Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 52

Yom Kippur in Jerusalem is an incredibly unique experience. All of the things that people will tell you are true - almost everyone in the city dresses in white (except for me, because I'm a rebel\didn't realize that was a trend until it was too late to do anything about it), there are next to no cars on the road (there were, however, a ton of police cars) and the television stations shut down for the holiday. Miriam and Sara (Gunning) and I took ample advantage of the lack of cars and walked in the middle of the road whenever we could throughout the day.

We went to Kol Nidre services at a minyan called Kehilat Kedem - "an independent egalitarian minyan committed to spiritual traditional prayer" - that I would describe in laymen's terms as "more Conservative than anything else I've been to for Kol Nidre." The Kol Nidre service was led by Leora Perkins, a Brandeis friend, who did a beautiful, beautiful job. I had my first surprising experience of the night when we left services, only to find Emek Refaim crowded with people out enjoying the evening. It seems that secular families use Kol Nidre as a chance to go rollerblading\skateboarding\biking around the city. We saw groups of teenagers sitting and playing cards in the middle of major intersections, families out walking their dogs, and lots and lots and lots of people making their way home from services.

This morning we went back to services at Kedem which was, to be frank, disappointing for me. I know enough Hebrew and enough traditional prayer to be comfortable in a Shabbat or weekday service, but Yom Kippur is apparently a little beyond me. I found the service to be isolating in an unexpected way; yes, there were times the whole group sang or chanted together, but it was almost always in Hebrew that I didn't really understand, to tunes that I don't really know. I also don't really feel comfortable with parts of the service such as the recreation of the Temple Service, or the act known as duchaning (any Kohanim present are called up to bless the congregation), or the occasions when the congregation would prostrate itself on the floor. These are things that just aren't a part of my Jewish practice, and I know that some of my discomfort comes from a lack of education about the rituals, but some of it is about beliefs. I don't feel the need to be blessed by my peers - the notion of the priesthood doesn't carry a lot of weight with me.

I did really appreciate the beautiful Torah and Haftorah readings, and the excellent job my new Pardes friend Mark did of leading Mussaf (the service after the Torah service). Also, there's a lot to be said for praying in a community where so many of the faces are familiar - I feel very comfortable with the people present at Kedem services, and I look forward to getting to know them better.

After services at Kedem ended we walked to HUC for the afternoon services at Beit Shmuel (this is Beit Shmuel). Services were in a beautiful auditorium with one wall made entirely of glass, looking out over the Old City. I hope that watching sunsets in Jerusalem never gets old. I really appreciated being in a Reform service this afternoon - I'm trying to be open-minded and adventurous with my prayer options this year, because I know that there are a lot of communities here that don't have parallels in the States, but sometimes all I want is something comfortable and familiar. HUC was definitely both of those things. The sermon this afternoon was really powerful - the rabbi, whose name I don't know - talked about transitive and intransitive verbs (not transient and intransient, as I reported to Will and Sarah earlier this evening!), and how it's important to be an ambi-transitive verb. So in English what that means is, there are verbs that need objects (I eat food) and verbs that don't (I fast), and it's important to be both. One thing he said that really stuck out to me was "I grow isn't enough - if growth isn't directed towards something, it's not growth, it's just self-indulgence." There was a greater message about the importance of acting upon the world as opposed to simply letting the world act on you, which is a sentiment that I really believe in and loved hearing expressed so eloquently.

The Yizkor service was difficult, as expected. Saying goodbye to people is hard. Miriam and I both forgot to bring tissues, and had a moment where we looked at each other and said "our mothers would not approve of this!" It made me think about going through Grandma Marilyn's belongings after her funeral, and finding a hand mirror and a package of tissues in every single purse in her closet.

Tomorrow is a special day at Pardes - we're having lectures instead of our normal class schedule, and it's only a half day, and then we have vacation until the 12th! I still haven't figured out the details of what I'm doing over this break, but the longer I wait to make any choices, the more and more it looks like I'll be taking a few day trips around the country, which I think is a perfectly acceptable way to spend a vacation. I might also borrow Sharon's sewing machine while she's in Argentina, and spend a little time being creative.

Other major things that have happened here include a trip to the Jerusalem Forest for an afternoon with my Self, Soul, and Text class to practice hitbodedut (solitude). We spent an hour talking to God, which was a very powerful experience for me, and something I've been thinking about a lot since then. I don't know what we're going to be studying next, but I'm looking forward to it! I'm signed up for an ulpan that starts after Sukkot, so I'll be able to get some more practice and teaching with Hebrew - I'm finding it pretty difficult to study on my own, so I'm really looking forward to having the chance to be in a group setting.

I hope that everyone had an easy and meaningful fast.

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