Tuesday, August 14, 2007

August 7--a mixed bag of a day

It turns out the rabbinic intern who will be helping to lead services this High Holy Days was in Jerusalem at the same time I was. So we met for lunch that first day in Jerusalem. She is a rising fifth year student at the New York campus and is working on her thesis (in Jewish education), as well as acting as advisor for the new crop of rabbinic students. It turns out that the HUC-Jerusalem campus faces the Old City on one side, King David Street on the other. An incredible location, but when it was purchased around forty years ago, virtually worthless (rumor has it that it was purchased for the equivalent of one dollar). Now it is incredibly hot property, but not for sale.

We went to really nice vegetarian restaurant for lunch—roasted peppers stuffed with cheese, with leftovers to go for Shabbat evening meal—where we exchanged life stories. It was a pleasant and polite conversation—each of us telling our life stories or at least the part about how we ended up here in Jerusalem, but I don’t think either of us disclosed any deep, dark truths about ourselves or the world. In other words, a good introductory conversation to a good and thoughtful person. A couple of thoughts—first, her Hebrew seemed to be about at my level, which surprised me. I would have thought she would be fluent. However, her summer has been spent in English, as the incoming students are all really English speakers, and, as I found out later, my information that it’s hard to learn Hebrew in Jerusalem is correct. Unlike Haifa, there is little patience or appreciation for learners—too many tourists, too little time. Second, she spoke about both Rick and Laura (especially Laura) with a great deal of respect. This was interesting, though on reflection, not too terribly surprising. She is brand-new; they’ve been out for twelve years, almost a complete generation. I’m not sure what the implications of that are—but I’ll be chewing on it for a while. And finally, while we didn’t talk philosophy all that much, I am getting the sense that much of my disagreements with Rick really have to do with the direction of the Reform movement. It is so willing to go with choice and so grateful for any degree of Judaism that it feels completely bland. I am not sure what words in particular the RI used—but that is the sense that I get. As I will describe in a bit, traditional, egalitarian communities are what feel real to me—but that will be a different post.

I also got a tour of HUC, and it is indeed a lovely, small campus. A treat to see this place for Reform Judaism (whatever I may think of it personally) so close to the bastion of the Haredi.

Shopping in the Old City and Street Fair

One of my missions while in Israel was to spend the birthday money from my grandmother and parents. I had intended to buy some micrography of the parsha for the week I was born—it included the Shema and Ten Commandments, so I figured I could find it. But apparently the place for micrography is Tzfat and, due to circumstances beyond my control, I saw very little art there. I found myself a bit overwhelmed by the shopping in the Old City—so much of it is incredibly kitschy or ordinary but for the place. However, I found myself in a relatively high end store (the kind I wouldn’t normally enter except for the birthday) and there was a lovely tallit of thin wool with pomegranates, doves, and bunches of grapes on it. It came with a matching tallit bag and kippah. So I’m ending up with a tallit from Jerusalem, willy-nilly. It is a lovely thing and the grapes connect Israel and Livermore for me.

But the tallit buying took time and then getting lost took more time and energy, so that when we arrived at the Four Sephardic synagogues, they were already closed. My companions and I were tired and a bit frustrated as we trekked back along the city streets. They wanted a beer and I didn’t want to end the day—too many blind alleys. While I wasn’t sure a beer was exactly what I wanted, I didn’t have any better ideas until we passed the storyteller. All along Ben Yehuda street, which is a pedestrian mall anyway, there was a street fair. The storyteller, dressed casually, sang children’s songs—which I could follow because they were simple, and then called children up to participate. All kinds of people were there—Orthodox of all kinds, secular of all kinds, tourists and natives. And the kids were engrossed. After that I wandered up the street, past one performing group after another. The klezmer guys were the best, though—despite competing with Ethopian drumming and dancing down the road.

The day was full—Old City, lunch and tour of HUC, buying something lovely and meaningful, and finally a celebration of Jerusalem.

No comments: