Author Archives: nancesea

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

A moment to think and reflect

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Shalom for Aroma’s in the Mamilla Mall. Those who follow me on Facebook – or who remember last year’s trip – will know that Aroma is my favorite place in Israel. I just had a wonderful conversation with two women on a trip with their Reconstructionist congregation in Washington D.C. and was happy to be able to give them some tips about touring Yad Vashem as well as where they might eat lunch.

I have not blogged yet this trip for a number of reasons. My program at Yad Vashem was not really blog conducive. It was exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally on a daily basis for 10 days. I had no wifi in my room at the hotel for 10 days. I had little time to myself. And, really, did you want to read about what I was learning in a seminar for teaching the Holocaust? I will say – in reflection – that it was an amazing experience for which I am very grateful. I am not thrilled about who allowed me to have this amazing experience at relatively no cost (airfare only) – Sheldon Adelson – but I am glad that some of his money is going somewhere of value rather to supporting Newt and Mitt. His name is literally everywhere at Yad Vashem and one of the other teachers in my cohort teaches at the Sheldon Adelson Campus school in Las Vegas which is nominally (well, not nominally since there is no Jewish in the name) Jewish.

The information and materials presented to us were all top notch and so intentional and well thought out. Every speaker – and we heard 20 or more different people over the course of 40-50 sessions – used the same terminology, followed the same philosophy and presented the latest and most up to date and modern approach to what we were doing. They have put much thought into their curricular materials and books. Their pedagogical approach is well thought out and was explained well and in the same terms no matter who you asked. It was very reassuring to see that much of what I included in my curriculum when I taught the Shoah (Holocaust) was supported by their approach – focusing on survivors – the time period I taught – the approach I took. That said, I still learned a tremendous amount and mostly got that teaching the Shoah as a historical event is really a very small part of the story. Of course, you, and your students, need to know the necessary historical information to understand what is going on, but the real focus is on the individuals and communities. The six million as a group are too overwhelming to really connect and feel empathy and we need to create empathy in our students. Focusing on individuals and communities allows this empathy and connection to develop. I also loved that they focus on the survivors and coming back to life after 1945 rather than dwell in the awfulness of 39-45. Every survivor testimony begins at the end so that the readers or viewers know that this person lived, found meaning in life and went on to have children, grandchildren, a career – a life. That way, no matter how much they suffered, you don’t have to wait till the end to know if they made it or not. This makes such sense to me.

In addition to great learning, I also met a great group of people. There were 19 of us – 18 women and one poor guy! Bryan took his role as lone man in the group very seriously – especially on our perilous Rampart Walk tour of the old city which was a constant up and down of narrow and very high staircases and walkways. Most of the women were in a group from Miami, there were four of us from Seattle and then a couple from LA, one from Vegas and one from Canada. We really bonded and had a great time. I have to say that the Seattle group was the loudest and most fun. It was particularly nice spending time with and getting to know better a couple of women who I have known in Seattle – one for 14 years. Our program director – Shani – was amazing and it was especially wonderful getting to go through the museum at Yad Vashem with her as our tour. She told amazing stories and really brought things to life and explained the thinking behind the way that the museum is organized and the various exhibits. She was an amazing person and teacher and I look forward to her visit to Seattle in November. At the end of the 10 days she charged us all to go foward as “shluchim” (messengers) for Yad Vashem and spread the word.

After finishing at Yad Vashem. I spent the next Shabbat at Bat Ayin on a Shabbaton sponsored by a tiny little kehilla (community) in Nahlaot – Ani Tefilati – which is led by R. Raz Hartmann. I went with Yiscah, Malika (who grew up in Seattle and lives in Nahlaot now with her husband), Tovah, Etta and Hillel (friends I have met here). Bat Ayin is about 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem but is in the “Settlements”. This was my first time going into this area and I was a bit torn and nervous. These are not “illegal” settlements but real towns and communities and there is a yeshiva at Bat Ayin where several people I know have studied. Bat Ayin has the reputation of being a bit of a hippie community and all the people with dreadlocks rather than peyus (those curly forelocks) doesn’t do a lot to refute that reputation. We were warmly welcomed and hosted by a lovely Chabad family who moved to Israel two years ago from Kansas via Chicago. The wife, Shoshana, is of Swedish descent and had the blondest (practically white) haired children who were so adorable and sweet. Their kitchen had four juicers, a food dehydrator and about 100 mason jars full of grains, beans and spices. Shoshana made us a delicious glass of ice cold fresh squeezed orange juice mixed with banana to help us cool down after the bus ride.

Friday night services were amazing as was the beautiful and delicious Shabbat meal eaten outside, sitting on cushions on the ground, in the Yeshiva’s Sukkah which serves as their “heder ochel” (dining room) most of the year. There were 60+ people there and it was like one big family table. Saturday morning I got up and went to services so early that I was the first woman there. The door was open and it was incredible to look out the door while I was praying and see the hills of Judea – little changed in 3000 years – rolling away into the distance. I think that might have been the best part of a really fantastic Shabbat for me. I learned at the kiddush that followed services, and then at lunch as well, that when an Israeli says “Yesh li camah millim” (I have a few words (to say)) that you better get comfortable! Many people had “camah millim” but there was lots of yummy food to eat so it was fine. It was all in Hebrew so I didn’t necessarily get all of it, but it was a good work out for my Hebrew and Yiscah helped to translate and sum up the main points. It was seriously hot and I took a long nap – I can’t believe people actually went on a hike and I am sure it was beautiful but I don’t think I would have survived it. I was shvitzing up a storm lying still on a bed with a fan blowing on me! Services in the afternoon were lovely and then we had the final meal – more lovely communal eating and shmoozing.

After Shabbat ended we rushed to make the first bus back to Jerusalem so we could unpack and repack to leave for the north the next morning. Our promptness was rewarded by the bus dying after going 100 yards. We waited 30 minutes for the next bus and then were on our way. It was an amazing weekend and I hope to be able to go back and visit Shoshana and her beautiful family again. They regularly host people (like every week) and invited us to return any time. It was so lovely being in community with Jews from so many places and in so many different places in their lives and Jewishness and to feel like one big happy family. This is one of my favorite things about Nahlaot and the people that I have met in this community in the various places I have either learned or davened.

I will write a separate blog about my trip to see Cousin Max and to Tsfat with Yiscah. I think I need to move Aromas and maybe get some lunch in the next one! It is getting very busy in this one as it is noon and I am sure they would love me to vacate this table!!

Be well. With blessings – b’vrachot
Nance

Grasping for Moshiah or How Not to Hasten the Messianic Age

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So, after reading this morning about a rabbi in B’nai Brak who has banned the use of tap water or flushing of toilets on Shabbat due to the fact that it will cause an electronic water pump to kick on, I got to thinking about all of this recent extremism among the Haredim. I try to operate from a place of assuming that most people, other than sociopaths, are basically good people. I like to be able to think that “religious” people really are trying to do what they think God wants even if we can’t understand it and that they must have a positive goal in mind. I know that Judaism teaches ethics and focuses on moral living. We are repeatedly reminded that we were strangers in Egypt and therefore must care for the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Hillel summarizes all of Torah as “love your neighbor as yourself” and on Pesah we decrease our joy by removing wine from our glasses in memory of the Egyptians who died during our escape from slavery. So, how to understand all of this working from these assumptions?

