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.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mah Nishtanah HaShabbat Ha-zot


I woke up Friday morning, hoping to get some work done and daven before I was to leave around 10:15 for our Shabbat in Ashkelon, camping near the beach.  The people going were Tyler (T-Silvs, silversauce), Josh S., Marc J., Shira K., Hayley S., and Rachel (otherwise known as Sender).  But shortly after I lazily rolled out of bed, I called Shira to confirm a final detail that now would be fairly trivial; our conversation concluded with me looking for a new place to camp for Shabbat.  Apparently, the place we were going to camp at was not opening until 10 p.m. in the evening – when I double checked with them they actually said they weren't even open for this Shabbat.  So I spent a couple of hours finishing up last minute details, and thanks to our Nativ friend Anna, we were able to go to her uncle's beach in Huquq, along the Kinneret.  We took a bus to Tiberias, and then the plan was to take a bus going to Kiryat Shmoneh and get off at a junction 10-15 minutes from the beach.  When we got to Tiberias, though, I talked to someone at an information desk, and he said the bus for Kiryat Shmoneh had just left ten minutes beforehand and the next bus wasn't leaving for another couple of hours (which we didn't have because of Shabbat).  He did offer us two taxis directly to Huquq, however, for sixty shekels round trip, so we took him up on that offer – I was very happy to have been useful in figuring all of that out.

We got to the beach with an hour and a half to spare before Shabbat started.  After putting up the tents, we went out to the water for a while and came back to get ready for Shabbat.  We did Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma'ariv on the beach, which had an extra layer of meaning because many psalms in Kab Shab reflect on God's presence in nature and the power of water, and there we were praying in view of a beautiful lake.  At the end of Ma'ariv, we went back up to find people to make a minyan because Shira was observing the English yartzheit for her father.  I approached a few men sitting around on their chairs watching their kids playing to see if they'd make a minyan for kaddish.  They graciously said "b'kef," we'd love to!  They were compelled to put on shirts and said apollogetically that they had no kippot, but I said they were fine – they were Jews and that's all we needed.  Even in Israel, chilonim (secular Jews) have a certain foundation and understanding of Judaism that bears a certain appreciation for yiddishkeit when the opportunity arises.

Our meals for the weekend essentially consisted of pita, spreads, fruit, and marzipan.  We brought some wine to do kiddush and had our Shabbat meals.  After we finished on Friday night we sat around and told jokes, went down to the beach for a little bit, and eventually went to bed.

Sleeping at night was not a highlight of Shabbat.  I woke up several times in the night out of discomfort, and at a certain point, I had woken up so many times and had no concept of time so that I was shocked that it was still dark outside.  Many Israelis around us were loud all night, and while there was a window of time where it was quiet, kids woke up at sunrise and were loud as well.

Since I had no concept of time, when I woke up in the sunlight and couldn't fall back asleep, I decided to get started with Shacharit. I had a very nice morning of hitbodedut – seclusion – to daven in nature. It was one of very few times in my life where I have davened Shabbat Shacharit alone, never mind in nature. Esepcailly since everyone else was still asleep, I took my time in davening to enjoy God's creation, of which I was both praying and studying about (since last week's Torah portion was B'reishit). I felt fulfilled.

Otherwise, most of our day involved napping and being in the water. We had a heat wave this weekend, but it was very nice on the water. It was just hard to find shade to nap in.  I also squeezed in a minimal amount of reading. At any rate, spending time with just a few people in the peace of the Kinneret was fantastic. Paradoxically, I had many moments where I really felt the concept of Shabbat upon me. The paradox in that statement is that almost everyone around us was violating Shabbat, either by playing music or barbecuing or something or another.  Yet the true essence of Shabbat came out when we were in the peace of the Kinneret, away from the urban environment of chol (weekday), spending time with friends who were right there with me.

There's no way I could spend Shabbat like that every week. Yet for an occasional thing, this was a great way to spend Shabbat – true vacation from my use of the mundane in a peaceful environment with great friends.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ein Mayim Elah Torah - There is No Water Besides Torah


I'm afraid that once the regular semester kicks off on Sunday that I'll start to lose blogging time, as activities increase.  But we'll see how this goes; I certainly hope to keep this up in the most efficient way possible.  I'm only going to write some select things here.

