Belated Shabbat Recap — Awesome, but Waiting is the Hardest Thing

Well, I finally made it back to shul this week and got to talk to the rabbi.  He thinks it’ll be three to four months before I can start my conversion classes formally.  This is actually not as bad of a thing as it sounds, because it’ll give me time to plow through all the reading material and take notes and write down questions and suchlike.  It’s all good.  Time is time.  Plus, it’ll give me more time to save up money so I can make a move to the Little Israel neighbourhood.

Shul was amazing.  The rabbi usually gives a dvar Torah in the middle of the service, or an “insight,” as he calls them.  This week, he talked about the phrase “Mi borei ele,” or “Who created this?” from the parsha.  He talked about anagrams of  מי (mi) and אלה (ele, “this”; “these” in Modern Hebrew), which, from my perspective as a language geek, was absolutely fascinating.  The glitter from my eyes might have been a trifle distracting, though.  It was almost as though he’d written it with me in mind!  (Not true, but hey.)

Also, he gave the blessing for Rosh Chodesh Av.  Av is a solemn month, marked by the fast day of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, among other things — it’s a really bad day in Jewish history.  So as the rabbi said, the blessing had to be extra-powerful to see us all through.  Well, I think he managed.  I know a few things about vocal music, having done to Ontario Conservatory Grade VIII vocals myself, and that man has a fine set of pipes.  Very reminiscent of the late great Jewish rabbi and vocalist Shlomo Carlebach, actually.  And this blessing had, as they say in baseball terms, mustard on it.  The shul walls practically leaned in as the rabbi poured all his energy into singing the prayer.  He filled the entire sanctuary (and probably beyond) with his voice, and it felt like a powerful beam of intention was going straight up into the heavens.

I literally got chills.  Wow. 

I hope to have many more Shabbats like that one.

I don’t think I will be fasting on Tisha B’Av this year, because it falls on a Monday/Tuesday, and I will still have to work (that “furtiveness” thing again), but I may do something (like eat vegan for the day or something) to compensate.

 

Shabbat Observances

I did:

— make it to shul

— light a candle and say the brachot

— not write anything

— get my Shabbat timer working properly

— not use the computer

— mostly manage to avoid tearing toilet paper (except once)

— remember to say brachot before eating, and Grace After Meals

— make an abbreviated Havdalah

— not use any hot water

I did not:

— make candle-lighting on time (“furtiveness” strikes again)

— manage to completely avoid turning on lights (I forgot once — this should change once I have my own place and can tape the light switches until I have better habits)

— eat any bread

— stay off the telephone (I have got to figure out something to do in the “witching hour” between the time I wake up after my post-shul-and-Shabbat-lunch afternoon nap and dinnertime, when I have read everything I feel like reading and everything)

— refrain completely from cooking, as I forgot and sliced raw eggplant into a stir-fry I was reheating

plus the usual “fixtures.”  I also had to wash my hair shinui, as my scalp was itching terribly after I got home.

All in all, not a bad job for bli neder.

Brief Hiatus

My neighbours found my boy cat in their bushes this afternoon.  It looks as though he had a heart attack while stalking something — he had a congenital heart defect and a terminal diagnosis, but I wasn’t expecting the end to come this soon.

We will return to our regularly scheduled (mis)adventures in the land of the marginally insane after I feel a bit better.  BDE, buddy.  I miss you already.

 

My First Shabbat Lunch, and Passing

It’s been interesting when I have gone to Israel, to see the assumptions people make about me.  Pretty much everyone assumes I’m Jewish already, and a vast number of people assume I’m a fluent Hebrew-speaker (which I am not, although I am getting better all the time).  RR, my Israeli coworker, says that most Israelis have a pretty well-honed sense of how to tell the natives from the tourists, but he once said of me, “I bet when you go to Israel, people speak Hebrew at you first.”  Yes, this is true.  (Most people who give off the “obvious tourist” vibe get English first.)  Of course, as soon as I open my mouth, people switch to English, which is bad im ani rotza letargil (if I want to practice), because my accent is still fairly atrocious.  (My first Hebrew teacher was originally from Philadelphia and I guess I still have a fairly pronounced American accent when I speak Hebrew.)

Anyway, one of the things I like about Israel is that sense of passing, that just about everybody’s assumptions about me are wrong.  I don’t lie to people about not being Jewish if asked, but most of the time, I’m quite content to just let it ride, to be honest. 

When I called a cab on Shabbat to take me to a friend’s apartment near the Talpiot neighbourhood in Jerusalem for lunch, I made sure I was dressed properly for the occasion — long-sleeved teal top with a scarf at the neckline, long white skirt, white shoes, socks — and the cabdriver kind of gave me this look until I said, “Oh, I’m not religious; I’m just visiting friends who are.”  Heh.

Aside:  On my first trip to Israel, the cab driver who was taking me from the airport in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem asked me (in Hebrew) the standard questions: 

CD:  “Have you been to Israel before?” 

SE:  “No, this is my one time.”

CD:  “You mean ‘first time’.”

SE:  “Yes, first time.  First time.”

CD:  “Do you like Israel?”

SE:  “Yes, it’s very beautiful.”

CD:  “Are you Jewish?”

SE:  “No.”

CD:  “Why not?”

SE: …

I finally just laughed and shrugged and said “I don’t know.”  Well, here we are.

