined a small crowd gathered around a large Hanukiyah placed in front of the wall next to the Mechitza. It was moving to participate in the lighting, and sing הנרות הללו and מעוז צור with the eclectic group who might not have had much in common, but were all Jews coming to celebrate Hannukah in Yerushalayim. While we were participating in that candlelighting, someone pointed for us to turn around and to our right, high above the plaza, a giant Hanukiyah was being lit with a torch, which was a great site. After Maoz Tzur was finidhed, the Rabbi who had lit the hanukiyah gave a short dvar torah about how amazing it is that we are able to be here in front of the Kotel, in the modern state of Israel. We had been lamenting that we would miss havdalah back home, but luckily on my way out I noticed a sign that said 'Havdalah', and I got to participate in that too at the kotel. On the way back we walked through the Jewish quarter and tried to spot as many Hannukiyot as we could on our way back. When I arrived home, I then got to light my own Hannukiyah again, and lingered to enjoy the beautiful sight for a few minutes.
שבוע טוב! חג אורים שמח!

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