Monday, January 14, 2008

תן שבת ותן שלום בעיר ירושלים Grant Shabbat and Peace to the City of Jerusalem

As Friday and Shabbat were my last few days in Jerusalem (and Israel):( (for now :)), I decided that I’d try to make the most of them, and I think that I succeeded pretty well. On Friday, I’ll admit, I was pretty exhausted from a busy week at the yeshiva, and I was ready to take the day easy, but in the end, it turned out to be pretty productive. I woke up around 7 and went to shacharit at Janet’s shul (Beit Boyer), and came back and had some breakfast. I then went to the store with her to do some Shabbat shopping (actually, it wasn’t just any store, but Rami Levi, another ‘real supermarket’ in the same neighbourhood as the SuperSol Deal, very different from the places where I shopped last year in Mercaz Ha’ir (the city center). I chilled for a few hours, and around noon, even though I had seen most of the people and places I had intended to, I decided to use some of my remaining punches on my כרטיסיה (10 trip bus ticket), and go to the old city and the kotel for one last time. It took a little while to wait for the bus, but It was a quick 10 minute ride once I got on, and before I knew it I got off in front of the David’s Citadel hotel and started walking through mamilla to the Jaffa Gate. The Jewish quarter was mobbed that afternoon, but since I still had plenty of time before Shabbat, I waited in line (along with almost an Birthright group, for my last shawarma (#6). I then walked down to the kotel and spent a few minutes there. I got back to the Moshe’s around 3, and I quickly showered and got ready for Shabbat. Erev Shabbat I davened at Yedidya, where I had never been before on a Friday night. I had a very special moment on my walk over to shul, as I walked westward on Rechov Rivka. Walking directly towards the setting sun, and looking towards the neighbouehoods of Katamon, Pat and Malha, I could see the buildings, made out of Jerusalem stone, shining with a golden hue. This must have been what Naomi Shemer had in mind when she decided to name her anthem to the city Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. The shul was pretty packed, especially with a Birthright group there from UMASS-Amherst, and the davening was a lovely carlebach-style one, spiritual from Yedid Nefesh through Yigdal, but not excessively drawn out. I went back to the Moshe’s for a very nice (and delicious Shabbat dinner), and stayed up chatting until about 12.

Shabbat morning I went back to Yedidya for another nice davening, and after Kiddush, I had lunch with our family friends the Ablemans, whom my abba has known since he was in elementary school. I headed back to the moshe’s after lunch, and when I told Herzl that I hadn’t been to Mincha yet (he had already gone at 12:30), he told me that there was another davening at 3 at the sefardi shul. Sefardi tefillot are something that I rarely get to experience, and though there is a significant difference from what I am used to, I was still able to follow along with the general order of the service. Following the Israeli custom, the Moshes eat seudah shilshit (meat) at home, and we did so around a quarter to 5. After we finished the meal, we ran back to the sefardi shul for Ma’ariv and Havdalah. Both at shul and when we did havdalah again at home, we followed the Israeli custom of using fresh plants instead of dried spices, which is nice for many reasons – besides for just smelling nice, it is also great to use the produce of the land of Israel for the bracha. I only had a few hours after Shabbat in which to relax and get ready to sadly leave Israel. Although my time in Israel this visit was way too short, I think I made the most of it including seeing friends, learning about options for Aliyah, eating Shawarma and studying at the Conservative Yeshiva. While I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be back in Israel again physically, I have no doubt that there will always be אהבת ישראל בנשמה – love for Israel in my heart!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Yerushalayim, Orah Shel Olam / ירושלים, אורה של עולם / Jerusalem, Light of the World

While this quote is definitely a good overall description of Jerusalem’s special character, this post, covering the beginning of my week on my own in the city, which besides for being special and spiritual the center of world attention, is just a cool place to hang out.

Motzei Shabbat, I left the hotel and schlepped with my bags over to Rechov Hamelech George, and after waiting for a few minutes, caught an articulated #14 bus to my chevruta (study partner) Miron and Naomi’s apartment right on the happening street of Emek Refaim. After catching up a bit, I went down the street and met my friend Yoni Zierler, who I had been close with in preschool and hadn’t seen for about 12 years. We had dinner at New Deli, and spent a while catching up and hearing about his time in the army, as he had officially made aliyah. It’s just one of the amazing things about Jerusalem, how many people you can run into or catch up with, even without having seen them for years.