This week was interesting in Yeshiva because my chevruta, my buddy, David, was doing Magen David Adom training all week, so he was not in my classes. I worked with Ariella K., Shosh (one of our madrichot), and Ayelet S. in our Talmud class.  I'm in a new Talmud class now, with Rabbi Joel Levy.  It started out very interestingly – we're doing Bava Kamma, chapter eight, about personal injury and damage.  We started by studying the segment from Parashat Mishpatim (in Exodus) that contains the core verses related to the issue, and then we studied pre-biblical codes (from Mesopotamia and such).  The interesting thing we discovered (that I didn't know before) is that lex talionis, the concept of eye for an eye, doesn't really appear until the Bible! In the other codes, there was more of a concept of monetary compensation.  The eye-opening chiddush (new idea, inovation) for me that Rabbi Joel brought, in the names of Moshe Greenberg and Yair Lorberbaum, is that in pre-biblical codes, injuring a person is crime; in the Jewish religion, it's sin, a crime against God, to injure a person made in God's image. We've since ventured into the Mishnah, and Rabbi Joel has a great approach to studying the Mishnah and many interesting discussions have sparked from our review of the Mishnah.

There were also some interesting classes on Tuesday. The more I study Chumash with Shaiya, the more I appreciate Rashi and the text itself. We are studying Joseph, starting from the beginning of Parashat Vayeshev, and the approach Rashi takes towards Joseph is fascinating.  I've thoroughly enjoyed that class. Our Modern Jewish Thought class was smaller in size this week, and it was pretty good to have a more intimate class. We spent much time studying Harold Bloom on what it means to be a literary genius and looked at some Franz Kafka. It was quite over my head to begin with, but when I reviewed it that night I began to grasp much better the point of it all.

For Erev Nativ Tuesday night, we had semester orientation (as the Hebrew U semester starts on Sunday, and things sort of change for everyone in terms of the way the program will work). It's very exciting to be moving into a stage where we really begin to gain our independence in our lifestyle, but it will be very overwhelming. So much to do and not so much time! I wish I was making much more time to read and study as it is, and it's been difficult. But it will be great.

Wednesday was very fulfilling for me – between what I have already mentioned about Talmud, and I also bought some new, beautiful kippot from Ann as well as a couple of other purchases that were necessary. Poskim was also extraordinary – I studied with this guy Joel in place of David doing MADA training, and we plowed through Rambam's introductions to Sefer HaMitzvot and Yad HaChazakah (Mishneh Torah) very well. Some very basic things about the Rambam's quest in writing the Mishneh Torah I knew, but Reb Shmuel gave us some very interesting insights on the significance of Rambam. Next week we will study the opposition to codification.

I believe that's all I have to say for now.  Going camping and hitting the beach for Shabbat – I will explain after Shabbat how that probably will end up being a Shabbat that I have never experienced.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Know You All Want to Bid 800 NIS on a Stupid Hakafa… I’m Embarrassed!


