Monthly Archives: March 2012

A City (Momentarily) Transformed

A snapshot of an early Friday morning: A scantily clad police officer came towards me up the stairs, while a woman with bright purple hair and a matching shirt zoomed by on her bike. A man in a pirate hat passed me walking his dog, while an elderly gent dressed like robin hood told me that the sheriff look suited me. I returned the compliment.

No, this was not a bizarre dream that I had last night, but rather a snapshot of Purim in Jerusalem. It was incredible to see the city transformed for what amounted to over a week of celebrations (despite Purim itself only being observed for one day). Many people, myself included, took advantage of both regular Purim and Shushan Purim (which happens a day later in walled or formerly walled cities), traveling to Tel Aviv for one day and returning to Jerusalem for the other. In trying to describe the scene to a friend, I suggested that the feeling in the air was akin to the good cheer, friendliness, and generosity of the December holiday season in the US, combined with a less dark version of the Halloween goofiness and energy that is pervasive on the streets of NYC every year.

I spent much of Purim alternating between taking in the scene and enjoying the time with friends.Wednesday night (Purim for almost everyone outside of Jerusalem) I went to Tel Aviv to help out a friend; he was involved in a small Masorti community that was looking for people to come in and read the megillah. I went with a few friends and we had a great time- it felt like a true Israeli Purim experience. Many of the attendees would self-identify as secular or something close to it, but it seems like everyone dresses up and celebrates this holiday in full force.

The best Mishloach Manot ever from my family!

The next evening, I went to hear the megillah at a large synagogue with attendees of all ages and an impressive array of costumes, followed by a party hosted by friends who live at the corner of Esther HaMalka and Mordechai HaYehudi streets. (How can someone who lives at the intersection of the streets named after the two heroes of the Purim story not have a party??) Later that night, I took in the scene at Machaneh Yehuda shuk, which was transformed into a giant dance party, looking very different from the market where I had bought groceries earlier that day. The next day, after a fun, more intimate megillah reading with a community I frequent for Shabbat services, and a festive brunch with classmate and friend Mia, I ventured towards the neighborhood of Nachlaot for a seudah (festive meal) hosted by another friend. I was greeted by a a wave of color, music, and celebration. The “hippy” Jews of Jerusalem had taken to the streets, squeezing every last ounce of celebration out of the final few hours of the holiday. It was truly an incredible scene. Needless to say, the Shabbat that began that night was probably the quietest that Jerusalem has ever seen as everyone tried to recover.

Celebrating in Nachlaot on Shushan Purim day

Most of the costumes that I saw over Purim were simply fun and silly, but others certainly reflected current events and phenomena in the country. I saw a young woman dressed up as Purim story character Queen Vashti, and on her cape were bumper stickers that I’ve seen around protesting the silencing of women’s voices that is happening due to the influence of some sectors of the Haredi community. Another man was dressed up as “Tag Mechir” (Price tag), having spray painted himself with these words, reflecting the series of recent acts of vandalism by Jewish extremists in mosques, a monastery, a bilingual school, and other places representing different religious practices and experiences.

I for my part, was fresh out of ideas, but at the last minute found a cheap sheriff hat for sale in the shuk, and figured I could put together a western-themed costume. The result wasn’t half bad!

A pirate, a sheriff, and a genie walk into a Purim party... (with Mia and Sarit, special thanks to Sarit for the photo!)

Listen here, y'all, we roommates gotta stick together! (Thanks to Becky for the photo)

Unfortunately, when Purim ended, it was back to reality for me. I just started a new semester of school a few weeks ago, and am still settling into my classes. This semester’s lineup is shaping up to be about as good as last semester’s, perhaps even better. I am sticking with the same Talmud teacher, this time with harder material, though I’m learning Halacha (a strange assortment of the laws of Passover, Kashrut, and mourning) with a new teacher. I’m still taking Hebrew, and am finding it to be a great place to take linguistic risks without fear of making a mistake. I enjoyed my Midrash teacher so much that I’m learning with her again, this time in a course on how the rabbis engaged with dreams and dream interpretation in text. I’m taking a course on the development of faith and religion (from Israelite culture to Judaism) in the Bible, and a class on the history of Zionism and the State of Israel. My current schedule leaves me with many gaps during the day and nearly all of Tuesday free to get out and enjoy the beautiful Israeli springtime.

On the side, I’m still taking the Rabbinical Students Seminar through the Hartman Institute. Another, wonderful, extracurricular this semester is an Israeli literature class that I’m taking with the owner of cafe/bookstore Tmol Shilshom, a gathering place for many of the great minds of Israeli literature to sit, write, and share their work. It’s been pretty amazing to sit around tables in coffee shops discussing their short stories, memoirs, and poetry, especially with someone who himself is an insider in that world.

I have much more to report on, but perhaps I’ll save that for the next post. Next time, I’ll share what I’ve been doing with my no-class Tuesdays (affectionately known as “Tiyul [trip] Tuesdays”), what Passover preparation looks like, and anything else exciting that comes up.

Spring is here! Taken on a path I frequent in Emek HaMatsleva (The Valley of the Cross) near my apartment.

