Posted on January 18, 2014 by Andrea Wiese
Shabbat came with a lot of logistical coordinations, it was hard to arrive Thursday and then jump into Shabbat as foreigners, but the Etz Hayim community welcomed us and Rabbi Cooper with open arms. We had a wonderful Kabbalat Shabbat mixed with traditional sephardi tunes and then Eli Witkin led a few Carlebach tunes, making us feel right at home. Before dinner, we walked down to the Bosporus and then met many members of the community at dinner. We shared words of Torah and sang songs. These two things transcend culture – we all had something in common: Torah and Judaism.
Shabbat morning, the prayer service was again beautiful and the Torah reading was very special and unique to our foreign ears. We felt as if the Torah was a story and conversation. We ate and prayed many times and shared more songs and words of Torah. Although it was cold outside, sharing our cultures and words created warmth for all of us. We also got a chance to take a walk to explore more of the surrounding area before Mincha and more eating. Overall, it was a Shabbat none of us will ever forget again.
We ran two separate lessons for the Jewish Youth Leadership at Alef. The first session was on “What is Torah?” where we read different Jewish texts about what about rabbis are thought the Torah was given for. Is it science, is it law, is it physiology? Is the Torah a text that changes depending on the person who is reading it or are there absolute truths that every Jew must learn from the Torah? The youth was very impressive and had excellent discussions together with Pardes students in chevruta – paired learning – where we all learned things from each other.
The second session was about leadership and responsibility. We discussed a classic story
The next time, we met with community leaders from the age of 21-75. The range was impressive and exciting. We taught the same story of Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua and who should be the leader of the Beit Midrash/study hall. The participants had a deep understanding of the text and felt very connected to the dilemma that was being faced in the story. I believe they are truly facing this very issue in their communities; how do they hold on to core values and traditions, but also advance and balance these things in their lives today? It was very impressive working with these leaders and introducing important leadership qualities through the lens of Jewish text.
We arrived at the elderly home. We instantly connected with the residents – they were thrilled to have visitors and their faces lit up with bright smiles as we chatted with them and took pictures together. Then Tani and Tobias led a few Jewish songs and we all sang and danced together. The climax was when we sang a song in Ladino, “Avraham Avinu,” the residences beamed with smiles as we sang a song from their youth. The words quickly came back to them. Jessica and Tobias made announcements and told them about our school in Spanish. They appreciated that we didn’t need an interpreter to connect. It was very meaningful for us to bring joy and love to the Jews who have been living in this community for the longest amount of time.
Stay tuned. There is much more to come from Istanbul.