Monday, September 21, 2009

Shannah Tovah m'Eretz Yisrael


Where to start...

Rosh Ha-Shannah was certainly a different experience in Jerusalem than it is in America.  And that is definitely a most positive thing, no debate there.

Friday morning, since there were no classes, we had a later wake-up.  I took that opportunity to do s'lichot at the Yeshiva, and then davened.  After Nativ davening, we had a study sessions to prepare us for the upcoming chag.  All of the madrichim, plus Yossi (director) and Elkana (Nativ coordinator) offered sessions.  In my first session we looked at the Akedah, as it is the k'riah for the second day.  Though I have studied the akedah extensively (a whole semester in 10th grade), I still enjoyed looking at it again.  We posed different questions about the text, looked at a Ramban comment, and talked about it in conjunction with Rosh Ha-Shannah.  The next session I attended looked at customs related to Rosh Ha-Shannah, including many of the things we put on the table for the first night meal.  The final session I attended was for those who have a grasp on the mahzor layout to look at it a little more in-depth.  We looked at Unetaneh Tokef, going a little deeper than I had ever done before.  We also listened to a rendition by Yair Rosenblum which has become popular in Israel, and indeed it prepared me for musaf for the following two days.

In the afternoon, some of my friends (David, Tyler, Seffi, Josh, Seth, and I) discovered a pizzeria right down the road in Rehavia that is just excellent.  I already went again, last night.  Afterwards we went to the mikveh - it was my first time ever going into a mikveh.  None of us really knew what to do at first, but no big deal.  Whether it was being in the mikveh itself or being my first time performing this mitzvah, it was a very spiritual feeling and I did not just feel like it was a stam action.  I will plan on going before the next chagim, at the very least.

We did t'filot for Erev Rosh Ha-Shannah together as Nativ on Friday night, which was a nice thing.  We don't daven together as Nativ that often, so it was great to bring in the new year all together.  Yossi delivered an excellent d'rash on a more practical understanding of sefer ha-chayim (book of life) vs. sefer ha-mavet (book of death), charging us to fill this year with lots of experiences, taking on new observances, and making the most of our time.

Afterwards we had dinner together.  It started off with a seder, involving apples and honey, and then dates, pomegranates, beets, carrots, and fish heads.  Yes, there were heads of fish sitting on the table begging us to partake.  The blessing for the fish head is that we should be like a head and not a tail - that we should not be just followers.  Yossi chimes in to say that those of us who do not wish to be tails have nothing to wait for... so the six of us I mentioned above dug in. I gagged and did not see pretty reactions around the room.  Then for most of the meal my friend Josh and I played with Yossi's kids, lots of fun!

(Added later, seriously can't believe I forgot this, thanks Seffi!): Friday night must have brought one of the most special moments of Rosh Ha-Shannah and Nativ so far: after dinner, a group of 15 of us walked to the windmill overlooking the Old City in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood.  What did we do there? Sang niggunim, and eventually songs.  Tourists there took pictures - I chose not to ask them not to photograph us on chag.  I said a few words on how the holiday we were celebrating is known as a "siman tov" and it's a happy time because of the hope that comes with a new year, and the hope associated with Jerusalem.  Shortly after, an older man came up to us to find out who we are.  His name was also Judah (Yehuda).  He says he was a paratrooper in the Six Day War - he showed me from our location how he entered Jerusalem.  That hour was a true moment of kedusha, of holiness, of creating the time to be spiritual overlooking the holiest city of Judaism.

Shabbat morning, the Kehilla track went to Talpiyot for services - many people were at a synagogue called Mayanot, and some of us were at Moreshet Avraham.  Both are Masorti (Conservative) affiliates.  I really enjoyed Moreshet Avraham - first of all, the building was beautiful and I loved the spacious and heimish feel of the sanctuary.  Other than the content of the liturgy, it didn't even feel like an extraordinarily different day, since I'm used to a more formal and slower-paced service.  We got there towards the beginning, a little after 8:30, and we were done by 12:30.  The rabbi gave a nice, short (15 min or so) sermon about the differences between Soloveitchik and Heschel regarding intentions in t'shuva.

That afternoon, we were hosted by members of the respective communities.  I was with another girl and we were hosted by a family - the father is a psychologist with Schechter s'mikha and there are 5 kids in the family (the mother had a cantorial pulpit in the U.S. for the chagim).  I really enjoyed the meat, food wise.  On a more profound level, I enjoyed eating with a family of Americans that made aliyah and hearing about the lives they lead in Israel.  Rabbi Shrell-Fox read a bit form Orot T'shuva, a work about t'shuva by Rav Kook which I myself started last week, and we had a nice discussion on it. His son and I had a fun convo on harmonies we made, etc.  Then afterwards everyone from k'hila met for minha in Talpiyot, and I totally winged chazarat ha-shatz, never having done that nusach from the amud before.

Later that evening I went to our friends Dov and Esther for dinner.  Their daughter and her family were with them for chag.  I got a great evening of Hebrew practice - both listening and speaking - and an interesting glimpse of Israeli society, all sorts of day-to-day things.

Sunday morning, we had... you would be surprised if you haven't already heard... rain on Rosh Ha-Shannah!  Rain rarely happens in Israel at this point in time, and Esther, who I had dinner with last night, does not recall ever seeing it.  It rained fairly hard on the way to schul.  And we got a little lost.  But we still got their a little earlier than necessary.  Did I just say we got to schul to early?  We went to Kedem, which is a Conservative (but unaffiliated) minyan on Emek Refa'im.  There was lots of good singing, and especially Musaf was nice.  Though the repetition took nearly two hours, they did tunes to t'filot that I would have never thought of.  Especially as the crowd filled up (and we definitely saw it fill up), it got nicer and nicer.  I'm glad I went.  Oh, and especially when we got to V'yitnu Lecha Keter M'lukha I got excited, since that was our favorite song at the Ramah Darom staff tisch.  It got wild - people got so into it, I loved it.

Then lunch was wonderful.  It was just very tasty.  Then I napped.  Then tashlich.  Then ma'ariv.  Then Pizza Panini - 3 slices - to get ready for the fast.  That's the gist of it all.  I loved Rosh Ha-Shannah, and I cannot wait for the rest of the chagim!

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