This summer I was in Jerusalem during the Three Weeks which lead up to Tisha B’Av and there was much focus on bringing Moshiah. Let’s face it; this world is majorly screwed up. Wars, terrorism, starvation, human trafficking, child slavery, poverty, inequality of rights and means, homelessness, bigotry, I could go on but I will stop before it gets too depressing. We NEED Moshiah. The world is deeply broken and we are desperate for repair and wholeness – true Shalom/Shalem. We need what Moshiah represents – a time of peace and completeness. A time where religious hatred and rivalry will end. A time when people will live together in love and will all have what they need. Jews have been waiting for Moshiah and the Messianic Age patiently – and sometimes not so patiently – for thousands of years. It is the hope that has kept Jews Jewish through pogroms, expulsions and the Holocaust. Maimonides includes belief in the Messiah – not matter how long it takes – as one of the 13 principles of faith. As a Jew, it is our job to help to complete God’s creation and to bring the time of Moshiah closer. We each have a job that is ours and ours alone to do in this world and we must discover it and complete it so that we can have our part in a renewed Gan Eden. So, if, based on my assumptions, we are all working for this, why all this strife and anger? Why all this tension and dissension?

It is my belief that we don’t know what to do to bring the time closer and this makes some desperate. We have been trying for 2000 years, give or take, and we aren’t sure what we have been doing wrong. For progressive Jews, perhaps this means bringing in those who haven’t been equally welcomed at the table. God wants us to care for the “orphan.” So, perhaps that means gays and lesbians and others in the community who have been orphaned by the Jewish people for so long. So we ordain and marry them just like anyone else and that will bring us closer to the world God wants us to make. For many, that seems ethically and morally the right thing to do. But, for those of a more traditional mindset, it probably doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. It might even seem to make things worse and that makes people angry. Grasping at straws, those who have been so observant, keeping each iteration of halacha, protecting the Torah with higher and higher fences, begin to build even thicker walls around the Torah to keep it safe and hope to bring Moshiah. If using tap water on Shabbat hasn’t brought the Messiah – then maybe forbidding it will. It reminds me of an article about a ruling after the Shoah on the necessary size of a Kiddush cup. This ruling made many families’ centuries old Kiddush cups (for many all they had from their past life in Europe) p’sul – ritually unfit. Included in the cups that were made p’sul was the cup of the Holy Rabbi, the Hofetz Chaim. How could this be?

It can be because we don’t know what is needed. We can’t understand God and we can’t know what will be that final act that brings Moshiah. We are unable to see clearly what we should be doing and must rely on those who think that they do. But even they don’t really know. They can’t. So, we turn to what we do know – progressive ethical living in the Modern world OR traditional Orthodox (ultra or Modern) living, engaged to varying degrees in the Modern world – and we let that help us try to discern what we have been missing. If we live a life fully dictated by traditional halacha, we create more halacha and if we live a life directed by an understanding of modernity and ethics, we try to be more ethical. Not to imply these are mutually exclusive, in many places they are in full agreement – but on some issues, I truly feel you have to pick one or the other. God of the Prophets or God of the Wilderness? A God who is good and wants good or a God who tells us to stone those who sin? Again, not to imply that there are two Gods – they are one and the same – which makes understanding what God wants all the more impossible. How do we mere mortals understand and make sense of what God wants when what God wants appears contradictory? It is no wonder there is so much disagreement and infighting among Jews!

Unfortunately, what we are doing is keeping Moshiah from coming, not bringing him/her closer. We are creating so much desecration of God’s name and so much sinat hinam – baseless hatred – in the process of each group of Jews doing what they think is the right thing that Moshiah may never come. What is missing is a sense of balance and an effort to understand each other’s ways. This can be very hard when what is being done seems to fly in the face of all that one understands Judaism to stand for or mean. I am as guilty as anyone. I, like many people, find the idea of a grown man considering an 8 year old girl as a sexual object and protesting her “immodest” attire by spitting on her appalling and the act of a sick mind. A mind driven to extremes by its desire to bring the Messiah and who sees this little girl, and others like her who do not adequately (by his standards) cover themselves, as preventing this from happening. But, try as I might, I can’t believe that the God in which I believe would want what this man wants. I can’t believe that the God that I believe in would want people to do without basic hygienic facilities on Shabbat. How can you honor Shabbat when you can’t wash your hands or flush the toilet? In his book, The God Who Hates Lies, David Hartman talks about how we need to figure out just “which” God we believe in and what that God wants. I believe in a God who is loving and kind and who wants all of us to remember that we are all made in God’s image and therefore all holy. I believe in a God who wants us to treat each other with the dignity and respect due to someone made b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the Holy One. I believe in a God who wants me to act in a way that is in line with what I say and how I want to be treated – as Hillel summarized the Torah. That God would not spit on an eight year old no matter how she was dressed.

Perhaps if those who yearn for Moshiah more than they engage with the world around them would pause in their pursuit and truly look around, they would begin to see this God. Judaism has never been about a focus on The World to Come – it has been about the life that we live here on God’s Creation and how we live that life is what matters. Shlomo Katz teaches in his song “Veaf al pi” about awaiting Moshiah and that the Hebrew word translated as “to await” can also mean to “imitate” and that we need to each imitate the Moshiah in order to bring the Messianic Age. This is based on Shlomo Carlebach’s teaching that if you change the hard chaf to a kof (they both make the same sound) you become a part of the solution rather than passively waiting for change to happen. You need to become what you understand Messiah to mean. By being “moshiachdiche” you will hasten the coming of Moshiah by living your life in a way that actively brings more wholeness to the world. We can’t afford to just sit and wait. The world is so broken. People are so desperate that they are grasping at thinner and thinner straws and causing more chaos and darkness rather than bringing the light of Moshiah. The world is horribly broken and we need a real solution. One of my favorite stories to read to my students is “The Village of the Messiahs”. In this Chasidic tale, there is a village that is sad and broken. A man from the village visits a wise Rabbi who says he can’t help but shares a secret. The Messiah is someone in this village. The man goes home and tells his neighbors this news. They all begin to treat each other with love and care because they don’t know which one of them it is. They begin to treat themselves with love and care because it might be them! The town becomes a place full of laughter, light and peace. If only we could remember that each of us has the potential to be the Messiah and treat each and every person with that love and care, rather than with fear, derision and hate, we might translate the miracle of this story to the whole world and that would bring the Messiah.

Good Shabbos.

