Monday, July 28, 2014

Kippah Stories

So much has happened this summer in Israel. It’s difficult to record– let alone remember it all. 

It almost feels frivolous writing about non-war related experiences, but, on the other hand, perhaps it’s important to do so. To show that life goes on regardless. 

Study, worry, play, dining out, touring, more worry, protest, listening to the news, meeting people from all sides (not both sides b/c as Jews – or perhaps just humans – we know there are never just 2 sides of any issue).  I’ve partaken in all these things this summer. As well as prayer. Oh, and shopping.

However, no Israel experience blog of mine would be complete without Kippah Stories. There are actually fewer than usual of substance this summer, but there are a few. 

Here they are: 

✡ A young religious girl at the Friday morning Jerusalem Crafts Fair on Bezalel Street doing a complete double take – turning herself completely physically around while still holding onto her mother’s hand – so that she wouldn’t lose sight of the novelty of me (or actually my kippah bedecked head).

✡ The family man with wife and small children who approached me, my daughter and our friend Rachel at the First Station in Jerusalem. We were eating dinner outdoors at a restaurant and he asked if he could take a picture of us – me and Rachel actually – because we were two women wearing kippot. I think that was Rachel’s second time that day being photographed!

✡  Then there was the “cool” (at least in his own mind) guy on the motorcycle who did an illegal U across traffic on Keren Hayesod (a main street in Jerusalem) on a late Friday afternoon to ask me if I were a rabbi because I was wearing a kippah. (Jennie and I were waiting for a taxi to take us to a friend’s for Shabbat dinner.) He ended up with one wheel on the sidewalk and one in the road in front of a car that hadn’t quite come to a stop and was about to hit him! All because he saw my kippah from across the road and felt an urgent need to question me about it! Why did the chicken cross the road? We talked for a few minutes and then he left to try to pick up a woman waiting on the next block! 

There have been quite a few other instances of quick looks, a shopkeeper asking to photograph y kippah b/c he liked the design, questions from other shop keepers that usually end with a Kol haKavod -- translated in this case mostly to “you go girl! (from women) with a few “you are off your rocker” meanings thrown in for good measure (often from kippah wearing men in their 20s). But I’ve saved the best for last.

✡  Last week I was walking down HaMelech George (King George Street) toward the Conservative Yeshiva. I was concentrating on the text message I was sending and therefore wasn’t very aware of what was going on around me. Gradually I heard voices gradually raising around/toward/behind me, in Hebrew, saying “Give me a blessing!” Finally I looked around and realized the voices were aimed at me!

There were 3 young men, probably early 20, hanging out and smoking cigarettes in front of the ice cream freezer at the local makolet (like a mini-mart or bodega).  They wore kippot and looked to be Mizrachi (Jews of Eastern descent). 

Anyway, I walked back to them and the following conversation ensued in hebrew:

Me: Are you talking to me? 
They: Yes. Give us a blessing? 
Me: Why?
They: Because you are a Rabbanit, a Rabbah. Give us a blessing.
Me: How do you know I am a Rabbah? 
They: Because you are wearing a kippah. Give us a blessing.
Me: So you saw this woman wearing a kippah and figured she had to be a rabbah and started yelling at her – me to give you a blessing. And when I didn’t hear you, you kept yelling louder and louder until I heard you. All because I was wearing a kippah. 
They: Yes. Give us a blessing. 
Me: Again, why?
They: because if you were a Rav (a male rabbi) you would give us a blessing.
Me: (at that point I gave up or in) Okay…. (thinking hard, I’d never done this off the cuff before)  “Bracha shel shalom v’osher.”
They: (the two sort of smarmy ones smile, the third quiet one stays silent) OK. Thanks.  
Me: (I start to walk away)
They: Wait a minute! 
Me: (I turn around) yes? 
They: Osher with an Aleph or an Ayin
Me:  (Ya’Allah!) hmmm  Osher with an Aleph.
They: (2 nodding, 1 silent) Okay, thanks. 
Me: (I start to walk away again)
They: Wait a minute! 
Me: (I turn around again) Yes? 
They: Maybe also with an Ayin
Me: Ok. “Bracha shel shalom v’osher im aleph V’ayin!”**
They: All 3, including the silent sad one, nod all around and give me huge smiles and sincere thanks. 

