These and Those

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

Turkey 2016: An Extra Soul

Posted on January 18, 2016 by Rachel Cohn

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Our rabbis say that on shabbat we receive an extra soul. This shabbat, I learned what it looks like when a whole community gets an extra soul.

We spent this shabbat davening, singing, eating, and offering “l’chaim”s with members of the Ortokay synagogue in Istanbul. What made this shabbat particularly special, however, was the way that our group was able to give of ourselves remarkably, offering our skills and our hearts at precisely the moments they were needed, and to take in the teachings we received from the Istanbul community. Some students led powerhouse song marathons. Others shared words of torah with heartfelt connection to our lives. Sometimes we were dancing with children, and at other times holding the hand of an elderly woman. We also heard the stories of two congregants’ Jewish journeys and were honored by the presence of the Chief Rabbi of Turkey. People from both communities offered just what they knew was right in any given moment, and together we created an experience that was grander than the sum of each of our parts. Notions of student and teacher and American and Turkish and old and young faded away, as we simply looked to connect.

When we sang one last set of songs together before shabbat ended, I could feel the collective longing to hold onto shabbat for just a bit longer. I sensed a special vibrancy in the room, noticing that I was halfway across the world from my family and hundreds of miles from my studies in Jerusalem, yet simultaneously in the warm embrace of a place that felt like home. One congregant remarked, “this doesn’t just happen when someone comes in from the outside – they (our Pardes group) are like family.”

Such transformative communal experiences are possible when we each shine our light and illuminate the beauty in each other. On shabbat this brightness is amplified by our extra soul. When brought together, we can see a glimpse of the shechinah. It is not every shabbat that I feel I get a taste of that divine spark, but this week I did. I am still in awe of the power of our tradition that has spanned time and continents, built on the devotion of so many who came before us, to allow us all to reach this powerful shabbat together in Istanbul.

Rachel Cohn