Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Last, the Very Last--Final Sabbatical Thoughts

I can not believe that my sabbatical is nearly over.  In about 30 hours we will be on our way to the airport.  One minute we're lying on the beach in Fiji with nothing but time and adventure ahead, and the next we're going to our last Shabbat service in Jerusalem, visiting the Western Wall one last time, eating the last felafel, schwarma, etc.  I appreciated almost every moment of this incredible adventure, but one can't live a life of just leisure and learning forever.  Time to go home, as the many songs in the video below say.  Here's the slideshow of our trip packed into nine minutes of pictures.  It's long, but the music is great.  Click on it to view.

Concluding Thoughts About Israel
First, I realize that we were not living in reality.  Spending four months without having to work in the holiest city in the world is not the same as grinding out the reality of life.  It's time to wake up, but that doesn't mean I don't get to appreciate the dream.

Second, we were lucky enough to be here during one of the quietest periods in Israel's history.  We weren't sure that was going to be the case.  When we went to pick our kids up on the first day of their Ulpan the road was blocked off because of a bomb scare.  For a moment, we were not sure if a bomb had exploded or it was just a suspicious object, nor did we know exactly how close it was to the school or, in our worst nightmares, even inside the school.  It turned out it was just a suspicious object (a backpack or something that was left unattended).  We walked 4 blocks out of the way, but our kids didn't even know about it (until now).  We did not want to traumatize them, and as with all terror, the best way to defeat it is to get on with life.   Despite the auspicious beginning, there was almost no terrorism or even action between Israel and the Palestinians during our 4 months here.  That is likely about to change, however, with the upcoming Palestinian declaration of Statehood at the United Nations in September.  It is tragic that we can't somehow freeze time and appreciate and maintain this quite status quo with the economy booming in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.  But, ultimately, I believe that a Palestinian State is both necessary and inevitable, whatever the borders may be.  Unfortunately, the declaration  without a negotiated settlement will likely bring great disappointment and much bloodshed along with it.  As Greenday says, "wake me up when September ends."

Third, the biggest issue while we were in Israel was the housing situation and the gigantic tent protests that continue to occur throughout the country. Israel's transition from semi-socialism to semi-capitalism has come at a cost.  There are no easy answers to be found.  The protests are non-violent, the government is as responsive as any in the world, but any solutions will demand .significant change by the government and self-sacrifice by the people that I'm afraid neither are willing to make.  The change it has to come, we know it all along, but the people who seek the change want smart phones and cars and cappuccinos, not Kibbutzim and cooperatives and plain black coffee.  Still, this was all fascinating to watch as an interested observer.

Fourth, I am not good at Hebrew.  I try really, really hard, but I just do not have the skill.  All told, I had 12 weeks of Ulpan, and 6 of them were only one hour a day four days a week, but my progress was slower than my peers.  In almost every class I took, I had the largest vocabulary, could conjugate verbs with the best of them, but was still amongst the worst at speaking and understanding.  Since I have a "good ear" when it comes to music and accents, this is surprising, but we all have learning "differences," and this is one of mine.  This means I will likely never achieve spoken fluency.  Still, I am not as sad as I might make it sound here; I enjoyed the classes and learning what I could.  In light of this, however....

Fifth, if I had to do it again I would take more text learning classes, probably at Pardes (where I found the teachers to be the best) and at the Conservative Yeshiva in lieu of Modern Hebrew.  The classes I took were very valuable, perhaps for future teaching but certainly for Torah lishma, Torah learning for its own sake.

Sixth, my kids are Zionists, at least for now.  They both told me "they are considering making Aliyah when they graduate college" as well as a "gap year before college."  I know that they are kids and that they live in the moment, but they are attached to Israel, which is all we could hope for.

Seventh, making Aliyah is no longer as exotic as it sounds, as Israel seems to be filled with twenty somethings post college, from America, most of them very modern Orthodox, having a great time meeting one another, working in a variety of fields, and enjoying themselves.  It would be a great option for my kids, but this is now, and who knows what will be with Israel in the world in 10-15 years.  Again, "wake me up when September ends."

What will I miss the most?  The two things that I was able to take for granted in a good way, loving Israel and observing Shabbat.  People can argue about what is best for Israel, how they should negotiate, what should be given up or not, etc., but it is all done from a basic perspective that Israel has a right to exist and defend its citizens.  This is often not the case in discussions about Israel and Northern California.

I love our Shabbat services back in Oakland and our neighborhood Havdalah services, but having the entire city quiet down, having nothing to do but rest, read, play and hang out with friends, and greeting complete strangers in the street with "shabbat shalom" is a special, sacred feeling that can't be replicated anywhere else.

Yes, loving Israel, Shabbat, and really good and plentiful Kosher meat.  These are the things I will miss the most.

Concluding Thoughts About Travel
First, thank you, thank you, thank you, Temple Beth Abraham.  What a precious gift this was for me and my family.  I will appreciate it forever, or at least for the next 10 years, im yirtze Hashem, God willing, until my next one.  I'm hoping for two or three more in our time together.

Secondly, we chose a great itinerary.  We could have gone to Europe instead on our way to Israel, but the combination of relaxation in Fiji, old friends in Australia, and adventure in China and Dubai, two places we never would have gone to without good friends in both places, was perfect.

Thirdly, we brought the right amount of clothes, stuff.  Other than forgetting to bring shorts, we packed surprisingly well.

Fourth, almost all went smoothly.  A couple of broken suitcases, lost electronics, and the lack of a proper visa in Israel were almost the only bumps.

Fifth, the kids were mostly the right age for travel.  They both learned a lot and appreciated what we were doing.  It was tougher on Micah than on the rest of us..  I'm not sure if it was the age or the personality, but he really, really missed his friends and complained about it often.  He did learn an extraordinary amount about Israel and the Hebrew language, despite all that.  Jonah just loved every minute of regardless.

Sixth, what did we miss most?  Our family, our friends, the synagogue, the dishwasher, the washer, the dryer and vegetarian burritos, thought not necessarily in that order.

Seventh, we did not miss the cars.  Sure, sometimes we did, but it was wonderful to walk everywhere.  We rarely even used taxis or buses once we were in Jerusalem.

Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu melech ha'olam shehecheyanu v'kiamanu v'higianu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, O God, who has given us life, sustained us, and enable us to reach this season.


Synagogues in Jerusalem

This is a compilation of my weekly synagogue visits to Jerusalem during my sabbatical from April-August in 2011.   One of my major goals was to attend as many synagogues for Shabbat as possible.  When I'm home I generally only get to attend one, so this was a real treat for me.

As you read these please understand that:
(1) which synagogue a person is most comfortable in is very much a matter of individual "fit" and taste.
(2) these are not meant to be reviews, but rather, a reflection of what we liked and disliked, how we felt, etc.
(3) most of the synagogues were Orthodox, as there are very few Conservative and Reform synagogues here.  This made the experience a little less fun for Karen in the women's section.
(4) almost all of these synagogues experiences were amazingly uplifting, often in contrast to North American synagogues.  Because of the knowledge base of the people who attend these services, the ruach (spirit) is really fantastic.

The first two in each section, Kol Rina and Mizmor l'David in the Orthodox section, and Hod v'Hadar and Moreshet Avraham in the non Orthodox section, were our very favorites, in retrospect.  The others are in the order we attended them.

Kol Rina--Nachlaot
This was probably our very favorite synagogue in Jerusalem, especially for Friday  night.  Kol Rina in the Nachlaot neighborhood, a good 35 minute walk from our place.  For those who know Jerusalem it is relatively close to the Machane Yehuda "Shuk."  Friday night was one of the most uplifting, spiritual services I have ever attended in my life.  The ecstatic spirit of 200 people singing at the top of their lungs and then ecstatically dancing around the room in the middle of a prayer is really an amazing experience.  Many, many synagogues try to have this style of service, but they often feel forced.  This one was the opposite--really authentic, spontaneous, and awe inspiring.  It was impossible not to get swept up in it.  Their tunes come primarily from the late Shlomo Carlebach, which .are very popular these days,   When not everyone is participating, they can fall flat, but and when done right, are incredibly beautiful and exciting.  About two thirds of the group appear to be English speakers, but the overall diversity was impressive.  There were teenagers, black hatted ultra religious Haredim, tatooed hipsters, old time hippies, and plenty of "regular" folks all in attendance singing and dancing their hearts out.

After such a stirring Friday night, Saturday morning was almost a completely different place.  It was much more sparsely attended (except there was a BBYO group from "March of the Living There," which was fun), and, though they tried, it lacked the same spirit evident on Friday.  The 20 or so regulars there, though, were very friendly.  They offered me an Aliyah, struck up many conversations wtih us afterward, and had a wonderful warmth about them.  They wanted my boys to lead "Anim Z'mirot, " an extremely long Psalm done at the end of the service, but they did not know it yet, so they had to decline.  It is very, very difficult, but Micah wants to take up the challenge.  Well, I am bribing him, but I'm still proud of him.  Addendum:  We returned 3 months later, and he did it, beautifully!

The view from the Mechitza was:  "They tried."  It's a sheer curtain, which they open for the sermon, and they bring the Torah to the women's section for them to kiss it, but it's still in back of the men and can be hard to see.  But on Friday night, the women sing loudly and sometimes even dance (but not the time Karen went), so they are clearly participating openly.

Mizmor l'David--East Talpiot
Mizmor l'David, a very modern Orthodox synagogue in the Talpiot neighborhood.  They have a side by side mechitza, so women feel much more comfortable here, and a woman takes the Torah and carries it around the women's section so all have the opportunity to kiss it.  The ruach here is tremendous, with people singing in wonderful harmonies at the top of their lungs to mostly Shlomo Carlebach melodies. The people also try to dance after Lecha Dodi, both the men and the women, though separately.   If I hadn't attended another Carlebach style synagogue called Kol Rina the week before, this would have been amazing, but It's hard to compare anything to the ecstatic feeling created there.  This was just an energy notch below.  However, the Saturday Musaf at Mizmor l'David was the best Musaf I have ever seen.  The person davening had an amazing combination of good voice, ruach, and sincerity.  Unfortunately, the 3 1/2 hour service which preceded Musaf didn't enable me to enjoy it fully.  Still, I have to give many kudos to the men and women sustaining this shul.  It's certainly a great one and would be one we could see ourselves joining if we lived here.

Shira Chadasha--Emek Refaim in the German Colony
The first one we attended was the closest to our house and is called Shira Chadasha, which means "new song."  The ruach (spirit) there is incredible, with people singing all service long in harmony.  It is Orthodox, but they push every envelope you can push ritually.  There is a mechitza dividing the men and women, but women are allowed to chant Torah and chant certain parts of the service.  It's also a place that many Americans frequent, though the service is, of course, entirely in Hebrew and so are the announcements.  We returned there with our congregational trip as one of three synagogues we saw in one morning, and they did not take kindly to our getting up and leaving.  They scolded my wife, saying "we are not a museum," and it was rather offputting.  I understand their point-of-view, but it left a little bit of a bad taste in our mouths at what is generally an amazing place to pray.

Kehilat Har Horev--Helamed Hey Street in KatamonI was originally planning on attending a synagogue called "Yedidya" this week, another left-leaning Modern Orthodox synagogue that was more family-oriented, but when I walked outside for the 23 minute walk, I noticed a whole lot of folks walking with Siddurim.  I decided to follow them instead to whatever neighborhood synagogue they going.  I ended up at a place called "Kehilat Har Horev," which turned out to also be modern Orthodox, but much more Israeli.  The service was Ashkenazic, as were most of the people there, but the pronunciation was Sephardic.  I found it relatively easy to follow.  While there was more mumbling/davening than at Shira Chadasha, when the congregation did come together to sing, it was lovely.  Lots of kavanah (intentionality) in their praying and singing, and I found it quite enjoyable.  On Friday, I enjoyed the sing alongable tenor voice of the man who led the evening service.  There was also a sermon, all in Hebrew.  I understood the majority of the words, since it was about the Haggadah, but I didn't understand what point the speaker was getting at.  It may have been my lack of Hebrew knowledge, but when I saw the people on both my right and left sleeping, it may just not really have had a point.  On Saturday, I was honored with the hagbah (Torah lifting).  I was rather hesitant to accept, since I didn't know the weight of the Torah, but I got lucky.  The first of the two scrolls was the light one, and the reading is in the middle of the Torah, so I had no problem.  One man with 5 boys was very friendly (he looked like Roxy Bernstein), and the overall atmosphere was vibrant.  The downside was that despite a very modern building, they did a very poor job with the Mechitza.  It is both elevated and has a curtain, so Karen reported that she could see almost nothing from the Women's Section.  (Note from Karen:  I actually reported that I could see ABSOLUTELY nothing from upstairs.  I didn't know where Mark and the boys were sitting, I couldn't see the Torah, Ark, or people at all.  The prayerbooks were only in Hebrew; after about 20 minutes a woman handed me one and asked if I wanted to follow along for Musaf - at least that's what I think she said, to me it sounded like "blah blah blah musaf?"  At least I could hear the davening.)