Simchat Torah this year was probably better than in years past, yet it was a bit weird in some respects.  For a holiday as joyous and crazy as Simchat Torah, I guess I expected it to be unreal, but it didn’t feel the most special for me.  I’ll explain these feelings as I give the lowdown on what I did.
Friday night, many of us went to Kol Rina, a beit kenesset in Nachlaot that meets in a bomb shelter.  The tefillah was perfectly fine.  Afterwards, though, after we stacked all of the chairs to the side, the gabbai or whoever he was gets on a chair and asks for 800 shekels for a hakafa.  Most of the guys I’m with think he’s kidding, not even sure if it’s permitted to auction on Shabbat.  But I knew he wasn’t kidding, it was not at all far feteched.  Not too many takers on the bid, though, and you’d expect that at a certain point, he’d hold off if people weren’t buying.
But that’s not what happened.
He kept forcing and forcing it, joking sarcastically that maybe people aren’t buying because it’s not high enough and they want a greater z’chut.  It’s a bit of chaos everywhere – people are talking or sitting on the side silently waiting for it to pass.  I’m thinking maybe they don’t have Sifrei Torah and the auction is for them to raise money for a Torah so they can have hakafot next year – because no good action was coming.  Pressure doesn’t stop.  He finally exclaims, “I’m embarrassed! I’m not embarrassed for myself, I have no shame.  I’m embarrassed for you, for not wanting to partake in the z’chut” blah blah blah.  It got a bit obnoxious.
Eventually, they took out the Sifrei Torah and started Atah Horeita.  I did a verse, and Josh did one, too, the really long one, thinking it was only three words (when it was really three lines).  The Hakafot started, and we danced around.  It got a bit repetetive, we didn’t know many of the songs, and we had to be back for dinner at 7:30, so we left in the middle of the second hakafah.
We had a Nativ-A-Tisch with Marzipan rugelach (taste of Olam Haba) – ‘twas pretty wild. A little too much slow songs to my taste, especially for Simchat Torah, but it was really nice and the singing was incredible. I did V’yitnu Lecha Keter Melucha, which was quite a thriller.
For Shacharit, I went to a kehilla in Baka called Yedidya. I went with about 10 girls and my friend Josh.  Apparently tefillot had started at 7:30 and we didn’t leave until a quarter past eight as it was, so we missed Shacharit and Hallel. Oh well. I davened through the fourth or so hakafa – they were fairly short and sweet.  I saw a former Rosh Ediah of mine as I walked into the hakafot, Benny Levy – it was good to see him and catch up with him. For the seventh hakafa, we went outside and it was great. While it took me a little while to warm up to the unfamiliar community, I got into it by the sixth and seventh hakafot. They held separate k’riot Torah for men and women, and they only did one cycle after hakafot.  Afterwards came Yizkor (which everyone stays in for, especially because of what they do in memory of Tzahal), Geshem (which they do before Musaf in Israel), and a very nice Musaf.  After kiddush (there were great brownies), they did the k’riah in many cycles so that everyone could have an aliyah. It was an interesting and, I think, effective way of doing it.  I believe this will be a worthwile walk whenever I’m in Jerusalem on Shabbatot for Shacharit – nice davening, progressive Modern Orthodox, and not all of Nativ goes there.
What you definitely don’t see in America related to Simchat Torah are Hakafot Shniyot – hakafot with live music.  After Shabbat, we went to Gan Ha-Pa’amon for the hakafot.  It started slow, with lots of speeches, including one from Yona Metzger, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel.  Chazzan Chaim Adler of the Great Synagogue also did a piece of chazzanut before the start, and then he started the hakafot.  Spirits were high, and we danced the night away.  Quite some simcha.

Matisyahu and Yaakov Shwekey Perform


During my week of doing nothing on Sukkot Break, I went to two concerts: one featuring Matisyahu and one featuring Yaakov Shwekey (thought to be one of the best performers in the Chassidic world).  Both were excellent nights.

Matisyahu performed at the Sultan's Pool, an outdoor amphitheater outside of the Old City.  On the way down there, we got directions from a couple of sketchy guys and they wanted us to chill with them and take pictures with them.  Welcome to Israel.

Picking up our tickets was a confusing escapade because the lines were divided by credit card numbers (last four digits) – it took us a couple of minutes to figure that out.  I was about to go to the back of the line, like most polite Americans do.  But we're talking about Israel here, so Seth had me cut to the beginning of the line.  No problem.  After we got our tickets, Seth and I took a couple of pictures, and some random kids decided to get in on one of our pictures.  Crazy people around here.
We had seats in Row 16 and sat there for a little while.  The opening band was solid, and they had a violinist, which was quite cool.  During that performance we went down to the standing areas, but after they finished we went back up to our seats because it got very congested and we were getting stepped on by obnoxious people.


There was a long gap of time between the opening band and Matisyahu.  Finally he came on, wearing an outfit I totally did not expect – a rain jacket, a white baseball cap, and we eventually discovered that he was wearing a one-piece white suit.  Quite unconventional.  He put on an unbelievable show though – he was on fire, dominated the stage like none other, even did some crowd surfing and climbed up part of one of the lighting towers (I think it was).  I spent a bit of the concert with my friend Gabi and some of her friends from Gann fairly close to the stage – it was fantastic, to say the least.


