Monday, December 21, 2009

יחי אדוננו מורינו ורבינו מלך המשיח לעולם ועד (Translation in blog post)


Sof sof (finally), I’m sitting to write down my Shabbat in Tzfat with my friend Tyler.  I haven’t had much time to write for the past couple of weeks, for some reasons.  All of my intentions of blogging have been for naught.  So I’m hoping to take this step-by-step in updating everyone (myself included) on what I’ve actually been up to.  I may miss many key details.

The first Shabbat in December, Tyler and I took a trip up to Tzfat.  It turns out that some of our friends had also been planning on going that weekend, but Hebrew U had a make-up Ulpan class Friday morning, so we were the only ones that went.  We went to the Central Bus Station (tachana merkazit) to buy our tickets, at which point we found out that we had to pay on the bus, and then we found out that the platform is actually outside by Binyanei Ha-Uma, so going into the station altogether was a waste.  Whatever, we caught a bus, paid for it, and over the course of both bus rides I wrote my D’var Torah for International Convention.  Good stuff.  The bus driver dropped us off at some place he claimed to be a good place to get off, so we did, and we got some schnitzel.  It was 19 , I think, which is cheaper than Jerusalem.  And it was good – I was just lacking BBQ sauce, really.

One of the first things I noticed about Tzfat is that it’s a quiet city (at least relatively speaking).  I live on an extremely busy street corner in Jerusalem, and I constantly hear cars, car HORNS, and other craziness, but you don’t hear the traffic and other madness in Tzfat.  All Friday afternoon I did not hear it.  When we arrived at our destination, the other thing to point out is the gorgeous view of nature that Tzfat offers.  We could see Mount Meron and lots in between and it was beautiful.

The place we stayed at is called ASCENT of Tzfat.  It’s a Chabad-run operation that consists of a youth hostel with classes going on all week and Shabbat activities.  A Shabbat there – for room and meals – cost 160 . We arrived and checked-in and accommodations were ok – they only had one key for our room, though two other random people were sharing our room, and they didn’t exactly have linens ready for us.  But that was fine; we locked our valuables in a safe and got our linens.

We then set out for the historical Ari mikveh, while we had some time to kill before Shabbat.  We didn’t exactly know where we were going – we got some general directions, and as we went along, we kept getting directions from random people.  We didn’t go the most direct way, but that was cool because we walked through some random parts of the Old City and the neighborhoods there.  In other words, when you’re not in a tremendous rush and you’re walking in an interesting place, getting lost has a real positive aspect to it.  We kept walking downwards, the city tranquil as can be.  We walked past one house where Yaakov Shwekey music was played, assumedly in the spirit of Shabbat.  Right by the mikveh lies an old cemetery; I’m not sure if I’ve seen a cemetery on such a mountain before.

I’m not going to into graphic detail about what the mikveh was like, for your sake and mine as well.  The water was freezing, however, and I really couldn’t breathe.  And as if three dunks weren’t huge enough of a struggle, someone pointed out that my hand was out (thus my entire body wasn’t in the mikveh) so I had to do it again.  Worst of all, Tyler and I didn’t think about bringing towels, and Tzfat in general was pretty cold.  But we were troopers about it, I guess.

I was in a fairly explorative mood that weekend and was just happy to walk around the city wherever.  On the way back we stopped at a military cemetery, which was actually connected to the old cemetery there.  Also as we walked, I looked for any opportunity to find a scenic view of the land.  A significant part of my traveling that weekend was seeing more of the Land of Israel, and not only being in a different city but also what I could see from there and on the bus ride gave me the opportunity to see the land itself, which in the north is beautiful.

When we returned to Ascent, we found ourselves in a class with the head rabbi of Ascent, who was discussing Shabbat in the liturgy or something like that.  I remember him being an engaging educator (as are most Chabad rabbis, not to stereotype or anything like that), and the main thing I remembered was him talking about each of the three Amidah prayers on Shabbat and how each one has a specific reference to redemption according to the Abudraham – the first one, Creation that took place on Friday, the second one about the giving of the Torah, which took place on Shabbat, and the third one talks about redemption in the future.  I’m not sure if I got the upshot of that totally right.  And then it was time for Shabbat.

Kabbalat Shabbat (“mystical” Kabbalat Shabbat) took place at Ascent – it wasn’t far off from anything I’ve seen before - a little bit of Carlebach and dancing, not much more than that.  I guess Conservative Jews do some mystical stuff as well.  Of course, the rabbis get into the dancing because they’re pretty much high on life.  Overall, though, the Tefillah was low-key because there wasn’t a huge number of men, at least, and a majority I think are not extremely religious.

I should also back up and explain a general theme of the weekend – Yud-Tet (tes) Kislev.  The Alter Rebbe was released from prison on that day in the Jewish calendar, and it has essentially turned into a Yom Tov for Chabadniks.  When they were singing “v’samachta b’chagecha,” I thought they were just singing that since they’re generally high on life and maybe see every day as a holiday.  But this day is actually huge for them.  All weekend, there was hype and talk about the importance of Yud-Tet Kislev and Chassidut, and Sunday night I actually attended an event at my friend’s yeshiva in Jerusalem celebrating this day.

For dinner Friday night, we were set-up with a host family.  Our host was Doron, who I believe is a rabbi at Ascent, and he had a few family friends over as well.  I knew exactly which apartment was his when we entered the building – the door exhibited a “Yechi Hamelech Hamashiach” sticker (long live the king the Messiah), with the picture of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe on it.  The apartment was filled with pictures of Schneerson.  All of the male adults there wore yellow “mashiach” pins on their jackets, and they all wore kippot that said “long live our master, teacher, and rabbi the king Messiah forever.”  In addition, after Eishet Chayil and Shir Hama’alot, they would sing this line to whichever tune they had just sung.  The other major Rebbe reference I remember from the night was that they’d pour some wine into a flask that had some label about the Rebbe on it, and then for each person making Kiddush, some of that wine would be poured into the rest of the Kiddush wine.  Food wasn’t necessarily amazing, but it was a lively dinner.  Very nice people, lots of good spirits, and lots of talk about miracles and Chassidut.  On the way home, we got lost, but there’s not too much more to say there… some guy with family from Montana (now Israeli) helped us find our way home.

Shabbat morning, Tyler and I went to the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue in the Old City to start off.  I can’t remember the entire story behind it, but tourists often visit it and I believe it is dedicated to the Ari, who is the father of Kabbalah as we know it today.  The services there were nice, nothing too different from what I’ve experienced in Israel before.  After the Haftarah, we went schul hopping.  First we stopped in the Kosov schul (I later learned its significance), but they were just finishing the Torah reading, so we only stayed there for a few minutes.  We found a shteeble not too far where they were doing Musaf, so we participated with them for kedusha.  The prayer intensity was high, and they did some nice singing.  We walked around a bit and returned to the Kosov schul for Musaf.  Afterwards, as we were walking back, we heard some crazy Carlebach action happening above the Ari synagogue, so we followed the sound to find a Tzfat Hesder Yeshiva doing Musaf, so we joined them for Musaf as well.  It was jammed packed, and the spirit in the Beit Midrash was extremely lively and exuberant.  After singing Anim Zemirot, they were singing the niggun dancing around the bimah, and we joined them.  We went back, made Kiddush (I was extremely hungry), and I think we attended a class before lunch.  The conversation at Kiddush going on around us revolved around marriage and this man in his thirties that divorced ten years ago and has enjoyed having those years to himself, and these frum ladies were trying to convince him the importance of marriage and how it’s the best thing… lol at that scene.