Nance Adler

January 20, 2012

My Thoughts on Prayer

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So, I was working on some curriculum for my Theology class on Prayer and wrote the following piece. It is the result of many years of thinking about prayer and pulls from a piece that I wrote for Rosh HaShana a couple of years ago to introduce the Musaf Amidah. It is written specifically about Jewish prayer but I think could apply to prayers of other faiths and practices as well. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Connecting to What is Truly Important

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HaMorah Nance’s Thoughts on Prayer

I often feel that Jewish prayer is valuable whether or not one believes that God is out there listening and responding to our words. In “Entering Jewish Prayer”Reuven Hammer quotes Franz Rosenzweig who said “Prayer is its own fulfillment” (pg 4). Hammer goes on to say that:

…ultimately prayer is also intended to have an effect on the individual and his or her actions. It makes us more aware of the world, of nature, of history, of God’s role in history, of the nature of God and God’s demands upon us. It emphasizes the importance of study and of the performance of commandments, both moral and ritual. One should emerge not only spiritually enriched from prayer but also morally purified, more closely identified with the traditions and beliefs of Judaism, and committed to living according to its high standards of ethics and morality. (pg 4)

If we think about the intermediate blessings of the weekday Amidah we can see that there is much for us to gain by saying these words regardless of our current belief status. We begin by being thankful for discernment, wisdom, knowledge and common sense – four things I can’t imagine getting through the day without and that we all can use a reminder to use for good. We move on to being grateful for the ability to fix our mistakes and move closer to God again. Who hasn’t wanted a friend, sibling or parent to allow us to do just this? Who hasn’t needed to make room for someone to be able to fix what was broken with us and regain closeness? We then ask that the roadblocks in our lives be removed, that our path be made smooth. These small redemptions are favors that we can do for each other and asking God to do so for us, should remind us to look for opportunities to do so for others. We ask God to heal those who are broken in body and in soul and are reminded that we should visit a sick friend or give someone who is down a hug. We ask God to bless the year and to cause the Earth to give forth its bounty so that we can prosper. Are we reaching out to help those who do not get their share of this bounty?

These personal petitions each contain a kernel of moral and ethical teaching that should cause us to be a better person through our daily, weekly or less frequent recitation of them. The prayers of the High Holidays also contain much that we ourselves need to hear. Pleas for forgiveness, opportunities for repair and return, statements of uncertainty about our future and our place in the world are all calls for us to think of those who look to us for the same absolution or guidance. The national petitions which follow in the Amidah can also help us to focus on our connection to the Jewish people and its history and place in the world. The shofar gadol which will herald the ingathering of the exiles can cause to think about our lives as Jews living in America and about the State of Israel and our place there. Restoring fair judges reminds us of the necessity of justice and fairness for all peoples. The most difficult of all b’rachot, the request that God destroy the arrogant, asks us who is arrogant and divisive and to look inside and make sure we aren’t speaking about ourselves. A prayer for the righteous, for those who support and maintain the community, those who dedicate their lives to teaching and studying, those who cast their lot with the Jewish people by choice and all of us who work to continue Jewish traditions, reminds us to appreciate and thank these very people and to appreciate all that they do. Just as the Rabbis of old knew that Jews would not survive internal dissention, they also knew that we also could not survive without those who work to build up our communities.

The prayer for Jerusalem and the return of the Davidic line call our attention to Israel and life there as we struggle for peace, justice and safety in our ancient homeland. It reminds us that we should be engaged and knowledgeable about what is going on there and engaged in assuring a future Israel that reflects the best of our Tradition.

The final b’racha in the intermediate blessing asks God to hear our prayers and our pleas – תפלות ותחנונים. This blessing is a place where one can add one’s personal words of prayer and reach out to God in a personal and intimate manner. While the Amidah is seen as including all of one’s needs, one’s personal desires and concerns can, and should, be added at this point in the prayer. Perhaps, as an echo of the theme of this b’racha, one should pray to be able to hear the needs of those around them?

By being attentive to the meanings and themes of the b’rachot, and not just saying the rote Hebrew words, one is able to draw one’s attention to that which is truly important in life. Prayer becomes deeply personal and meaningful and guides one’s thoughts and actions. It is this that is the true purpose of prayer and allows us to each bring the spark of the Divine into the world. It creates a sense of wonder and appreciation as well as giving purpose and direction to our life. As Rabbbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “Prayer may not save us, but it will make us worth saving.”

More Cousins Met and a Frenzied Farewell

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venik

One of the last things we had left to do in Israel was meet some cousins of Steve’s from his mother’s father’s side of the family. We had been working on getting together for a couple of weeks and were able to make time at the very end of our visit when everyone would be available. The Veniks live near the airport so this also made good sense. They live on Moshav Mazor near Petach Tikvah. After our final visit to Jerusalem we made our way there. As we were leaving Jerusalem, highway 1 coming into town was backed up for miles. At the beginning of this back up was an Egged bus that was stopped and all the passengers were getting off and standing alongside the road.  We assumed that the bus had broken down and that this was the problem. Steve read in the paper this morning when we were in Philly at the airport that there was a terrorist threat and they were doing searches. SO glad we missed that balagan. We would have never made it into Jerusalem and then back to Tel Aviv if we had had to sit through a road block.

Moshav Mazor is a lovely little settlement with cute houses and lots of trees and gardens. We were greeted by Steve’s second cousin once removed (again not clear on how these titles work but I think that is right) Dan and then by Dan’s parents including Irving who is the son of Steve’s grandfather’s sister. It is amazing how much Dan and his brother Tzevik look like Steve’s cousins in Seattle! There was a bit of language challenge as Dan’s English is minimal (though better than he gives himself credit) and Irving and his wife speak almost no English. Steve decided to break out his German from high school and some progress in the conversation was made there. I got to work on my Hebrew and we managed to do pretty well. Tzevik is the other son and he soon showed up driving his tour bus which he parks behind his parent’s house when he is home. His wife, Etty, and their children also showed up and we were able to have a better conversation as Etty’s English is quite good.

We then moved a few blocks away to Etty and Tzevik’s house. Irving helped to settle the moshav and has lived there for about 60 years and was give land to build two additional houses so both Dan and Tzevik have homes in the moshav on this land. Their home is beautiful and has quite the zoo in the back yard as well. They have three donkeys – they got three for the price of two when the female they purchased turned out to be pregnant. They also have chickens, ducks, a rooster, a dog and a gerbil. There are plans to add goats and sheep. Their children Noa and Re’em were excited to meet us, even if they were shy and said very little. Noa is very excited that Steve’s sister Deb and her family will be coming to visit and has already cleaned her room in preparation for them! She wanted me to see her room and take pictures (which I did) so Eliana and Jasmine would know what her room looked like.

