My first week in Israel

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Shavuah tov! A good new week to you all. It has been a whirlwind for me here in Jerusalem. I have had two amazing Shabbatot, met such amazing and beautiful people and learned so much already – not just in my program, but from those I have met, from what I have seen and all that goes on in this unique and holy place.

The first couple of days of the Summer Curriculum Workshop have been great and I have made good progress on my unit. Thursday there were sharing sessions where other participants shared units of study or other programs that they use and feel might be of use to others. I learned about a great Pesah unit based in Mishnah that would be good in 6th grade and also about how to use catchy posters all around the room to engage students and enhance your curriculum. We also had a workshop on classroom management that was scheduled because so many of the participants listed help with classroom management as the number one thing that they wanted to have help with during their time at Pardes. The most interesting thing that I learned – not that I didn’t at some level know it already but really “got” – is that one “problem” can manifest itself or look 10 ways and have 15 different reasons for its existence. For example – a student who is off task can be a number of different things other than their work, and could be off task because the work it too easy, too hard, boring or they’re tired or hyped up or just feeling ornery. Maybe they had a fight with a friend or are upset about something at home. One behavior – 10 ways to look – 15 reasons – you can’t fix it just one way!!! You have to know all three parts and then figure out what is going to fix it.

Thursday evening I went out with Elena, who is another Fellow in the Workshop with me. We went to Ben Yehuda street and had fun window – and actual – shopping and had a lovely dinner. I was able to find a pair of Naot’s in a pattern that I had seen on Tuesday evening. The pair on Tuesday were in a style that I can’t wear and Khalifa Shoes on Jaffa Road had the style that I can! Aren’t they cute?

naots

Friday was a free day – the weekend is Friday and Saturday here – and Yischa and I went to the shuk (market) at Mahane Yehuda and shopping nearby and then to lunch. We had a fun time wandering around the market looking at all the fabulous produce and dried fruits, nuts, spices and such.

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It really is amazing to see it all. The people watching is also amazing. Friday morning half of Jerusalem seems to be there as everyone is shopping for their Shabbat meals and preparing for the stores to be closed from mid-afternoon Friday through Saturday evening.  After making some purchases in the shuk we went to Bat Ayin, which is a Laura Ashleyesque women’s store here in Jerusalem. Dressing modestly is a mitzvah and doing it with style and class a challenge. Women in Jerusalem really do an amazing job with layering and mixing and matching. I bought a beautiful dress that could be just a cute short summer dress, or with layering…well, you can see the picture.

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As many of you know, I am in the habit of covering my head when teaching or praying and usually wear a knitted kippah. Here in Jerusalem it is fashionable to wrap your head in a tichel or scarf. I decided to give this a try on Friday and was so happy with the look I wore a different one Friday night and another on Saturday! It is a bit cooler than the knitted kippah and they are quite versatile. Oh – and at lunch we met a St. Bernard who speaks Yiddish!

Friday evening we went to the Kotel – Western Wall – to greet Shabbat. We were there quite early and did some people watching as well as praying. It was so moving being up near the wall and being able to say my private prayers with my forehead against it. It is so amazing how just being in that place is so moving and seeing women from many countries and faiths there communing with the Divine was quite amazing. Seeing all of the various Jews gathering to welcome Shabbat in this most Holy place was also fascinating. From scantily dressed young girls, to overly dressed up families (Who wears 5 inch heels to walk through the Old City and pray at the Kotel?), to modestly dressed Orthodox girls and women, to the Kabbalists all in white to the more frum all in black and a group of African women in brightly colored traditional clothing – the variety was mind boggling.  I felt bad for the one guard whose job it is to offer a wrap to those who aren’t appropriately attired as there were far more people in need of covering up than she could possibly monitor! Really, it is inconceivable to me what some people feel is appropriate to wear to a holy site where people are praying. I don’t expect everyone to be covered from head to toe – but barely there leggings, stomaching baring shirts and micro-minis seem an odd option – and this wasn’t all on teenage girls.