Ezrat Yisrael--German Colony
Ezrat Yisrael, which means the help of Israel, was very similar to "Har Horeb," except that Karen could see better from this mechitza, and I was given Galila (Torah dresser and roller) rather than Hagbah, and I did a very poor job.  There was no slit in the cover, and it had writing on both sides, so I put it on backwards, and we had to change it, plus there was an extra piece with the word Pesach on it that kept flipping around).  It was still a very nice, enjoyable morning with lots of people davening with Kavanah (intentionality).  The best part was that there were kids playing outside in the courtyard the game called "Chayei Sarah," a sort of Israeli dodgeball, so Micah and Jonah were happy.

Yedidya in Baka
We spent much of our Shabbat with our good friends the Greybers from Camp Ramah, including doing a sleepover exchange where Micah went to their house and their middle son, Benjamin, slept over at ours.  The boys are so much happier when they are with other kids and away from each other for a while.  Yedidya is a very modern Orthodox synagogue.  I say very because the mechitza is very small, and the Torah is passed to the women's section and carried by a woman (Karen got the honor this week), things that are not allowed in every Orthodox synagogue.  I had an Aliyah.  This week was a very long Torah portion, but it was a pleasant service, with very knowledgeable people lending their voices and enthusiasm to the service.  It was not as spirited or raucous as Kol Rina or Mizmor l'David, but compared to virtually any synagogue in America, it is kavanatically (that's a made up "Heblish" word meaning with intention) superior.  I pray that I can bring some of that back with me without disturbing the comfort level of our own congregation.                                                                                        

Yakar in Katamon
Yakar is another spirited modern Orthodox synagogue with a lot of Anglos.  They actually have two separate services.  The first one, downstairs, is more meditation-oriented, though it's the loudest meditation I've ever experienced.  They sit rather still in their seats and sing many niggunim (songs without words) at the top of their lungs in multiple harmonies.  It is beautiful, though some of the songs drag on for quite a while.  Lecha Dodi was taking a very long time, when we suddenly heard the spirited Shlomo Carlebach tunes we have come to love emanating from somewhere else in the building.  So for the second half of the service we went upstairs and joined in there.  Lots of ruach, which Jonah tells me he personally hopes to bring back to Temple Beth Abraham.  ON Saturday morning, this place is known for their Kiddush snack, which they do as a break in the service between Torah reading and Musaf.  They also have a shiur (lesson) during this time, which is what makes this place unique.  Unfortunately, they had neither the week we attended, so if I were grading this shul I'd have to give it an incomplete.

Shir Chadash in KatamonShir Chadash is not to be confused with Shira Chadasha where we spent our first Shabbat.  It was a little quieter than some of the places we've been, but it was very sweet and in the Carlebach style we love.  On Saturday morning there was a sermon in English.  They had a long-time Gabbai saying an emotional goodbye to the congregation the week we were there, and it was very moving.  There were also two grooms, and they did a little dance around the Torah table with each of them.  Jonah joined in, as he seems to be some sort of good luck symbol to people.  Micah got to do Gelila (dressing the Torah), though he was disappointed that he didn't get to do Anim Zmirot.  Anim Zmirot is a very long, difficult hymn of glory that he has been working very hard on.  He knows it now, but this synagogue followed the not as common custom of reciting it early in the service rather than late, and we didn't get a chance to ask anyone if he could do it.  Thus it was led by the regular davener, and not all that well!

Mayanot (Rehavia/Nachlaot Borde)
After our family service on the congregational trip and dinner I took about 20 people to an additional service at one of the spirited Carlebach services at a place called Mayanot, about a 20 minute walk from the hotel. There are a lot of Haredim there (ultra Orthodox), and they weren't terribly friendly to us.  They dance around the reading table and bang on it as they pass by, which is an interesting way of doing things.  I did not enjoy it as some of the other places I have been, but it was great to have some of our members witness the joy of a Jerusalem synagogue.  Unfortunately, the joy was mostly just on the men’s side of the mechitza. 

The Great Synagogue in Center City
The Great Synagogue is a massive and beautiful structure, much like the large synagogues in America.  It is Orthodox, but in style it resembles an old time Reform synagogue.  There is a paid professional choir of all men who sings along with the operatic Cantor throughout the service. If you like choral music, this is the place in Jerusalem.  In general, though, I don't especially in a prayer environment, and neither did most of our synagogue members who went with me and likewise did not enjoy the lack of participation.

Yemenite Synagogue in the Greek Colony
In this particular week we decided to go a little more exotic and went to a small, neighborhood Yemenite Synagogue at the corner of Elazar Hamodai and Yehoshua ben Nun streets.  As far as we could tell it had no formal name, but they were certainly warm and friendly.  There were only about 20 people there, including our family, so it was very intimate. The Yemenite traditions are quite different than standard Ashkenazi synagogues.

1. There are many small liturgical changes, as basic prayers like the Amidah, Aleinu, Ahavat Olam, Kaddishes, Adon Olam, and many more have slightly different wording.  We assume all our prayers came directly from Sinai, but looking at what happened when they spread out to different parts of the world, customs and even sacred wording varies.  They also stand a lot less frequently.2. The Yemenites do everything aloud.  There is no mumbling followed by chanting when you see the open box a la Sim Shalom or Art Scroll. 
3. The sound is very different.  Lots of ululation in a very repetitive musical mode.  They gave me an Aliyah, which I attempted to do Yemenite style.  The Gabbai asked me if I had any relatives who were Yemenite after that.  He was teasing me, but I tried. 
4. They auction off the last three Aliyot.  Mine was free.
5. They read from the Sephardic style of Torah in the large wooden casing with the Torah standing up. They do hagbah before the reading rather than after.  
6. After each line of Torah, another reader chants a similar sounding line.  What he is chanting is actually an ancient Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Torah called the Targum Onkelos.  At one time it must have helped the listener understand what was going on.  Today it just adds length.  Yemenites do not speak Aramaic (nor does any other Jewish tradition at this point in time).  The Torah reader was straight from central casting, about 4 foot 10 and 70 something, with a great Yeminite look and voice. 
7. Some of the men wear Tallitot on Friday night.  People also get up and lead from their seats.  Perhaps all the leaders were wearing Tallitot, but it was hard to tell if that was the case.   

Thoroughly enjoyable overall.

The Western Wall and the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City
We spent one Friday night at the Western Wall.  There are many minyanim at once going on there, so we tried to find one to stick with, but it was very hard to hear.  What we did enjoy was seeing a large group of Israeli soldiers dancing up a Shabbat storm and singing songs on both the mens' and womens' sides.  The release of joy for such hard working young men and women whose mission is to protect this holy place was joyful and inspiring.  