Despite Etty and I have a long discussion on Facebook about what Steve and I can eat and what she should make, her husband and his family were convinced since we are Americans that we would want BBQ and so he had stopped and purchased charcoal and chicken to grill. We tried to assure him that the fish and veggies that Etty made were totally what we wanted but the “mangel” was still fired up and the chicken cooked – and enjoyed by everyone else. Steve and I enjoyed the fish cooked in fresh zatar from Etty’s garden as well as all the salads she had made.  It is clear from our eating here that there will be lots more salads and slaws on our menu in the future. A typical Israeli dinner begins with a whole salad course with lots of cold salads of many varieties – carrots, beets, cabbage, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and the like all figure prominently. There may also be warm vegetable dishes served with the main course. Lots of yummy and healthy things upon which to nosh!

As it was getting close to time for us to leave so that we could return our rental car and get to the airport the suggested three hours early, it was suggested that Tzevik could accompany us to the airport and help assure that we didn’t have any problems. This sounded like a good idea and we said our good byes to Dan, Irving and his wife and I was ready to say good bye to Etty and the kids when it became obvious they were all coming with us! I was a bit concerned about our luggage and all of us fitting in their car once we had dropped off the rental, but off we all went. In the end, Etty and one suitcase ended up on the shuttle but it left right behind our car and we all arrived at the airport at the same time. We said good bye with invites for them to come to Seattle and stay with us.

Leaving Israel is  no easy task. There are multiple levels of security to go through and thankfully we were easily passed through them all – despite or perhaps because of Steve’s passport photo that looks nothing like him. The young woman who did our interview wanted to see another ID and then I showed her the photo of him wearing his old pants when he reached his goal. She was quite impressed. The interview to even get to check in is a uniquely Israeli thing and something the US could learn from. We were asked why we were there, then those facts were checked and then rechecked. I was there learning. Where? Why? Why did Steve come? To meet family. What family? Where do they live? What are their names? It is all to test  your nerves and see if you are being truthful and reveal nervous or unusual behavior. After this your luggage is then scanned while still in your possession. We were deemed safe and ours was just wanded for bomb making residue and then tagged as passed inspection without being scanned. Probably a good things as I was quite nervous that the multiple packets of Dead Sea Mud might look suspicious and warrant a search!

After that there is the usual check in and then we needed to return my cell phone. This was also making me nervous as last trip I forgot to return the phone and had to mail it from Seattle for an extra (hefty) fee. We found the post office and sent it on its way after a couple quick calls to let people know that we were on our way home. Then it is through security, again, with your carry on bags and then to immigration. By the time you get to the gate you are exhausted! We had planned to stop and try to get some VAT tax money back but those plans fell by the wayside in the craziness of what was required and the fact that the line at the desk for doing this was quite long. We will just happily support Israel’s economy instead. And of course, once we got to Philly there were most of these steps to repeat again. The immigration officer was quite nice and quickly stamped our documents and sent us on our way after telling me, when I said I was a teacher,  about his 9th grade daughter who is testing his patience as a parent and how he would be a middle school teacher if he taught. Bags claimed and then rechecked and a two plus hour wait for our flight completed that leg of the journey. I did get coffee this time at the Philly Airport and I have to say, I was better off without it. Toasted Almond Lite Latte at Dunkin Donuts – had to be the worst coffee I have ever had! After all my complaining about figuring out Israeli coffee, I was wishing for a delicious Aroma Café Afooch (upside down coffee or a latte).

We are almost home – about another 90 or so minutes in the air before we land in Seattle and, of course, if you are reading this then we are home and I have been able to upload it to the internet. It has been an incredible trip and I am so glad that Steve had a great time as well, despite having all his clothes stolen and air raid sirens, and seems eager to return again sometime soon. If I could promise him a booth at the shuk, I think he would go back next week! We met a woman while waiting to go through immigration in Philly whose brother just moved there and is working at the shuk. She said he loves it but that it is crazy, so I guess it can be done.  I hope that we will be able to return soon and retain our connection to our newly met cousins as well as all the friends I made in Jerusalem. I feel that I truly have a home in Israel and can’t wait to visit it again. Thank you for sharing my journey.

b’vrachot,
Nance

Final Days–Simcha and Sadness

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sandn bat mitzvah       elana bm

I am sitting on my flight getting near to Philadelphia as I am writing this post. The time since Friday afternoon when I wrote my last post has just flown by all too quickly. The bat mitzvah began with Kabbalat Shabbat as the sun was going down Friday evening. Kabbalat Shabbat is not a service that I have led often but I have spent the past five Fridays at beautiful services and I put my trust in that experience to get me through the service in a moving way. The tunes that I have loved singing along to came to me and Steve made sure that there was dancing when it was appropriate. Despite a lack of siddurim for every person and the fading light made even less when the power went out during the service eliminating even the minimum electric light which we were using. People were singing along, clapping and dancing and I was so thankful for being able to be a vessel to pass along the beautiful davening I have experienced so that those gathered for this event could also welcome Shabbat in a moving way.  We finished with Shalom Aleichem and the blessing of the children.

We then went as a group to the Cheder Ochel – Dining Hall – of the kibbutz where there were other guests already eating dinner. We gathered as a group around the end of our tables for Kiddush. As we all stood singing this prayer that sanctifies Shabbat and marks the beginning of Shabbat dinner, one of our group noticed that some of the other guests, older tourists from Italy, had stood up and were joining in our prayers. This was really moving and reminded me that Jews everywhere say the same prayers. As the kibbutz is not religious, there probably had not been an opportunity for them to say Kiddush and it was so beautiful to have them join us in our recitation of the prayer. Shabbat dinner was delicious – the first of many tasty meals of the weekend.

After dinner many of us sat talking late into the night and it was after midnight when I went into bed. You can imagine then how doubly unhappy I was to be awoken at 4:00 am by an air raid siren. We had not been briefed on what to do if this had happened and, in fact, the one person who had asked about it had been practically scolded for being worried about such things so far out in the middle of nowhere. Steve was also awake and we gathered passports and phones and headed out side. There was no sign of anyone else from our group and since we weren’t sure what to do, I wasn’t sure if we should wake them up. As we were discussing what to do, we felt the impact of the rockets. They were clearly far off, but it was still quite unsettling. We heard voices and walked in that direction. There were a number of Israeli visitors to the kibbutz milling around trying to decide what to do as well. No one knew where the bomb shelter was and there weren’t any kibbutz members around. We finally all decided to just go back to bed since there didn’t seem to be anything else to do. In the morning the rest of the group was surprised/concerned that they hadn’t heard the alarm and I got a fair share of razing for not waking them all up. I explained that there wasn’t really anything to do if they had been up so I hadn’t seen the need to alarm them. When one of the group asked about shelters, the kibbutz member said that they had not used them since 1991 and they weren’t even sure where the keys were. They said that the siren had gone off because they are hooked up to the system in another area and that it didn’t really reflect a threat to us directly. They were, again, amazingly blasé and unconcerned about the whole situation. We were told that if they did determine that there was a threat, there would be a training that afternoon so that we would know what to do. There was no training so I guess there was no threat.

