27 August, 2010

"With a little help from my friends"

"With a little help from my friends" cover by Joe Cocker.
The past couple of weeks have been hard all around and not only for me. The city, Jerusalem, experienced yet another heat wave, reaching over 41C and full humidity. This makes people lose what very little patience they have and essentially eliminates tolerance as far as I can tell. School, really Hebrew ulpan, finished a couple days ago and this last stretch was the hardest. So many people really starting to feel the ache for home; some are able to quench that by seeing loved ones, some not. The anxiety of starting the fall semester, the first of grad school, is palpable on campus.

There have been a couple overriding themes too over the last few weeks. The first is that life goes on. The second is that when the first happens, friends are there.
Relationships start, end, mature. Children are born, grow, change. Health problems develop, subside, overtake. Perspectives solidify, evolve, dissolve. Mental fortitude solidifies, morphs, crumbles. Life goes on.

Conversations spring up in the middle of the night and the wee hours of the morning. They last for hours and outweigh other activities. A simple phone call to say "I'm thinking of you" has more power than one can even imagine. A note on a board letting someone know that they are cared for, a tremendous impact. A text in the morning to say hello from across an ocean, immeasurable. A hug.

In the midst of life happening, so do friends. The reason this journey is bearable and enjoyable: friends. There is another song, this one courtesy NFTY (the Reform Jewish youth group) which has some lyrics:
"Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow
Don't walk behind me, I may not lead
Just walk beside me, and be my friend"
[depending on the version, the next several lines are varied].
One of the things I take from this song, is that just being present, just existing together is sometimes what you need in a friend. Someone to walk with you.

In a lecture this week, we went over some selections from this amazing set of books, titled: יטורי תורה, which I'm going to breakdown and buy here in Israel. We focused only on the last book which dealt with the ימים נוראים, [yamim nora'im] the days of awe, which are rapidly approaching. From the seventh book on the holy days, on page 9, here's a very rough summary of one of the texts:
A man was lost walking in the forest for a few days and didn't know the way out. He happened upon another man who came from a different direction and instantly thought this man knew the way. This second man was also wandering in the forest lost for a few days and could only share the ways he had tried, which clearly did not work. What he said to the first man was this: and now, let us go together, and find the right way.

We may not know the path someone took to get where they are, and they may not know that of us. We can share our experiences and the lessons we were taught through those experiences. We can lend an ear, a shoulder, a hand. We can give what we need; we can be what we need: a friend. Together we will make it out of the forest, as life happens all about us.

07 August, 2010

"The rhythm is gonna get you"

Gloria Estafan's song was the inspiration this week. [side note: I'm kind of really liking the song titles thing, so I'm going to continue it for now].
Yesterday was the start of the Israeli weekend, which isn't really like anything in the States. In Colorado, you had two full days to get things done. Although, arguably, it was difficult to do many things on Sundays because there were a lot of places closed. After work on Friday's it was a rush to get to Shabbat and it took a long time to really feel it. Then it ended quickly and Sunday came as just another day, but a day to do things, not shabbat and not work either. I miss Sundays. Here, in Jerusalem, the feeling is so different than that. People go out and party on Thursday nights and some on Saturday nights too (though they are hurting come Sunday morning).
Friday is all about preparation. Cleaning of the house, doing the laundry, cooking for shabbat, shopping for the coming week, making challah. What's fascinating is that it feels like the entire city is doing this too. This might be a really poor analogy and one that falls apart quickly, but I see it almost akin to Christmas the way people treat each other on Fridays. Pushy and yet courteous, short and yet kind, and when all is done, end with 'shabbat shalom.' But instead of once a year, it's once a week. I digress.

By the time services roll around on Friday night, you're already in the Shabbat mood because you've been thinking about it for hours. You've taken a shower in the afternoon and put on your temporarily-clean, white clothes. The flowers have been set out, the candles ready to go, the book of zimrot (songs) sits on the table. It is a shabbat ready for peace.

And the entire city is this way. It's crazy. For me coming from Boulder/Denver, the difference is remarkable. Walking into synagogue with others also dressed up (all to varying degrees) and ready for services and our voices harmonize, it's incredible. Last night I went to a synagogue with a mehitzah (a barrier between men and women). I've been many times before to this particular shul as well as others which have this separation. Rather than getting upset at the situation (I did go there by choice after all), I found the positives about it. The women were sitting together and I was surrounded by these voices of all generations. You could hear their stories in the way they prayed and sang. There was no competition over attention from men or insecurity over what they thought or other things which distract from prayer, it just was. We could see through the linen (it was lighter than cheese cloth) at the men's side, so hearing them wasn't an issue. It was as if they too were harmonizing on their side and our two collectives were combining to make this sound which is indescribable. Together we met the sabbath bride. After an hour and a half, services concluded and shabbat had fully arrived. The city was giddy with food and wine and friends. Nothing comes close to this experience in Colorado (and dare I even attempt to add anywhere in the world?)

This happens every week. It doesn't wait. Shabbat doesn't get put on hold for one last review of you paper or that last trip to the store. It doesn't pause for you to get ready; you have to prepare yourself for it. You have to be able to plan accordingly, because, ready or not, here it comes. And it's contagious and easy here. I actually start thinking about Shabbat on Mondays. The rhythm of each week is constructed around those 25hours. As it says in the song "No matter what you say, you know it, the rhythm is gonna get'cha" and that is certainly true for Shabbat in Jerusalem.

02 August, 2010

"Come on get higher"

"Come on get higher" song by Matt Nathanson.
Come on get higher, loosen my lips. Today I went shopping. Not for skirts or food or books, but for myself. And that is what I found. I committed last week to buying tefillin, which is not a cheap endeavor. I knew it would be around $200-$250 for the low-mid range set and I was fine with this. Finding a store to selling it to me, a woman, that is a different story. Today I found the store, the place which doesn't find equality or pluralism dirty words. I saw them on the counter, ready to be purchased, as if they had my name on them. There was no choice.

We were actually in the store to look and test out a shofar, traditionally blown during high holy days (which are rapidly approaching in just about 5wks). I have never tried to sound a shofar but have wanted to try. I thought since I had no experience in it, I should start with the small, delicately sized ones. No sound came out. I filled my lungs with air and practiced with just my lips, and yet as soon as the shofar came close, nothing. I graduated to a slightly larger one, though the mouth piece was still small and almost triangular. Same result. Sigh. Maybe I was just meant to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing it sounded, rather than to sound it myself. I'm not one to give up easily, plus it was a lot of fun, even though we were getting light headed, so I kept trying. Nearly at my wits' end, I reached for a larger one, about 2feet long, with two twists, beautiful coloring. It starts out black and then goes to a light brown with lots of gradations in between. I put it to my lips and it just fit. Out came a sound that was akin to a dying moose (or so I'm told). I was just so elated that any noise came out. I kept at it, and I was able to duplicate the terrible noise over and over again. Then I knew it was mine.

A shofar and tefillin, what a shopping day indeed! My spirits are high, my lips are loosened and I cannot wait to implement these things into my life.