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A Glorious Week, Israeli-Style

As I am about to enjoy my second Shabbat in Israel this year -- at Ezra and Shiri’s apartment in Elkanah -- I take this opportunity to write about my first Shabbat and weekdays in Efrat. It could hardly have been better: My aliyah children -- Micah, Alyssa, Ezra, and Shiri -- were all with me.

In preparation, on my first Thursday and on Friday morning, I shopped for food and an array of kitchen and household items -- pots, pans, glasses, etc; setting up an apartment by and for a male on his own was, to be sure, a new and challenging experience. What did I really need?

I spent much of Friday cooking. Cooking itself is not unfamiliar to me, but this was. I prepared several meals at once -- chicken, meatballs, soup, salad -- for Shabbat, not knowing if the appliances would fully cooperate and translating from Fahrenheit into Celsius. But, baruch ha-Shem, it all worked out very well.

Attendance at Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat services exceeded 300 men and 50 women. (On Shabbat morning there were three minyanim at 6:30, 8:30, and 8:45. The one I attended, 8:30, had about 75 men. I sent a picture of the large sanctuary in my last blog.)

Shabbat night, the five of us ate and talked, I gave a d’var Torah, and then we sang Shabbat songs and Birkat ha-Mazon, and played a board game. Ezra and Shiri slept here, while Micah and Alyssa walked back to their apartment (about a mile and a half) and returned for Shabbat lunch and the rest of Shabbat with Maverick, their large German Shepherd. After Shabbat lunch we played more board games, then went to shul for Minchah. For Arvit, as is common in Israel, a minyan gathered outside, in our cul-de-sac. Although it may sound routine, for me it was great.

One of the more interesting things that we saw happened after Shabbat. We decided to go out to Jerusalem. We drove to the shuk (market area), which was filled mostly with young people eating, drinking, and just hanging out. (See picture of the five of us there.) After a light bite, we walked to Ben Yehudah Street -- the traditional, older hangout area. There, we began to hear some pleasant music, and as we approached, we saw a crowd around a choir led by three instruments. Some in the crowd were swaying, others dancing and others clapping, including religious men with kippot. The choir, about 30 young people, was Korean!

Because of their size, their nationality, and their group presentation, I had a hunch that they might be religious visitors, perhaps Christian. So when they finished I asked one of the members of the choir what the meaning of their song was. He had trouble explaining it to me so I asked him: “Was your song a religious song or a non-religious song?” He said it was a religious song, then added, “Christian.” Where else might one see religious Jews swaying and clapping (unwittingly) to Koreans singing Christian music in Korean? Yerushalayim!

My studies: Ezra and Shiri left for school on Sunday morning, and I began my official studying (I had been doing some serious studying on my own). I went to the Yeshivah founded by R Shlomo Riskin (who officiated at Micah and Alyssa’s wedding), and after some conversations with the administration and with a student, I was given a packet of material to prepare for a Talmud-plus-commentaries class on the halachic issue of eating bread and other foods made by non-Jews. (The Talmud, in some cases, prohibited it to ward off intermarriage and the likely path to idolatrous worship.) This took me much of the day to prepare. And then I sat in on another Talmud class, in Hebrew, whose subject is even more technical and no longer practiced -- the punishment of exile to refuge cities for one who kills unintentionally. This too included significant preparation. Most of my fellow students are younger than Micah, who is 26. (See picture of students in the Yeshivah following Minchah.) The area serves both as a Beit Midrash (learning) and for services. I study most of the day and into the night.

The classes are in Hebrew, and the pace is fast. But to my surprise, aside from a word here and there, I am able to keep up, and in some cases, add a relevant comment or two to the study. Each class of 1 ½ hours requires several hours of preparation of Talmud and post-Talmudic rulings and commentaries. The students -- soon to take their tests to earn their s’michah from Rabbi Riskin -- need to keep up. I am, from other motivations, doing the same work. So far I love it; it is more than I had hoped for, glorious!

My other goal is to advance my Hebrew by reading articles every day from three Israeli online newspapers. In addition to classes, I have listened to “sermons” in Hebrew at Shabbat services and spoken with Israelis. As I wrote in my first blog, although I am fluent, some words and idioms are still not in my grasp, and I must get accustomed to the speed. Many Israelis speak fast, and Hebrew is a more dense language than is English.

I will conclude on a note about Israel. A few days ago I watched an Israeli talk show -- it was all women, around a crescent-shaped desk, giving their opinions on various subjects. Sound familiar? Different country, same country. A few years ago, an American who had made aliyah wrote an article about Israel -- it was becoming like America, for better and for worse.

The opinion program may not be the best example of it, but thousands of miles from St Louis, where Asia, Europe, and Africa meet, in a small Jewish country in a Hebrew environment, you still get talk shows--a lot of them.

Shabbat Shalom u-m’vorach ! שבת שלום ומבורך


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