We napped, did Mincha, and then we had a tour of the Old City of Tzfat.  We heard some interesting legends and visited schuls.  The story of the Kosov schul I mentioned above was that this group of Chassidim was the only of group of survivors of the Kosov community (which was exterminated during the Holocaust) because of a dream that led 50 families to Tzfat 50 years before the Holocaust.  That was neat.  There was a 12-year-old on the tour with us that believed every single legend that was told about the origins of synagogues or Tzfat-related, and he asked us if we believe them, too.  Tyler couldn’t stand how he could believe all of these things for real; I decided not to take interest in a 12-year-old who’s willing to be brainwashed.  Nice that he has faith, but hopefully he’ll learn later in life to take everything with a grain of salt.  There was also a man on the tour who thought it was appropriate to use a cellphone to check the time… won’t go into that much.  The tour was nice, and I enjoyed seeing the city from a slightly different perspective than most tour guides (that being that our guide is a Chassid himself, so he has a different perspective).

Shabbat ended, and we caught a bus to Jerusalem.  The Egged website indicated 7 and 7:30 buses, so we thought there were two busses, but the lines at the bus station were madness.  Hundreds of people needed busses to Jerusalem, so it actually turns out that there were busses every 2 minutes.  Tyler and I pushed our way through and an American immigrant helped us get on; he commented to his friend on the phone “I just helped some American nubes get on the bus.”  And then we got to Jerusalem and had the best pizza, two slices being 13.

This is probably my longest blog post ever.  I apologize.  What I’ll just say was that it was interesting to experience a mystical side of Israel, people in a totally different mentality, and I’m actually intrigued to explore Chassidut and apply it to my current way of life.  This is just one example of the value of seeing a world different from your own.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Shabbat Spent in Tranquility


It's Thursday night, and once again, like last time we went camping, we find that we are in a hole in figuring out logistics for the weekend.  A couple of us spend lots of time surfing the net for good places to go camping, make some phone calls to other people for recommendations, and then we find a place that seems to be an ideal location on the map and a reasonable price and supposedly open year round, so we decide to try that.  It turns out that I'll never be able to reach the beach to confirm it's open, so the best I can do is bet on the possibility that it will be open.

Friday morning I go to ShuferSal (what is generally known as SuperSol) to pick up food, and then we leave for the Central Bus Station – it's Shira, Haley, Sender, Adam G, and me.  At first we somehow got on to the wrong bus to the bus station, so we get off near Ben Yehuda and finally catch the right one.  This adds to a whole theme of being nervous until basically 2:45 that afternoon…

Once we get to the bus station, I confirm that Netanya is where we should go to reach Hof Yanai, and we buy our tickets, 45 shekel appx.  Having not had breakfast, I was really hungry so I tried going to where I had usually gotten pizza there, but they did not have any cheese pizza ready, so we went downstairs to the food court and chowed down pizza quickly before the bus left.  Once everyone was ready to hop onto the bus, though, it looked like we weren't going to be getting seats, so we waited for the next bus.  That bus came late, though, and I kept getting even more nervous.  It finally came, though, and Shira and I listened to a capella all the way to Netanya.  To the extent that I can, I like looking out the windows to see the land as we drive through.  One thing that caught my eye, that was sort of an "only in Israel" moment, was a huge sign advertising Mincha and Ma'ariv at a Beit Midrash up the road that meets 20 minutes before sunset.  It also advertised four Shacharit times and another Mincha.  Impatiently, I waited to get to Netanya, but we finally got there.  After a little wandering we found taxi cabs that would take us to Hof Yanai for 70 shekel – not ideal but we took it.

Haley and I got there before the other three, and we walked down to investigate the area.  We walked into the restaurant that was right by the entrance, and they told us that there's camping there.  My impression of the camp site from the website had been that there was a "swimming area" during the summer, which I interpreted to be beach, and then a "nature area" not by the beach open year round.  So I was confused.  And it didn't look like actually a campsite so I was worried that it was "permitted" but not legitimate campground.  But as we walked through we found an area that was prohibited for camping, and then proceeded to an open area where we found the exact campsite that I had looked up!  So I was relieved.

Camping near the Kinneret was beautiful, but the beach by the Mediterranean Sea was beautiful taken to the next level.  When we got there, it was a good temperature, the sand was perfectly smooth and normal, the water was completely blue, and the skies clear.  And the beach itself was vast.  We took lots of pictures, I collected some shells to give to friends, and I davened Mincha in a goood moment of seclusion by the water, with my jeans rolled up and my shoes off.  Shabbat started shortly after I finished, and I put on some nicer Shabbat clothes.  Before we did Kabbalat Shabbat, we watched the sun set.  There could not have been a more perfect place – we could see the sun entirely, completely red, and it quickly descended upon the ocean.  I could look down for 30 seconds and I missed it sink drastically.  At one point, it looked as though it was in the water, that if I were to swim out I could touch it.  But then it disappeared.  And with bliss Shabbat was upon us.

We did Kabbalat Shabbat, and the beach was almost deserted by then.  It was a mellow, low-key service as we faced Jerusalem with our backs to the sea.  People were walking by and looked at us, but unlike last time, where we were probably the only religious people there, we were just plain the only people here, so it was quieter.  Even though it was only 5:30 when we finished, we sat down to eat dinner – made kiddush, hamotzi, and ate a tasty meal and had a good time.  I bought some packaged turkey with some honey something that I don't remember, but it was good fleishig considering no cooking required.  Within an hour and a half, we were all tired, so we went to sleep.  Oh, and I almost forgot – I left my sweatshirt in the cab, I believe, and once the sun set, I got very cold.

I managed to keep warm in the tent and found a way for getting comfortable.  I slept solidly, I believe, from seven until a quarter to 11 (pm).  I don't remember exactly what it was the woke me up, but from the time I fell back to sleep (not for a while) on we were disturbed by a dog that was barking right outside of our tent (though sometimes it moved back a little bit).  It was really annoying, and it did not stop barking all night.  At times when it wasn't barking, it was very soothing to hear the sound of the waves in tranquility, only to be interrupted by the dog.  We had no idea what this dog was.  I woke up completely at around 8, though, leaving me with the assumption that altogether I probably slept for 11-12 hours or so.  Oh, and the dog was right outside when we woke up.  A German Shepherd, my favorite.

By the time I davened, everyone was up, so I didn't spend too much time.  When I thought about it, when one doesn't have repetitions, added singing, or Torah service, an individual t'fillah on Shabbat really doesn't require more than 45 minutes.  I probably did half an hour, whatever.  After this we ate breakfast.  I had bought a doughnut for ShuferSal (haven't had doughnuts in ages), but all the frosting was stuck to the bag so that sucked.  As we ate, we watched these old people doing a slow motion walk – some people backwards, others forward.  For a second I thought reality had paused but they were just doing something strange.  Then we spent some time by the water, walked up and down the beach; it was very relaxing and calming.  Eventually we ate lunch, but I wasn't so hungry, so I just did kiddush and ate some challah and munched on stuff.  While everyone was taking a nap, Shira and I took a walk that ended up lasting two hours, and we walked down the beach from one end to the other and then sat by some rocks, watching the bright yellow sun over the blue sea and enjoying the surroundings.  But then we went back and we all watched the sun set, sang a little bit, and Shabbat departed as we did Havdalah.

I won't say much more than this: on the one hand, Jerusalem is a great place to be for Shabbat and there are things to be missed when I'm not there.  I do, however, like travelling and seeing other parts of the land for Shabbat.  So after having spent a few Shabbatot in Jerusalem, it was good to get out and be in nature and experiencing a bit of the coastline, which I have not done yet.  Different pace for Shabbat – I liked.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yom Hodu B'Yisrael


This morning at Shacharit, we said Tachanun as normal (in fact, a long Tachanun as is done Monday and Thursday).  But a little later, I realized that had I been davening at a Conservative synagogue in America, there’s a good chance we would have omitted Tachanun.  Because Thanksgiving is a very celebratory holiday, many hold that it isn’t fit to add that sorrow into a holiday.  Thanksgiving, though, is an American holiday after all, and there was barely a trace here in Israel of the holiday.  Learning, however, felt very different today because we did chazarah (review) on a few of the previous segments of Talmud we have done in chavruta (partners) only, with no class.  So it was very laid back - laid back enough that I was able to do my laundry during the time allotted for Talmud.

I spent a bit of my afternoon cleaning my room, and now I actually can sit at a desk as I write this.  Someone expressed this, too, but it very much felt like Friday afternoon.  I guess it’s not very often that I’m not in Yeshiva when the sun sets, but from the sounds of the horns and other stuff on the streets (all of which I can hear from my room), I felt a sense of rush.  It could also be that I felt rushed in getting cleaned up, and I put extra time in for shaving, showering, and cutting my nails (in case you were curious about that).

The Nativ tradition for many years is that not only does Nativ have Thanksgiving dinner, but also all alumni and former staff currently in Israel are invited to dinner.  We don’t all fit into one dining room, so the festivities began with Ma’ariv at Moreshet Yisrael, followed by some introductions, a video about this year’s Nativ group, and also Kol Nativ!  We sang Acheinu (which I conducted) and Lishuatcha Kivinu, both of which ended up sounding decent after some worries over the past couple of weeks.  A few people extended compliments to me on the performances.

After all of that jazz, we were split up based on current Nativ track or Nativ number – so the Kick-Butt Kehilla Track and those from Nativ 1-23 ate downstairs in the regular cafteria, and Kibbutz and all other alumni ate upstairs.  Current Nativers were specifically instructed to go through a specific door so we would see envelopes for us that contained letters from family and friends.  I got one from Ima & Abba, Micha, Grandma, Bubbie & Pop, and Grandma.  They were all very nice.  Ima & Abba wrote a rhyming acrostic – pretty epic.  The couple of people I read it to really enjoyed it so I guess it must have been good!  Just kidding, I really appreciated hearing from everyone.  I sat with a bunch of my friends – I sort of regretted not sitting with some of the Nativ alumni, but I knew a few of the other people around so I schmoozed with them for a little while.  The food was pretty good and the meal overall was decent.  Not the most grand of feasts, but whenever we’re at home for Thanksgiving it’s hard for it to be more than a good Shabbat dinner anyway.

After dinner, just the current Nativ went down to level -3 to have some Nativ time. We watched a video featuring all Nativers plus "Friends" clips and more that I can’t remember, produced by Sarah and Sophie.  I laughed out loud for at least 50% of the video – it was fantastic!

For the next few weekends, there’s Hamshushalayim Festival on Thursday, Friday, and Shabbat in Jerusalem, so tonight a bunch of us decided to see a jazz performance at the Davidson Center in the Old City.  I enjoyed the music but don’t have much to criticize anyway other than the weird bass player when he rapped and the awkwardness of the lead musician.  Josh, sitting next to me, knows a lot about jazz so he shared some critiques with me.  The lead musician, among many instruments he played, played a wind synthesizer, which was cool but the high notes weren’t too flattering.

Afterwards, we went around the center along the walls, which was cool.  I got some good views from there and took pictures.  Many places visible from there were very scenic.  Then, as we were leaving the Old City, most of the guys decided to take the short route, but my Jordana and I were up for a greater adventure, so we and Meir went a long way around, taking our time.  We climbed some rocky areas (while Meir played hide-and-seek), tried to not get run over as the sidewalk ended at a certain point, and we found ourselves right by the Sultan’s Pool.  I didn’t recognize it at all because it was just a muddy dump, unlike when it was used for Matisyahu’s concert.  No resemblance whatsoever.  We walked through there and tried to figure out where to go, but we found a route.  At a certain point, we ended up walking through the Artists’ Colony and strolled through there.  It’s a nice little neighborhood near the Old City.

I was talking to Mrs. Nina Freedman tonight for a little, and she told me that she tells her kids that she has a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving here in Israel – that she’s not in America on the holiday.  And while I would have loved to have been with my family in Pittsfield, MA for the holiday (it seemed like quite a party just from skyping with them), I have a tremendous privelege (z’chut) to be in Israel this year.  I’m thankful to be in the land, to live a life like I do here, and for all of the wonderful friends I’ve made and become close to over the course of the year.  I’m just as thankful for my family always thinking of me, which was very evident from the letters I received and the Skype conversation we had tonight.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Girls Play Football


This is a little late, but I feel like writing about the first girls' football game that I attended.  A few weeks ago, I tried going to the pre-season game, but we were denied entry because the league had not worked out a new issue of guys attending the games.  Many (or most) of the teams that Nativ plays are frum.  But it got worked out and I managed to show up this week.


The girls are very pumped to play and they get really into it.  They played the same team that they played in pre-season.  While we're all really competetive about it, in the end I don't care if they screw up a play, it's just fun to watch.  This week they lost, but they've already won a couple so I hope to witness a victory in the near future.  The best part for us fans was that we lined up on the bleachers and played defense on the sidlines, screaming as the other team snapped the ball.  We did a good job, in our opinion.  The Ref sorta sucked when he missed sacks, but the girls pulled off some sacks while we were screaming.  The other fun part was the competetive aspect and making fun of the other team.  But it was just nice to get some fresh air, walk through Jerusalem, and watch a good game of football and support Nativ. It's just thrilling, I don't know why.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Erev Nativ, B'yachad, Shabbat Kodesh

Weeks go by very fast so I don’t even know if I’ll cover everything worth covering on this.  But there are a few things I want to highlight:

*Tuesday night’s Erev Nativ was split by track.  We were supposed to go out, but instead we got into pajamas and brought blankets and pillows down to Level -3 of the new building.  The first part of the night, we had an opportunity to raise general issues, but I’m not interested in that here.  But a very important point was made that breakfast sucks and we need more pancakes and French Toast.  We played “share or dare” with yarn.  Basically, one person (in this case David) started with the yarn and could either “share” something that they’ve done on Nativ that’s special or they could “dare” themselves (or the group) to do something extraordinary on Nativ.  The dares ranged from speaking more Hebrew, doing more in Jerusalem and Israel, getting to know more people, making good use of time… So someone shares or dares, and then they throw the yarn to someone else. I dared myself to branch out in Jerusalem and do more with my Shabbatot.  I now have yet another yarn braclet on my hand!  I’ve barely been with the group for group bonding, since I came late, so I’m glad we had some group bonding time at this point in the year.

