Sunday, September 6, 2009

Y lloro, y lloro v'boche el hakirot...

Much to update about! In this blog post: visit to the Kotel and the Old City, 1st Shabbat in Jerusalem, classes, and exploring Jerusalem.

Boche el hakirot
The title of the blog post is a lyric from a David Broza song: "And crying, and crying, and crying to the walls." (in Spanish and Hebrew) We went to the Old City, specifically to the Kotel, on Thursday night for a mini-tiyul (trip). It was my first time in the Old City and the center of the city since I got here, and it's good to start getting my Jerusalem geography back. The Kotel is a weird place. On the one hand, especially at night, it is beautiful and I love people-watching there, seeing the diversity of the Jewish community walking by. On Thursday night, it being the middle of Ramadan, the prayers from "next door" were loud and clear, and I thought, beautiful. To my ears the Ramadan prayers sounded like crying, as one of our teachers was reminding us that the Kotel is sometimes called the Wailing Wall.

We looked at some verses from the Tanach about Jerusalem, including: "You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain, the place You made to dwell in, O God, The sanctuary, O God, which Your hands established." (Exodus 15:17) I read the verses as a meeting place for all different cultures, a sanctuary built by God's own hands. That sounds like Jerusalem-as-it-should-be to me, a Jerusalem that I got a tiny glimpse of, as we stood in the Kotel plaza and listened to the Muslim community's Ramadan prayers.

The beggars at the Kotel, at least on the women's side, really really drive me crazy. I wish they didn't. They are humans - do I need to acknowledge them as human, if they don't acknowledge me as more than a walking American ATM? Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz writes about her resistance to giving to a particular homeless person outside her New York apartment, because the recipient's actual need is so much greater than her ability to give. Maybe I'm disturbed by the beggars because I feel like they are reducing my experience at the Kotel down to a contractual relationship - you give to me - when I'm trying to be in a place of covenantal relationship with Makom (a word for both place and God)? Which brings me to - is there a way in which the giving of tzedakah can be more than contractual? I have lots of tzedakah that people back in the States sent me to Israel with, I don't want to give it to women at the Kotel so that they will leave me alone.

There is a new pedestrian mall (since the last time I was in Israel in 2007) between the center of the city and the Old City, the Mamila Mall. It is disgustingly opulent, full of American stores - North Face, the Croc Store, The Gap, H. Stern, it goes on and on. The opulence of Mamila really stood in contrast with the poverty of the Old City, and really didn't feel to me like it fit in with Jerusalem at all. Jerusalem's not that chic!

Shabbat Shalom...
This past Shabbat was absolutely beautiful. It's very uncomplicated here to be immersed and observe Shabbat. But not perfect...I went to Kehilat Kol Haneshama (a Progressive synagogue) for kabbalat Shabbat (where I felt absolutely 100% comfortable wearing my kippah), but walking home alone, I didn't feel comfortable leaving it on (although I know other women who do). We hosted dinner in our apartment - lovely company, delicious food - and then on Shabbat morning I walked to services with Naomi, walking down Derech Beit Lechem, which may be my new favorite street. It's beautiful - lots of little alleyways, and old houses with flowers. I'm starting to get my bearings here, and it feels more like home. One of my goals for Jerusalem has always been to know it well enough to feel at home here, to know my way around, to have places that are "my" places. It's also really nice to be in Machane Yehuda on Friday morning, or walk into services and know people. Which happens often in Jerusalem, but still, it makes it feel more homey.

There was a Pardes picnic in the park for lunch, followed by a fantastic 2-hour long nap, and seudah shlishit with my roommates and some guests. I loved the singing we did in the park and at seudah shlishit, but I miss singing with JOI at retreats for hours out of Rise Up Singing, or camp-style song sessions. As lovely as the singing was, it didn't wholly feel like mine. But of course, at JOI, I missed singing more Hebrew songs. I want (and need) to figure out how to create a Shabbat that feels uniquely mine, not just the default of the people around me at any given time.

Back to school, back to school
Classes are challenging, and intense, and hard, and wonderful. So far I'm taking chumash (Torah, focusing on the book of Exodus), Talmud (right now focusing on sections having to do with Yom Kippur), women and mitzvot, social justice (as part of a social justice track), and intro to Rambam. It's an intense schedule, and there's still one more class period we haven't even had yet (but I will probably be taking siddur), but I love the learning I'm doing. Women and mitzvot and social justice in particular today were almost antagonistic, but in a great, debate-filled, exciting way.

Exploring Jerusalem
I've been reading Amos Oz's memoir about his childhood in Jerusalem, A Tale of Love and Darkness, a book that's been on my reading list for awhile, but I was saving for a trip to Israel. Neal Gold suggested waiting even longer, until after I'd been living in Jerusalem, and knew the city well enough to recognize streets and places. The part I read on Friday night describes the walk Amos takes with his parents on Shabbat afternoon to visit his uncle in Talpiyot: "Shortly before four we would finally turn left off Derech Hevron and enter the suburb of Talpiyot...we turned right into Kore Hadorot Street as far as the pine wood, then left, and there we were outside Uncle's house." Derech Hevron is a few blocks from my apartment, and I cross it to get basically anywhere I go, so I was wondering where Kore Hadorot was. And then, as we were walking home from the picnic on Shabbat afternoon (just around the same time as in the book!), I saw a sign for Kore Hadorot Street, just a couple blocks down the hill from my apartment, I walk past it at least twice a day.

All in all, my first week in Jerusalem has been fun, exciting, and challenging. I've realized it could be very easy (too easy) to walk to school in the morning and go home at night, without exploring Jerusalem and Israel further, or even hearing and using my Hebrew. A challenge to continue to explore...

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