Shwekey: the concert was a benefit concert for Hatzalah, which was very nice.  The concert started at 7:30 Jewish time, so actually like 8:15, and opened up with the Shira Hadasha Boys Choir (a sort of small version of Miami Boys Choir in Israel), and Shloime Gertner (a British performer) was also part of the performance.  He was good.  But it all really started when Shwekey hit the stage.  He has unbelievable stage presence and dances well; he also sings with as great quality as his voice on recorded albums.  He performed some great songs from his new album, sang Im Eshkachech with the boys choir, did a great job with Vehi She'amada.  I really enjoyed hearing his new Mimkomcha as well.  I'm really glad I went – it was great to see him perform.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What Should I Do All Day?

תשובו כעין תדורו
"Dwell as you reside [during the year]"
We spent some time in my Talmud class talking about who is exempt from Sukkah and what the actual requirement is.  So, for a relevant example, if one is traveling and a sukkah isn't available, one is not required to.  At any rate, the idea of dwelling in a sukkah, says Abaye (I honestly don't remember in what context this comes up), is that one should be in the sukkah the way one is in their permanent residence throughout the whole year.
So anyway, after we got back from desert survival, a lot of my friends either had Magen David Adom (MADA) training every day or went to Tel Aviv, so I was left in peace all day Wednesday and Thursday.  So I sat in the sukkah all day with my laptop, doing a combination of USY work and other personal stuff.  I would need more than two hands to count how many people asked me if I had been sitting there all day.  Better than being locked up in my room all day!
Actually, yesterday I wasn't in the sukkah all afternoon – I watched One Tree Hill and Glee with some friends.  The former sucks, the latter one wasn't too bad actually.  Later on I met up with my buddies Eitan, Tzvi, and Bernie from Weber, all who live in Israel for a while, and we had a lunch/dinner at Café Rimon on Ben Yehuda.
The exciting parts of those days were the concerts I went to… those will get a separate blog post.
Chag Sameach, Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Survived the Desert… Meaning I Survived the Culminating Jeep Ride

מה רבו מעשיך ה', כלם בכחמה עשית, מלאה הארץ קנינך
"How great are your works, Hashem, all of them you made in wisdom, the land is filled with your"

If only we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we piled onto the busses to head down to Mitzpe Ramon for desert survival – or better put, what Nativ was getting us into.  We were scheduled to leave around 6:15, so we probably left around 6:30 – I don't remember exactly.  I had a nice nap on the bus and woke up as we got into Be'er Sheva, where the Be'er Sheva track people will be in February (that's a joke, Be'er Sheva track no longer exists).  We stopped at the Masorti beit k'nesset there for Shacharit; we essentially made the minyan.  I was shaliach tzibbur – it happens sometimes.  We ate breakfast, I put some paper towels on my aravot, and we got back on the bus to finish up our journey down to Mitzpe Ramon.  As we got closer there were many times where it felt like we were going to get off but we didn't; we began to muse whether survival was surviving on a bus for three days.

But we got off, and survival in fact was not surviving on a bus for three days.  To be honest, I don't remember much of the details of the first half of the hikes.  I do remember that I had a great time hiking and enjoyed the company of my friend Sophie.  Classic Judah Klutz Moment: I was wearing hiking boots, and the loops on my shoelaces were pretty big.  At the top of shoe there are two extra hooks to use to tighten the shoelaces, and one of the loops got caught in a hook on the other shoe while I was walking so that I suddenly was walking one legged.  I didn't trip though – instead Sophie and my friend Lainie made fun of me plenty and called me Twinkle Toes.  We stopped at some scenic places along the way to catch some shade, rest for a little bit, and it was very nice.  As we approached the campsite, we played "don't drop the beat," our favorite game from pilgrimage.  I didn't do so well – was a little rusty.

We got to our campsite about 45 minutes before dark.  As night rolled around I wasn't in the most social mood, so as people were having soup I lay down and then I had a fantastic conversation with my madricha Cori about life and also some Jewish stuff.  It's great talking to Cori about that stuff, since she grew up non-religious, became Modern Orthodox in college and made aliyah, and she hasn't had so much exposure to Conservative Judaism.  So we talk a lot about that and it gives us both a lot to think about.  Dinner was great, then – excellent chicken.  Afterwards we had a bonfire and Josh played guitar; we had a great time.  Given that we aren't surrounded by other distractions and artificial time, it was natural to go to bed at 9 and wake up at 5 or so.