*Thursday night-Friday morning was our first B’yachad Seminar.  B’yachad is a program funded by the Avi Chai foundation to train American camp counselors spending time in Israel in Israel-related matters for camp.  There were about thirty Nativers that participated in this seminar, many of whom are Ramah employees but a few other camps are represented in the mix as well.  Last year, they did the retreat at Beit Nativ, but this year they’re taking us out for the seminars.  We went to a hotel in Ma’ale Hachamisha, and for the short 30-45 minute drive, it was totally worth the tasty food and a real bed (my bed at Beit Nativ sucks).  Our facilitators are Moshe, a former Emtza/SWUSY Shaliach and Pilgrimage group leader, and Shira, who’s in my Talmud class at the CY, and they both did a fantastic job, be’emet.  We opened by writing down our expectations for the program and what we want to bring home on the back of puzzle pieces and then we put the puzzle together.  After dinner, we did unpacking camp memories: we put an object related to camp into a suitcase, and then, after sharing an Israel experience that has impacted us, we shared our objects.  People had t-shirts, iPods, pictures, and other stuff that they shared.  These got pretty entertaining.  Part of the upshot of sharing these two things was that our experiences this year will become integral parts of us, just like our camp experiences, that we’ll be ready to share this summer.  Afterwards we did a paperbag drama game – we had some objects and had to make a skit relating to Israel.  They were all hilarious. This sparked a discussion as to the fluffy, sugar coated nature of teaching Israel to campers versus the possible need to present a more authentic Israel.  It was an lively conversation, and people expressed opinions eloquently.  Friday morning was devoted to Israel-Diaspora relations: American Jews’ relationship to Israel and Israelis’ relationship to America.  It was a very thought provoking seminar overall, with lots of humorous elements courtesy of a funny group of people, but a very productive overnight.

*Shabbat – I went to Yakar Friday night with Brenna (who had just returned from Greece).  I ended up leading Mincha – who would have thought.  Eventually many more Nativers showed up, and while the entire area in front of me was empty as I davened Mincha (I stood in the middle), it slowly filled up.  I like standing for Kabbalat Shabbat, and it was extremely spirited, so I liked that.  Nothing much more to say.  I walked with Shira (who led the B’yachad seminar) to her apartment for Shabbat dinner.  While we waited for other guests we played SET, which I hadn’t played in a while, but I didn’t do too shabby.  But dinner was nice – it was Shira’s roommates, a friend serving in the Army that had Friday night off, and two friends of one of her roomate’s from Hebrew U.  A lot of the conversation was in Hebrew and I was tired, so I didn’t follow a lot, but as usual it was an interesting conversation.  The soldier who went to Maryland gave me some tips on teachers to take and we talked about Jewish life there.  Then Saturday morning, David and I went back to America for services, aka Yemin Moshe, where all of the tunes are American and the sermon was in English.  It was a nice service, just very American – but it still represented the best of America, at least.  While Yemin Moshe is mostly known for good kiddushes, this one wasn’t so good.  Then David and I went to Rabbi Paul and Nina Freedman for lunch and had a nice time.  Lots of food, they’re very entertaining, but fairly low key.  Then I napped, nothing special the rest of Shabbat.

New week!  We’ll see what goes down.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Last Shabbat in Jerusalem

I find that I have less and less time to blog as I try to do many things with my time, so I figure that I give myself a week grace period to try to write down what’s been going on. I do this as I’m on the bus ride home from a B’yachad seminar for Ramah. More on that in the next blog post.

Last Shabbat I stayed in Jerusalem, for lack of making any other plans really. Before Shabbat, I made a trip out to the shuk to buy some pita, fruit, and a babka cake for the hosts of my Shabbat lunch as I will explain below. I saw Nadiv and Noah (two of my madrichim) walking back as I was on my way (they were carrying a sick amount of Marzipan rugelach), and they told me that it’s really cool how the place is so packed at this time of the week. They were right; the shuk was absolutely packed and bustling. My first question: are people really doing their Shabbat shopping just 3 hours before Shabbat? Ima usually hopes to be done cooking, let alone shopping, by this time of day on Friday. But I found some very good fruit (the grapes ended up tasting delicious) – just the strawberries looked so good yet were so expensive.

Shabbat comes, and while I have really wanted to experience the downstairs minyan at Yakar for a while, I went to Shira Chadasha for Kabbalat Shabbat with David and Seth. I very much take it for granted at this point that Kabbalat Shabbat is that spiritual in Israel because it’s too difficult to come across that in America. My soul was drawn to the niggunim, and of course the kavannah was L’Shem Shamayim. The shaliach tzibbur for ma’ariv was many of my friends’ teacher at Hebrew U during the minimester, and he davened Musaf when I was at Shira Chadasha for Yom Kippur. His intensity and the purity of his voice makes his davening a delight every time – it was a true treat to hear him daven.

Afterwards, Sarah, Ally, David, and I went up to the front of the room, as we decided to get hosted for dinner. We went with a woman named Elisheva, and there were two other guests with her as well as a British family her family is friends with. We had some good discussions, explaining what our program is, talking a bit about Yerucham (they acutally had some good things to say about it), and I was eventually questioned about the difference between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism. At least it wasn’t the difference between Reform and Conservative Judaism. I think I gave them a very honest assesment. But anyway, the food was DELICIOUS. We might have been spoiled. The chicken and schnitzel were fantastic, as well as dessert and the wine we had with dinner. It was a fun night for us.

I left for Yakar by myself in the morning, a little after eight. I made it just as they started P’sukei D’zimra, but of course that is sort of objective. They have no shaliach tizbbur for P’sukei, and so I took my  time connecting with the text of P’sukei, and it was gvery uplifiting. Even more uplifting was singing Nishmat all out loud – it’s such a beautiful poem that gets mumbled and is highly underrated. We also did a fantastic tune for Shochen Ad/U’vmakhalot, as well as Hakol Yoducha (also done all out loud) and El Adon. I was a happy camper, and I really gained a lot by being by myself for davening. Sometimes the separation from  people I know really enhances my davening. They did not have kiddush and shiur in between Shacharit and Torah this time (which they usually do, I’m not sure what was different last week). I think the other highlight to share is that I got an aliyah. Woo!

For lunch, David, Seth, and I went to the Epsteins’ for lunch. They have a beautiful, new apartment just off of Keren Ha-Yesod. We had a lovely afternoon and spent over three hours there. Mrs. Epstein made excellent food, as well, and they got the most unreal parve cake from Marzipan for dessert. It’s beyond us how that cake was parve.

Only complaint about Shabbat: just not long enough! Not enough time to spend with friends, eating, reading, napping. But here comes another fantastic Shabbat!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Soup Kitchen Afternoon


I’ve had a goal to fit in some community service into my schedule.  Even though that is part of the entire idea of being in Yerucham, I feel it important (as do most other Nativers) to contribute to society here a little bit.  A few weeks ago, I talked to Elkana about different options, and he set me up with a soup kitchen run out of a high school in the German Colony (or near there somewhere).  Last Thursday I went for the first time.