Saturday morning was spent at the Hurva Synagogue.  Architecturally, it was amazing.  Spiritually, it was lacking.  The Hurva is in the Old City of Jerusalem and was rebuilt to its full beauty just a few years ago.  It was destroyed by the Jordanians immediately after the 1948 War of Independence sort of gratuitously.  Only the arch from the large dome-like structure still stood.  When the Old City was recaptured by Israel in 1967, the original decision was just to leave the arch without rebuilding.  Eventually, some U.S. donors decided to restore it to its former glory.  It is certainly a beautiful synagogue, but the service was almost all Ashkenazic mumbling.  The participants are the black velvet wearing kippa crowd, and not a soul talked to any of us.  They also do not do the prayer for Israel or the Israeli army.  It's almost a non-'Zionist relic stuck in the middle of Jerusalem, very strange and unsatisfying to us.  Fortunately, all the people we spent Shabbat with later in the day made it holy instead.


Hod v'Hadar in Kfar Saba
Because we were not in Jerusalem, we had to drive to synagogue this Shabbat, and we drove to TBA's sister synagogue in Israel, a Masorti/Conservative synagogue called Hod v'Hadar in K'far Saba.  It was nice to be able to sit together as a family, and even nicer that Karen got the Aliyah instead of me this week.  There was a Bar Mitzvah there, but an Israeli Bar Mitzvah is incredibly informal, really just a small part of the service.  The kid was sweet and adorable.  The place felt like home to us, very similar to a TBA service and atmosphere, and the degrees of separation in the game of Jewish geography were very small there.  We ran into both a former Cantor of Torat Yisrael in Rhode Island, where I used to work, a man named Shimon Gevirtz (we were there 20  years apart so we knew each other only by name), and a woman who was married at TBA many years ago named Beverly Shulster, who had none other than the Pencovic's sign her Ketuba!  It was a lovely Shabbat.

Moreshet Avraham in East Talpiot
This synagogue was a bit far away (a 45 minute walk) and is the main "regular" Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem.  It is mostly Anglo, but the service, sermon, and announcements are all in Hebrew.  They have great family programming--kids' services for both 4-10 year olds and 11-12 year olds.  Micah actually has a couple of friends there, so it was easy to get him excited for shul this week.  The tunes are Carelbach-ish on Friday night and fairly standard Conservative on Saturday morning.  It was very standard during Shacharit, since I actually led it.  Ruach was a bit mediocre.  We have made some friends who go there, which was nice, and the overall atmosphere was friendly and war, though not quite as cheery as at our sister Conservative synagogue in Kfar Saba, Hod v'Hadar, where we were the week before.  Still, if we lived here, it's a place we might join.  Between this and Mizmor l'David, I guess we'd have to live in East Talpiot!

Moreshet Yisrael in Rehavia
The "Inheritance of Israel" is the synagogue attached to the Conservative movement/USCJ facility in the center of Jerusalem.  We were welcomed warmly by Rabbi Adam Frank, the brother-in-law of TBA member Debbie Weinstein.  The service feels just like a Conservative synagogue in the U.S.  They use Sim Shalom and Etz Chayim, and give the sermon in English.  We also saw many other people we knew, including Kayla Ship, who is in charge of the congregational Israel trip through Keshet, Rabbi Jerry Epstein, past Executive VP of United Synagogue, Rabbi Danny Schiff, who is a rabbi I have known in both Pittsburgh and Australia and, a man named Yehiel, who used to frequent TBA but now lives in Israel  (he wears white and looks very Chasidic; many of you would recognize him).  I was roped into doing Haftarah, which I don't mind, and it was a very comfortable place to be.  When we arrived 5 minutes after the service started, we were literally the only people in the room besides the person leading and the Rabbi), but the place eventually filled up with regulars (mostly elderly) and Day School groups from Florida and Connecticut.  With all of the visitors, it's virtually a different shul every week.    This was our week, as next week, I think we'll try the more Israeli Conservative synagogue.

Kol Hanishama--German Colony/Baka Border
Kol Hanishama was where I spent most of my Friday nights in Rabbinical School.  Reform services in Israel are almost entirely in Hebrew, and Kol Hanishama is known for their wonderful singing and energy.  Some of the tunes we use often at Beth Abraham come from here, including the song "Kol Hanishama" and one of the melodies we use for Lecha Dodi. They still draw a large crowd, and we enjoyed ourselves, though we did not enjoy being relegated to the back in the "non member" section.  On the one hand we understand that the regulars need places to sit, but it's not the warmest feeling when you walk in. 

Hebrew Union College
On Saturday morning we went to Hebrew Union College on King David Street, which is where I attended my first year of rabbinical school.  They do not have services every week there anymore, but this was a week in which they did hold them.  I was pleasantly surprised by the ruach in the room compared to when I attended 21 years ago.  With a congregation made up mostly of rabbinical students and alumni rabbis, though, I shouldn't have been that surprised.  I did see some old colleague/friends that I hadn't seen in many years.  I enjoyed many of the tunes, though they go very, very slowly, so some of them seem to take forever.  The boys commented that the singing was a "little too much like the opera," though, having never been I'm not sure how they would know that.  The Torah reading was very short (only three small Aliyot).  I didn't mind, but it was strange for us.  Still, it was fun to remember what it was like praying in that very same chapel as a student 21 years ago!

Beit K'nesset H'klali.
We went to this one only on a Friday night, because it was advertised to us by a friend as a Bratslav (a particular Chasidic sect) style synagogue with lots of ruach.  I don't know if we hit a bad night, but it had neither ruach nor Bratslaver Chasidim.  It was hot, crowded, and smelled like smoke, but their version of L'cha Dodi was spirited and unique.  Micah loved it, though, because one of his friends from camp was there.  

Chesed v'Emet
We were only on a Saturday morning, and they begin their services at 7 AM!  I know that sounds frighteningly early to most of you, but we're up at that hour in Jerusalem .anyway.  It came highly recommended by, of all people, a wine steward at the restaurant Gabriel.  It was Sephardic, mostly older people, but with a certain amount of spirit and uniqueness to it.  The men took turns reciting Psalms from their seats at the beginning, which is a custom in many Middle Eastern communities, and that's always interesting to see.  

Yemin Moshe
After that we went to the Ashkenazic synagogue in Yemin Moshe, which is known for their great Kiddushes. This synagogue felt very familiar, much like any Conservative service in America, except with a Mechitza.  Othewise, both the atmosphere and the tunes were familiar, and there was even a fairly traditional Bar Mitzvah (but the kid read the entire full Torah reading!).  And, yes, the Kiddush was really, really good.


