I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been having so much fun spending time with my family both in Israel and on a short visit to Toronto. In any case, right now I’m en route from Toronto to תל אביב and I figured it was a good opportunity to catch up a bit. Here it goes!
Monday January 1
Being in Israel, January 1 isn’t much different than any other day, except for the small group of (mostly Americans, myself not included) who went out to the bars the previous night. After davening at the Great Synagogue, we had a shiur with my Talmud teacher Dr. Josh Kulp, on topic of חוקות הגוים, the laws in the Torah regarding following the ways of the peoples around us and their interpretation up to our day. It was a very interesting and enlightening discussion. After davening Mincha, I took my first of two tests in order to get credit for next year at List College . After a lot of studying , I passed!
In the afternoon , our friend Janet Moshe met us and gave us a tour of the Shuk and neighbouring Nachlaot neighbourhood. We started with lunch at the homestyle ‘workers restaurant called רחמו (Rachmo), where I got some delicious Hummus. We then stopped by the many attractions of the shuk, most of which I had never known about, such as the Etrog man, who sells all kinds of folk remedies; the Pereg spice store; and of course, no trip to the shuk is complete without a stop at the Marzipan Bakery. We also had a tour of Nachlaot and saw some interesting sights, including historic buildings and synagogues. In the evening, after stopping at Janet’s, we wen t together with her to see the new Robin Williams movie איש השנה (Man of the Year), and ended the day by having a late dinner at Burgers Bar!
While Ima and Joshua spent the day in Tel Aviv, I went along with the other Nativ students on the Yeshiva Track for brunch at Pesach Schindler’s house, where we had a nice discussion to evaluate our semester at the Yeshiva. After relaxing for the afternoon, Ima and Joshua returned, and we had a nice dinner at Pizza Meter, an Argentinian restaurant where the Pizza is served to you by the meter. It was quite a nice experience.
I decided not to go to classes today and instead spent the day with Ima and Joshua seeing some important sites which I might not have gotten to otherwise. We started out at the New Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum, which was very moving and intense, after which we took the ‘Interconnecting Path’ to Har Herzl, Israel’s equivalent to Arlington National Cemetary. We visited all of the important places, such as the memorial to those whose lives were taken by terrorist attacks, the graves of Israel’s leaders, including Yitzhak and Leah Rabin, President Herzog, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and Hannah Senesh, who was buried with all of the honours of a modern Israeli paratrooper. Sadly, we watched workers set up for the funeral of Teddy Kollek ז''ל (Mayor of Jerusalem, 1964-1992), who had died on Monday, and whose funeral would be taking place the next morning. We also paid a visit to the grave of Michael Levin ז''ל, an American oleh who was a graduate of Nativ, Camp Ramah in the Poconos, and USY, who was tragically killed during the war in Lebanon this past summer. To complete our visit, we visited the tomb of Theodore Herzl, and the new multimedia, interactive Herzl Museum. We then took a taxi to the Jaffa Gate, where we entered the old city and headed to the Jewish Quarter, where Ima did some shopping and I bought some more books. We stopped at a Shwarma/Falafel stand for a quick and tast dinner. Just around sunset, we walked down to the Kotel, where we took some pictures and I davened Ma’ariv. We then took a guided tour of the kotel tunnels, which an exciting set of excavations taking place north of the Kotel along the continuation of the original Herodian wall. It was amazing to see that even since I was on the tour 5 years ago, more sections and even ceramic objects have been found dating back to the time of the second temple.
As our last official day of classes at the Yeshiva, we had a study session and discussion with Rabbi Joel Levy in the morning, followed by a Pizza lunch. In the afternoon I went with Ima and Joshua to the Tower of David, which boasts some beautiful views of Jerusalem and a museum with the History of the city. We then walked through Yemin Moshe and visited the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre, which was an audiovisual presentation about his life and works. While Ima and Joshua went back to their apartment to meet Abba, I went back to Beit Nativ and hopped on a bus for a concert by the popular Israeli artist Idan Raichel, who works with a group of immigrant artists, who perform in a variety of languages from Hebrew to Amharic to Russian to Arabic. It was a great experience, especially because he performed in n intimate venue, where I sat in the 3rd row!
