(if you missed Dispatch 1, click here)
It is difficult to describe what it is like to be in Jerusalem for Shabbat, but I will try. First, it is important to note that in Israel the “weekend” for most people is Friday and Saturday. That Sunday brunch thing we in America do, Israelis do on Friday. With that in mind you can imagine what Friday is like in Jerusalem. The first couple hours of the day people are scrambling to finish off any work and run errands, and then you slowly feel a sense of the entire city shutting down. Even at Hartman, our session on Friday ended at noon so we could get out and experience Friday in Jerusalem. Most stores begin shutting down around 2 PM. You begin to see people making their way home with their challahs and wine, cakes and rugelach, fruits and flowers, pistachio nuts and sunflower seeds. By 6 PM dinner is ready, the table is set, and those people so inclined (and it is many) begin to set off to the hundreds of places in the city where you can participate in Kabbalat Shabbat/Friday evening service. As you walk to shul you see hundreds of people scampering off on foot to whatever shul they plan to join to usher in the Shabbat.
I chose to attend a little minyan called Kehilat Tzion that meets in the Matnas (JCC) in Baka. It is led by Rabbi Tamar Eldad-Applebaum. Tamar wanted to create the first truly “Jerusalemite” minyan. Friday night services are a mix of the traditions of many of the different Jewish communities that have settled in Jerusalem. Whether you are Yemenite or Moroccan, German or Polish, Egyptian or Bukharin, you will find something in the service that reminds you of Kabbalat Shabbat back in your home town.
The Kabbalat Shabbat service opened with the chanting of parts of Shir Hashirim/Song of Songs, piyyutim/liturgical poems, and classic Israeli folk songs. The singing was accompanied by guitar and violin. This was all before we even got to Yedid Nefesh, the traditional poem that we use to start our Friday night service. Looking over the crowd that was standing room only, there were people from every walk of life. I saw men without kippot and women with their heads covered. I saw Eastern-European Jews and Ethiopian Jews and everything in between. The mood-setting introductory “prayers” set a warm and meaningful tone for the entire service.
After shul it was off to some friends for Shabbat dinner. After dinner as I walked home, I again passed dozens of people all heading home from their Shabbat dinners with friends or relatives. There is a sublime calm that overwhelms the city as you encounter few cars or trucks and most businesses have long since closed for the weekend.
Shabbat morning, I was up early for services. Here services start at 8:30 AM (don’t get any ideas). Just like the night before, there are hundreds of options to choose from for your Shabbat morning davening. I chose to go to a typical Israeli Conservative synagogue. It is not easy to get lost because you come across so many people walking to their shuls, there is always someone to ask for directions.
I wish I could say that my morning synagogue experience was a meaningful as the night before, but alas your typical Israeli Conservative shul is pretty much the same as ours. That is not to say that ours are not meaningful, just the same.
After shul I got to catch up with some very old friends for lunch. After lunch I caught a quick nap before heading back to Hartman for a lecture, dinner, and Saturday evening tisch to bring about the end of Shabbat.
Sunday morning we were back to our usual schedule. I am looking forward to tomorrow for our Tiyul/Excursion. We are going on a tour of Protest Art in Tel Aviv. I look forward to telling you about it and sending some pictures.
Until the next dispatch – L’hitraot.