Berav Synagogue in Safed
On Friday night we drove to Safed to find a place to welcome Kabbalat Shabbat.   We very much wanted to be there on Friday night, because Kabbalat Shabbat (the part of the service that goes from Yedid Nefesh through L'cha Dodi) was invented in Safed in the 16th Century by the Jewish mystics or Kabbalists.  Every Friday after candlelighting they would gather to ecstatically greet Shabbat like a bride.  That mysticism and religious fervor, along with many artists, is still the most prevalent thing about Safed today.  I have been there many times, but never without a tour guide, so we had a very difficult time finding anything.  We had intended to visit both the Ari Synagogue (the synagogue in the name of Rabbi Isaac Luria, who passed down the Kabbalah that we know today) or the Caro Synagogue (the Rabbi who wrote the Shulchan Aruch, the law compendium we still follow today).  Unfortunately, we couldn't find either.  We did enter the Bratslaver synagogue (famous for the great Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, one of the greatest storytellers in Jewish history), and settled into the Beirav synagogue.  While the Beirav synagogue building is nothing special, built in the 1800's and looking like a run down schoolroom, they are famous for having the most spirited Jewish services in the world.   Not much spirit on the women's side, unfortunately, but the men's side was a party.  Dancing and singing and jumping everywhere you turn at every prayer.  It was part spiritual ecstasy, part hora, part fraternity party.  I had a great time dancing with Micah, Jonah, and a bunch of happy strangers I will never see again.

Tiberias Synagogues

The next morning we searched for a synagogue in Tiberias.  We started at the Great Synagogue of Tiberias, which is a Rav Cook synagogue.  Rav Cook was the first Chief Rabbi of Israel and one of the very few Orthodox rabbis who was a Zionist early on.  The place was very Israeli and had some vibrancy to it.  We probably should have stayed, but we were too late to find a seat.  We next tried the Orbach Shul, known as the Shtieblach.  There are a few different minyans going on at once there in different study rooms.  There were no seats in any of them, and the davening was almost entirely silent.  We finally made our way to a Chabad synagogue, where they had seats, but unlike most Chabad houses, very little joy.  I had an Aliyah which I tried to mumble as fast as possible in imitation of the other Aliyot.  It was still a little too audible. I did enjoy the sermon, however, which was about the menorah in the parasha Beha'alotecha, and how every tribe leader had to help light it, not just the High Priest.  All of us, in the Jewish community, need to follow their example and help to light our own souls, not just rely on our leaders.  I liked the message, but I mostly liked it  because I could understand it even though it was all in Hebrew.  The American accent and simple Hebrew of the Chabad Rabbi helped.  Plus, if it's about the Torah portion, I usually know most of the words already and what they are likely to say.  This is much easier for me to understand than a simple news broadcast.

Ofra Community Synagogue in Ofra
The synagogue there was quite interesting.  They have one large synagogue which almost the entire community attends each Shabbat,   The Shaliach Tzibur (prayer leader) decides each week whether they will use the Ashkenazic or Sephardic minhag (custom).  In our case, Shacharit was led Sephardically and Musaf Ashkenazically.  The mix of people is incredible.  There are Ethiopian Jews and Yemenite Jews and quite a few B'nai Menashe, which are Jews from India who are ethnically Tibetan/Chinese.  The place is a real melting pot, and nearly everyone knows each other.

The Final Week in Jerusalem

Mostly this week has been relatively uneventful, though tinged with a great deal of sadness upon our leaving.  We are certainly excited to come home, see our friends, return to work, etc., but it's never easy to leave our other home, the holy city of Jerusalem.  

Karen and I ended our time at the Conservative Yeshiva with tiyulim (mini trips around the neighborhood) and a lovely song session on the final day.  
My classmates at the Conservative Yeshiva Ulpan

Mincha Minyan at the Stadium
Jonah and Micah ended their fourth week the All Star Sports Camp at Kraft Stadium, which they loved.  They made a lot of friends and played a lot of dodgeball, among other sports.  There was also a family night, where the parents played dodgeball, watched the movie Space Jam, and ate ice cream sundaes.  In between, I was part of a mincha minyan in the middle of the field at Kraft Stadium, a unique and somewhat bizarre experience to be sure. We also went to the first ever organized Lacrosse game in Israel at said stadium, Jerusalem vs. Tel Aviv, and the kids got to take shots on the goalie at half time.
Micah and his best buddie Sruli
Jonah and his best bud Tzvi
We made our last visits to the Wall, enjoyed our last Shabbat (with our good friends and neighbors from home, the Margolin/Zangwill's, a good transition to coming home), and enjoyed our favorite burgers, shwarmas, felafels, ice creams, etc. one last time.

Shuls of the Week
We managed to get three in in one Shabbat.  On Friday night we went to Beit K'nesset Hak'lali, which was advertised to us by a friend as a Bratslav (a particular Chasidic sect) style synagogue with lots of ruach.  I don't know if we hit a bad night, but it had neither ruach nor Bratslaver Chasidim.  It was hot, crowded, and smelled like smoke, but their version of L'cha Dodi was spirited and unique.  Micah loved it, though, because one of his friends from camp was there.  

On Saturday morning, we started at a synagogue in our neighborhood called Chesed v'Emet, who begin their services at 7 AM!  I know that sounds frighteningly early to most of you, but we're up at that hour in this place anyway.  It came highly recommended by, of all people, a wine steward at the restaurant Gabriel.  It was Sephardic, mostly older people, but with a certain amount of spirit and uniqueness to it.  The men took turns reciting Psalms from their seats at the beginning, which is a custom in many Middle Eastern communities, and that's always interesting to see.  

After that we went to the Ashkenazic synagogue in Yemin Moshe, which is known for their great Kiddushes. This synagogue felt very familiar, much like any Conservative service in America, except with a Mechitza.  Othewise, both the atmosphere and the tunes were familiar, and there was even a fairly traditional Bar Mitzvah (but the kid read the entire full Torah reading!).  And, yes, the Kiddush was really, really good.

Wine of the Week
Tabor Mescha 05 Bordeaux style blend.  This was the winery we chanced upon near Tiberias, and this is a very tasty, flavorful red that we tried there and was our favorite.  Great berry/currant notes, and a 91 rating from me.  

It's not going to make the blog, but on my very last night I am going to the Israel Wine Festival at the Israel Museum.  For 70 shekels ($20 or so) you get a glass and can taste as many wines as you like from more than 30 Israeli wineries.  I leave for the airport at 2 AM the next morning, but how can I not go?  I can't wait!