**NOTE: Osher with an Aleph means happiness; Osher with an Ayin means wealth

That was at first a puzzling exchange, but the more I thought about it, the more I decided it was in fact a lovely exchange. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Conservative Yeshiva visits Ezrat Yisrael (Egalitarian part of Kotel)


The Conservative Yeshiva has been davenning Shacharit on Sunday mornings at Ezrat Yisrael as often as possible this summer. Here are some pictures of the chevre davenning there. It's lovely to see men and women praying together; women and men leading services; and everyone wearing varying forms of ritual garb - various headcoverings (kippah, hat, scarf or bare head), tallit, tefillin.


A group of students walked to the Kotel VERY EARLY IN THE MORNING with
CY teacher Esther Israel and learned local history on the way. 

Rabbi Joel Levy, Director of the CY, preparing to start davenning.
JTS student Louis Polisson leading Shacharit.

It was a lovely prayer service. Folks were comfortable
just being who they were, as they were,  and praying together. 

This session is a quite a bit larger than last session. Not only do we have a large complement of summer students from all over the world, we also have a group of 30 students specifically from France! Makes for interesting and varied conversations - truly enriches and deepens our learning on all levels. 

Rabbi Joel giving a brief history of Robinson's Arch. 

We had so many people we had to share Siddurim!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bombs on Jerusalem - I'm pissed off

Today was the last day of the first summer session at the Conservative Yeshiva. To celebrate I went shopping with friends and had a generally lovely afternoon. Around 6pm I stopped back at the Yeshiva, retrieved my backpack from my locker and started walking to my apartment. At 6:09 pm the warning siren went off when I was less than 5 buildings from my apartment. A man in a car parked in front of me motioned for me to sit on the bench behind me situated next to a wall in a seemingly protected position. He sat down next to me and continued his phone call in Hebrew as the siren continued to sound. Turns out he was talking to a friend in Gaza.

Then the booms started. One. Two. Three. Four.  He estimated that the strikes were about 2 miles from us. We didn't know if there were others, if any got through, if anyone was hurt. Although we did hear ambulances (and very nearby) , we didn't see any plumes of smoke. We walked around -back toward the Yeshiva and the US Consulate building on Agron Street. Found one American 18 year old sitting on the ground in shock crying from his experience; we helped him on his way. Other than that, all looked pretty normal.  Ultimately we learned that 2 missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome (B"H for that) and 2 missiles got through but no one was hurt.

He and I talked for a while more (turns out he's a journalist), exchanged business cards, and went on our individual ways.

On Debka. com I found:

« Breaking News »
Rocket salvo against Jerusalem 
DEBKAfile July 10, 2014, 6:09 PM (IDT)
Hamas launched a four-rocket salvo against Jerusalem Thursday afternoon, causing no damage or casualties. Two were intercepted.

Somehow this sounds so matter of fact, banal almost. In truth, that's almost how I feel. Matter of fact. I did call my husband to check in - wanted to hear his voice as I always do in extreme situations but more so so that he wouldn't worry when he hear the news. I ran into a friend from the Yeshiva and we exchanged hugs and talked a bit. But I didn't feel the upset and shakiness and fear that I feel like I'm supposed to be feeling. Like so many I know I are feeling. 

Some have asked if I want to go home to the States.  No way. I am staying here. There is no way I'd leave here now. I'm pissed as hell. Why is it okay for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sderot, all the other places in Israel to be bombed and NO ONE is saying anything? I don't understand it. 

