The People and Synagogues of Modi’in -- Blog # 3 (2023)
My plan was to rent three different places, each for a month, to get to know three different areas in Israel. My criteria were: (a) An area with two or more Ashkenazic synagogues, (b) with a significant Anglo population, (c) people of my age and socio-economic level, (d) a decent place, and (e) affordable. Working backwards -- rent is high; you can’t escape it. I found a modest apartment -- a little bigger than I need -- two bedrooms, two bathrooms, with a mirpeset -- for $2,000+/ month.
The location, as I wrote in a previous blog, is excellent -- clean, residential, nearby shopping and several synagogues. (The photo below is from the Kaiser neighborhood looking at the Dimri Towers - somewhat of a downtown Modi'in landmark.) This past Shabbat afternoon, I went to Micah’s place in Nofim -- about a half-hour walk. The weather was pleasant -- taking only a small water bottle and my glasses, I thought, “what a berachah to walk in our Jewish country!”
The shul at which I have been davening, came about, as I related, from the man from Azerbaijan. I see him regularly at weekday Shacharit and this past Shabbat. Although the congregation is a bit right-leaning for me, I like the davening. Unlike the rapid pace in most Israeli synagogues, here the pace allows me to daven with kavannah. Friday night melodies were at times soulful, at times spirited (some were not quite to my taste).
The Gabbai -- Oscal (we say Oscar), from Buenos Aires, Argentina, has invited me to lead services several times -- since I am in mourning. The pace, style, and some prayer choices depend on the shali’ach tzibbur (agent for the communal prayer). Several have come up to me indicating that they appreciate how I daven. I like that. As one of the very few Levi’im, I have received aliyot, and I wash the hands of the kohanim for Birkat Kohanim (The Kohanic Blessings) every morning (when I am not leading and when Kohanim are present).
After services and the kiddush this past Shabbat, I went to a lecture in English; about 15 others attended. Sitting next to me was a man -- somewhat older -- from Holland. He and his wife had made aliyah two years earlier. A second marriage for each, they still have children in Amsterdam. Afterwards, a somewhat younger man joined, and then his wife. They had made aliyah a few years ago -- from Antwerp, Belgium. The four were lunching together and invited me; it was genuine, but I declined. The Belgian man knew of the other Ashkenazi shuls in the area -- about four others, which I hope to sample soon.
Similarly, the night before, as I was leaving shul I saw a man and his sons coming from the other direction. Wearing a kippah, I figured that he was coming from another shul. Ro’i spent several minutes with me, describing the location of the other local shuls.
On Shabbat afternoon, as I was arriving from my walk, Micah and Alyssa were heading to one of their several parks, where many -- both religious and not -- spend part of their Shabbat afternoons. I saw several of the young adults and children whom Marian and I had met the previous Shabbat. There I met a couple -- parents and grandparents of one of Micah’s friends. They were from Hollywood, Florida. The husband wants to make aliyah; the wife is a little more hesitant but not against it. I learned that their son and his family live in West Orange, NJ -- the same town as Akiva. West Orange has two Orthodox shuls, about a mile or so apart. Alas, they daven in the “other” shul.
Micah and Alyssa invited me for dinner on Sunday night and then to see Micah’s softball game. Alyssa cooked a delicious Asian dinner -- eggs rolls, chicken with glass noodles, and chicken fried rice with various sauces. The field was about a 20-minute drive away in Kibbutz Gezer. The picture (l) of Micah batting at a fast pitch softball game captures the surprisingly spacious and clean field. I was concerned about an Arvit minyan, but after the game many players from the other team gathered around for a minyan. And who were three of the opposing players who davened with us? Rabbi and Esther Zimand’s grandsons from Kansas City! -- Yoni (who lives two blocks from me), Naftali, and Akiva Schwartz.
So here it is. Jews from Argentina, Azerbaijan, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Florida, Kansas City and St Louis -- connecting in Modi’in, Israel. Fantastic!
A final thought. Most American Jews, I think, regard non-Orthodoxy as diverse and Orthodoxy as monolithic. To be sure, there is some truth in that. But there is pluralism here within Orthodoxy, not even counting Hasidism or other so-called “ultra-Orthodox” communities.
I compare three shuls that I have attended several times, all Ashkenazi: the Central Synagogue in Haifa, Micah’s shul in Nofim, and Alelet ha-Shachar in the Kaiser neighborhood.
The general practice in Israel is to recite Birkat Kohanim even on weekdays -- but the one in Haifa does not. The Haifa shul and the one in Nofim are fairly rapid in pace, with only limited singing, but Ayelet ha-Shachar is slow and spiritual. Haifa seats about 400 men and has two Shabbat Shacharit minyanim, Nofim seats about 100 men, as does Ayelet ha-Shachar. At Micah’s shul, between Minchah and Arvit on Shabbat, a woman gave a rapid, scholarly, energetic, and entertaining lecture to about 100 men and women; II might be mistaken, but I don’t think the other two would have women in such roles -- at least not to a mixed group. Haifa starts on time, the other two sometimes start imprecisely.
But they do share some things in common: We pray to Ha-Shem three times a day in Hebrew. And I have had the privilege and honor of being a weekday shaliach tzibbur and receiving aliyot in each.