For more on my final thoughts as the trip comes to an end, click here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tisha b'Av, Tents, and Pigeon Eggs

There were three separate happenings this week that are all connected by a common theme of homelessness.

The Homeless Bird
There is a very strange commandment in Deuteronomy 22:7: called Shiluach Haken,   The verse tells us that if you chance upon a Mother bird sitting on her eggs, do not take the mother with the young.  You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life.  It's a very mysterious mitzvah.  Theoretically, according to Rambam and other commentators, it is more humane to send the mother bird away since it would be too cruel to see her watch her eggs being taken away.  You may or may not agree with the commandment, but that's the mitzvah anyway.  I never imagined me fulfilling this mitzvah, because the few times I have seen nests, they have been in trees, and why would I want or need to do anything with the eggs.
The Pigeon's Nest on our Windowsill
Well, a pigeon made a nest on the windowsill of our bedroom window.  These are not clean birds, and having the mother bird and, potentially, the baby birds there presents a health hazard.  So we had to remove the nest.  We opened the window, and almost as if it knew the Torah line, the Mother bird flew away.  We then removed the nest (well, Karen did, actually), placing it on a bush nearby.  I'm  not sure the bird ever found the eggs, but, as strange as it sounds, this was quite a spiritual moment for our entire family.  It was all still twinged with a little bit of guilt that we may have created a couple of homeless baby birds.

Tent Cities
Tent City in Downtown Jerusalem
When you think of tent cities you think of homelessness.  There are tent cities springing up all over Israel today, but not for homeless, but rather, as the centerpiece of one of the largest protests in Israel's history.  Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are protesting the cost of housing in Israel, which continues to rise.  Some say it has been deliberately planned by the left wing to bring down the Netanyahu government.  In point of fact, many of the left wing groups in Israel are providing funding for the tents, the food, the speakers, and the entertainers.  It also appears that many of the protesters are young people having the time of their lives.  I was particularly uncomfortable last night when about 50 of these folks were walking with torches on King George Street in the center of town, though fortunately trailed by both police and fire trucks.

But you also see people from across both the religious and political spectrum involved in these protests.  And you see passion and dedication and caring from people about meeting the basic needs of their country and its people.  And you see that, perhaps, the agenda for this country in future elections will be not only about security and terrorism but also about the economy and about the society in which the people want to live.  And you see a responsiveness on the part of the government that you don't see in most of the world, as they try and figure out equitable solutions for all.

What you don't see is a government crackdown on the protesters like you see in the rest of the Middle East. What you don't see is violence and looting like you see in England.
What you don't see is hopelessness and despair.

Solutions are another matter Everyone wants more affordable housing, more affordable daycare, and higher paying jobs.  but exactly how one gets it is another matter entirely.  And I'm not sure the very people who are protesting would be willing to take buses and forgo owning cars or live in Kibbutzim instead of private homes or subsist on a diet of lentils and rice and chickpeas and black coffee instead of hanging out in cafes and sushi bars.  Still, that people are having a dialogue about such important issues is a very good thing, all catalyzed by a bunch of tents symbolizing people without a home.

Tisha b'Av
This week we commemorated the holiday of the 9th of Av, which, in a way, is a holiday about the homelessness of the Jewish people.  The holiday originated as a way to commemorate and mourn our exile after the destruction of both the first and second Temples.  It was and is, in a sense, a holiday of homelessness.  It is also the day when more bad things happened to the Jewish people than on any other day.= in our history  This includes not only the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem, but also the edict of the Spanish Inquisition, the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, and, Biblically, the day the ten spies brought back the evil report about the land which determined that the Israelites would have to wander for 40 years in the desert.  It's a day of mournfulness, fasting, and reading the Biblical book of Lamentations.

I have found that many Jews have difficulty relating to this holiday.  Some tell me it is because although we are sad that the Temples were destroyed, they are not sad that animal sacrifices will not be reinstituted, and thus do not want to fast or even recognize this day of tragedy.  Others say that we should not observe this holiday because we are no longer in exile.  When you look out at Jerusalem you see it has already been redeemed, at least partially so.  Others have told me that the holiday is too particularistic, and that Jews do not have a monopoly on suffering.  Still others say that they just don't believe in a holiday which glorifies tragedy and melancholy.

Personally, the holiday does resonate with me.  If I can't deeply identify with my people's suffering at least once a  year, I feel like I am doing a disservice to my people, my land, and my God.  I always find the haunting chanting of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, to be starkly moving.  It was especially beautiful this year for me, joining a few hundred others at the egalitarian service at Robinson's Arch right next to the Western Wall.

In the daytime, I attended another fabulous program at Pardes, where I heard Natan Sharansky speak about his life story, Rabbi Daniel Gordis speak about the nature of a people that is/are still broken, a rabbi named Gideon Weitzman speak about the Biblical spies' evil report in the context of exile really being about the idea that we are in exile when we are not ourselves, and a Professor named Naftali Moses speak about the loss of his own son in a terrorist attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva three and a half years ago.

This day of learning and mourning and connectedness was very intense but worthwhile.  The Jewish people have a home now in Eretz Yisrael, but until we are free from terror, normalized among the nations of the world, we still feel a certain homelessness and rootlessness.

During announcements at many of the synagogues, they would say, "hopefully, Jerusalem will be completely redeemed in the next few days, weeks, etc,. but in case it is not, we will have a Tisha b'Av program on August 9, etc."  I find these words comical but comforting.  Not only should the tragedies never be forgotten, but hope should never be forgotten as well.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Jerusalem Week 16--Blooms are Illegal, Hadassah, and another wonderful Shabbat

It's no fun being an illegal alien
Anyone remember that 80's song by Genesis?  It turns out that our family was in Israel illegally for about 3 weeks.  When an American enters Israel you get an automatic stamp for a 3 month visit.  We are in Israel a total of 4 months and 3 days.  Despite my thorough checking for entry and exit requirements for Fiji, Australia, China, and Dubai, I was quite careless with Israel.  I come here so often without incident that I didn't think to check about the time limits here.  The stamp in the passport says 3 months from date of entry, but I didn't bother to look.  When I was renting a car, however, they looked at my passport and told me:  "you are no longer a tourist according to your passport, you have to pay the higher fee that includes the tax."

