Cross-posted from the Peaceable Pilgrim:
Shalom friends! It is the beginning of a new week here in Jerusalem, and the past one was filled with SO MUCH AWESOMENESS that I just have to share with you.
Classes started up again full-swing on Sunday, and even though I was somewhat dreading getting back to a normal routine after vacation, it was actually quite nice to be learning again. It’s what I came here to Jerusalem to do, after all! On Sunday I had Chumash class, where we learn Hebrew and study the book of Exodus, in the morning. Then I had Prophets with Master Tanakh Teacher Michael Hattin from 12-1 where we study the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings.
After Prophets I ran back to my apartment to get my things together for a trip we were taking that day in my Social Justice class to the area around the Shuk, an open-air market in Jerusalem. It was a tour to learn more about poverty in Jerusalem and our guide first took us to a restaurant called Carmei Ha’ir whose goal is to feed the hungry and leave them with dignity, so those who can pay do, but those who can’t they don’t require payment from. After listening to and asking questions of the restaurant’s owner, we continued on to different neighborhoods around the Shuk, seeing the extent of the Russian and Ethiopian communities and what life is like for people of many different backgrounds.
Some poverty statistics:
- In 2009, 36% of households in Jerusalem were below the poverty line: 23% of Jewish households were below the poverty line as compared with 68% of non-Jewish families.
- In 2009, 60.5% of children were below the poverty line: 44.5% of Jewish children and 82% of non-Jewish children. [As opposed to 59% overall, 48% Jewish and 74% non-Jewish in 2007]
The next day, Monday, I had my Foundations of Judaism class which I really like. After that was Prophets again, and then during lunch was a special mock debate between David Bernstein, the Dean of Pardes, and David Levin Kruss, my Foundations of Judaism teacher. It was a debate over the deal to free Gilad Shalit, which was a major occurrence in Israel over the break, and each teacher took either a for or against stance that neither knew ahead of time. The debate was interesting for me to see, not only to hear both sides of the coin, but also because there was time for questions after the speakers finished which were amazing. Many people shared their own stories and feelings about what Gilad being free meant to them, and hearing their own personal histories with the issue meant a lot to me and made it more real.
The debate also allowed me to see it from a more human perspective and not just a moral one, which was where I originally fell on the line since we learned in Social Justice class that the Talmud says not to pay exorbitant amounts for hostages for the sake of the general good. 1,000+ people to me was an exorbitant amount, and not having much emotional stake in the issue I didn’t see the good in it, but after seeing some videos of the welcome the Palestinian prisoners received when they came home (which were very warm and human, and even heartbreaking as some prisoners had developed something akin to PTSD in prison and were different people when arriving home, not acknowledging children they had never met or just not knowing how to deal with the unfamiliarity of it all) and hearing that all the prisoners signed a statement that they would not resume hostile activities I felt a lot more understanding of the deal to bring Gilad back alive.
Now on Tuesdays, what is noteworthy is that instead of our regular 12-1 class we have something called “Critical Issues,” where Pardes teachers or outside experts in their field come to the Beit Midrash and talk about a topic that is relevant to Israel society today. On this past Tuesday, we had the honor of listening in on a discussion between Pardes teachers Michael Hattin and Daniel Roth, who talked about what Kedushat Eretz Yisrael (the sanctity/holiness of the Land of Israel) meant to them. This discussion was absolutely AMAZING! Everyone was raptly glued to their chairs as these two questioned each other and ultimately got down to what it meant to say that the Jews belong in Israel, and not just some territory in Canada, or anywhere else. Why Israel? What does it mean for the Jews, and everyone else? Can there be peaceful borders? Can non-Jews live in the land too? (The answer is yes.) I felt honored and privileged to witness such a frank and open discussion, and I am so thankful to Pardes and these two teachers for facilitating such a conversation.
On Wednesday I made my name change official at Community Lunch, and it was a truly moving experience for me. First, we had a Social Justice speaker named Joseph Gitler come and speak to us about his organization called Leket, which provides work for Arab-Israeli citizens and food for the needy in Israel. Then, we had faculty and student announcements. When it was my turn to speak, I stood up and announced to all my friends and teachers that I would like to be known from now on by my Hebrew name, and the Hebrew name of my grandfather, Eliyahu. When I was finished everyone applauded, and it really touched me to receive such a warm recognition of who I am. It is something I will never forget as long as I live, and I am so thankful to be part of such an open and amazing community of people.