On Friday morning, with Ima, Abba and Joshua, I went to volunteer as usual at Hazon Yeshaya, where we had a great and meaningful experience peeling and chopping potatoes, and later serving meals. We went for a delicious lunch at Pinati, and then got ready for Shabbat. Because it had started pouring, I left at around 3:30 and picked up a cab to Janet’s. For Kabbalat Shabbat, Joshua, Abba and I davened at מזמור לדוד, a new carlebach minyan a block from her house, which was a beautiful service with lots of singing. When then went back to Janet’s for a delicious dinner with nice company. Because it was still raining, Joshua and I slept at Janet’s house.
Shabbat morning, we davened at Yedidya, where I got to lead p’sukei d’zimra, participate in a beautiful daveing, and have a tasty sponsored Kiddush. We had a delicious fleischig lunch with our family friends Kobi and Nadia Ableman. It was still pouring after we finished lunch, and I took a shluff there, until it was time for Mincha, a Talmud class and Ma’ariv. After Havdalah, Kobi graciously drove me back to Beit Nativ, where I relaxed for a few hours.
Late on Motzei Shabbat, before Ima and Joshua had to leave to go back to Toronto, we went out for dinner with ten of my closest friends at Cuppa Joe, a new coffee/dairy restaurant.
Sunday morning, we davened at the Conservative Yeshiva, and then with Abba and Jacob Zeliger, did some shopping in Meah Shearim and at Mister Zol.
Sunday-Thursday, January 7-12 –Dig Week!
As one of the three options for the Nativ ‘Israel Experience Week’ (the others being volunteering in Haifa or participating in Gadna), I chose to be part of a week-long archaeological dig at Beit Guvrin National Park, where many of you have probably participated in Dig for a Day, run by the same group, Archaeological Seminars. On Sunday, the only rainy day of the week, our guide, Bena, gave us a tour of the entire site and especially the area we would be excavating, the former city of Maresha. Originally an Israelite town, settled in the days of Joshua according to the Tanach, Maresha was summarily destroyed and wiped off the map in the year 112 BCE by the Hasmonean King John Hyrcanus when it was settled by Idumeans who had arrived after the Explusion of the Jews in 586 BCE.
For the following 4 days our group excavated for the morning in cave system 169, where we lugged up dozens of buckets of dirt from two underground rooms, and then sifted the dirt to remove any pieces of pottery, bone, or charcoal we may have missed. I personally had the good fortune to discover a nearly complete plate and jug, which were among many other finds the group made. After lunch each day, we both toured the other archeological sites of interest in the park, and went spelunking, climbing through candlelit caves which were not yet excavated. Overall, it was a very enjoyable week of hands-on learning about the past and archaeology.
In the evenings, since we slept at Beit Nativ in Jerusalem, I was able to spend some time with Abba. On Sunday night we had dinner at New Deli, a Subway-like Kosher deli restaurant. Monday, we had the privilege of enjoying a Pizza dinner and hearing words of Torah from Rabbi Charles Savenor, Associate Dean of the JTS Rabbinical School. On Tuesday evening, Abba and had dinner at the Anna Ticho House, which is both a gallery and dairy restaurant in Downtown Jerusalem. On Wednesday, after returning from digging, I quickly jumped in the shower and walked over to the Bible Lands Museum, which showcases archaeological finds from the lands and times of the Tanach. We toured around, and then heard a lecture from a professor at Hebrew University on the topic of how history is presented in the Tanach. We then headed over for a late dinner at the Atara Café, a Jerusalem institution since before the State of Israel was founded, and I had some of their famous French Onion soup. On Thursday night, after the conclusion of the dig, I met Abba and we met a third cousin Jackie (whom I had never met before), who is also spending the year in Israel, in her case on the Young Judea Year Course. We went to a restaurant called מזעדת אמא, which serves homestyle sefardic dishes. It was nice to see that even though we came from very different backgrounds, Jackie and I have a lot in common and even know a lot of the same people.