I was raised to believe that human life is human life. All blood is red. All people have the right to live without fear. I know there are inequities here in Israel. There are other places too. I don't want to get into that. I just want someone to tell me why it is okay for this country's citizens and cities to be bombed when if the same thing, God forbid, happened to a city in the US or England or anywhere else there would be an outcry.  

Do people hate the Jews that much? What have the Jews as a people done to the rest of the world - now and throughout history - to deserve such a place, such a treatment, such a double standard? 

Part of me can't even believe I am typing these words to a blog that will go out on the internet. I usually shy away from overt politics as such. But I am sick - my soul is sick, my heart is sick. I was already sick from the situation here - the whole "Arab-Israeli politics" situation.  Now I feel deathly ill. And I don't know any remedies. 

To be created in God's Image - B'tzelem Elohim - is believe in the inherent right of all humankind (or homo-sapians as my dear friend and teacher Shaiya Rothberg would say) to live with dignity, without fear, with safety, with freedoms, with equality....  It is time to be fully who we are - Human - and repair this world we live in. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Prayer Experience: Part II – What I Prayed

My previous post was about how I realized that where I prayed - specifically Ezrat Yisrael or Robinson's Arch - impacted my prayer experience. What I need to talk about now was something that happened during my prayer experience that morning. I’ve been teaching a Learner’s Minyan course this summer at the Conservative Yeshiva (CY) – the how’s and why’s of prayer, the technical part and the spiritual/emotional part.  What I hadn't realized was how much more aware of my own daily prayer experience I would become by teaching about prayer. 

So Sunday morning (July 6) I was in the zone. The davening was lovely – niggunim, proper nusach (I’m a sucker for proper nusach), voices raised in community.  I was saying the words, singing, swaying, dancing, meditating – all my usual prayer modalities. I felt… connected, like I was being filled up at some deep level that hadn’t been filled in a while.  Especially after a lovely, restful Shabbat with davening that soothed and touched me and after spending time with folks that felt like family when I’m so far from home.  So spiritually/emotionally things were going well.

Until I started my recitation of the silent Amida. Things were going well until I got to the 12th blessing of the Amidah.  And I read the following words in the Hebrew: 

 וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה. וְכָל הָרִשְׁעָה כְּרֶגַע תּאבֵד. וְכָל אויְבֵיךָ מְהֵרָה יִכָּרֵתוּ. וְהַזֵדִים 
מְהֵרָה תְעַקֵּר וּתְשַׁבֵּר וּתְמַגֵּר וְתַכְנִיעַ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', שׁובֵר אויְבִים וּמַכְנִיעַ זֵדִים: 
v'La'malshinim al t'hi'ii tikva......

I was gobsmacked. Everything just stopped for me. I physically took a step back and stumbled out of the spiritual "zone"that I'd been in. Reality had intruded. The matzav, the day to day reality of what was going on in Israel hit me in the face. The four murdered boys - the three Israeli Jewish boys, the one Palestinian Muslim boy. The venomous hate spewing from mouths on both sides. The calls for love and peace coming from the parents of the Jewish boys. The protests, the riots, the anger, the fear, the rumors, the gossip, the unknown total truth, the calls for justice, the calls for peace, the calls for revenge. 

Now six Jewish young men ranging in age from 16-25  have been arrested for murdering the Arab boy. Will justice be served? What is justice in this situation? And why haven't the murderers of the 3 Jewish boys been found and captured yet? What will be a just punishment for them? Is there one? 

One feels the tension on the street. Emotions are high, tempers flame, people are wrapped very tight, people who don't usually pray are praying and those who do usually pray are questioning what good prayer does.  It feels like the world has turned upside down. 

The prayer... In his article in the My People's Prayer Book: the Amidah, Lawrence Hoffman says this prayer "is actually a malediction not a benediction." (p133).  What is a malediction? Just as a benediction is a blessing, a malediction is a curse or "a phrase uttered with the intention of bringing about evil or destruction." It surely seems that the folks the prayer is talking about - heretics, slanderers - have evil intentions in mind. So what are we praying about? 