At that point I realized that our family was actually here illegally, having overstayed our official welcome.  What to do?  We could have just gone to the airport on our way out and maybe paid a small fine, but that could endanger any future trips to Israel.  So instead we went to the Misrad Hap'nim (the Office of the Interior) to apply for an extended tourist visa.  I tried calling, but as with many bureaucracies you can't reach an actual person, so I had to go in person.  I did, but all I could do there was make an appointment for two weeks later.  They also told me that I would need to bring a letter from a rabbi stating that I was Jewish.  I write those letters for others, but I wasn't allowed to write one for myself.  Rabbi Dardik from Beth Jacob happened to be in town, so fortunately, he wrote one for me.

When we arrived two weeks later we were supposed to see Miri at Window 5.  When we arrived, the woman at Window 5 was surprisingly pleasant and smiley, so I was not concerned.  We approached her at our appointed time, and she informed us that we did not have an appointment with her, and that Miri now worked at Window 9,  So we went to Window 9, and Miri was not smiling at all.  "Did you hear your name called?" she asked/shouted.  "No," I replied.  "Then please go sit in the waiting room until you are called."  Another person who had come from Window 9 was practically in tears.  At this point I started to worry.  Perhaps I would need some divine intervention or, at least, some good karma.

Thanks for the good karma!
A moment later an Ethiopian woman approached me and asked if I could help her fill out her forms for her daughter who was applying for citizenship.  Her 9 year old daughter, like her, had arrived a few years ago on foot, believe it or not, so she didn't even know her entry point.  She spoke only Hebrew, much better than mine, but she really wasn't able to write Hebrew.  So, together, we filled out her form. At this point, I felt that karma or Hashem was with me.  Our name was called, and we approached Miri again.  She told me to sit down.  I said: "Where?  My boys are in the chairs."  "Send them to the waiting room, then."  She couldn't have been more miserable.  Nevertheless, 30 minutes, about $200, and several questions later, we had our extended tourist visas.  And Miri even cracked a smile or two along the way.  She wouldn't let us take her picture, or she'd be in here too.

Hadassah Windows
It took us nearly 4 months, but we finally got to see the Chagall Windows at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem.  Not only did we get to see them, but we got a personal tour from Past National President and current Executive Director of Hadassah Barbara Goldstein.  She also showed us the magnificent facilities and even gave us a ride home.  Karen was especially thrilled with this particular afternoon, having spent so much of the last 10 years volunteering and organizing for Hadassah.
Karen and Exec. Director of Hadassah Israel, Barbara Goldstein

Friends and Caves in Beit Shemesh
Mark with BBYO buds Zev and Brenda
We got to spend time with two of my good friends from my high school days in BBYO, Zev Landau (formerly Bill London) and Brenda Ganot (formerly Brenda Fishman), both of whom live in Beit Shemesh, which is about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem.  Zev and his wife Monica fed us a nice brunch, and Brenda and her husband Steve drove us around to visit the caves of Beit Guvrin, most of which were from the early 2nd Temple Period, and .included columbarium caves (for raising pigeons), bell caves, and olive presses.  I had never seen them before, and they were marvelous.  It was also great to spend the time with old friends.

Repeat Shabbat
As it was almost our last weekend, we decided to return to one of our favorite synagogues during our time here, Kol Rina in the neighborhood of Nachlaot.  There were a lot of bashert moments to this Shabbat.  First, we couldn't find a bus stop near the Central Bus Station to take us back to our house. so we ended up at the Machane Yehuda market, where I picked up my favorite challa in the world.  I went on Thursday as well, but they were out, so it looked like I was going to have to pick up my challa somewhere else this week.
The challa and other treats at this bakery called Ugat Chen are so sweet that bees literally swarm all around the place.  This week there were an especially large number of them, I was afraid to hand the shop owner my money.  He exhorted me not to be afraid, and that they wouldn't harm me.  The first word in this week's Torah portion, D'varim, is reread by the rabbinic sages to say D'vorim, which means bees.  The words of Torah are compared by these sages to bees.  The sting is sharp, but ultimately, they produce sweet honey.  It was as if the shop owner was telling me not to be afraid, ever, of teaching or living the words of Torah, as challenging as they can sometimes be.

We then made our way to services at Kol Rinah, which are long but extremely spirited.  The boys joined me in the dancing during the Calrebach melodies of Kabbalat Shabbat.  It really was a spiritual and "ruach" high that I have not been able to replicate at a service in the United States, not even at our own Rock & Roll Shabbat (though we sometimes come close).  Anyway, the night was getting a bit long, though, so we left a little early.  On our way out we ran into Avi Margolin, who lives outside of Jerusalem, but despite our best efforts, we had not been able to see him yet.  Had we not left early we would not have run into him, so there was Divine Providence or serendipity or whatever you choose to call it giving us another sacred moment.

We returned there on Shabbat morning, where Micah proudly led Anim Z'mirot.  Anim Z'mirot is an extremely long and difficult prayer at the end of the service.  When we had gone there three months ago he was asked to lead it, but he didn't know it yet, so he had to decline.  He decided he would learn it if the occasion should ever come up again, and he did it beautifully.  I could not have been prouder.

We then went to lunch at people we were matched up with over the internet.  We went to and requested to be hosted somewhere near the synagogue.  We lucked into meeting a wonderful family with four children.  It turned out that the host was the Torah reader at the synagogue, the kids went to the same camp as Micah and Jonah, and we all had a wonderful time and a delicious meal.  All in all, it was a very special Shabbat.

Wine of the Week--Carmel 2007 Limited Edition

This is one of the top rated wines in Israel, a Bordeaux style blend from Carmel (not your Grandfather's sweet wine).  It was a very good wine with a smoky flavor.  Daniel Rogov gives it a 93, though I give it only an 89 (which is still very high).  The quality was there, and I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I'm in love with the unique smoky flavor that infuses this wine.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Israeli Wines

I have enjoyed Israeli wine immensely during my 4 months here.  Every week I would buy a bottle of wine for Shabbat and review it in the blog.  These are those reviews all in one place with a few adjustment.

I can't believe how far Israel has come in the last decade.  The days of Manischewitz/Magen David syrupy sweet wine which we associate with Judaism are long gone here.  Today, many of Israel's wines rival Napa Valley's, and in terms of Kosher wine, very few can compete.

Covenant, Hagafen, and B.R. Cohn are the only American wines which can rival Israel's, but the amount of brands and varietals in Kosher wine is unparalleled here.  In addition, most of the Israeli wines are not "mevushal," a process similar to flash pasteurization, which renders it fit to be poured by anyone, Jewish or non Jewish in order to remain Kosher.  This means it is relatively easier, in a way, to make good wine here.  The climate is ideal, like in the Napa Valley, with the right combination of sun exposure, rainfall, wind exposure, humidity (or lack thereof), and temperature.

