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Shabbat with Micah and Alyssa on the Other Side of Efrat -- & Hidden Gems

New construction in Efrat

This pre-Shabbat’s drive, unlike last week’s excursion to Elkanah, took only about five minutes. It meant that on Friday, with limited Shabbat preparation, I could devote much of the day to study and family calls.

Alyssa cooked Shabbat dinner not only for the three of us, but for four other dinner guests. As she loves to bake, she made at least two delicious sweet challot for each meal, along with a first for me: Our appetizer was hummus topped with ground beef. Then came chicken soup, then deli roll, and finally chicken schnitzel. For dessert Alyssa had baked, from scratch, an apple crumb pie and brownies. Did I leave anything out??

Shabbat lunch for the three of us, again by Alyssa, included pretzel-schnitzel and mashed potatoes. Alyssa even made her own bagels! We played board games both Friday night and Shabbat afternoon.

Shabbat services were particularly interesting for two reasons. First, we never went to shul. That did not mean that we slept in and didn't daven, rather, each minyan -- Kabbalat Shabbat/Arvit, Shacharit, and Minchah, were held at a different house on the street -- all within a few houses of Micah and Alyssa’s apartment. Not only were the services more intimate -- about 30 men and 15 women -- but it provided an opportunity to see the inside of what may be the nicest houses in Efrat. (See picture of this area of Efrat, along with new construction, still north -- toward Yerushalayim -- from Micah’s rooftop.)

Each house had several levels and we could take in the view of the Arab groves (see picture) and beyond into the green and brown terraced hills that mark Efrat’s boundaries and new construction in Efrat. Each house had a spiral marble staircase along Jerusalem stone walls connecting the main floor and the furnished basement (where we davened), along with very nice kitchens and family rooms, porches, small gardens, etc. I learned that the size was about 400 square meters (4,400 square feet), and the approximate cost was more than $1,000,000. (Comparable Jerusalem houses are even more expensive.)

We are connected: One owner of a house where we davened was a couple (Micah said, “Harvard” doctors) who grew up not too far from where Marian and I were raised in New Jersey, and another owner lived not too far from where we lived in Long Island; he thought he recognized me from LI. Gary has six children and made aliyah about nine years ago, and now co-owns two food stores -- a pizza store and a bagel store in Efrat, and caters from another location. He had previously run a gutter and roofing (I think) business in the US, so he made the transition from gutters to food.

The other interesting element was the services themselves. Shabbat morning davening took less than two hours (I know I will be in trouble for this.) There was no rabbi, so no d’var Torah or intros. There were no announcements, other than the davening times and places. The davening and Torah reading were moderately fast, with only occasional singing, and the walk-up time for an aliyah was virtually instant, etc.

On the other hand, when Micah and I arrived at the 8:30 AM start, only one other person was there; a few trickled in as the service continued. So late-comers are not limited to Traditional Congregation.

Another interesting tidbit concerns Minchah. The sefer Torah they used, of course kosher, was not much larger than my fist. The one who returned it after the Torah reading cradled it, it being less than half the size of an infant. Arvit, as it was for my first Shabbat in Efrat, was again in the street.

I close with something that I never thought I would experience as part of my learning: On Monday morning at the yeshiva I observed the “shechting” (ritual slaughter) of chickens. (Unfortunately, because there was in issue with communication, I was late and saw only the aftermath. See pictures,

if you wish. I had sent the pictures to Marian a day before the blog; she thought it was a BBQ!)

Some of the students pulled apart the chicken, not just the skin and the feathers, or the usual pieces as I do when I cook, but the lungs, the heart, the spleen, and the liver as well. The purpose of today’s hands-on class was to better understand the laws of salting, which is the most common way to remove any forbidden blood, as per kosher meat.

I had studied salting when I received my s’michah, but I had not seen each of the pieces removed and spread out, and of course, not the shechting. BTW, although the chicken is salted, with kosher -- actually “koshering” -- salt, some of the organs may be eaten only after broiling them over an open flame; and in the case of the heart (yes, the heart, which in a chicken is very small), only after it has been cut vertically and horizontally to release the blood.

The students in this program need to know these laws not only for theoretical reasons, but because some will serve small congregations outside of Israel where they may have to be a shochet of fowl.

As I uncomfortably viewed the chicken spread, I joked that my favorite part of the chicken is -- the schnitzel. I wondered how I would react when I would next be served chicken. As it turns out, today’s lunch was: schnitzel! Ironic? No problem. I enjoyed my schnitzel and then cooked some for myself last night.

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