Simchat Torah could be my favorite holiday of the year. Arriving on the heels of the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, Jewish people all around the world finish reading the Torah and start again from the beginning. A new friend Aliya and I stayed over at a family’s house who lives just outside of Jerusalem in order to go to a renewal synagogue called Nava Tehila. I would say that the family’s brand of religion was unconventional. It was more spiritual than strictly observant, adherent to Jewish law but more liberal in lifestyle. The son and I quickly connected over music, but we couldn’t jam for long because they observe the rule that prohibits work- and thus music on the holiday. The mother and I had very interesting conversations about religion, philosophy and politics. I asked her why she does not write or play music on shabbat and she suggested a spiritual explanation. Creativity, she explained, is a one way exchange between G-d and man. For six days out of the week, G-d imbues within us inspiration. It seems to come out of nowhere. However, on the seventh day, we give to G-d through prayer and meditation.
Throughout the weekend, we went to three different synagogues each with a different flavour. One synagogue was held in a school gym with lots of chanting and dancing mostly of young folk. The other was a carlebach synagogue where we carried the torahs in the streets and danced joyously. That morning we went to Nava Tehilah. Over 95% of the people at the synagogue were dancing and fully involved- a level of participation I have never before seen. Its difficult to explain the spiritual energy that electrified the air as concentric rings of people spun and swirled around the instruments and torahs in the middle. Voices chanted, sweat pooled but we; young, old, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi and Sephardic danced on. The joy of worshipping together was undeniable.
Last week, we went to a kibbutz in the Negev Desert. A kibbutz is a socialist commune- essentially a closed neighborhood- where members live, eat together in a dining hall, and work in what they want to pursue. All of the money they earn goes to the Kibbutz Collective- whether you are a scientist who manages their high tec algae operation or the date picker, you receive according to your needs not the amount you make. All in all it was a fascinating experience to understand why socialism continues to work. The answer is that it is goal oriented community who is capitalistic on the outside and socialist on the inside, made of people who elected to take part in this lifestyle.
When you drive out of Jerusalem into Area C of the disputed territories, little collections of shacks dot the arid hills on the side of the highway. These are bedouin villages. Bedouins are Arabs who were nomadic up until 60 years ago when they settled in semi permanent shacks. We visited one of these villages and talked to a journalist and a smokey man who was the village leader.
The bedouin village is below a settlement up on the hill. At one point both were considered illegal constructions until the settlement was granted legality. Although the Bedouin village was not a permitted construction, it also was not a permanent construction and thus it’s legality was hard to define in court so it was left alone. 10 years ago, an NGO built the first permanent structure, a school, which thus made the village illegal. The settlement then petitioned the government to remove the bedouin village given its status as an illegal construction, eyesore, and impedance to settlement expansion. The Israeli government proposed eminent domain with little just compensation to be able to purchase a legal home (worth much more than their current shanty.) The smokey village leader told us: we were masons, laborers, and the roofers who built the settlement. Even though we predate them on this land, our existence is at stake.
Complicating the matter, the bedouins are a stateless people. They are not Israeli citizens and they are not citizens of the Palestinian Authority. They will fly the Palestinian flag when the Palestinian Authority helps them, and will lower the flag when the Israeli government comes to help them. The teachers in the school are paid by the Palestinian Authority and the lawyers fighting the court battle to help the Bedouins are Israeli.
Some Israelis may say that the Bedouins have it better; that no government at all is better than a government that can’t work for peace- or at all (By the way the Israelis won’t have a government until after the third elections anyways.) For others, when capitalist Israel didn’t work, they created their own semi autonomous government within Israel with Kibbutzim. And the Bedouins…well, they’d rather stay Bedouin; out of this statehood and citizenship madness.
The high holidays in Jerusalem have been so full of activity that I have missed a week in my journaling. It’s times like these: Just as you are ready to process your experiences, you are hit with something else that draws your attention.
So here goes a short update and reflection. Yom Kippur made Jerusalem as quiet as the suburbs- seriously, I could hear the leaves rustle in the park in the center of town during a soft breeze. The city stood still for a day of contemplation and atonement without the usual car horns, shopping, or work. People in white roamed the streets and the kids took over every hill in order to test out the speed of their big wheels and skateboards. I fasted and spent my morning in a Reform service, afternoon in a park, and evening at the Orthodox great synagogue of Jerusalem.