Monday's hike had lots of ups and downs – climbing up mountains, coming down them.  The morning was much easier than the afternoon.  It was also the longest of the three days, since we hiked the whole day through, from 7-5 (or 17 in world time).  I remember hiking for lots of the morning with my friend Ally (whose parents my dad married, it's like we were destined to be friends) and I carried the water jerry (or whatever it's called).  At around 10:30 or so we passed the Kibbutz Track coming the other way and said hi to them for thirty seconds.  We sat down at a "tree" to have mid-morning snack.  As we were about to play a game, someone picked up a rock and said "hey, a scorpion!"  That was the end of that.  The afternoon got increasingly difficult with all of the descents; sometimes going up was easier than going down.  I wasn't so hungry when we got to lunch and was a bit worn out.  We stayed at our lunch location for over an hour, as people napped.  It was sort of humorous the way people dropped dead asleep.

Then we got to the afternoon campsite, again a little before sunset.  It was a windy afternoon there.  I davened mincha on my own and then cut up some vegetables for dinner.  Dinner that night was hot dogs, turkey, and fries.  The turkey was not quite to my liking, but the others were good.  I went to sleep shortly after dinner, after I studied some Mishneh Torah (which I had stopped to do a couple of times throughout the tiyyul), but I woke up a few times during the night.

As morning approached I started feeling sick.  While they asked us not to tarry in getting up so we could get started early, before the sun would come out, I didn't have much energy.  At the beginning of davening, I didn't put a tallit on and had a hard time concentrating and even saying the words.  But luckily, as davening progressed, I started feeling better, and put on a tallit and all.  Just some, or actually a myriad, of stupid flies invaded our makom tefillah and swarmed us.

Our hike Tuesday morning consisted essentially of a three-part ascent of a mountain.  We had a very easy trek at the beginning, where we were walking and having fun on flat land.  When we got to a shaded area to relax before the major ascent, our guide Michal told us that we had traveled halfway, which was a huge relief to us – it just meant we had an hour and a half of a difficult climb up, but that was it.  It was also Michal's birthday, 21 actually, but it doesn't mean anything in Israel really.

The first ascent was a lot of fun – we were actually climbing up stuff, so that was fun.  The next two kinda sucked.  The harder part for me throughout the tiyyul as a whole was that I have asthma.  I went slowly with Sarah and Lainie and Jesse Lender.

We reached the top to find ourselves on a huge plateau and celebrated a little bit, took some pictures.  Then we had to do a trust walk – perhaps off of the cliff for all we know.  I didn't really do it right – wasn't quite in the mindset.  The next part was fairly powerful, though.  We sat in silence as Michal passed cards around explaining the power of silence.  Each card cleverly built up the intensity of the exercise, and culminated with everyone lying on their backs, pondering in silence.  I found that in the desert, in general, silence was a very powerful thing because there isn't other sound interfering; silence was truly complete.

So then we ate and descended from the mountain.  Cori and I continued our conversation from the other night, with other participants weighing on what we were saying.  At a certain point we stopped because we would not be continuing together.  One by one, we were sent off to walk a significant distance by ourselves to think about the tiyyul.  We then met back together to discuss what we thought about.

Then came our jeep ride, which I mentioned in the title.  I was in the last jeep.  Immediately we were off to a bumpy ride and were riding not really in our seats but rather wherever we were thrown around in the jeep.  The driver drove fast and bumpy.  Sarah screamed in excitement the whole time.  Then came the best part: we see someone on the side of the rode, and the driver pulls over.  Yossi says "Ahlan," and the guy asks if there's a seat for him.  So the driver says, "ta'aleh la-gag," get on the roof.  I laughed because I thought he was sorta being, in your face, I have no room for your sorry bum.  But the guy got on the roof.  The driver slowed down, but it was still a bumpy ride, and we kept looking out the window to see if he would fall off.  We got to a main road eventually, though, and he got off safely.  We survived the jeep ride, yes indeed.