On Sunday morning, I went back to the Conservative Yeshiva after a six-month hiatus. I arrived in time for davening at 7:30, just like old times. After tefillot, Reb Mordechai Silverstein, of my favorite teachers, gave a dvar tefillah, and I went across the street to supersol to grab some breakfast and also took the opportunity to do laundry at Beit Nativ. Just like old times, I went right back into Dr. Josh Kulp’s Talmud class, learning in chevruta with Miron and Rabbi Marvin Richardson, a close friend of the family. Although JTS in no Jewish wasteland, it’s just so nice to be back in this amazing place and learning torah lishmah. For lunch, I ran across the street and got some pita and hummus (whose label assured me that it was extra kosher for the shmitta (sabbatical) year. After mincha, I was sitting in the Beit midrash checking my email and my friend from back home in Toronto, Naomi Cooperman, who is on Nativ this year, sent me an instant message. In turned out that she was sitting a few dozen feet away in Beit Nativ, so I ran upstairs to say hello and we hung out for a while. I also got to see Reena Saks and her parents, who are close family friends and used to live in Philadelphia when I did.

In went back to the Yeshiva for Maariv, and in the evening, had dinner at Tal Bagel with some friends from Toronto (Shira Zeliger, New York (Ben Herman), and both (Rina Goldberg).

Monday was another busy day, with Talmud in the morning (when I learned with Shira), a pizza lunch sponsored by the AJULA (aka University of Judaism). After lunch, I took a walk and noticed of the first signs of the event of the week (and the year to date), the first visit of George W. Bush to Israel (albeit less than a year before he leaves office). Although I’ll admit that I’m not his biggest fan, it is still a historic (yet somewhat annoying) time to be in Jerusalem. In any case, the first sign that I saw to welcome Bush was the official renaming of Kikar Paris (Paris Square), right between the Fuchsburg Center for Conservative Judaism and the Prime Minister’s house, to ‘Freedom for Jonathan Pollard Square’ by the Jerusalem City Council indefinitely until his release. Although it is possible to argue about whether Pollard deserved jail time or not, the 23 years he has been imprisoned is one of the longest ever for spying, especially against a friendly country. The Fuchsburg Center also put up their own sign welcoming the President (which I was told by Rabbi Lebeau, the director that he waved when he saw it).

That afternoon, I went back to the Yeshiva and attended Midrash class with Reb Mordechai, my favorite midrash teacher. In the evening, I went baxk to Miron and Naomi’s, had dinner and relaxed.

Tuesday was another busy day. Being Rosh Chodesh, we had a lovely davening in the morning, complete with Shacharit led by Reb Pesach Schindler. Tefillot were followed by breakfast with a d’var torah by the dean of the education school at UJ. I spent much of the morning practicing Torah reading, and lunch (of falafel) was provided, along with a talk by Dr. David Breakstone, the Conservative/Masorti movement’s representative in the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency. After Mincha, I took a bit of a walk to Meah Shearim and bought a few things, and was back at the Yeshiva for Ma’ariv. In the evening, we had a nice relaxed dinner with Naomi’s sister, who studies at Pardes.

Wednesday was the ‘big day’ of Bush’s arrival, and even from the moment we stepped out the door to walk over to the Yeshiva, one could tell that things were different. There were very few cars to be seen on the roads, and fewer pedestrians than usual as well. We managed to have a relatively normal day at the Yeshiva, starting with tefillot when I led P’sukei D’zimra (just like old times), and another great morning of Talmud class. On our way from the classroom building back to the beit midrash, it was eerily silent, and there were no cars or pedestrians to be seen on the street. We found out that shortly afterwards, Mr.Bush’s procession passed by while we were eating lunch. Lunch came with a talk by Rabbi Charlie Savenor, the assistant dean of the JTS Rabbinical School, who spoke about the history of Kashrut and Coca Cola. After Mincha, I walked across the nearly empty Rechov Agron to the SuperSol to grab a light snack, and came back with an illustration of the joys of living in a Jewish country- a sufganiyah on sale for the end of the season, and an early Ozen Haman (hamentshen). In the afternoon, I attended our Rosh Yeshiva Reb Shmuel’s Halacha class just like old times. After Ma’ariv, I walked back home, which was somewhat difficult, since there were police barricades on both sides of us as we walked down a narrow piece of sidewalk on Keren Hayesod, and required police permission to cross Rechov Hamelech David. After going back to Miron and Naomi’s and relaxing for a while after another busy day, I went down the street to get my 5th shawarma at falafel adir, with their special round ציפ'ס (fries).