On Thursdays, we have a half day at Pardes to allow time for our Social Action projects, so this Thursday I got home from school early, took care of some errands and tasks I needed to do, and then went to Kol Haneshama at 4:30 to prepare for teaching English to disadvantaged kids in the community at 5. I have to say, these kids are absolutely amazing and most have the greatest attitudes ever. It makes teaching them fun, and getting to know them even more fun. I was the “point person” that day and our normal coordinator is out of town for the next 2 weeks, so a lot of the responsibility of organization fell to me. I was happy to contribute, and all in all we had a successful day! At the end one of the girls needed a walk to the bus stop, so I volunteered and on our walk she taught me some Hebrew! I knew a little, so we could converse very simply, and she taught me how to say “left” and “right” and “forward” and “backward”. It was really nice and I felt we connected in a meaningful way. I’m so happy to be able to teach kids again, as it’s something that I was very passionate about leading up to my time in Korea and that didn’t quite materialize fully during my time there, but there were definitely high moments in Korea, and it seems like there are much more high moments in this new environment than low ones.
On Friday, I slept in until my landlord (who I was expecting) rang our buzzer around 10:30 so he could fix a few things around the apartment. After he left I did some chores, went online, read a little, and then got ready for Shabbat. I showered, got dressed, and made my way to Kol Haneshama where Nava Tehila, the renewal minyan I mentioned in my previous entry, was meeting for their monthly Kabbalat Shabbat service. I have never been to one of these services by them before, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had during my time in Jerusalem so far.
Why was it so beautiful? To be surrounded, with chairs all in a circle, by people who I have been sharing experiences with since my time in Jerusalem and sing songs of peace and praise with them… I don’t think words can do justice to how much it meant to me. I saw people from my ulpan, some who I would never expect to see and some I would (including the Reform family I mentioned in a previous entry that I shared Shabbat with during my first month here). I saw friends from Pardes, some of whom I sat with. I saw Sam (a Pardes friend) beating on the drums in tune to the beat and felt like I was a part of him as I drummed my hands on my legs. But most of the time, to really experience the fullness of the experience, I closed my eyes and just tried to connect to myself knowing I was surrounded by all these people who are meaning more and more to me every day.
At first I was nervous, trying to be precise and read the Hebrew of the songs, but when I let go and just followed the words sung by everyone else intuitively I was really able to connect to the magic of Shabbat in moments, and I gained a sense of peace. It is an experience I am excited to share again, and I can’t wait for more meaningful moments with all of these people over the next 8 months. I’m sure they will keep on coming.
After services I walked with some Pardesnicks to our friend Naomi’s house (who was actually in Seoul the same time I was, and we met at a Chanukah party at her apartment) and we had a great Shabbat meal there. There was excellent conversation, of which turned to Harry Potter (what is one aspect of the Harry Potter world that you would like to be real? I chose flying) and “shtetl milfs”, and there were lots of laughs. I had a great time.
On Saturday, I joyfully slept in until 11:30 (slept for more than 10 hours, yea!) and then got ready to go to my Social Justice teacher’s house for Shabbat lunch where her and her family were hosting our class. It was another awesome meal, just adding to the wonderful Shabbat atmosphere, as there was GREAT food and even greater company. We even sung some great songs, one led by Sam, which I will include here because it was so awesome:
“Deep inside my heart I’ve got this everlasting light,
It’s shining like the sun, it radiates on everyone
And the more that I give
The more I’ve got to give
’cause it’s the way that I give
That’s what I’m livin’ for”
After lunch it was already 4:00 and I was planning on going home to rest, but the friends I was walking back with and I ran into our new classmate Amber who was going to the Tayelet and I decided to join. I am so glad that I did, because not only did I begin Shabbat surrounded by friends and meaning, but I got to end it the same way. The Tayelet was absolutely BREATH-TAKING with its panoramic view of Jerusalem and the Old City. I’ve never seen such a view and never knew it was so close to where I lived! More and more people kept coming, and soon there was a group of more than 20 of us Pardes students where we shared food, prayers, and even sat in a circle and shared something that was meaningful to us about the week’s Torah portion or something we had learned or felt recently. It was beautiful. There was even the most awesome cat who decided to join us on a nearby ledge, who’s eyes were fixed on us as if he were listening intently and appreciating all of us at that moment. I went over to him afterwards and petted him, of which he was happy to receive as he nuzzled my hand. I was surprised to find such an affectionate cat out in the middle of a park! It just added to the experience of an amazing Shabbat not to be forgotten, and it was the perfect end and perfect beginning of both an old week and a new one.
Shavua tov (Have a good week) all!