It’s a strange time of year for me right now. Purim to me always seems like that turning point in the year after which everything starts to fly by. It’s so easy to mark time: Passover is a month after Purim (I am already deeply entrenched in preparations), followed by seven weeks of counting the Omer to the holiday of Shavuot, and I’m leaving Israel a week later. It’s hard to feel like I just started my semester, yet to start preparing to go home as well. Throw in increasingly beautiful weather, and a carpe diem attitude, and I should have a very interesting/intense/eventful/exciting couple of months.

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We’re Halfway There

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and a lot has happened. This post will be a quick play-by-play of the last several weeks, which will hopefully get me on track to discuss in greater depth the many exciting moments coming up over the next few months.

Here’s the rundown (I’ll go into more detail on some of these below):

I survived finals. I even did pretty well.

My friend Chris (a good friend from CPE last summer, and also a close friend of Becky’s- she was the source of our roommate shidduch) came to visit.

My Eema came to visit.

I went to Dublin.

I went to Hebron.

I went to Bethlehem twice- once with Chris and Becky and a couple of other friends for fun, and once with Encounter- this time as a facilitator.

I traveled around the Jerusalem area, taking my visitors to various holy and other notable sites.

I went up North (to Zichron Yaakov, Tzfat, and the Kinneret).

At the end of all of this, I started a new semester of school, and began to reconnect with the world that I’ve ignored for the past month.

Tired yet?

Many of these travel experiences happened when Chris came to visit. She arrived the day before I finished my finals so I scrambled to finish my papers (can’t say it was pretty, but as Becky told me, “done is better than good”) in order to join in the fun. We had a couple of days to explore Tel Aviv and Jerusalem before heading into a very relaxing, rewarding, and ridiculously fun Shabbat.

Saturday night the two of us left for Dublin. I had a real vacation! Chris had studied abroad in Ireland and has a lot of connections there so she had various friends who fed us, gave us a place to sleep, and provided excellent entertainment. We explored downtown Dublin, toured the Guinness Brewery, shopped til we dropped, went out on the town, drove into the country (between driving on the left and the standard car, there was no way I was driving in Ireland- Chris did a rockstar job), saw Newgrange (a 5000 year-old megalithic tomb), hung out in the town of Drogheda, and stopped by an Irish Dance competition where Chris’ mom happened to be.  I came back to Israel refreshed, relaxed, and motivated to keep on having fun.

From the rooftop bar of the Guinness Brewery

Newgrange from a distance

It was hard to not to notice that Chris and I were each hosting the other in our own religious/national/spiritual homelands. Not only did each of us get to see a new place, but we got to experience for ourselves why it was special to the other. This elevated the trip to a whole new level for me, and I was deeply grateful for the opportunity.

Chris and Me looking out on the Irish countryside from Newgrange

The tail-end of Chris’ visit involved a day in Hebron (important and intense, and not in the fun category), another great Shabbat, a touristy day in Bethlehem, and some more time exploring the beautiful and holy places in Jerusalem. The day she left was when Eema (my mother) came. We had an incredible visit, spending time in Tel Aviv, going up north for a few days, and just relaxing in my apartment. More importantly, I REALLY needed a dose of home and I got it. I made sure to get plenty of hugs, and I’m just now finishing up all of the Trader Joe’s chocolate she brought.

Formerly bustling marketplace in Hebron

With Eema at the beach in Tel Aviv!

Sadly, also over this break, my cousin Marty passed away. Known to the wider community as Rabbi Martin Menachem Gordon, Marty was an important fixture of the time I have spent in Jerusalem. I first spent time with him here over my free weekend on my 8th grade class trip to Israel in 2000, and have seen him on almost every trip since them. When I spent the year at Hebrew University, he (and his wife Bilha) lived less than a ten-minute walk from my dorm, so I visited them frequently. Unfortunately, Marty’s health over the last few months made visits challenging this year, and I wasn’t able to spend the time I would have like with him. He was a true champion of modern Jewish living (he was able to see his last book published in January on this subject), and deeply valued the challenge and intellectual effort required to adapt Judaism to contemporary times. I’ve deeply admired his hashkafa (way of viewing the world), and am dedicating the rest of my learning this year to honoring his memory. Eema and I were able to visit Marty’s family (our extended network of cousins here in Israel) during shiva, and I am grateful to have had that time.

The amazing, green, north. I guess all the rain was worth it.

At the end of my first week of school, I went on Encounter for the second time, this time from the perspective of a facilitator. It was incredibly powerful to experience something that is now familiar through an entirely different lens. I had heard some of the speakers before, yet somehow heard completely new things from them this time. The new speakers were, depending on who they were, moving, challenging, and provocative. The weather prevented us from doing much touring (it snowed in Jerusalem and Bethlehem!), but enabled us to spend  more time sitting and processing through our experiences. Through enabling intense conversation and facilitating processing in my small group, I ended up coming away from the trip with a deeper personal experience than I could have even hoped to expect. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this again in my time here, but I’ll be thinking about this trip for a long time.

So this is it, I’m officially well into the second half of the year. No more “I just got here” excuses. Time to take the rest of the year by the horns and leave nothing on the field. Okay, enough with the motivational cliches- I just really want to make the most of my remaining time here. Stay tuned for a report on Purim (starting Wednesday night for the world, and Thursday night for Jerusalem), and the transition into Passover. Time to stop writing now because I need to go figure out a Purim costume. Don’t worry, I’ll share photos.