While Israel provided the safe haven for millions of Jews to worship in peace on the holiest day of the year, a shooter in Halle Germany was driven by anti- Jewish white supremecist Ideology to attempt a mass shooting at a synagogue, bomb a gravesite, and kill innocent bystanders. I was met with this reality on my first day back to work when I had to research, fact check, and gather quotes in order to report the devastating news to Stand With Us’ social media following.
Last weekend, I had multiple interesting Jewish experiences like going to a Chabad synagogue where we danced in circles and chanted prayers. It was a joyous take on judaism. The next day, I had lunch at the house of a family who was Haredi or Ultra Orthodox- the people who have side curls and wear funny hats. I heard his answers to questions such as how to make religion relevant to today, and to what extent we can interpret our books and teachings versus taking them as they are. I left with more questions than answers but with a greater respect for people who devote their lives to religion and learning.
That night, Spontaneously, a group of friends and I decided that we would get an airbnb in Haifa, a city in the north, and hang out on the beach. We had a great time on the beach and the next day went to Akko, a beautiful and ancient city where Muslims, Jews and Christians put their differences aside and continue to live together. The skyline of the port town includes a Mosque, Synagogue and Church and represents the face of coexistence in Israel. A highlight of that trip was a beatbox battle I had with a local Muslim kid… he may have shown me up!
Today, there was the Jerusalem March, which draws groups from over 50 countries to Jerusalem in order to express their support for Israel. Groups came dressed in their countries clothing and held their flags while singing or dancing in a march from Gan Sacher to the Old City. Christians and Jews alike of many colors and cultures were effusive in their love, attempting to speak Hebrew in order to connect to the parade watchers. A han Chinese woman wished me a Chag sameach, an Angolan man in a dashiki said shalom, a group from Papua New Guinea sang the Shema. Such a display of multiculturalism and world unity is enough to get me feeling all warm and fuzzy- but multiculturalism and world unity FOR the purpose of supporting Israel… well that’s enough to be a tear jerker.
Happy new year for those who celebrated this past week. Just like I have been adopted by Jonos family at home, I have now been adopted by his family in Israel.
On Friday, he and I took the bus to Tel Aviv to stay with the same family we had stayed with when we first got to Israel. Jonos aunt, Milka has a son named Ariel and a daughter named Lee who are in their early twenties and recently out of the army. This means that they are in the same life stage as Jono and I; leaving their parents house and deciding about college.
Like most holidays, our weekend was filled with good food, lots of sleep, and of course family time. I played surrogate cousin to Jonos two 7 and 9 year old boy cousins who climbed on me and yelled at me in hebrew. Luckily in the month since I had seen them I had learned more hebrew and I could communicate with them a little more! The key word is “dai” which means enough! Rather funny hearing mothers walking down the street and yelling “die” to their kids. I’m sure American mothers would like to do the same but It wouldn’t be socially acceptable.
Ariel is a very talented Jazz guitarist with an eclectic music taste. He showed me the first Israeli artist that I vibe with which is super exciting. He and I also recorded a song together in his home setup. On Saturday night we went to his friends house for a pool party and then we all went to the park to play spike ball. They played like a well oiled machine and were impressive. Needless to say, I did not perform well, although everyone was super nice and willing to teach me. At 12am we left the park to get burgers and didn’t get home until 2. Such is Tel Aviv time.
I had some interesting conversations this weekend, particularly surrounding language. Jonos family are Uruguayan immigrants to Israel- so I may have spoken more Spanish this weekend than I did Hebrew. Hebrew on a level is a simple and direct language. While in Germanic languages such as English and Spanish we have the words “to be” or “estoy,” in Hebrew there is no “to be.” to say that I am good, you say ani (I) tov (good.): “I good.” Lee says that when she journals, she does so in English despite it not being her first language, because she says there are more words with nuanced meanings from which to express herself. We wondered if maybe some of the directness of Israeli culture comes from the limitations of a developing language (hebrew has only been spoken for 100 years.)
When we got back to Jerusalem Tuesday night, the good food and company did not stop. I went to dinner with Jonos uncle from the states on Wednesday and met up with family friends Carianne and Tito on Thursday for dinner. They couldn’t fit the shuk on their itinerary during the day so unfortunately for them I showed them the shuk on a Thursday night (Comparable to a Friday night in the U.S!) We made it out in one piece and picked up some rugelach!
My roommate and I team cooked chicken fajitas last night and we combined with room four for a raucous friday night dinner.
I’ve had a great time this week collecting new family, and showing old friends a city new to them.