Thursday was sadly my last day at the Yeshiva until I manage to find my way there again. I left at 7 and made it to the Yeshiva without any trouble or being stopped, though unfortunately there were less people at shacharit than usual. I got hagbah. After breakfast (when I finished the pita and hummus that I had bought for the week), we had chevruta and shiur for Talmud. Following Talmud, it was time for our weekly sicha with our Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Shmuel, who spoke very inspirationally about what makes our ‘Conservative Yeshiva’ different from those that thrive on coercion, and the special challenges that it entails. After a pizza lunch, we finished the day with Parashat Hashavua and mincha. In the afternoon, I went shopping with Miron at the shuk where I got a few things for myself as well, and then at ‘SuperSol Deal,’ which is much larger and nicer than the other one, with plenty of free samples as well. (On the way back from the shuk we saw the same huge security presence as yesterday, with police officers on every corner an a radius of barricades both around the Prime Minister’s House and the King David Hotel). As another indication of the joys of living in a Jewish country, it was great to see the signs all over the produce department saying ט''ו בשבט הגיע (Tu B’ishvat is coming), as well as of course being able to wish the cashier a Shabbat shalom! After we finished at the supermarket, I said goodbye to Miron and Naomi and headed back to the Moshe’s home for my final Shabbat in Israel (only until the next one!).

The Conservative Movement and Jonathan Pollard?!

P.S. I as I promised my Hebrew teacher from last semester, Rabbi Joel Roth, I attempted to pick out some grammatical errors in Jerusalem street's what I found:

נַפְתּלִי was missing the dagesh kal in the tav

הַיֵּרְדֵּן - missing the dagesh hazak in the yod follwing the hey hayediah.

and הַמֶּלֶךְ ג׳וֹרְג׳ was missing the dagesh hazak in the mem. Oh well, maybe dikduk m'dakdek (exact grammar) is a bit of a lost cause.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Mastering my future? אולי Touring every Israeli University and spending time in my Homeland and having a blast in the end? בודאי!

On Monday (12.31.07), I began participating in a program sponsored by the Sochnut (Jewish Agency) for students considering spending a significant amount of time in Israel after graduating college and possibly making Aliyah. I am one of twenty participants in this six day program, one of seven who are bogrei Nativ, and of the remaining thirteen, about half are also in college and the other half have already graduated. While many parts of the program so far have been interesting, especially seeing all of the universities, some of the speakers we have had were somewhat less engaging. On Tuesday, we began with a few speakers from the Sochnut, including Rabbi Paul Freedman, former international director of USY and one of the biggest proponents of Aliyah in the Conservative Movement. In the late afternoon, we traveled to the Jerusalem Post to speak on a personal level with David Horowitz, the Editor in chief of the paper about his experiences as an oleh and current issues. In the evening, we visited an absorption center called Mercaz Hamagshimim in the German Colony, which is supported by Hadassah, and met with some of the residents there.

On Tuesday, I woke up and went to the 7 am minyan down the street at Yeshurun, where I had davened every Friday last year, and then came back to the hotel, where we began to check out for a few days and begin our grand tour of every university in Israel. After breakfast, we traveled to Baka to visit Ulpan Etzion, an ulpan run by the Jewish agency with free tuition for Olim. After that, we went to tour Hebrew University, which was pretty neat for me since most of my Nativ friends (except for the 13 others who did Yeshiva with me) studied there for the first semester last year, and I had never been there before. We toured the whole campus, including the impressive Hecht synagogue (with a window facing the temple mount, the only such one in the world) and the Rothberg International School, and had lunch at the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria. After leaving Hebrew U, we traveled to Tel Aviv, where we visited Tel Aviv University. It had a large and impressive campus, but seemed a bit overwhelming and impersonal. We then went to the Tal Hotel, had dinner and a lecture on the workplace culture in Israel before we had the rest of the evening free. A few of us decided to walk on the tayelet along the beach, and later got ice cream at the yotvata restaurant.