We had brought candles along with us to light when it was time. We had hoped that there would be a place near the Wall where we would be able to light but were informed that it wasn’t safe and had been outlawed. We were told to check over near the restrooms (really) as there was a ledge there where the guard thought you could light. There was and we were debating whether to light or wait till it was actually time – about another 10 minutes. We had just decided to light when a group of young women came up and asked if we knew where they could get some candles to light. We said that we didn’t but that they could join us in blessing the candles that we had brought. They all circled around us and as a group, Yischa and I and 8 young Brazilian Jewish women, we all brought in Shabbat. We then hugged and kissed and wished each other a Shabbat of Peace. Yiscah and I were so glad that we had not decided to wait as we would have missed this opportunity to share in that moment with these young ladies. It was such a blessing to be able to provide them with an opportunity to light candles – particularly in such a special place (the Kotel, not the restrooms)

Trying to do the Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Wall on the women’s side of the mechitza (divider) is a real challenge. There were many groups of young men who were doing the service but started very early. The young women, on the other hand, seemed to want to sing and dance in a circle and celebrate being in Jerusalem and at the Kotel, but not actually daven Kabbalat Shabbat. I eventually gave up hoping for a group of women with whom to daven and got to the business of praying on my own. There was so much going on around me – the voices from the men’s section praying, the groups of girls singing “David, Melech Yisroel” or “Avinu Shalom Aleichem” over and over and the voices of other women nearby saying their own prayers. I am not sure that I would go back again for Friday evening as it was really my earlier praying that was most moving and I would have preferred to have been in a shul for Kabbalat Shabbat itself. This is one of those times where the realities of having one’s Jewish practice controlled by the Orthodox is really most upsetting. How beautiful might the davening had been if those young people – male and female – could have combined their energy and had a Kabbalat Shabbat service together in one place where others could join rather than the boys praying while the girls sing camp songs? I so wanted to wade into the men’s section and join in their prayers and give in to their energy and spirit. I kept hoping one of the groups of women would channel their enthusiasm into Yedid Nefesh, the first song in Kabbalat Shabbat, rather than another round of “Od yavo Shalom Aleinu”. Sadly, it was not to be.

Shabbat dinner in the Old City was at a wonderful home tucked into the rabbit warren that is the Jewish Quarter. Down a narrow alley, through a door in the walls, across an enclosed and hidden courtyard and into an adorable home built literally into the walls of the Old City. The sense of being in a medieval castle or keep kept coming over me and it was amazing to be in a place so steeped in history. The company was again fascinating and diverse – foremost female Kabbalistic scholar, three young adults from Rockville MD who are there studying and were the sweetest set of siblings in their 20’s I have seen, a lesbian couple, an Iraqi Jew who fled there at the age of 3 and other interesting and unique individuals. The conversation and learning was also fascinating and enlightening and the food delicious. Yischa and I walked home at 1 am and made our plans for Saturday day. Today was a bit lower key though still lovely. Met more interesting and inspiring Jews – including one who grew up at Beth Shalom in Seattle – here living and learning and trying to bring the Messiah.

I will close now – both because this is long and because it is late and Sunday is a “school” day here in Israel. I look forward to another life altering and enlightening week. I will be working hard on my unit of curriculum and look forward to getting to learn from many scholars as well as colleagues. Wishing you a week of peace, plenty and blessings.

Nance

About nancesea

I live in Seattle with my husband Steve. I work as a Jewish educator, primarily teaching middle schoolers. My hobbies, when I have time, are reading, writing, music, and photography. I am passionate about teaching the lessons of the darkest periods history to help inspire my students to assure our future is brighter. I am a Museum Teacher Fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Memorial. I travel yearly to Central and Eastern Europe to continue to learn about this history and make connections with educators there doing similar work. I hope you enjoy my writing on my travels, my learning and Jewish thought and practice. B'vrachot - with blessings - Nance

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