Shabbat afternoon was spent swimming, napping and preparing for the bat mitzvah that evening. It was quite hot so taking it easy and soaking in a cold pool made good sense. Shabbat lunch was served at 2 and then most everyone went for a long nap. Elana, her mother and conferred about the service that evening and her father went off to find a suitable “desert” setting within the safe confines of the kibbutz border fence. Spice bags were made using spices collecting by Elana’s uncle during their trip around Israel the week before and contained Lavender, Rosemary and Myrtle.

At around 7pm we began the bat mitzvah with the Ma’ariv service. Since there were not enough siddurim for everyone I led along with Elana so that I could do the whole of the Amidah out loud for those without a prayer book to hear and respond “amen” so that they got credit for saying it. Elena did a great job leading. Her brother, Jacob, and her father helped lead Aleinu and her cousins came up and sang Adon Olam with Jacob. I introduced the singing of Adon Olam by giving over Rabbi Ed Feinstein’s story of how he imagines this beautiful prayer came to be written. It was written in medieval Spain and we do not know the name of the writer. Rabbi Ed pictures a man laying in a field trying to fall asleep under the stars. The prayer begins with God distant and great – Creator and Eternal – and R. Ed’s medieval Spanish Jew is looking at the stars thinking of God as that far away and awesome. The poem and the poet then move closer and more personal and the prayer ends with God as personal protector and R. Ed’s Jew is able to fall asleep.

At this point Elana gave her d’var and as the light faded away and we were able to count the three stars that we needed to know that Shabbat was over, I gave Elana my charge. Elana spoke beautifully about the separations of the Havdalah service (holy and profane, Jews and other nations, light and dark, the six days of work and Shabbat) and then about the commandment for B’nei Israel to separate themselves from the natives in Canaan as they enter the land which is given in parasha Re’eh.  Afterwards I sent Elana to her parent for blessing and we all sang “Siman tov and mazal tov” and danced. A charge is a speech given to the bar/bat mitzvah by their Rabbi or a teacher. It is meant to reflect upon their learning and accomplishments so far in life and “charge” them with continuing to learn and grow as a Jewish person and a mensch. This was my first charge and it was so lovely to see how important my words were to both Elana and her parents. I have enjoyed our time learning together, and look forward to it continuing and speaking about it was easy to do.

We then gatherer things for Havdalah and headed off to the secret location picked earlier in the day by Joel. It was very dark and lighting up the night with many homemade beeswax candles was a bit of a challenge. Yoel and Jacob made the candles from wax from their own bees and it was very special to use them for this ceremony. There were enough for us all to take one as a souvenir afterwards. This was a beautiful ceremony and after it several people shared additional blessings for Elana. Both her grandmother and brother spoke beautifully about Elana’s kindness and thoughtfulness. Then, using my IPhone as a flashlight, we made our way back towards the kibbutz proper to find the location of the party.

The kibbutz staff had set up a beautiful area outside for dinner, dancing and freilach (fun). There was more great food, wine and beer, music and good friends and family to enjoy this special moment. I have been to big fancy b’nei mitzvah parties and to smaller more intimate parties and this one was definitely one of the most sincere and enjoyable ones. Songs were song about and to Elana, dances and cheers were done and just about everyone got lifted up in a chair. I was lifted up by a group of children  which was quite a thrill – in more than one way!

Seeing and hearing the pride of Elana’s family in her accomplishments and also their satisfaction in the ceremony/Shabbat as a whole made me very happy. This was my first bat mitzvah and I feel that it went well and was a good reflection of Elana and allowed her to show off her strengths and enjoy becoming a Jewish adult in a relaxed and supportive setting. Her family seemed very happy and she was beaming and that was really all I needed!

No air raid sirens Saturday night though there were more rockets fired into Israel and Sunday morning was a bit tense as we all discussed the need to drive north and the safety of that undertaking. Steve and I decided to make a brief stop back in Jerusalem and arranged to leave our luggage at the apartment of a friend’s parents. We headed off and did not, thank God, encounter any difficulty or see any signs of trouble during our trip. We did not go through Be’er Sheva but rather to the east of it. We had a fast paced last two hours in Jerusalem with, of course, a stop at the Mahane Yehuda shuk for more fruit and nuts and lunch at Aroma. I was able to replace one of the shawls that I had bought and then was stolen. We then headed off to Tel Aviv to meet some more cousins of Steve’s. I will do a separate blog for that.

I am glad to be going back to Seattle after all most six weeks away but those last two hours in Jerusalem reminded me of what I was leaving behind. The air and energy of J’lem let me forget the theft just a week ago and the air raid sirens two nights before. I love being in Jerusalem and cannot wait for the next time that I am able to return and live there again for a  good stretch of time. There is no other place in the world like it. Seeing the rest of Israel and, in particular the out of the way places that we drove through on our trip, was amazing and made me feel like I knew the whole country better instead of just one city of it. The Dead Sea and Masada were wondrous, meeting cousin Max was lovely and just what was needed at that moment and, despite being robbed while there, Caesarea was also pretty cool. Finishing my trip with the feeling of accomplishment after seeing the joy and satisfaction in Elana and her parent’s faces was also incredible. I have so enjoyed my time in Israel this summer and am thankful to all who made it possible. I can’t wait to return.

b’vrachot,

Nance

Great Beauty and Reminders of Ugliness

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Yesterday we went to a second beach on the Dead Sea to soak again. This time we went to Ein Gedi. The beach looked quite promising from the parking lot with umbrellas and a covered walkway. This was all, however, up a very rocky hill from the actual “beach”. You literally had to scurry down the rocky hillside to the rocky shore to wade in. The water was much deeper and cooler than in Ein Bokek and it was lots of fun floating there. We spoke to a group of German tourists and a couple of Birthright guys as well. The sensation of floating weightlessly in the water and actually being forced out of the water practically was amazing. It really was a wonder of nature.

Later in the evening when we returned to our outpost at Aroma in Ein Bokek. On the way in we were a bit puzzled by the overly zealous guard as usually they just waved us through. This time the guard was checking the trunk of every vehicle before opening the gate. When we got inside and online we discovered the reason – there had been an attack near Eilat by terrorists. Several people had been killed and there continued to be violence throughout the evening and into today with rockets coming from Gaza into Israel and the IDF firing into Gaza to destroy the tunnel through which these tourists had come into Gaza from Egypt.

This morning we headed back to Ein Bokek to get online and check on the current situation. Things looked quiet so we headed off on our drive through the desert to Mashbeh Sa’de. We took a back route where we only saw about 20 cars from Ein Bokek to our destination. The scenery was gorgeous. Very much a mix of the Bad Lands, Monument Valley and, according to Steve, Sierra Nevada. Can’t wait to get the pictures up. At one point we were on a two way road through winding hills that was really only one lane wide. Steve was laughing at me honking before going around all the blind curves. There were many signs for camels alongside the road and I was getting quite upset that there were so many signs and NO camels. We finally did see some “free range” camels wandering along the side of the road and up on the hills near the road. We also saw a donkey and its foal crossing the road in a little town in the cross walk. Lots of pictures of that to come as well.

