Party with the Sefer Torah

Here’s something that doesn’t happen everyday. One of the synagogues in the neighborhood hosted a Torah dedication ceremony on the streets outside our apartment.

This wasn’t just a group of folks carrying the Torah under a chuppah. There was an actual Torah parade on the neighborhood streets accompanied by a simcha mobile that blasted klezmer music. At first I had thought the music was coming from someone’s radio. But then I thought it was strange that the music seemed to ‘move’ and that there were no radio announcers or commercials. Eric went to see what the hooplah was all about and called me on my cell phone to hurry down and film this fantastic scene.

This past Shabbat was great. I felt like I was really involved with all of the Shabbat preparations. On Thursday after Ulpan class, we bought some prepared foods at a local takeout place for Shabbat lunch. Our friends Eric, who made Aliyah a few years ago, and Deborah, who is in Jerusalem for the rest of the summer, came over to join us. We definitely went a little overboard, and now I have a freezer full of leftovers!

Thursday afternoon, I took the bus up to the Shuk and stocked up on fruits, vegetables, bread and fish. Like someone once told me, the prices do go down the further you dive into the market. It is still easy for me to get lost and hard for me to pinpoint the best shops. I did find an amazing cheese store that sold several kinds of feta–Greek Feta, Bulgarian Feta among others–along with the smelly European cheeses and the best Labneh I’ve tasted since I’ve gotten here. And the nectarines and plums tasted like–well the way that fruit are supposed to taste. Whenever I open my cabinet, I smell the cumin, tumeric and cinnamon that I bought there. Unfortunately, I left the chocolate rugalach out, and the next day they were infested with ants (an annoying problem in my apartment). The market was pretty crowded, but it was worth the schlep to get some real human contact and real food.  

Friday morning I popped into Supersol, a cheaper, somewhat more rundown version of Mega. Pretty good variety (especially dairy), but some of the produce is not so good. I still remember the mega bottles of olive oil and jars of chocolate spread–including Nutella and Israeli made brands that are both dairy and parve. Yeah, chocolate spread is big here–like peanut butter is big in the U.S. I honestly prefer smearing chocolate on bread over peanut butter anyday, but I’m always biased towards chocolate. Supersol was fairly packed with Jews getting ready for Shabbat too, and I had to wend my way around clumps of people in order to get to the cash register and get the heck out of there.

Friday afternoon, I cleaned around the house and worked on some Ulpan homework. Did I tell you that since I moved to level Gimmel, I’ve had so much more homework? I have to write a composition a week and am currently writing one in support of the separation of religion and state in Israel (lots of words to look up for that one). We learn lots of dikduk (grammar) and relearn it. Today we actually relearned numbers, which I always mix up because they can be masculine or feminine (depending on whether the noun is masculine or feminine), except that the numbers don’t comply with the usual Hebrew grammar rules of how feminine and masculine words look. We also went over Hebrew words that deal with periods of time (during, at the time of, two days ago, etc) and some of them seem so similar to one another, but they are really not, and it takes a while to figure out how to use them in a sentence. Some of the students that came to class looked hungover–apparently the South American folks that live in the Ulpan dorms like to stay up partying–so they might have had an even harder time with it than me.

We’ve been reading several short excerpts from Amoz Oz’s recent book A Tale of Love and Darkness, a memoir about his growing up in Jerusalem. I read the book in English and highly recommend it. It effortlessly blends personal and national history and provides a peek at the early days in Israel. Imagine Jerusalem in the 1940’s–without A/C and landlines! One of the Hebrew passages we read describes the process of making a phone call between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv at that time. Nobody had landlines, so Oz’s parents would go to the pharmacy to make a call. They would write their relatives in Tel-Aviv saying that they would be calling them on a certain day at a certain time, and eventually the relatives wrote back saying that they would be at the pharmacy to receive their call. In Hebrew, it takes a little longer to read all of this since I’m spending more time looking up words than reading, but it’s a useful way to learn new vocabulary.

As for the rest of Shabbat (sorry about the Ulpan tangent), we’re still trying to find a synagogue to call our home for the year. We had found a great community in DC at the National Synagogue, and it’s hard to start from scratch and introduce yourself to new people all over again. Parodixically, I’ve been having more trouble davening here at shul than in DC. Perhaps its because we’re already on such a spiritual high that going to a synagogue here is a smaller spiritual elevation than attending one back in the states where the levels between sacred and everyday are possibly more drastic. Perhaps its just that I haven’t gotten comfortable yet.

I wonder how much synagogues here make an effort to reach out to new faces in the community. It probably depends upon the shul. I also have a feeling that shuls play a different role in a society where a Jewish culture is prevalent, whereas American synagogues function more as community centers. In Israel, you don’t need a Jewish community center. You don’t need to constantly reassert your Jewish identity when you’re in a Jewish state.

I enjoyed having Eric and Deborah over for Shabbat lunch. Eric is doing quite well here. He works on computer related projects throughout the city (I’ll have to ask him exactly what he does), and mostly deals with the Christian community so he has Friday as well as Sunday off (lucky him). He speaks Hebrew fairly well and is still studying with a tutor once a week and reading up on Hebrew slang.

He told us a few goofball stories of when he was a new Oleh. During the rainy season, he would hang up his clothes in the morning–because he saw it was sunny out–and then by the time he returned, his clothes would be soaked. The next day, he would do the same thing and get the same results. He finally caved in and bought a drying machine from a woman that lives in Beit Shemesh.

Deborah and I are going to check out some yoga classes and other goings on about town. I’m looking forward getting back into better shape.

Well it’s getting late, and I still have some work to do, so I’m going to bid adieu until my next entry. Farewell good readers!



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