Saturday, July 17, 2010

New book in the Torah, new chapter in my life

I guess it’s pretty appropriate that this Shabbat we began reading a new book in the Torah, since this really is a new chapter of my life. Tomorrow classes in Hebrew and musicianship begin. But first….I need to back up, because it’s been a really interesting week. Although extremely overwhelming at times, I’m feeling good about things.

Orientation was a lot of information to absorb. Each day had a different theme to focus on. “Why did you bring us here?” was the focus one day, reminding us all of the Israelites in the desert after fleeing Egypt and their complaints to Moses. True. Many of us are feeling this exact way. Why did you make us pack up our lives in The States where we had friends, family, comfortable homes and familiar language? This opportunity and challenge we have been given this year is invaluable. It won’t be easy. We have all been taken out of our comfort zones, away from our support systems, and been thrown into a whole new world with different mentalities and lifestyles. This is part of why this year will be so powerful. We have latched on to each other for the support we will need and through this year we will be forming a new family with our future colleagues. (Talk about a bonding experience.)

On one hand, we move from The States in which being Jewish is the minority, to Israel, where you don’t need to explain to anyone why you can’t work on Rosh Hashana or why you’re building a hut in your backyard on Sukkot. The country's flag has our Magen David on it and on Friday afternoon you can say Shabbat Shalom to literally anyone you see and it's the common friendly greeting. I love that. What a comforting and welcoming feeling to hear Hebrew all around and see it written on signs and bumper stickers. But at the same time, facing the realities that specifically Progressive Judaism faces in Israel today will be a real challenge and already has been. Making sure that Progressive Judaism’s voice is heard throughout Israel will be one of many focuses this year.

Israel will be our classroom this year as we take little trips (tiyulim) around Israel with our professors. As part of orientation we have gone on a few tiyulim around Jerusalem. As we travel, our professors give us interesting history and midrash (stories) about the places we are seeing. We traveled up to the Mount of Olives to see a great view from an Italian Catholic Church and learn about the Temple Mount. (That’s why I am wearing the shawl, we had to keep our shoulders covered out of respect at the church).

Here is a picture of the view from Mount of Olives

The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives is a very desired place to be buried. I think we were told it’s about $10,000 to be buried among them. Founder of the Modern Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, is buried there. You can see some of the graves in the picture.

I got a chance to go Thursday evening to the shuk, Mahaneh Yehudah, an outside market. Prices are so cheap, and produce (and everything) is so fresh. Here’s the scene- people crowding their way in, pushing their money in to pay first, prices being yelled out, strollers being jammed into your feet, Israelis bringing in more food and yelling at you to get our of their way….it’s great. I can’t wait to go again.

Here is a picture of my friend Steven at the shuk

Shabbat began yesterday and all 65 of us stood in a circle and as we sang, we passed the Torah around our entire group and everyone got a moment to hold the Torah.

The prayer services have been some of my most favorite moments so far. With such a musical faculty, you can just imagine the wonderful noise we have been making during services. This morning for Shabbat services different groups from NFTY , Bonim, HUC alumni and synagogue groups from The States all joined us. The Director of the Cantorial program, Tamar, read from Haftorah with the special melody (trope) that reminds us that we are in the month of Av. This means we are preparing for Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month called Av. Tisha B’Av is a day in the Hebrew calendar in which we commemorate the destruction of the Temple and many other sad events through history which happened to fall on this day as well. The country of Israel will begin a time of mourning starting Monday night.

I volunteered with 7 other students to chant from Lamentations on Tisha B’av Monday night. I have chanted from Torah and Haftorah before, but never from Lamentations and so this is a brand new challenge and brand new melodies. One of the many interesting things about trope are how they tell a story or create a certain feeling with their melody. Of course this particular trope, eicha, has a sad feel to it, almost eerie in my opinion. I began practicing when I arrived here. It was very helpful that my very furnished apartment had 2 Tanach’s on the bookshelves for me to practice with!

Picture of us practicing eicha trope for Tisha B’Av

A few random things that I would like to add:

1. Israelis do NOT jaywalk. Even if no cars are coming for miles, they will stand on the sidewalk and wait for the little walking man light to appear. Isn’t that so UN-Israeli sounding to you?? I’m still very confused by it.

2. There is a little switch in my apartment that I need to press 15 minutes before I want hot water to take a shower with. When it’s hot outside, the sun warms the water.

3. Currently, I am almost entirely one HUGE bug bite. Fortunately, I just bought some plug ins for my apartment that should scare them away (or do whatever it is that those things do).

4. Somehow I managed to get into grad school and yet I still cannot figure out how to work the washing machine in my apartment. This is going to become a more serious problem very soon.

5. I’m looking into buying a used guitar to satisfy my withdrawals. I found an AWESOME deal on craigslist and I hope it works out.

I'm meeting a group of students in the park for Havdallah tonight. Should be fun!

Shabbat Shalom everyone.


  1. Mosquito repellent, check. Washing machine working! Check! EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL??? still working on that one eh? Good luck and keep the posts coming! So great to see and read Rayna, excellent blogging.

  2. 1) They ticket for jaywalking.
    3) Don't forget to unplug them during the day... they run down really quickly if you don't. (They might get hot, so be careful.)
    4) I can take a look.
    5) Woohoo!

    Hope havdalah was great. Tried to call you back... See you ba'boker!

  3. Yay I love this post! I love hearing about your year so far. Im just so excited for you (as if I havent said this enough) :)

  4. Gosh this reminds me so much of my first week in Israel! I hope you're enjoying it! Is your washer in German? Mine was...I can talk to my friend and see how to work it. If the guitar deal doesn't work out, I can help you find a store. good luck with the mosquitos...Dr. Bella across the street has good cream for the itchies.

  5. What an adventure, Rayna! Thinking of you! xo