We are now at the peaceful kibbutz of Mashabeh Sade which is south of Be’er Sheva. We had no problems getting here and saw no sign of trouble. The kibbutz is lovely and laid back. Steve and I got here around noon and need some lunch. Around five minutes before 1:00 we wandered over to the office to see where we could go. There is a store on the kibbutz but it was closing in 5 minutes. Steve and I were walking as fast as we could and an old woman came along in a golf cart. She told us that the store would be closed already. We said we were told we had a couple minutes. She told me to “get on” and drove me at “break-neck” speed to the store. It was quite exciting and we literally made it there as they were closing up the store. With hummus, Bulgari cheese and crackers as well as some nuts and dried fruit, we headed back to the room to eat lunch. We have now met up with the Lessings and are getting ready for a beautiful Shabbat and celebration of Elana’s bat mitzvah. Wishing everyone a restful and lovely weekend and Sabbath. Praying for peace here in Israel and everywhere.

b’vrachot,

Nance

Sunrise on Masada

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So it is not even noon and Steve and I have put in a full day already! Our alarm rang at 4:30 am – quite early considering all those noisy American and Israeli teens never quit making noise till probably close to 1am. We dressed, packed lots of water and the camera and headed off in the dark to climb Mount Masada in time to see the sun rise at the top. There were other groups streaming towards the entrance as well and people already on their way up. The guard at the bottom kept signaling to a guide part way up so we could see where the lead group was occasionally. It quickly got light making our flashlights unnecessary. I tried to take pictures every few minutes of the horizon to monitor the progress of the dawn.

The climb was quite arduous and even at 5 am and before the sun was above the horizon, it was quite hot. I cannot imagine trying to climb it even a couple of hours later in the day let alone at mid-day. The views on the way up were amazing and gave a good excuse to stop and rest. Steve decided that this was his “workout of the day” and that gave him good focus to get up the mountain quickly.

We got to the top about 5 minutes before the sun came over the horizon. It was amazing how quickly it came up over the mountains in Jordan. After enjoying that event, we headed off to see the ruins. We were both amazed at how much there was to see. It is a huge complex up on top of the mountain and we kept coming around a corner or over a rise to find more ruins spread out before us. We did not even get to see them all as there was just too much to take in. It was all very impressive and the thought of building all that at the top of that mountain was pretty mind boggling. There were lots of groups of young people – Israeli and otherwise – and it was fun watching what they were doing. The Israeli groups were the best as they were really getting an education and having fun. They were doing Masada Jeopardy at one spot and acting out the history in another. In other places there were just typical teenage meltdowns as young relationships were coming apart in the heat.

Another group that was interesting to watch was a group of yeshiva bochers (students) who came up and then took over the shaded area by the water. They decided that this would make a good place to have their morning service. I hope that they didn’t mind too much that I still went and filled my water bottle. I figured it was a public spot not the shul. They call came up schlepping tallis and tefillin for morning prayers and dressed in typical black pants and long black coat. I can’t imagine hiking dressed like that but they seemed to do fine.

After our tour of the ruins we hiked back down – much easier though harder on the knees. It was also hotter and sunnier on the way down. We were surrounded by Birthright Israel kids who kvetched their way down the mountain. It was amazing how out of shape and whiny these young Americans on a free trip to Israel could be!! The staff person said it was pretty much non-stop. Steve told them that they were ungrateful and should stop their bitching. I told them I was twice their age and to quit whining. They were not making a good impression on their Israeli guides of how Americans act.

After a less than exciting breakfast at the Youth Hostel we headed back to Ein Bokek to float in the Dead Sea and visit Aroma. The sea was great other than when I got water in my eye. That really hurt and required getting out and rinsing off. It is very cool being able to float but it is also a real balancing act as the water tries to flip you over and it is hard to remain upright and keep your head out of the water. Took some fabulous pictures of the salt formations on the rocks.

Our coffee is gone and it is time to move on to Ein Gedi where we hope to find some mud to play in and do some more floating. Have a great day.

b’vrachot,

Nance

From Peaceful K’far Nasi to the Other Worldly Dead Sea Valley

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I am typing this post sitting under the beautiful starry sky above Masada. We are staying at the Youth Hostel at the foot of Masada along the Dead Sea. More on that later…

Steve and I spent two delightful days with his cousin (second or second once removed – not sure which) Max on Kibbutz K’far Nasi. It was exactly what we needed after the total balagan (chaos/disaster) of Sunday’s break in and theft from our rental car. Arriving with our new luggage and Steve’s new mini wardrobe, we were made to feel totally welcome and all of our needs were catered to by Max. On Monday we took a driving tour to the northern corners of the Galil and along the border with Lebanon. We stopped by several viewpoints and visited the cemetery Tel Khai where Joseph Trumpledor is buried along with those who fought with him – the Shomrim. Max is a wealth of knowledge about the history of Israel and particularly his little corner of it and made an excellent tour guide. Pictures will be forthcoming of the fantastic views of the Hula Valley from far atop the Galil.

Our tiyul (tour) was followed with a very Israeli lunch of hummus, tahini, salad, cheeses and crackers. This was followed by a strictly enforced nap time – which with all the recent stress, we all needed. After our nap we chatted while Max got dinner prepared and then went for a short visit to the Kibbutz’s new pool. I was the only one who went swimming and it was very refreshing. Interestingly the water in the pool was salt not chlorine. Max joked that I was being marinated to be cooked for dinner and that I needed to be sure to stay in for at least half an hour. Dinner was delightful as was the after dinner discussion. Max is a wonderful conversationalist and had fun challenging me on many topics. He is quite amusing and witty in a dry and sarcastic way. I really enjoyed getting to know him and hope that this is not our only visit together. We talked about him coming to Seattle to visit us. Steve’s sister’s family will be visiting him next spring and then hopefully he will be able to come to see us all in Seattle. This morning we had another enjoyable meal together and a last conversation before Steve and I headed out to continue our discovery of Israel.

One topic we talked about a lot with Max was Steve’s family as Max is working on a family history. He shared his work so far with Steve on Monday night and then last night shared with me a real find! He had, from among his mother’s things, a copy of an article from the San Francisco Jewish Newspaper July 1947 about the arrival of Steve’s mother’s family from Shanghai.  We had never seen this article before and it was a fascinating read. He also was able to provided copies of photos that Steve had never seen before of his mother as a baby and of other relatives. Max’s family went to England from Germany during the Shoah while Steve’s mother’s parents went to Shanghai along with another aunt and her  husband. Putting all of the pieces back together and meeting up finally has been really rewarding.

Today we had a lot of fun driving from K’far Nasi to Masada. We started out by actually heading north to Kibbutz Ne’ot Mordechai which is where Naot/Teva shoes are manufactured. I was disappointed that they did not have a pair of the sandals that were stolen but did find two pairs for great prices and Steve found sandals and belts to replace items of his that were taken. We are saving up all the receipts as we have, thank God, found out that our homeowner’s insurance will cover our losses after a deductible.