As the Nativ vacation had officially started , I was now on my own with Abba for the next week. Friday morning, we davened at the Great Synagogue and then set out to see some of the sites of the Jewish Quarter. We started with the Burnt House, a site that was found in 1967 when the Jewish Quarter was excavated, and contains remains of a home belonging to the Katros family of Kohanim which was burned down during the Great Revolt in 70 CE. We then continued, fast forwarding in time, to the Old Yishuv Court Museum, which using actual period furnishings, depicts the way life was in the Jewish quarter from the late Turkish period until the end of the British mandate in 1948. We ended the morning with a visit to the Davidson Archeological excavations at the corner of the western and southern walls of the Temple Mount, after which we visited the kotel and had a shwarma lunch. It started raining just as we were walking out of the Jaffa gate, so we went back to my room for a little while to wait it out. About two hours before the start of Shabbat, Abba and I set out for the local public mikvah to take part in the tradition that some have to immerse before Shabbat. Although I had only done it (ever) this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it was a nice way to physically and spiritually prepare for Shabbat.
After taking care of the rest of the preparations for Shabbat, we got ready to walk to shul, which would be at Yeshurun, and since it was Shabbat Mevarchim Rosh Chodesh, we were able to enjoy the Cantorial Carlebach service again. Following Ma’ariv, we walked down the street and had Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Paul and Nina Freedman, the former director of USY and his wife, who are very warm, welcoming, and witty people, and we had a lovely time beginning Shabbat with them. Right after Zemirot and Birkat Hamazon, we headed back across the street to the Fuchsberg Centre for a panel discussion with Paul Kochberg, Dr. Ray Goldstein and Rabbi Jerome Epstein on the future of the Conservative movement, at which some very positive ideas were put forth, but I’m not sure how many of them will be seen to fruition. After this I said laila tov to Abba and hung around for a fun and exciting Yeshiva Tish. Shabbat morning I woke up, met Abba at his place, and then took a hike to the neighbourhood of Talpiot Mizrach, where we davened at Kehillat Moreshet Avraham, the Masorti congregation of the neighbourhood. It waa an absoloutely lovely davening, with lots of kids and young families present, and a Bar Mitzvah boy from Teaneck who had come to celebrate the occasion with the kehillah, and who went on to lead us in Musaf. The tefillot ended with a beautiful rendition of אנעים זמירות and Adon Olam by the youth of the kehillah. After tefillot there was an extended Kiddush, after which we walked down the street and had lunch with the Friedgut family, whose children, Ben and Eve Fried were in from Toronto, along with their other children who live in Israel, Stacy and Drory, and Hallie and their children. We had a very nice meal as well as good company, and before we knew it, it was almost the end of Shabbat. We walked back to shul and participated in a shiur with Rabbi David Golinkin on Midrash Rut Rabbah, as well as mincha and maariv. We then went back to beit nativ for a little while after Shabbat, and then went to Sbarro for a late night snack before turning in for the night.
Sunday-Monday, January 14-15
I woke up, davened at the Yeshiva for one of the last times, and hung out there for a while. Around 10:30, I had the great opportunity to spend some time with my friend Hannah, who is in her first year at List College and on her first trip to Israel on Birthright. We walked from Beit Nativ to the old city, stopped at Hadaya jewelers to order some things for her, and then hung out in the Jewish quarter and visited the Kotel.