What was most significant for me during this tiyyul?  One, the desert brings an opportunity to distance ourselves from the daily hustle-bustle and computers and focus on the people around us.  I got to know some newer people, and even people I knew, or even knew fairly well, I got to know better.  That was great.  It was also in the desert for me that I could truly appreciate the vastness of God's creations.  The mountains, the valleys, the beauty of it altogether with the sunrises and sunsets gave me an added appreciation for God's ability to create wondrous pieces of nature.  It's something I thought about often during the hikes.

V'zehu zeh.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Shabbat in Modi'in

It sounded as if King George Street was about to get blown up.  I wake up to the sounds of multiple sirens outside my window, and a policewoman commanding people to stand still on an intercom.  I look out my window and can’t quite string together what is happening outside – I see a man getting in and out a police car (without handcuffs) and six military jeeps pass by.  On the sidewalks are protestors of Israel’s “oppression of Gaza,” whatever that means.  I later found out that the Gilad Shalit video was being brought to the office of the Prime Minister, which is a short walk from Beit Nativ.

At around 2:00, David and I, as well as a few girls also headed to Modi’in, walked to the Tachana Merkazit (central bus station) to catch a sherut to Modi’in.  It was a shorter ride than I anticipated. David and I got off at our stop, and after a couple of phone calls, studies of the map that our Talmud teacher Josh drew for us, we found our destination. We got to the Kulp’s just over an hour before the start of Hag, and after an afternoon of lots of walking under the blazing sun, a pre-yuntif shower felt magnificent. The Kulps also had a girl, Hadas, who’s joining the army soon, who they know from Ramah Palmer.

The beit kenesset in which we prayed on Shabbat was a beit kenesset that both Josh and Yossi (Garr) played a role in founding. It is in a couple of classrooms in a local school, fairly small – maybe 30-50 men; I couldn’t see how many women there were. While it is defined as an Orthodox beit kenesset, it, like a few liberal Modern Orthodox batei kenesset in Israel, includes women in many parts of the service in which fulfilling the obligation to pray is not an issue (i.e. P’sukei D’zimra, Kabbalat Shabbat, Torah service and all parts associated with it). We started with mincha, and then since hag coincided with Shabbat, we did Kabbalat Shabbat.  I was intrigued when they started singing Yedid Nefesh; in American synagogues, when yuntif and Shabbat are together, we only say Mizmor Shir l’yom ha-Shabbat and Hashem Malach. It then continued to include Mizmor L’David and the first two and last two stanzas of L’cha Dodi. This is the custom of Nusach Sefard.

I felt extremely enlightened after I learned the roots of Nusach Sefard. Both Yossi and Josh explained to David and me that most batei k’nesset in Israel use Nusach Sefard. Nusach Sefard obviously means “Sefardic nusach,” right? No. In fact, Nusach Ashkenaz was mostly used in Germany, whereas Nusach Sefard was the normative nusach in Poland and Russia. It is fair to assess Nusach Ashkenaz became a norm in America for Ashkenazi Jews given the strong German presence in the early days of the American Jewish community. Very interesting…

Friday night was a very comfortable night for eating in the sukkah. The Kulps had just gotten new sukkah lights in many bright colors; it was beautiful. As we had discussed during Yom Iyyun for Sukkot, we recounted the Clouds of Glory that sheltered the Israelites in the Exodus, and we invited the ushpizin. Over soup we discussed a lot of sports – mostly football and baseball. Josh’s oldest son is a big sports follower. The kids stayed in mostly for the soup, and then it was just the 5 adults over 18 for the rest of the meal. I really enjoy eating meals in the sukkah on Sukkot (and I’m even blogging this from a Sukkah at Beit Nativ), so it was a nice evening. I was very tired by the end, and we went to bed soon after.

One thing worth noting about Shabbat morning was that we read all of Kohelet before the Torah service.  I had never seen a megillah read on the regalim, with the exception of Shavuot at camp, when we read Ruth, and one time when I was at Ramah for Shabbat Chol Ha-Moed Pesach they read parts of Shir Ha-Shirim.  I tried to follow along as much as I could, but it was hard to stay focused for all 12 chapters of a Debbie-Downer book like Kohelet.

