These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Week 13: Something New and Different

Posted on December 2, 2011 by Derek Kwait

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(X-posted from my home blog, Yinzer in Yerushalayim)

Americans living in Israel typically celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday night for Shabbat dinner, as the old joke goes, there is second day of Yom Tov in the Diaspora. Since the tiyyul made celebrating on Thursday impossible for most of us, my friend Michael (pronounced מיכאל, “Mee-kha-el”) treated us to an authentic Israeli Friday night Thanksgiving Shabbat potluck. He made a giant turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and hot apple cider, and each of the 20 or so guests brought something too making for maybe the biggest meal I’ve ever eaten, and, thank God, that’s saying a lot; all told, there were over 20 dishes, each one more delicious than the last. As amazing and filling as it was, and as good as it was to spend more time with my Israel/Pardes family outside of class, I missed not being with my family for the first time ever on Thanksgiving, but if I couldn’t be there, I’m glad it was because I was here.

The next day, 5 of us, including Michael, came back to observe the American Thanksgiving tradition of eating leftovers the next day. We had a ton of them, but, even after trying our best, there was still so much left. Michael lives on 29 November St., named in commemoration of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine that was ratified that day in 1947. As we waddled home from eating both days, I joked that the street should have a block party on 29 November. My friend Sam later joked that it should be a “Pizza and Partition Party.”

Sunday was Rosh Hodesh Kislev. Since the first Rosh Hodesh at Pardes was Rosh Hashana, and the second was on Shabbat, this was my first experience of how Pardes does Rosh Hodesh, and here are 5 reasons why it was the rockin’-est Rosh Hodesh celebration I’ve ever been a part of:

  1. I got to sleep in. Morning services started at 7:30, which is later than such a long service would usually start.
  2. It was a community service with lots of singing and group participation.
  3. We got a big breakfast. Pardes always provides a cereal-and-milk breakfast for students who come to davening in the morning, but this was a feast—we got: bagels, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, two kinds of trail-mix, French cheese, fruit, juice, and possibly other stuff I’m forgetting, all of it free and extremely delicious.
  4. They blew a giant silver horn to inaugurate the month.
  5. Due to all the above, our morning class was cut short. Don’t get me wrong, I like my morning class, it was just a nice change of pace.

If the first half of the day was an experience of great unexpected privilege, the Social Justice Track’s handicapped tour of Emek Refaim the second half reminded me of just how greatly privileged I am every day. As I’ve mentioned before, Emek Refaim, the street I live on the end of, is the most commercial, touristy street in my part of town. I walk it several times a week, but this tour was like experiencing it for the first time. A woman from the Israeli non-profit Bema’aglei Tzedek had us break into pairs and gave one person in each pair a wheelchair, blindfold, earplugs and big headphones, or crutches and a leg brace to experience what it is like to be handicapped in public. My partner Anne and I started with me being “deaf.” I put “deaf” in quotes here not only because I’m not really deaf, but because I could still kind-of hear even with the thick headphones and earplugs. It wasn’t perfect hearing, but I could still cars and Anne’s voice when she stood really close and talked loudly enough. It was a disability, sure, but I never felt too disabled. I’ve had worse auditory awareness of my surroundings while listening to my iPod. Experientially, I feel I learned nothing new about the struggles of the deaf.

Next, Anne was blind. Now this was hard. She was utterly reliant on me to get anywhere or do anything. While actual blind people are more used to it and have canes and dogs, we both came out of it with a greater appreciation for how hard they must work and the real disadvantages they face doing even simple things: finding a bus stop or a curb, handling money and knowing what denomination of bill you are holding, finding doors. Even though I was never blindfolded, it was so obvious that life for the blind, especially for those who once could see, must be like coming to Earth from a whole different planet—spending as you must all your energy trying to survive in a world not built for you.

Next, I tried out a wheelchair. At first I insisted on wheeling myself and appreciated the opportunity to get a rare upper-body workout, but after less than 5 minutes, Anne was pushing me while I kept my hands on the wheels to convince myself I was actually doing something. The hardest part of being handicapped isn’t the weight of pushing yourself, however, it’s being at the mercy of the terrain—less than a week ago, I was conquering the desert on foot, but now here I was helpless before a dip in the sidewalk.

Jerusalem is fairly handicapped accessible and getting more so every day, but nothing can make it easier to be so reliant on the generosity and care of others and unable to orient yourself to your surroundings. The whole exercise lasted less than two-hours, but that was enough to remind me of how blessed I am to be physically able and what a huge kindness it is to consider the needs and dignity of those not so fortunate.

As you know, one of my greatest physical abilities that of growing facial hair (the one manly thing I could beat Sidney Crosby at). As you also know, this month has been a celebration of that ability for the sake of men’s health. Sunday night was a celebration of our celebration at the Men’s Rosh Hodesh learning event at Pardes, where some of our favorite rabbis volunteered their time to teach classes on facial hair/men related issues in Judaism. There were two sessions of two classes. The first class I attended was taught by Michael Hattin and explored paradigms of fatherhood in the Bible. Truth be told, there are scant few positive models of fatherhood in the Bible, so few in fact that he had to use the Binding of Isaac as his positive-fathering example. That was my first impression, that he’s really going to have to perform somersaults in order to make a father’s near-sacrifice of his son look like a positive model for fatherhood, but it’s a testament to his skill as a rabbi that he actually pulled it off and made it work (in a nutshell, the key is trust-trust between God and father, father and son, and son and God [go ahead, Christians, eat your hearts out]). The second class I attended was a group discussion led by David Levin-Kruss on facial and body hair and its significance for men and women in cultures ancient and modern around the world. After the classes was a whiskey tisch to prepare us all for Chesthaircember. (This is of course a joke; in truth every month in Israel is Chesthaircember.)

Tuesday we had our 29 November Pizza and Partition party in Michael’s apartment on 29 November St. Roughly 13 of us ate pizza, drank hot apple cider, and schmoozed while sitting on chairs scattered all-over Michael’s living room to represent the highly impractical nature of the proposed borders. After this, we went out and danced in the street singing “Am Yisrael Chai”, then banded together to sing “HaTikvah.” (actual video!)

As big of a success as the party was, I must admit I am left with two regrets: First, that I didn’t take a picture of us sitting eating pizza in Michael’s Partitioned living room, and second, that I stopped recording the video of us singing “HaTikva” before I could capture both us clapping and cheering afterward and the person in the apartment above the street sign coming out to clap for us on his balcony. In the end, though, I think it was the awesomest 29 November party in 29 November St. history, and I’m proud to have helped organize it.


My current ‘stache ranks somewhere between Freddie Mercury and Mr. Red.


One day, I’m gonna win this mustache contest…


Quote of the Week: “…That’s why mohels should not try to be comedians.”

Hebrew Words of the Week: חדש (“Khadash”) – New, חודש (“Khodesh”) – Month, חידוש (“Khidoosh”) – Innovation