When we arrived, many people were sitting outside, waiting for it to be time to enter.  We went in and Matan, who was sort of running the show that afternoon, showed us how things were working.  I stood by a table and I went back and forth to the buffet to get them food.  The meal was essentially meat, rice, and vegetables.  There was also salad on the table.  Some of the people were fairly needy, but this is a place where that should be warmly accepted – they’re hungry, they obviously had tzaros.

I felt that I would not have really done my job if I had not engaged in coversation with any of the people there.  Most of the people there were elderly, and a lot of them had immigrated to Israel at some point or another in their lives.  As a lot of people were wrapping up, there was a woman sitting at a table with nobody else, so I started to talk to her.  Miriam has essentially lived in Jersualem her whole life (now in Gilo), but she came to Israel in 1948 from Morocco.  That interested me a bit since we talked about Moroccan Jews and immigration in Hebrew a couple of years ago.  We didn’t get too much into her background, but I told her what I was doing in Israel and such.  It wasn’t the most profound of conversations, but it was good to engage with someone there.

I wish I did in such mitzvot more often.  I look forward to returning there again.

Jew for... WHAT?!


For Erev Nativ last Tuesday night, we were told that we would be having a guest speaker who was going to discuss with us potential issues on college campuses next year. There was speculation that it might be about Israel advocacy, anti-Semitism, or general Jewish life. But it’s always the best when it comes as a surprise.

Yossi introduced the program, immediately explaining the seriousness of Jews for Jesus and undertsanding their role on college campuses. He explained that Mitch Goldberg, the director of Jews for Jesus from New York, was going to speak to us. Then he told us that they wanted a rabbi to come speak with him, but most rabbis he asked rejected the request because they felt it would give legitimacy to the speaker. Instead, Rabbi Tuviya Singer would be willing to speak afterwards.

The dude walks in wearing a Jews for Jesus shirt sported by a jacket. He gives us a sentimental introduction to his background, about he grew up Jewish and went to Hebrew school, and at college his roommate showed him a copy of The New Covenant and at first thought it was bull but then bought into it… he showed clear ignorance of our tradition, quoted the generic bogus verses from the Bible that supposedly allude to Jesus, asserting Rabbinic Judaism as being false. Soon enough he opened the floor to questions, and people started challenging him in no time. A tactic he used was asking people their names and addressing them by name as he spoke. Some of the questions showed a little ignorance on our part, but people generally asked good questions. Seth asked the first question, I believe. While I don’t recall exactly what he asked, the answer entailed Mitch asking Seth if he observes all of the laws in the Torah perfectly (the answer being “no”) and then Mitch defined that as being a sinner (immediate reference to Rabbi Roth’s talk made as a joke, see above post), and best of all, Mitch told Seth that if it would be okay, he was going to pray for Seth to find the path to Yeshua and not sin or something along those lines. Jesse was setting next to me and raised the point that we derive rabbinic authority from the Torah. While Mitch tried to avoid the issue by claiming that he should cite a verse and that he’s never seen that before, I tried backing Jesse up, but I was sort of ignored, until Sender started asking a question and then pointed across the room to me to take the floor. I chose to go back to Jesse’s point and quoted “she’al avicha v’yagedcha, z’keincha v’yomru lach” – ask your father and he’ll inform you, your elders and they’ll tell you,” Deuteronomy 32:7. He started giving me a bogus answer and then sort of cut off the conversation saying he had to go and such.

Then he leaves. Yossi introduces Rabbi Tuviya Singer. A man with the same face but a kippah, dress shirt, and tie walks in. That entire time, the ignorant brain trying to sell us Jews for Jesus actually knows Hebrew and works for Jews for Judaism, trying to simulate what a situation with a Jew for Jesus might be like. He applauded my use of the Bible. His shtick went through not only Jews for Jesus but missionary groups in general and explaining the tactics they used. A very worthwile evening, I must say.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jules Visits Nativ


Before I get into the Jules weekend, I thought I’d touch on a couple of things:
*Wednesday we had Shiur Klali, which means that the yeshiva learned Talmud together with the Rosh Yeshiva teaching the shiur.  I spent an hour in chevruta with my friend Ariella, and then we joined Shaiya (who learns in the kollel in addition to teaching) and Reb Shmuel’s son.  We studied the sugya that we had already done in class, but Reb Shmuel added some interesting layers in terms of context and philosophy through sources in the Torah.  The conversation was fantastic in chevruta.  The most amazing part of shiur k’lali was watching the Talmud teachers ask questions and then they engaged in their own debate.  Elkana recounted the same thing when he was in yeshiva, that during shiur k’lali students would look at their teachers in awe, in hopes that they would one day reach that level of understanding, to get that deep into the text.
*Thursday I took a trip to Me’ah Sh’arim to buy a shtender.  It cost me 40 shekel, and she did the entire art on the spot, including the quote of my choice (ki hem chayeinu v’orech yameinu) and my Hebrew name.  I also bought a one-volume, travel size of Mirkaot G’dolot while I was in the hood.

So Jules got to Jerusalem Thursday afternoon.  That night David and I went with him to Rimon off of Ben Yehuda and had a fantastic fleishig meal.  Because of the expense, we don’t usually dine out for nice fleishig very often, so we had trouble coming up with a good idea.  But it was a nice dinner and we had great conversation – definitely a fun evening.

Friday morning, I chose to go to the Great Synagogue to catch a minyan, since I needed to be up fairly early anyway.  A little fast for my taste but what can you do.  There were also people going around all througout the davening collecting tzedaka, which I find to be slightly inappropriate.  We’re studying Hilkhot Tzedaka (laws of Tzedaka) in my poskim class, so I’ll ask Reb Shmuel about that.

Our first session with Jules was at 9:45 a.m.  (I’ll outline all of the sessions at once, since I don’t have too much to say about each individual session.)  The first session, on Friday, consisted of a discussion of a survey we had taken at Erev Nativ on the preceding Tuesday night, which asked if we define ourselves as Conservative Jews, why or why not, and what we believe Conservative Judaism is.  People asked solid questions, and it was interesting to see the realities of perception among Conservative Jews.  Nothing said in that session was too earth shattering for me.  One of my friends wasn’t such a fan of that session because there wasn’t so much tachlis, or a nafka mina (what you get out of it) of the session.  On Shabbat after lunch our session addressed the topic of revelation and God’s role in our understanding of Torah – the ongoing nature of revelation, the rabbis’ need to interpret, and the binding nature of a mitzvah, since a commandment must have a commander (we discussed what would happen if we were to prove that there was no God behind Torah).  The text used here was Tanuro shel Ochnai – Ochnai’s oven - found in the Talmud (Bava Metzia).  My issue with that text is that the person at fault, Rabbi Eliezer, went against the majority opinion, and many Conservative rabbis pasken halakha that, while they may have some proof, doesn’t align with conventional practice today!  A rabbinical student at the yeshiva pointed out to me that it’s fair to say, though, that t’shuvot that go against conventional practice have some backing from colleagues, while R’ Eliezer had no backing whatsoever.  Then Sunday night’s session addressed the Conservative understanding of the halakhic process.  It was fairly late at night, so many people had a hard time focusing, which was legitimate.  One thing established was that a difference between Conservative Judaism and Orthodoxy is Torah Mi-Sinai – the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  We went into the subject of Imahot, adding the matriarchs to the first paragraph of the Amidah, and looked at the Rembaum, Golinkin, and Diamond papers.  Rembaum’s paper allowing it was proven weak; however, Diamond, who approved Imahot, had the message that was the thrust of the session – that it is imperative that we respect differences, and at the end of the day we may respectfully disagree.