Let's look at a few translations of this prayer - Birkat HaMinim - the Blessing of Heretics: 

  • Frustrate the hopes of all who malign us; let all evil very soon disappear. Let all your enemies soon be destroyed. May you quickly uproot and crush the arrogant; may You subdue and humble them in our time. Praised are You, Lord who humbles the arrogant.  (Siddur Sim Shalom, Conservative) 
  • And for the slanderers, let there be no hope; and may all wickedness perish in an instant; and may all Your enemies be cut down speedily. May you speedily uproot, smash, cast down, and humble the wanton sinners - speedily in our days. Blessed are you,  Hashem, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.  (Artscroll, Orthodox)
  • V'la'malshinim al t'hi tikvah v'chol harish'a k'rega toved.  Baruch atah YHVH machniyah zedim. Let all who speak and act unjustly find no hope for ill intentions. Let all wickedness be lost. Blessed are You, JUST ONE, who subdues the evildoers. (Kol HaNeshama, Reconstructionist - NOTE: middle line has been removed)

Who are the slanderers? They are traditionally understood to be Jews, heretical Jewish sects in the that existed in Israel some time after the destruction of the Second Temple. Examples are: Sadducees, Essenes, the early Christians and others. 

We pray here for the undoing of the slanderers and the heretics. We pray that our enemies, who are by definition the enemies of God, get what's coming to them. We pray that evil speech is frustrated (always a good thing to wish for). We bless the One who is going to wreak havoc upon all the bad guys.  

Okay. This is a prayer that people might want to say in a time when we believed in a personal God who intervened in the daily world - and though many people find this prayer problematic today, specifically for definitional and intentional reasons, I can see why people might want to put thoughts like this out into the universe in times of crisis.  

But why do we say this prayer daily today? That however, is a question for another time. 

Back to Sunday. Why did it shake me up the way it did?  I still don't know.  Maybe it's because we still say it on a daily basis. Maybe it's just that it is distasteful. This reminder that not only are there mean, evil people in the world but that dafka, these people are all around us, living among us - are in fact US. Maybe, probably, we each even have a little bit of la'malshinim,  the slanderers, the heretics, the ones who bear tales, the ones who get others in trouble -- and extrapolating from there - the ones who don't always do the right thing (whether for the perceived or real "right" or "wrong" reasons), the ones who cause dissent, the ones who cause needless and senseless pain to others. 

When I first started saying and learning about this prayer as a young girl,  the malshinim of blessing #12 in the Amidah always represented "bad" in contrast to the Tzadikim and Chassidim (the righteous) whom we pray for in blessing #13.  Today I am no longer the young girl who took the words of her prayers at face value. I understand that the world is made up of stark contrasts of darks and lights, not muted shades of grey. The "good" of yesterday can be the "bad" of tomorrow. One's former enemy can quickly turn into an ally.  

There are extremists all around and there are those who hold the middle ground.  How do we find those we need to align with for peace? How do we know who to trust? How do we know that those we perceive as enemies are not in fact true allies - with the same hopes, fears and loves that we have - but the barriers between us are so thick that it is nearly impossible to make the necessary connections? 

Living in the multicultural city of Jerusalem, the home of my heart and soul;  standing, not at the "main" section of the Kotel but a smaller egalitarian section, but on ancient, contested and holy ground nevertheless;  and praying words of praise, thanksgiving and petition to the Awesome One, the Creator of All - I experienced a moment.  

In that moment I was transported from a state of complacency to awareness, from an American to a citizen of the World,  from a rabbah who tends to avoid public discussions of politics to a rabbah who realizes that all politics are not only local but in fact internal. 

And what am I left with? At the moment, a large Question Mark?

Note:  as I was about to post this sirens went off in Jerusalem and two booms. My family lives in Ashkelon and Beersheva and they are being barraged daily with missiles - especially Ashkelon. It is time for peace. Now.  

We are all fine. B"H