My wine reviews are strictly amateurish.  I know enough to be dangerous, but that's about it.  For the real deal on Israeli wines see Daniel Rogov's wine blog.  Here is simply what I enjoyed, with its heavy emphasis on Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux style blends.

Yatir Shiraz 2007
Their very best wine is the Forest Blend with the red seal.  I did not end up buying one of these expensive bottles, but tasted someone else's (thanks TBA!). I probably liked the Shiraz even better, because the Forest Blend needs a year or three of aging in the bottle.  As for this one, simply yummy.  Smooth, blackberry, plum-like flavor with very mild spice.  This is a lesser known Israeli wine from the Judean Hills outside of Jerusalem, and it costs a little more, but you can get it from kosher wine websites in America.  It was a 93-94, probably my favorite wine in Israel.
Yatir 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
We did a ton of wine tasting the week we opened this bottle up in the Northern part of Israel. Most were good but not amazing. But on Shabbat we opened a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Yatir, which is my favorite brand in Israel.  Pure, rich, oaky Cabernet, about a 93.  The wine comes from the Negev, believe it or not, but specifically from the Yatir Forest, which has a very high elevation.  I've got to find a way to get some of this brand when I'm back in the U.S.

Barkan 2007 Reserve Shiraz.
It was very, very good, like a 92 or so on the scale.  I have had Barkan wines before.  As one of the first non Manischewitz style Kosher wines, they have been readily available in America for quite some time, but in the past, I could really only call them good for Kosher wine.  They have really improved in recent years, however, and this Reserve wine was very good.  Great body, smooth flavor, but with good Oak and Cherry overtones, almost Cabernet like.  I was very impressed.  It's definitely the best one I have had yet here.    

2008 Psagot Shiraz.  
This was not a winery with which I was familiar, as it is not widely available outside of Israel (though their website says it is sold in the United States).  This was a 91.  I liked it almost as much as the Barkan Reserve.  Its color was especially beautiful--like a perfect plum.  It was smooth and rich with very soft tannins.  It is made in the Jerusalem Hills, and Karen remarked that this was her favorite so far.

Castel 2007 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin
The first is a 2007 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin.  It is supposed to be the best wine in Israel.  It is a heavy red blend similar to a French Bordeaux, made up mostly of Cabernet, but also with small amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, and Malbec.  It was quite complex, hard to identify individual flavors within it, but very good.  A few others have suited my tastebuds even better, but the high quality is immediately apparent.  90.
Adir 2009 Shiraz
I had tasted this one at the winery itself so I knew it was good.  89 good, because it could use some aging.  Great spice flavor but not enough wood age for a 90. 


Carmel 2007 Limited Edition

This is one of the top rated wines in Israel, a Bordeaux style blend from Carmel (not your Grandfather's sweet wine).  It was a very good wine with a smoky flavor.  Daniel Rogov gives it a 93, though I give it only an 89 (which is still very high).  The quality was there, and I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I'm in love with the unique smoky flavor that infuses this wine.

Naaman 2008 Cabernet Franc
This week's wine was one of the ones I tasted during the wine trip and bought, a 2008 Cabernet Franc from Na'aman Winery.  That's the one by the former filmmaker who names many of his wines after rock groups and songs.  This was a big, bold wine, though without too much wood flavor despite a fairly lengthy French Oak aging process.  I think the grape's flavor was so powerful that it over shadows the oak.  That's not necessarily a bad thing at all.  In the movie Sideways, Miles doesn't like what most American wineries are doing with the Cabernet Franc.  Rami Na'aman is doing something very right with it, though.  88 points.

Galil Mountain 2008 Shiraz
With the Seder and Shabbat this week, we had two more Shiraz' to try.  The first was a 2008 from Galil Mountain Winery.  It was very similar to the Dalton Shiraz.  It was full bodied with great spice to it and "berry"ish in flavor.  I'd give it an 89. Later in the trip, when my brother and I did some wine tasting up north, we discovered that they had great Bordeaux blends as well.
                                  Galil Mountain Shiraz Cabernet

Dalton 2007 Reserve Cabernet.  
Karen didn't like it (thought it burned), but I thought it was quite smooth and well balanced  We had the chance to visit the winery with the congregational trip, and this was much better than most of the wines we tasted there.  88.
                                                                            Dalton Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve \'07.

2009 Dalton Shiraz
This was the very first wine I tried while in Israel.  it was the 2009 Dalton Shiraz from the Galilee Region (where most Israeli wines are made).  I give it an 87.  It was good, reasonably smooth and spicy at the same time with hints of raspberry and a good balance of tannin.  Later in the trip we got to visit this winery with the congregation.

Yarden Syrah 2007                                                           
Yarden is widely available in the U.S., and is the top of the line brand of the Golan Heights Winery.  This one was smooth and drinkable, with a very pure Shiraz taste.  Very good, but not amazing, similar to the Dalton and Galil Mountain Shiraz'.  87


Recanati Reserve Shiraz
This was about an 83.  It was a little too sweet and a little too grainy for my tastes.  It actually tasted better the next night after some time in the refrigerator, which is unusual.  Still, you could tell it was relatively high quality, just not quite perfect for my taste buds nor as good as the Yatir, Psagot and Barkan Reserve Shiraz'.

2008 Recanati Cabernet
Only about a 73.  Pretty good black cherry flavor, but it had a hint of carbonation in it and not enough balance of wood, which I prefer in a Cabernet.  May just need to age a little more, but not one of the better wines I've had here.  They have a reserve line which is probably a lot better.

Tzuba 2008 Shiraz
(Tzuba Winery Story), which is in the Judean Hills West of Jerusalem.  All the other wines so far have come from the Galilee Region, where the majority of Israel's wines are grown and bottled.  It is made on a Kibbutz where they have found the remains of 3000 year old wine presses.  They are not in use today, but the idea that this wine is made in the same place that our ancestors were making wine is a spiritual experience in itself,
The actual wine was not quite as cool as the idea.  It was full-bodied, which I liked, and it was even flavorful (think /black cherryish with a little pepper), but it was a bit syrupy, almost like a Port Wine, and I am not a fan of port wine,  The alcohol content seemed a bit higher than usual, as Karen reported feeling tipsy after just a couple of sips and wanted to go to sleep immediately.  68

2009 Teva Shiraz 
This wine is made by the Benyamina Winery, also located in the Galilee.   It was not good.  2009 is too young, but this one doesn't need mellowing with age.  It's just way too watery.  It had a decent flavor, similar to the others, but no body.  It was kind of like wine flavored water.  To be fair, this is the lower end offshoot of the Benyamina winery, and sometimes, you get what you pay for.  I give it a 60.