DE came and met me on the streetcorner near his apartment building, and we went up.  I got to meet his wife and children, and have a look at his apartment (modest in the style of most Israeli apartments).  Before we sat down for lunch, he asked me if I wanted to wash my hands (in the ritual sense) just like the rest of the family, said the bracha, and showed me how to do it.  Wonderful!  We sat down to a nice vegetarian lunch (I didn’t eat any of the dairy foods due to my allergy, but I did eat a lot of hummus, and lentil salad), and a nice kiddush* over grape juice. 

After the meal, DE said the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals), and then he passed around some bentschers with zemirot (songs to be sung around the table on Shabbat).  We sang a song called “Mipi El,” which is a Sfardi song with lyrics in both Hebrew and Ladino (which is to Spanish as Yiddish is to Polish and German).  DE chose it specifically for me because it’s slow and the lyrics are pretty easy, so once I caught on to the tune, I was able to sing along.  Then DE and his wife and I got into a spirited discussion of Jewish musicology vis-a-vis Western music and musical appropriation and so on, what I liked and didn’t like about Israel, and everything.  I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to doing it again.

Being able to participate and belong to that small group was a really enriching, wonderful experience (and completely mirrors what I’ve experienced at Beit Meshugge), and I want to thank DE again for making it possible.  Although I know (and have written about) many negative things I might face in conversion, this is one of the positive things that draws me in, ineluctably. 

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* For those of you who might be a bit confused by the link, lunch is usually the first meal Sabbath-observant Jews eat after waking on Shabbat, as the Shulchan Aruch says that one should attend to G-d before attending to one’s personal needs, so they get up and go to shul to pray first, before eating.  Since the Shabbat services are fairly long, it’s normal for people to get home around lunchtime, more or less.

The Most Metal Convert Ever (?)

I have this coworker who is a transferee from Israel (he used to live in Modi’in, if I’m not mistaken).  I think he’s great, and we have a lot in common, so we chat all the time.  He’s another born Jew who is convinced I’m secretly and actually Jewish (not unlike my ex-fiance’s father, and various other folks who have told me over the years that I really have a Jewish soul), which periodically comes up in conversation, as it did today:

RR:  Well, what do you want to do?  But then, you’re Jewish.

SE:  Not yet, but soon.

RR:  Really?

SE:  Really.

RR:  Are you converting Reform?  Or Conservative?

SE:  I’m actually talking to the Orthodox rabbi.

RR:  Really?!  (laughs)  You are hardcore.  You are hardcore.

Rock on, folks.

Favourite Words and Wisdom

My favourite line from the morning blessings is

נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא

(Neshama she’natet bi tahora hi), the soul You have placed within me is pure.  I have always visualised souls as looking like kidney-bean-shaped quasi-orbs of glowing white light, so it’s very easy for me to think of this line a lot.  It also helps me be mindful (there’s that word again!) of other people — I have a pure soul, and so do you, and so does that person over there, and so even do people I don’t particularly like.  For some reason, the image just sticks with me, and the line itself is consonant and has a lovely internal rhyme.  Every time I say this bracha in the morning, I want to repeat that line three or four times.

My favourite bit of Jewish wisdom, which I think everyone could stand to internalise — Jewish, not Jewish, atheist, Flying Spaghetti Monsterist, et cetera, is

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ולא אתה בן חורין להיבטל ממנו

(Lo alayikh ha’melacha ligmor ve’lo ata ben khorin lehivastel mimenu)*, usually translated roughly as “It is not for you to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”  (From Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot.)  In context, this refers to the work of tikkun olam, repairing the world, but can be applied to many tasks, and even to life itself at times.

The words…I am in love with them.  Hebrew especially is like a fascinating stranger I can’t help but be totally infatuated with, but who isn’t going to fall easily for my advances!  (Oh Hebrew, will you marry me?) 

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* Amazingly enough, I can directly understand the Hebrew much better now than I could when I first asked my friend DE for the Hebrew text — I read Pirkei Avot in English, as my Hebrew is still pretty bad.  Yay!

A Transformative Experience

One of the many steps along the way for me was when I visited Israel the first time (on a business trip), I went for a walk at night in Jerusalem and wound up at Gan Ha’Atzma’ut, Independence Park.  I sat down on the low stone wall that surrounds the edge of the park, and just took everything in.  (Yerushalayim Shel Zahav is a lie; the whole place is made of even.)

A thought came to me.  I thought, “I feel like I could just turn into a tree, put down roots right here, and grow in peace.”*

When I met with the rabbi, I told him that story and he commented, “What an interesting image.” 

 

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* The etz boded (solitary tree) is a fairly common image in Israeli poetry, I have since observed.

Quick Hit: Something Weird for a Monday Night

I bet none of you know that Hasidic punk rock is a thing.

 

The Na Nachs are kind of weird, but they do know how to party.  (Learn more from the source:  NaNach.org.)

Na Nach sticker on payphone

Na Nach sticker on a Jerusalem payphone. The Hebrew reads “Rabbi Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman. The King of Israel is alive and exists.”  Photo by me, April 2013, Jerusalem city centre.

In Israel, hese guys are also, I should mention, known for their Torah-inspired techno.  They’re basically HaShem’s Happy Ravers.  Probably a much safer high than E, too.

Update:  Aaaaaand  I totally missed the best joke, which is “These guys put the ‘Rav’ in ‘rave’.”  *sigh*