After this stop we headed south along 90. We drove through Tiberias where there are many famous rabbis buried but it was too hectic to stop and we are a bit gun shy at parking anywhere with all our stuff in the car. We did stop at Kibbutz Kinneret which is apparently famous for its dates and its many date related products. We tasted many sauces and spreads and four or five types of dates. We bought chocolate date honey sauce, halvah date honey sauce, date syrup, date honey and honey sauce and some spices. We then continued south on 90 stopping for coffee, salad and wifi at an Aroma along the way. Soon we entered the West Bank and were waved through a check point without any questions or even looking at our passports. Steve was taken aback when he realized that there was a soldier with a rather large gun pointed at “us” (read everybody who comes through). The drive south was uneventful and we did not go through any other checkpoints. It was very barren and there were many abandoned buildings dotting the highway. There were also huge date tree “farms” and other agriculture alternating with huge barren stretches of rock and sand. We also went through a couple of nice little towns. As we got to the top of the Dead Sea there was a sign for an Ahava shop and a hotel and we turned off. We drove down this road that was lined with abandoned and partially demolished buildings but lined with new signs advertising a beach, a hotel, restaurants and other services. We got a bit nervous and turned back but as we were driving out a tour bus turned is so I guess if we drove far enough we might eventually have found the advertised amenities.

The Dead Sea valley is really unlike anything I have seen – somewhere between the surface of the moon and certain places in the US west though made of sand rather than rock. The surface of the water is reflective because of the salt content and the fact that the bottom of the sea is coated in salt. I really wanted to pull over and take pictures but Steve was nervous about this. I finally saw a place and just as I pulled over so did another car. We heralded each other and then talked about the need for more pullouts along the road. My fellow photographer was from Italy. I can’t wait to post the pictures next week so you can all see how amazingly beautiful and strange it all is. I also took some amazing pictures up close later when we drove to Ein Bodek and stopped right along the shore. Can’t wait to get in it tomorrow.

It is quite loud here at the Youth Hostel as there are at least two large groups of teens – one American and one Israeli – staying here. The Cheder Ochel (dining room) was total chaos when they showed up – particularly when they started singing happy birthday to one of their number. Steve was having a great time people watching but the manager of the dining room was not pleased with their behavior. He told us that the Israeli kids were crazy but the American ones were fine. We are hoping to not be climbing Masada in the morning with their rowdy company – though they might be considerably less noisy at 5 am!

Tomorrow, as just hinted at, we plan to climb Masada in time to be at the top for sunrise. We need to leave around 5 am for that to happen. It is about an hour hike at most according to the hostel worker to whom we spoke. We will return in time for breakfast – which will hopefully be tastier than dinner – and then head out to swim and play in the Dead Sea mud. I am sure that we will be back at Aroma in the early afternoon – which is when this will go live on the web. I think we should get Aroma sponsorship for our trip considering all the mentions they have gotten from us on Facebook and here. Between the good coffee – once you know how to order what you want – the huge salads that feed more than the two of us and the free Wi-Fi, I think Steve could stay there forever. Especially the one that is in the Mahane Yehuda Shuk – his other favorite place here in Jerusalem!

Signing off for now and hoping to upload this tomorrow. I so wish I could be posting pictures with this but will not be able to do that until I get home and B&H Photo delivers my new memory card reader. It should hopefully be there waiting for me on Monday.

B’vrachot,

Nance

Blessed last Shabbat in Jerusalem and blasted first day on the road

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This past Friday night and Saturday were Steve’s first Shabbat in Israel and Jerusalem, my last in Jerusalem and Yiscah’s last in Jerusalem and Israel (this time). We began by finally visiting the tiny shul of Rabbi Raz Hartman in Nachlaot. This tiny room – barely 10 x 10 contained more joy at the welcoming of Shabbat then many shuls many times its size. The singing was uplifting and FINALLY there was dancing even in the women’s section during L’cha Dodi! The men were dancing wildly and Steve got pulled into it. On clear clue to the enthusiasm and kavanah (intention) with which Raz greets each Shabbat was that the pages of his siddur were ripped and worn from him pounding his hands while praying.

From there we went to dinner at Nati and Michelle Cohen’s home on the other end of Nachlaot. Nati works as a tour guide and they open their home on Shabbat to visitors who want to learn about Shabbat. We were not there for that purpose but they did have a lovely family from Toronto as guest who Nati was guiding through the city. They also didn’t need to know about Shabbat as they are Chabad. They were on a three month tour in celebration of their son’s bar mitzvah. They were very nice and we had a lovely dinner. Michelle is a splendid cook and we had foods from around the world and Nati is a great story teller.

Shabbat morning we davened at a Masorti (Conservative) minyan – Mayanot – in Talpiot. This was also a small congregation but the service was lovely and Steve and I both had an aliyah (blessing) at the Torah. Afterwards we met Yiscah at my flat for Shabbat lunch. After a long Shabbat shluff (nap) we met up with Yiscah to go to Rabbi Brodt’s holy home for Seudat Shlishi – the third Shabbat meal. It was such an amazing experience. The singing after the meal just about blew the roof off of the house. There were about 30 people packed into the room and everyone was singing with a full heart. It really was transcendent. Rabbi Brodt and his son-in-law both gave teachings and then we marked Havdalah – also filled with singing. I can not imagine a better ending to my last Shabbat in Jerusalem – other than it so made me want to be there for many many more Shabbatot. To be in a place filled with people so in love with being actively Jewish and so in touch with their Jewish souls is inspiring and beautiful.

Sunday morning dawned on the work week and a separation from my month in Jerusalem and immersion in being surrounded by holy learning. What a shocking break it would prove to be! Our first stop was the Thrifty Car Rental office where the female manager was being yelled out and badgered by a man who clearly wasn’t happy to hear that he couldn’t walk in and get whatever car he wanted. It was really intense and he made the young woman helping him cry. After they left, Steve told the employees that we was really impressed with how they had handled it and the manager’s response was “Welcome to Israel.” We got our car and headed to the apartment to pack it up. I had rented the smallest car since there are only two of us but it was almost too small for all our luggage. I guess that concern got out into the universe as three of our bags were stolen from the car while we were parked in the lot at the National Park in Caesaria. Someone smashed the back passenger side window and they took one suitcase with all of Steve’s clothing and what I was planning to wear this coming week, a carry on with a number of items such as my camera battery charger and some knitting stuff and my backpack which had all our flight information, my charge for Elana’s bat mitzvah and other papers. Thank God they didn’t take the bag with the computers – that really was God watching over us as it was sitting on the floor of the car and was clearly the next thing that they would have taken. I assume that they must have been interrupted. They did get my jewelry and Kindle and Steve’s small digital camera. The clothing is a really inconvenience and we spent today in Haifa shopping at the mall rather than sight seeing. Not sure about other sight seeing as we are a bit burnt on parking the car anywhere with our stuff in it. We are grateful that our documents and credit cards were all on us. There was a little cash in the suitcase but not much. The jewelry is upsetting as there were many favorite pieces. But all told, it is only things that can be replaced and we are safe. Thrifty finally brought us a new car at about midnight and we were back on the road this morning.