In the end, I didn’t come out of the weekend feeling more passionate about Conservative Judaism.  If anything, I feel less compelled.  Last night I started to address this issue in a separate essay that will be more comprehensive of my current relationship to Judaism as I currently see it, but I feel little incentive to stay a Conservative Jew if the few things that keep me affiliated that way can be compromised in order to join a community where people take Jewish observance more seriously.  It’s factual that Conservative Judaism has little followers that abide by its tennents, and that does not resonate will with me.

But here’s regarding the rest of the weekend: Friday night, we welcomed Shabbat together as Nativ at Kehilat Moreshet Yisrael (part of the Fuchsberg Center), and I led Kabbalat Shabbat.  It was a definitely a spirited service, and people expressed compliments.  We had Shabbat dinner together; I sat next to Jordana and mostly talked to her - I think about something related to Judaism.  After dinner I had a fantastic heart-to-heart with my friend Razie about things on our mind about Nativ experiences and beyond.  We’re both going to Maryland next year and are excited about that.  Afterwards I went to the Nativ tisch, which was mamash sababa.  People picked some awesome and very high-spirited songs, and it was great to see everyone go crazy for V’yitnu L’cha Keter M’lucha.  Then I went to Beit Shmuel, the kivinum building, to hang out with Brenna.  We ended up going on a walk that looped around King David and back down Agron, and then we walked through Mamila and then went back to Beit Shmuel and chatted some more.  Love Shabbat walks.  On Shabbat I went to Yakar and loved it.  I got there at Nishmat, which was an inspiring point.  Nishmat is a beautiful poem and is often done silently, and they sang almost the whole thing outloud, which I appreciated.  They were good at preserving nusach while singing beautiful niggunim in the tefillah.  Also, between Shacharit and Torah they do kiddush and shiur, and the shiur was sweet – the woman gave a brilliant discussion on Chizkuni and his understanding of other commentators and difficulties in the chumash.  The rest of my day consisted of food, nap, reading, and talking to Yossi.

Motza’ei Shabbat I went to a concert dedicated to the 15th yartzheit of Shlomo Carlebach.  It tooks us a long, long time to get our tickets – some confusion with the order.  We got in, and basically the concert was a Shabbat in Carlebach world – starting with Kabbalat Shabbat, z’mirot, D’var Torah (R’ Yisrael Meir Lau), and we left during “Shacharit.”  Some of the performers weren’t so good; their claim to fame was their connection to Shlomo Carlebach.  Aharon Razel and Shlomo Katz, however, were fantastic and got me stirred up.  It was fun to watch the drunk people around us, a little too high on Carlebach.

I think that’s all I have to say about my Shabbat weekend.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Shabbat in Elkana


As I anticipated it would be, I’ve had a hard time finding free time to write over the week. While I have 45 minutes before Jules’ opening session (weekend seminar on Conservative Judaism), though, I wanted to share my Shabbat experience from last week because it was unique from what I’ve had so far.

My mom worked with an Israeli woman named Yael when she worked for the Atlanta Federation. Before Nativ, she gave me a few numbers for people who live in Israel that I could contact if I wanted to crash for Shabbat, and Yael was one of them. Yael had actually contacted me when I first got to Israel, but this was the first opportunity I really had to do something on my own, when I didn’t want to stay in Jerusalem or stay with friends.

I took a bus to Petach Tikva, where Yael picked me up. She delivers food to two families every Friday, so from the bus stop we went to somewhere in Petach Tikva, and then we drove to Tel Aviv. I thought it’s pretty cool that they have that connection – it’s a great act of chessed and it’s good to see people with good hearts in this world.

Elkana is a settlement just over the green line. It’s about ten minutes from Petach Tikva and probably a half hour or so from Tel Aviv. About 90% of the settlement is religious. Very few of the buildings there are permanent structures. At least in the area I was in, some of the permanent houses were the simple cube structures (generally a cream color), but most of the homes I saw were trailors. Not to say at all that it was a “trailer park” – I’m going to guess that the trailers have something to do with building issues in the settlements. Yael’s family’s yard had some tables and benches to sit on, lot’s of toys, and a huge rug to sit on as well. Throughout their property they have chickens, goats, and I think I also saw ducks. I helped feed the animals a couple of times.

Yael’s family was very nice. Her husband Nitai is extremely outgoing, and the kids were great as well. The oldest is 11 and the youngest is about one and a half. The 3-year-old was especially adorable. When Yael first introduced me I believe she called me Judah, and so whenever we were all talking in Hebrew and they would mention me as Yehuda, he would be like “why are you calling him Yehuda, his name is JUDAH.” Also quite a basketball player that kid is.

Friday night, I went to schul with Nitai. Short and sweet tefillot. Afterwards, Nitai asked me how I felt about attending a shiur in Hebrew about the laws of Shabbat, so I tried it out. It was a little too technical for me to comprehend, but I think I got the gist. It was nice to try. Shabbat dinner after that was very nice and tasty. I don’t remember too much about what went on at dinner, but the conversation was lively and interesting. Shabbat morning we went to the B’nei Akiva building for davening. Again, short and sweet – singing wasn’t overdone, it was pretty fulfilling. We went back and chilled outside. Some friends of theirs came over with their young child, and we had kiddush, some conversation and words of Torah. The younger children (tried) rollerblading around the block – that was cute. Shortly after, Nitai and I went for Mincha, and then we had lunch. I napped and read a bit and went to Ma’ariv. After Shabbat, I stuck around for a couple of hours and then headed back to Jerusalem.

I mentioned at the beginning that it was a unique experience from all of my other Shabbatot. Two things contributed to that: a) due to the large percentage of dati Jews in Elkana, there were no cars on the road; b) while Jerusalem has a very eclectic culture, Elkana has mostly Israelis, so the culture was essentially Israeli-born religious Jews. I only heard Hebrew throughout Shabbat, and while many schuls in Jerusalem can have an American feel to them, that didn’t exist here.

And now a new Shabbat will start soon. This one will also be special, as it is a closed Shabbat and Jules Gutin is leading sessions on Conservative Judaism. I am looking forward to the communal Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, October 29, 2009



For the first time since I've been here (as far as I know), it's rained multiple times in one day.  It was raining a little bit as I left Talmud.  But then it rained at what would seem like an inconvenient time later tonight.  Since the yeshiva ends at 3 p.m. on Thursday, we do not daven ma'ariv as a tzibbur, so I generally daven alone.  When I daven alone, I often like to daven at the top of the ampitheater outside Beit Nativ, at the railing facing the Old Beit Midrash of the Yeshiva. As I was davening the Amidah, I felt a few drops.  Slowly, the rain increased as I continued and it was raining fairly hard.  The thing about the Amidah, though, is that it is forbidden for one to move at all, even if a snake is crawling up his leg or a king greets him according to the Mishnah.  So one who holds an animosity towards rain definitely cannot move.