On Wednesday, after a great breakfast (the food at the Tel Aviv hotel was much better than in Jerusalem), we took a bus over to Bar Ilan University in Kiryat Ono. Bar Ilan is unique in the fact that while it is a public university, it was founded as a ‘religious institution.’ This does not mean that it is only for religious students, since at least 50% are secular, but it does mean that all students, no matter what their major, must take at least 7 courses in any area of Jewish Studies. BIU had a very impressive campus, and our tour guide was an olah from Toronto. There is a definite possibility that I would consider studying there for a graduate degree. In the afternoon, we visited the interdisciplinary center in Herzliya, the only private university in Israel (and by extension, the only one that we visited that wasn’t at least 80% on strike). They are well-known for their BA programs taught entirely in English, in which a few of my friends are enrolled, and discussed their new masters programs in English. After that visit, which was relatively short, we went up to Haifa and had a visit to Haifa University. That visit consisted mostly of being taken up to the 29th and 30th floors of the main building and being shown the magnificent view from there, and then basically being told that that was the reason for us to come to their university. In terms of programs, especially after seeing Hebrew U, Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan, Haifa didn’t do such a good job in distinguishing themselves. But in the end, we did get a free view, some כיבוד קל (light refreshments), and an impression of the university. That night, we went back to Tel Aviv, had dinner (not bad for a hotel), and I decided to stay in the hotel and just hang out since it was raining.

On Thursday morning, I davened, had a pretty good breakfast, and checked out as our group said goodbye to TA and started the two hour drive to the development town of Arad, near the Dead Sea, where we visited the WUJS program, a 5 month Israel experience for college graduates. We saw a bit of the town, saw the absorption center where the participants live, and were treated to a pizza lunch. After we left Arad, we headed to Be’er Sheva and visited Ben-Gurion University, the last of Israel’s major universities on our tour. We arrived, were met by a student who was originally an olah from Ukraine, and before touring the rest of the campus, met with some of the admissions representatives. Although my understanding of Hebrew is close to perfect, it was still pretty disconcerting that the representatives refused to speak any English and didn’t show that they were so interested in us coming to their school. Afterwards, we had a tour of the campus, which was very pretty nice but kind of institutional and 1960’s looking.

After we left Be’er Sheva, we returned to Jerusalem and had a short session to learn about a post-college program called Otzma, and then we were free for the evening. I went with my friend Shira Zeliger and got a Shawarma at Shwarma Hashamen, one of my favorite shawarma places which Josh Goldberg introduced me too my last week of Nativ, and now opened a branch downtown so I don’t have to schlep out to Yochanan Ben Zakkai street. After our shawarma, we went to supersol, which brought back some good memories.

On Friday, I went back to Yeshurun for shacharit, and then relaxed until everyone else woke up for breakfast. We had a couple wrap up sessions that morning, including one with a representative from the sochnut and some lone soldiers to talk about the army. We were free for a few hours before Shabbat, and I went with my friend Andrew to walk around the shuk and then get a shawarma (my 4th!) at Maoz. After showering and preparing for Shabbat, I walked over (in relatively steady rain) to Yeshurun, for their monthly Carlebach-style kabbalat Shabbat with cantor and choir. It was just as nice as I remembered it from when I used to go on Nativ. That evening, we ate Shabbat dinner at Beit Nativ (aka the Fuchsburg center), which brought back nice memories but the food was as relatively unappealing as ever. When we got back to the hotel, we hung out and then had an oneg before I went to bed around ten in order to get some nice Shabbat rest.

The next morning, I left the hotel around 7:40 and walked all the way doen to Baka to my favorite shul in Jerusalem, Kehilat Yedidya. The walk wasn’t as long as I expected, and I was one of the first people at shul, and ended up being asked to lead P’sukei D’zimra. Davening was also just as amazing and spiritual as I remembered, and I saw a number of people I knew. After davening and Kiddush, I walked back to the center of town and ended up at the apartment building across from Beit Nativ, specifically at the home of Rabbi Paul and Nina Freedman, who had invited us over for Kiddush. Rabbi Paul, who was international director of USY for almost 30 years, and his wife are very special people, and it was a pleasure spending time with them and of course singing Nina’s family tune for the Shabbat song menucha v’simcha.

We went back to the hotel for a not so tasty lunch, but one that ended with some nice singing. I took a nap and read for a while, but late in the afternoon I got a knock on my door from my friend Shayna and my new friend Shira, who asked me go walk with them to the old city. I decided to go, and had a great time with them. We ended up at the kotel, which I rarely get to on Shabbat, and which was nice to see being so much emptier and less touristy. I found a minyan for mincha, which was sefardi, and it was neat to daven in a setting that is slightly different than usual, with such changes as habah being done before the torah reading. We walked back to the hotel as the sun was starting to set. Before we knew it, Shabbat was over, and I davened Ma’ariv and we did Havdalah as a group. I then ran upstairs, packed my stuff, and said goodbye to all of my travelmates/friends, new and old.

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