It was fairly muggy in the afternoon but we ended up eating in the Sukkah anyway.  Afterwards I did some reading and took a short nap. I played this game Ticket to Ride with the kids, and then I went to the shortest Mincha service at a synagogue around the corner form the Kulps.  We showed up at the beginning of the silent Amidah, so we were there for all of 15 minutes. Afterwards we went to the park, and David and I chilled. Just before dark we went back, had some nosh, and ended Shabbat.

One of the weirdest aspects of only celebrating one day of yuntif was that it was also Shabbat, so it didn’t feel like yuntif per se – just a Shabbat with some extra stuff.

We waited a while for Sherut to show up at the stop and then got back to Yerushalayim.  After we got back, we went to Supersol (or otherwise known as Shufersal) to get some nosh for desert survival. Then David and I went to our favorite pizzeria, Pizza Panini, and brought it back to Agron to eat in the sukkah. Once again, the owner reminded us that you make Hamotzi even on one slice.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rafael Lehmann, z"l


I had heard a few weeks ago that Rafi was in critical condition, and for nearly three weeks I had been praying for his recovery in the “refa’einu” beracha of the shmoneh esrei, every day.

Then on Tuesday morning we were asked to add Rafael Peretz ben Channah to our prayers.  When I asked my madrichot what the latest had been, I was told that the doctors were trying to do their best while we were praying for miracles. The unfortunate news came Tuesday night, after coming home from pizza, when hearing from a Nativ friend who had heard from a Darom friend. My mom had tried to call me earlier in the evening, but we were in Rabbi Roth’s lecture and I did not have service.

From that point through the present, I have not been able to digest the news.  Just this summer – not even two months ago – I was talking to, learning from, and being inspired by Rafi. He was too young, he had a full life and career ahead of him in the business of bringing people closer to kedusha, to God. The more I think about it, the harder it is for me to conceive of the notion that at one moment, a person’s soul dwells in this world, and in another moment, it dwells in Olam Ha-Ba.

I decided on Tuesday night that I would dedicate a blog post in honor of Rafi’s memory, but I did not conceive of how this tragic event would affect my two immediate communities in Israel, the Nativ and yeshiva communities. There are a few of us on Nativ who knew Rafi, and the news shocked us all incredibly. Our friends, upon hearing the news, supported us as we remained in shock. At yeshiva on Wednesday, I learned that Rafi had studied for a year at the yeshiva. Before their shiurim, Josh and Reb Shmuel recounted a memory they had of Rafi, and the morning learning was dedicated to his memory. This morning, even though there were no classes, a minyan was held at the yeshiva in memory of Rafi, and we spent the rest of the morning studying the last chapter of Mishnah (which, when the letters are rearranged in Hebrew, is "neshama") in Masekhet Sukkah.

What I most want to relate in this blog post is what I learned from Rafi. At camp, tefillah easily becomes rote; for individuals not used to praying daily or even weekly, getting up early in the morning to do such a thing can be a burden. Rafi not only taught, but also demonstrated the opposite.  He emphasized the communal aspect of prayer and the power of prayer with a community, a kehila kedosha as he liked to say. I remember a number of summers ago, I was sitting in the beit k’nesset preparing a d’var t’fillah about the relevance of davening the amidah three times daily, and Rafi shared something with me that I believe in to this day. He advocated that after the amidah, people should not sit immediately when they are finished with their personal prayer, but rather they should remain standing until the community as a whole moves on. The reason for this being that it is important to “stand as one,” and when 95% percent of the kahal sits but a few people with great kavannah still daven, it does not have the feel that the community stands together as everyone davens.  I cannot think of anyone better to be a mashgiach ruchani, a spiritual advisor, at camp than Rafi. I was always inspired to see Rafi davening and learning in what looked like the most peaceful state of mind. The sort of kavannah that Rafi had when davening and learning is one that we should all be privileged to achieve. Those who spoke about Rafi over the past couple of days at the yeshiva went on about the sort of energy and joy Rafi had when he studied Torah – that we should all learn to have the eagerness that Rafi had for Torah.

I will miss the unique character of Rafi and the conversations we had about yiddishkeit.  I have not had so many tears in years.  Y’hi Zikhro Barukh.