But I was all the more so happy to be davening in the rain tonight.  People often talk about how neat sunrises, scenic views such as cliffs overlooking valleys, and nature inspire their praying – all of those are creations and powers of God.  Likewise, we recognize at the beginning of the Amidah, when we say "mashiv ha-ruach u-morid ha-gashem," that God has great power in allowing it to rain.  It was also shortly before I said the prayer "v'tein tal u-matar livracha," asking God to let it rain for the good, that it began to rain.  When it rained tonight, I was praying in the midst of God's great power.  Rain in Israel is a huge blessing, and I hope that the prayers of all of Israel will be a source of blessing just like the rain God provides for us.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Talmud Torah K'Neged Kulam

Two days later, the attack of the cough persists.  Generally, over the past few days, this problem has been worst when I wake up; I don’t have any way of sleeping upright, so I’m guessing that the problem lies in me lying down (haha) when I sleep.  The worst consequence of this has been my inability to pray without coughing after every two words, resulting in an inability to worship my Creator with joy and with kavannah.  Otherwise, the only time I’ve had an issue coughing was after I came back from Emeq with Sarah, when for some reason I set a really fast walking pace.

In other exciting news, I have an accordion file folder (what my campers this summer called the “Geek Files”) for all of my papers, and while I am cutting back on taking notes on my computer during class, I will be able to keep much better track of my papers and make good notes on those for the future.  Plus, when I can, I write in my sefarim and will study those a lot in the future.

Tuesday morning, Shaiya (my Chumash teacher) was not here, so the other chumash teacher taught our class as well.  We took a break from Joseph to discuss the barrenness of the Matriarchs.  Many of the midrashim were troubling at first glance; I felt that they were trying too hard to excuse God’s decision to make them barren and to bring an apologetic reading to the stories.  On the other hand, I learned in Shaiya’s theology workshop that it is important to read Torah through the eyes of the Sages and not separate ourselves by saying “x is chazal and what they want me to believe but I’m not actually part of that tradition.”  So I wanted to be open to finding an understanding of the midrashim that would portray God as not cruel by depriving our matriarchs with children, something that was so essential to society at that time and the self-esteem of the matriarchs.  I remember someone recently quoting Rabbi Joel Roth as saying “don’t say you don’t agree with the text, say you don’t understand it” because often times we are quick to judge a text without having dug deep enough to derive a meaningful understanding of the text.  Without going too much into the midrash and my issues with it, some thoughtful insights I gained were that the Torah does not want to portray perfect ancestors should we be discouraged from relating to them and also that when the midrash says that God desires their prayers, God does not want to look at life in perfection and lose their sense of mortality and humility.  In shiur, I lost focus many times so I did not gain quite everything from it.

At the beginning of lunch I met with Reb Shmuel to discuss something we had learned in Poskim class week.  We studied the issues against codification that were raised as codes were brought to life.  One particular rabbi strongly objected that by issuing a code, among many things, Jews would become highly ignorant, and instead of halakha being arbitrated through a process, Jews would only experience one way of doing things.  My questions, therefore, came from two sides: on the one hand, people are ignorant in understanding halakha with which they aren’t familiar because they only understand halakha through codes, and on the other hand, we have ignorant people who do not understand halakha through the halakhic lens but through what they think Judaism should be like.  We discussed the issue for a while, and what I came out with was essentially a hope that people will understand how to separate biases from the way halakha works and that people will attempt to educate themselves in the best way possible when attempting to take a position and understand the halakha in its own light.

I had a great afternoon on Tuesday in Modern Jewish Thought.  We studied a chapter in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed the Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students titled “Books.”  We discussed the importance of studying literature of the past in light of the past and not in light of the present, but at the same time gaining from its wisdom.  From there we ventured into a discussion of Bloom’s assertion that the failure of high school teachers has resulted in students’ lack of passion for literature and the truth (or lack of) behind that statement.  Bloom then brings in the idea of heroes – the idea that one keeps a book by Plato under his bed or aspires to be Moses – and the way students appraoch the question of whether s/he has a hero.  These discussions impact me in two ways: first, that they teach me how to think and expose me to different ways of understanding the world; secondly, they inspire me to read and educate myself more so that I become a complete person with a well-informed understanding of life and things to aspire to.  One of my favorite things about Aryeh’s class in general is that he insists at the beginning of each class that the definition of a Talmid Chacham is one whose desire to advance his knowledge and understanding with an open mind.  I appreciate the idea that there’s no reason to be offended by anything that we discuss in a thought class.

Tuesday night was even more interesting.  Rabbi Artson spoke to us for Erev Nativ about God and how to approach or think about understanding God as a Conservative Jew.  I’ve heard him speak about God before, but this discussion was like nothing I’ve seen before.  He shared his views of how the Greek ideas of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence in God permeated Jewish views of God for the worse, and offered a view of God working within the very logic that God created.  The questions started by taking interest in particular things he said but eventually broadening to general questions of theology.  People found him very intriguing and thought provoking.  Many people came out thinking that he contradicted himself in explaining that God is not the things I mentioned above, precisely because those are the things that we’re used to hearing.  I happen to like his logic a lot.  At any rate, it definitely engaged many people and left many more intrigued.

Some observations to share about yeshiva:
*The concept of Bitul Torah has never been more real for me.  While at home, the lines of bitul Torah can be blurry because there’s really not that much fixed Torah study and there are so many layers to life; however, now that there are fixed time for studying Torah, I see the loss that comes with wasting time.
*Yeshiva can be a struggle sometimes in that I sort of lead a double life here.  During the day, I’m a yeshiva student and need to focus as much as I can there.  However, with all of the other things on my life on Nativ filling my mind, and then going home and the Nativ portion of my day just starts, it can be hard. It’s a good struggle to have though.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Week’s Worth of Events

Let’s see if I know where to start here.  I haven’t written in quite a while and much has happened about which, at one point or another, I had intended to write.  So I’ll break it down to the best of my ability.

I’ll start off with Wednesday night.  I started taking the Jewish Educators Training course with a guy named Mark Lazar.  In essence, the goal of the program is to train us to use creative, innovative, and informal techniques to be Hebrew school teachers who are engaging students effectively.  After one class, it seems the potential is great and I’m looking forward to opening my eyes in many different areas of informal Jewish education that will engage the young crowd.

Thursday was an interesting day.  The day of learning was dedicated to Rafi Lehmann z”l, who had been a student at the Yeshiva a few years ago.  Students from JTS studying at Mechon Schechter were there for a good chunk of the day, during which a few of them who knew Rafi delievered some words in his memory.  Reb Shmuel’s sicha, dedicated in memory of Rafi, was about tefillah, which brought it home for me, since I knew Rafi most in the context of tefillah.  This sicha was one of my favorites so far: he described the discipline involved in tefillah, building our lives around it, the practice it takes, and the relationship between the inward and outward notions of tefillah.  I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks, when he will go into more detail about certain parts of tefillah. Part of what made Thursday interesting for me, however, was that while we were honoring the memory and involved in dealing with death, it was also Abba’s birthday, and much of my mind was concentrated on celebrating his life (though of course I am very far away from him).  At any rate, I got a haircut on Thursday afternoon that cost me only 35 shekel, and many people commented on a job well done – Misperei Rafi, I salute you.  I also went to Mister Zol (“mister cheap”) to stock up on food – some snacks, pita, cheese, sauce (all for pita pizza), and pizza burekas.  I spent a little more than I anticipated, but it’ll last me a while, I hope.  That night everyone went out to Crack Square, as usual; I wasn’t really up for that, so I stayed in. No big deal.