Sunday afternoon and Monday I had the privilege of joining Abba on the Israel Bonds Rabbinc Conference and touring around the Jerusalem area with about 30 rabbis Othodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis. After a short orientation at the Sheraton Plaza hotel, we boarded a bus to our first destination of Giva’t Hatachmoshet (Ammunition Hill), which was the site of one of the most decisive battles between Israel and Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967. Afterwards, we continued following in the footsteps of the 1967 battle for Jerusalem as we drove towards שער האריות (The lions gate), and walked from there, through the Muslim quarter towards the Kotel, retracing the path of the paratroopers who liberated it almost forty years ago. After visiting the kotel and davening Ma’ariv there, we went back to the hotel for a study session on the connection between the book of psalms and Jerusalem. After a short break, we had one of the highlights of the trip, a dinner with Yitzhak Navon, the fifth President of Israel. The meal itself was very nice, with some tasty food, and a nice mix of rabbis and rabbinical students at our table. The president’s speech, although a little on the long side, was very nice, as he spoke a bit about his background, about his vision of the future of Israel, and the importance of Jewish identity.
On Monday, I woke up early and went over to the hotel to daven with the rabbis, had a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel (including fresh-squeezed orange juice), and then we got on the bus and headed to Nebi Samuel, the traditional location of the tomb of the prophet Shmuel, which lies just north of the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramot. We toured the site, enjoyed the view (despite the strong gusts of wind), and heard from a professor at the Hebrew University who described the site’s importance both in 1948 and 1967. We then proceeded to הר הזיתים, the mount of olives, where we saw a panoramic view of the Old City and western Jerusalem. Our last stop for the morning’s touring was at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, which was a border outpost between 1948-1967, and which now looks out on the new Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Homa.
We then went to the main building of the kibbutz guest house, where we head in Hebrew from one of the evacuees from Gush Katif about how he is trying to rebuild his life 18 months after the disengagement. That was followed by a delicious dairy lunch, mincha, and then we were back on the bus headed down the road to Kiryat Moriah, which is the headquarters of the Jewish Agency (JAFI). There we heard from two educators, Shalom Orzach (Former USY cental shaliach!), and Robbie Gringras (Ramah Nyack Artist in Residence), about new initiatives JAFI is taking to increase the connection to Israel, as well as update Israel education in the Diaspora. From there we drove back towards downtown, and while Abba continued his evening, I returned to the Fuchsberg Centre for a dinner being held for Conservative college students in Israel by the Presidents Council of United Synagogue. It was a nice opportunity to catch up with Paul and Barbara Kochberg and Keren Shilling in a relaxed, informal environment. After dinner there was a special lecture by David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, and then I went over to the hotel to say goodbye to Abba before he went up north for two days.
As my last few days in Jerusalem before I went home for a week, I tried to accomplish some odds and ends that only be done here. After starting the morning with davening at the Yeshiva, I headed up to Meah Shearim, and specifically to the Olive Wood Store, where I picked up some gifts for Ima. Next stop was Machane Yehuda (aka the Shuk), where I picked up some Halva to bring back with me to Toronto, and roamed around for a little to pass the time, and just enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells. I bought a few bourekas for lunch and then walked down agrippas street towards Kiryat Hamemshala (the government precinct). I headed over to the Israeli Spreme Court building, and after an intensive security check, I got into the building just in time for the 12:00 tour in english. The building was very beautiful and architecturally interesting, and it was definitely worth going to. I walked home and arrived back at Beit Nativ just in time to daven mincha at the Yeshiva. In the afternoon, I participated in Reb Mordechai’s Midrash class for the last time (hopefully not forever), which Mendy also decided to show up to, so we even got to chevruta together. I then davened Ma’ariv and went to get my last Shawarma for a while, and spent the rest of the night packing.
I’m sorry it took so long to write this update, but I hope to be able to write about this past week, which was spent touring around different sites relevant to Israeli society today, and next week, our Negev Tiyul, as soon as I get to kibbutz. Which brings me to share the news that due to some logistical issues, I will no longer be spending the next four months on Kibbutz Sa’ad, but instead will be living on Kibbutz Ein Tsurim, also a religious kibbutz, which is located about 15 minutes from Ashkelon.
Shabbat Shalom and I’ll try to write soon!!