This does mean that there will be no more pictures till I get home and replace the memory card reader which was taken. I pray that my mobile phone and camera batteries last the next week as those chargers are both gone as well. Inconvenient but not irreplaceable. I keep telling myself that. It has been very upsetting and filing a police report was a total nightmare as the only officer on duty spoke no English. Thank God a military policeman showed up who did and he was pressed into service as a translator. He was very kind and spent 30 minutes or more helping out. The police never looked at the car, though someone did call and let me know that they wouldn’t be fingerprinting but did help me find our way to the hotel we were trying to find. The MP and this officer made up for the difficulty I had at first with the non-English speaking one. Even he became much friendlier once there was a translator and I quit freaking out and yelling at him in confused Hebrew (my mental state destroyed whatever command of the language I had). The people at Nachsholim – where we stayed last night – were very kind as well as were people at the mall today when they heard our story.

We are now with Steve’s second cousin Max on Kibbutz K’far Nasi in northern Israel in the Galil. It is peaceful and beautiful here and lovely to be in a home. Speaking of which, it is time for dinner.

B’vrachot,

Nance

An Amazing Tisha B’Av

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Tisha B’Av, (the 9th of the month of Av) for those who aren’t Jewish, is the ultimate day of mourning in Jewish tradition. It is the day that, traditionally, many bad things have happened to the Jews. It all started with the spies who returned from touring Canaan coming back and saying that there was no way that the Children of Israel could win the land. Since God had promised to help them in this endeavor, their doubt and spreading of fear was unforgiveable. Trust in God had been betrayed and the people are punished by God declaring that they will wander in the desert until all those over 20 are dead – or 40 years. The destruction of the First Temple by the Assyrians and the Second by the Romans also happened on this day and it is this destruction and loss of the central place of Jewish worship and God’s “home” on Earth that is really being mourned on this day. There is still no Third Temple and, even though there is now a Jewish state in Israel, the Jewish people still are distance from God due to it’s absence. I have already shared some of the learning I have done in preparation for this day, but even all that wonderful learning did not prepare me for how meaningful last night and today were.

Yiscah and I had our last meal – a boiled egg dipped in ashes – and proceeded to the Old City. We had learned on Sunday night at the shi’ur with Shlomo Katz that he would be leading services Monday evening at a private home with a terrace overlooking the Temple Mount. We had been unsure of where to go and at this news both looked at each other and knew that this was where we needed to be. Shlomo has been so central to the learning we have been doing and has given over(from R. Shlomo Carlebach) such deep learning about Tisha B’Av, we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. The house was unbelievably beautiful with stunning views – I will post pictures on Facebook of the views. By the time we started services there were probably 70 people sitting on the ground on the terrace. It was a cool evening with a breeze and all around us were the sounds of other Jews marking Tisha B’Av as well as Muslims marking Ramadan and the celebrating that comes each evening at dark. Their celebrating made an interesting backdrop to our mourning – their party music and fireworks punctuating our songs of mourning and reading of Lamentations.

Shlomo and his father each read part of Eicha (Lamentations) and I have to say, with all respect to those I have previously heard chant Eicha – that this was the most beautiful reading of it I have ever been privileged to hear. Such emotion and deep kavanah (intention) in the reading and such musicality as well. If it wasn’t clear that this was not just a “recitation” already, it became clear when Shlomo stopped mid verse at one point. I couldn’t believe he had lost his place and then I looked at the line that he was reading and knew why he had stopped. Shlomo has two young daughters who he talks about frequently in his teachings and clearly loves more than life. The line was about the daughters of Zion boiling and eating their children during the siege on Jerusalem. He could simply not bear to read the line and when he did continue it was with tears in his eyes and breaking in his voice. This broke my heart as well. After Eicha was finished, Shlomo continued for another hour or more alternating beautiful teaching with niggunim (songs, usually wordless). He really opened his heart and poured it out for those who were blessed to be in attendance. When he was done, the hostess, Pamela Claman, asked if she could share part of a teaching he had apparently given at dinner prior to the fast. She shared about the difference between a prayer and a blessing and that a blessing is more holy because it involves two people (or more). In prayer it is us and God and we are usually asking for something, probably for us. But when you give a blessing – you are giving and you are involving at least one other person. It is this giving and bringing together that makes the blessing so holy. I thought that this was really beautiful, and as someone who signs all her correspondence with “with blessings”, it really spoke to me. On Sunday I had met a friend of Yiscah’s who upon our separating had given each of us, and even my husband who she hadn’t met, a long and beautiful personal blessing. I had found this so moving and was so impressed with how comfortable she was in doing this. I aspire to such ability to share holiness and blessing.

Today I spent most of the day at Pardes where they had a day of learning for Tisha B’Av. This is no easy feat to arrange as Torah learning is actually forbidden on this day as it brings joy. There are a list of things you can learn about – mourning, destruction, loss and such happy topics. I attended a number of great sessions on the laws of mourning and grief in Judaism and their role in helping us to process our grief “appropriately”. I have always thought that the Jewish customs of mourning are a brilliant part of Jewish ritual and, though, thank God, I have not been a mourner myself, find myself grateful for them when comforting mourners and helping them through their loss. The second session was a bit more “touchy feely” and had us think about the destructions in our own lives and then what good or change had come out of them. She referred to this process as “composting”. It was a good exercise as it is always good to remember that good can come out of bad. I personally am forever grateful to a person who caused me great heart break because without them I wouldn’t have the life I have now and this exercise was a good opportunity to remember that . All of the wonderful things I have, my job, my husband, my community, being here in Israel this summer are worth the pain suffered in the creation of who I am today. The afternoon sessions were with Danny Gordis and Natan Sharansky and were both fabulous and memorable. R. Gordis spoke about what has been lost due to the history of the Jewish people and how we aren’t a “real” people because we have had to move around so much and because of the existential threat that we have historically (and continue to) live with. As he said, “It isn’t normal for a People to constantly live with the knowledge that other people want to kill them.” Natan Sharansky spoke beautifully about the power of identity and the centrality of Jerusalem and Israel to his work for human rights and freedom.

It has been a great week on other fronts and I will try to share about them later. I was in the middle of the historical protests here on Saturday, August 6th and also had fun meeting two formerly “virtual” friends in person and spent Shabbat with the family from Seattle whose daughter’s bat mitzvah I will be doing on the 20th. For now it is bed time! My husband arrives tomorrow and I can’t wait for him to be here!! The apartment is cleaned, I have cleared him a shelf or two and a drawer and I can only hope that he actually fits in the bed (I am not sure it is long enough!).

I wish you all the blessings of happiness, health and plenty.

b’vrachot,
Nance