I stayed in Jerusalem for this Shabbat.  Originally, my plan was to daven at Yakar Friday night, but then last second I changed my mind and went to Shira Chadasha to experience Kabbalat Shabbat there.  Either way, I would have enjoyed davening, but I’m glad I made it out to Shira Chadasha for one Kabbalat Shabbat.  Dinner and tisch were nice, as usual.  After all of that I took a walk and had quality talk with my best friend Shira, and went to bed extremely tired.

Shabbat morning I went to Yedidya with my friends LeeAnn and Jordana.  My conclusion from that service is that it’s what I like in a quality davening – use of good nusach and good tunes at the same time, and it’s what I’d love to see in any schul that I would join in America.  I didn’t feel so great during the Torah service and onwards (possibly from the flu shot that I took on Thursday, I’m still not sure what’s going on), but I made it through fine.  I’ve had a cough since Friday night, and I felt sort of feverish during services.  Meanwhile, between the couple of short divrei Torah at the service and the commentaries I had printed out to read, I got a lot out of the parasha last week; it’s great that in a parasha where a lot seems old and stale, I got some new chidushim (from “chadash,” “new” or here, new idea).  After schul I went to lunch at the apartment of an AJU Rabbinical Student with whom I study at the yeshiva and was met there by David and a few other AJU rab students.  It was quite an entertaining fiesta of 90s references and stam humor.  I had cholent for the first time!  Not too shabby.  But I was pretty tired after lunch and collapsed in bed until mincha (which was followed by a horrible seudat shlishit).

After Shabbat, David and I headed out to a Melaveh Malka (“accompanying the [Shabbat] Queen”) at the apartment of two other AJU rab students.  Besides the good marzipan and wine, Rabbi Brad Artson had a great presentation of reading a psalm from three different viewpoints, to understand the relationships of Jew with the world, Jew with Jew, and Jew with him/herself.  Fascinating!  Afterwards I went to Beit Shmuel (not far from Beit Nativ) to meet up with Brenna, and we went out for ice cream on Ben Yehuda.  I went to bed feeling no better than I did in the morning, and I told David I might not show up for a good chunk of Sunday.

Sunday I managed to wake up and go to Shacharit, against David’s advice, and then I showed up to Yeshiva feeling awful.  I was in there for about 10 minutes when I was told to go home and rest.  So I essentially spent my day watching South Park and making Pita Pizza.  That night was the Idan Raichel concert, and I wasn’t sure whether I should go.  I resolved that I should go at least for a little while, and if I wasn’t feeling up to it I would leave.  There were several times before the concert that I thought I was going to leave.  But I didn’t, Idan was AMAZING and I ended up having a great time.  I’m very glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to see him live.  He actually didn’t do so much singing; his other vocalists did most of it.

By the way, something I thought of on Thursday.  I heard a siren meandering the streets of Jersualem during Talmud, and I started thinking about how one’s life can be so tranquil at a given moment, where another’s person’s life can be on  the line and others have extreme anxiety.  I don’t really know what insight this provides – I guess I just started thinking about the way human lives intersect or don’t intersect and the ways our experiences are separated.

I’m coughing like none other, but otherwise, to be continued.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Judah's Learning Marathon Today


"כי הם חיינו ואורך ימניו ובהם נהגה יומם ולילה"
"Because they [words of Torah and mitzvot] are our lives and lengthen our days and we will engage in them day and night" (Ma'ariv Prayers)

My day started off on the wrong foot.  I had set my alarm on my iPod Touch, but the mistake I made was that I did not leave the application open.  So I woke-up three minutes before I was supposed to show up to Nativ davening (I got there a little late). It ended at 8:35, which is shortly before class, so I had a short amount of time to eat breakfast and was actually 25 or 10 minutes late (depending on how one interprets the start time of chavruta).

My chavruta and I were fairly ahead in Chumash, so we took it fairly easy this morning.  I played a little bit with the iPod Touch, but we did some review of the material and I took a look at Torat Chayim for other commentaries besides Rashi.  They became useful for class discussion.  My issue with class discussions these days has been that I can stay interested for spurts of time, especially when we're on topic, but then it becomes too easy for me to doze off.  Even when I didn't have my computer open during Chumash I had a hard time focusing when it got off topic.  But I did an overall good job of chiming in on the discussions.

Today at lunch, I started a Theology Workshop with Shaiya.  His understanding of our mission as Jews is crucial to me.  The idea that we serve God, Avodat Hashem, through Halacha, Talmud Torah, and Tefillah, and that we need to define and identify what is found in those, but then we must interpret them to be true and good if it is true Avodat Hashem is essential.  The two ideas are intertwined.  Shaiya talked about two orders of understanding our tradition: the first order suggests that we are with the sages in our studies and we want to believe it so that we are a part of the conversation, while the second order suggests that people study texts because they are important texts but they create a dichotomy between the text and themselves.  I'll be coming back to this.

Right afterwards, Chancellor Eisen (of JTS) spoke to the yeshiva.  I don't remember exactly what he said.  But he spoke very shortly about Conservative Judaism by not talking about Conservative Judaism, but by talking about Torah through the lens that Conservative Judaism would interpret it.  He's a great speaker – I wish he would have gone a little longer to really elaborate on how his understanding of Torah related to Conservative Judaism because he seemed to end abruptly.  But it was worth going.

Then Biblical Grammar was easy – people were finishing up worksheets on vocalizing words.  Reb Shlomo gave me some more to do; they were fairly easy.  I helped another student finish his up.  It's very nice to understand how it all works.

Modern Jewish Thought was interesting because non-yeshiva people came today.  A lot of them dominated the conversation.  We discussed Allan Bloom, who talks about the failures of American education (I looked him up online and learned what this stems from) and we talked about prejudices and his approach on how they can be important.  Here's a good quote from him: "Error is indeed our enemy, but it alone points to the truth and therefore deserves our respectful treatment."  Then we started talking about books and heroes – what our favorites and most influential are.  It was an important conversation to have, and I will possibly write an essay about that separately but I won't deal with it here.  I stayed after to discuss with Aryeh an article he wrote that he previewed for us about a reading of B'reishit; I read it last night and realized how much it relates to what we discussed with Shaiya today.  We got into a discussion about studying a text to advance understanding but from there to find a spiritual depth to it.

I had an hour essentially to eat dinner and shower after that.  For Erev Nativ tonight, we had a preview to the Beit Midrash program that JTS Rabbinical Students are running for Nativ.  In my group we studied Sea Monsters with a student named Ethan.  It was a great session – he's an example of how the tone one sets as a teacher and the excitement they bring can really get people into studying.  Everyone enjoyed his class from the beginning, and we studied some interesting perspectives on what sea creatures mean to Judaism, starting with the very beginning of creation.

Last, but not least of my nearly 14 hour day of learning, since I'm switching back to my original Talmud class, I had a date with Steinsaltz Bava Kamma to catch up.  I spent almost an hour and a half going through the text.  Luckily it wasn't too tricky and I think I got it.

Now it's really time for bed. Laila Tov.