So how are you doing oh blog readers? Happy Jewish New Year!
Here I am in my apartment trying to engage in self-reflection over the last year and figure out what I’d like to become over the next year. The last few weeks have been quite eventful. Last weekend we were on a Pardes retreat and this week we were entering our second week at Pardes, and I continued to struggle in Talmud class. I learned many practical things as well, such as which shirts NOT to wash in the laundry machine and how lemon juice can treat acne.
I got caught up in all the holiday preparations going on here–and let me tell you it was quite a zoo during the last few days before Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat. The shuk on Monday evening was the most crowded I’ve ever seen it. I didn’t even try to browse that much. I just tried to get my stuff and get out of there as soon as possible.
Everyone was stocking up on the symbolic fruits and vegetables, such as pomegranates (which have just started being in season here) leeks, squashes, apples and fish, that you’re supposed to eat during the New Year. Upon eating one of the symbolic foods, you are supposed to say a prayer. As some of my friends were noting at our 2nd day Rosh Hashanah lunch, a few of these sayings deal with getting rid of our enemies. For dates, we say “may… our enemies be consumed.” It may sound a little jarring to someone from our time period, but I guess we could find a few prominent people to lump into the “enemies” category such as Osama Bin Laden and it doesn’t sound so bad.
I think the pre-holiday mood was especially frantic because of this triple hitter–this year Rosh Hashanah is directly followed by Shabbat, which means that NOTHING–except a few chiloni places–is open here for three days. This Shabbat afternoon we walked all across the city and it was so quiet. I’ve never experienced that anywhere else.
Most secular Israelis do not observe the chagim like they do in Jerusalem. Many take the opportunity to travel, have New Year’s parties and family get togethers, although some do go to shul. So Tel Aviv was probably business as usual during the last few days.
Even in Jerusalem there is such a bizarre juxtaposition here between the spirituality and gravity of Rosh Hashanah–it being the Jewish New Year and the beginning of the 10 days of Repentance and all–and the consumer frenzy centered around it. Clothing stores were all having big sales and the supermarkets featured special holiday gift baskets. I read one article that found that a lot of Israelis go into therapy during this time of year–not just because this is a time when people get together with family and deal with family dysfunction, but also because of the stress associated with spending so much money.
And no wonder there is a minor fast day after Rosh Hashanah–sitting through one big lunch and dinner on each day (in addition to Shabbat meals) can get a little bit much. Eric and I were hosted by our landlords on the first evening and by my supervisor at work on the first day, and we hosted 11 people (oy!) on the second day lunch. We were also hosted by a Pardes student on Friday night, but Eric was not feeling well, so I went off by myself. On second night and on Shabbat day we stayed at home.
I’ve realized for a long time that Judaism is a socially oriented religion. You’re not supposed to meditate for long periods of time on your mountaintop. Most rituals are community or family focused and even many prayers are said in the plural form. I like having the opportunity to participate in a community, and I also like having the freedom to step back and spend time with Eric. Admittedly, I also get worn out from socializing all the time-particularly when I’m meeting new people at every outing and I have to repeat the same smalltalk about myself over and over again. And for me, it takes me a little while to get comfortable with other people and make friends. At the same time, I’m glad to meet people here, and I know it’s part being in a new place. And I’m also fortunate to have Eric along with a few friends in Jerusalem, so I don’t feel like I’m totally starting from scratch.
The Pardes retreat last weekend at Ein Gedi was definitely an intense community experience. Actually, a major theme of the retreat was how Pardes could create a community with such a divergent group of Jews. Pardes is an interesting institution in that it is mostly run by modern Orthodox Jews, and they teach Orthodox halacha. At the same time, they attract Jews from all backgrounds and try to find ways to accomodate them. For example, they have created a diversity statement and provide space at the Pardes facilities for both a minyan with a mechitza (a division that separates men and women) and an egalitarian minyan (where both men and women participate). Students who want to start another type of minyan are more than welcome to.
And at the same time, a teacher who observes Orthodox halacha may not be able to recognize some of her students as halachically observant or may not be able to be hosted at a student’s house for Shabbat dinner, if that student does not have the same level of observance. It is a complicated and sometimes painful balancing act that the institution has to deal with. The retreat definitely provided a good opportunity for all of us to grapple with these issues.
During the 2.5 day retreat, we ate together, prayed together, sang together and studied together. There were several panels as well as shiurim (lessons) throughout the period as well as an optional hike or float in the Dead Sea (I decided to sleep during this optional period). The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Landes gave a shiur on the meaning of Love of G-d according to different perspectives–the halachic, hassidic and the mussar (movement focusing on spiritual development). I attended a group building activity where we were split up into groups and had to build a tower out of straws and tape! On Erev Shabbat, everyone prayed together outdoors for a rousing Kabbalat Shabbat. Saturday morning, I went to the egalitarian minyan and chanted Haftorah.
The Thursday evening panel featured different Pardes teachers talking about their different experiences of creating community. Eric’s Chumash teacher, Meir Schweiger, talked about praying with a variety of different communities, such as the Breslov and Sephardic Jews. Eric’s teacher Meesh Hammer-Kossoy talked about trying to fit in a community on the lower East side in Manhattan, her women’s Rosh Chodesh group and another community called Yedidya. She also spoke of her willingness to sacrifice autonomy in order to create a viable, sustainable community. David Bernstein, Dean of Pardes, talked about the challenges of building and sustaining a community.
From what I gathered, quite a few of the panelists seemed to find community in Jerusalem by not just limiting themselves to one davening place, but moving about. In DC, I used to cruise a bit among the different minyanim like Adas Israel, Zoo Minyan and DC Minyan, but I eventually spent most of my shul time at Ohev Shalom. I don’t know if I’ll go back to shul hopping or if I’ll find one place to call home. Over Rosh Hashanah, I went to a Conservative synagogue and an egalitarian minyan called Kedem, and I’m not sure where I’ll go for Yom Kippur. I’m still trying to find my place here.
Eric and I decided to get to the retreat a little later than the rest of the group and navigated our reliable Daewoo down to the Dead Sea region. Well, it was really just Eric who skillfully drove the car and protected us from crazy Israeli drivers. One of these lunatics, who was driving towards us in the opposite lane, decided to pass a big truck in front of him and ended up in our lane about 100 feet away from us. Eric had to pull off the side of the road to ensure the guy didn’t come any closer to us.
I see so many driver’s ed cars driving around Jerusalem, but I’m not sure if it’s actually making a dent in safety. There must an explanation for all the recklessness. In my ulpan class, I remember quite a few of our exercises comprised sentences that dealt with traffic or car accidents!
I think that’s enough writing for now. I’ll try to write something more about High Holidays in Jerusalem or about my volunteer work later this week. Or maybe it will be about Pardes. It’s as much a surprise for me as it is for you! And oh yeah, it’s shmitta year, and I’ll have to fill you in on fulfilling this interesting commandments that only applies to the land of Israel.