Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend on the Shore and at the Mountain of God.

.סוף שבוע בחוף ובהר אל

Yesterday, most of our class went to Tel Aviv for a fun day in the sun (and clouds, which are entirely absent from the Jerusalem sky). Although we only spent a half dozen hours there, our trip was enough to instill an appreciation for some of the differences between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The area where we were in Tel Aviv (downtown/beach area) was much busier with a lot more shopping. There were significantly fewer "black hatters" around, and most of those that I saw were set up at "Tefillin Tables" helping people say their daily prayers. In describing the difference to a classmate, I phrased my feelings the following way:

In Jerusalem, one can feel the weight of an enormous pillow of orthodoxy resting over the city. Some people can easily stick a pole in the ground to lift the pillow off of them and live a secular life without a second thought. Many others, including us who want to live religiously but not observantly, find ourselves struggling against suffocation under the pillow. Now, the pillow in and of itself is very beautiful, but pillows should be restful, not oppressive. In Jerusalem, this pillow is more like a yoga mat - some people have it permanently set up in their lives, but most people don't encounter it in their day to day activity. And I'll tell you what - it's nice to escape from the anxiety rooted in the life of a Reform Jew in Jerusalem.

That's not to say that I like Tel Aviv more. Given the choice to live in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, I'd definitely pick Jerusalem. Please let's not forget that I love Judaism, and I love the Jewish traditions that the Israeli right-wing represent. What I don't love is how they occasionally choose to represent and share those traditions in an exclusive manner. And I certainly don't love unbridled capitalism, congested streets, and sweltering heat. So, at least for now, I'm still a Jerusalemite at heart.

However, we did have an opportunity to experience one flavor of Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv. Although they don't affiliate with the Reform movement, Kehillat Beit T'filah Yisraeli is a progressive congregation that offers spiritual expression and community to more or less secular residents of Tel Aviv. During the summer, the congregation holds its services along the shore, so our Friday night service took place amid crashing waves and setting sun.

At first, I was disappointed by the service. Since it was outside, it was impossible to hear the congregation singing anything together. Additionally, there were all sorts of distractions, from people walking to fishing to jet skiing. And, of course, the service was entirely in Hebrew. But, I did know some of the music (the rabbi is a student in the Israeli program at HUC, and the head of our cantorial program was helping with some of the singing), and as soon as we were singing "What a Wonderful World" in Hebrew translation, I was hooked. The instruments, the great voices of the leaders, and the sunset all started to win me over.

Then, when we rose for the Barchu, we faced the sea (which is quite obviously in the opposite direction of Jerusalem). The rabbi mentioned the custom to face the ים instead of ירושלים because it's beautiful and hey - at least they share some letters. I definitely appreciated saying the Barchu, Amidah, and Aleinu facing the setting sun (and did I mention that there are clouds in Tel Aviv??), and I really had an opportunity to feel some of the power of creation much more than I usually do when the walls of the synagogue stand between me and, theoretically, the Western Wall.

So, I definitely liked services last night, and I also appreciated the conversation some of us had back in Jerusalem about the "True Meaning of Prayer" (a conversation that I won't detail here; I'm sure the topics will arise again in the future of this blog).

In order to keep up with my resolve to sample many different Shabbat services, I (and eight classmates) attended services this morning at Kehillat Har-El (Trans: Mountain of God). Har-El was the first Israeli Progressive congregation, founded in 1958 and still strong today. Services were actually quite similar (albeit entirely in Hebrew) to what I'm used to in the States, and the Bar Mitzvah, too, reminded me of American celebrations. (There were many speeches by family, the Bar Mitzvah read from the Torah and gave a short d'var, we threw flowers after the conclusion of his haftarah reading, and there was a delicious kiddush lunch afterward.) One of the best parts about Har-El is that it's literally around the corner from my apartment building, so I definitely expect to return. Apparently, the Friday night service is the main service (again, just like in the States), so I'll have to go back and see how those are. (I actually wasn't too much of a fan of the Saturday morning service, though that could have been because of the Bar Mitzvah speeches that did drag on a bit.)

Altogether, my weekend/Shabbat has been pleasant, and I'm glad to have had today to rest up and get myself prepared for the week ahead. Tune in to see how it plays out!


Jeff H. said...

Bar/Bat Mitzvah customs: I like the idea of throwing flowers more than throwing candy. At least the Bar/Bat Mitzvah wouldn't need to duck behind the lectern at the end of the reading!


It felt glorious to be able to share the sunset on the beach - I could almost hear the singing....

Your analogy to the pillow is apt.Some people are so attached to their own personal pillow, they don't leave home without it - which precludes their ability to try another type of support....

Wherever you rest your philosophical - and literal - head, Daniel, may it be in a bed of peace.