Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jerusalem Week 2

JERUSALEM WEEK 2

A vacation like week in Jerusalem.  What a blessing!


People We Saw This Week
As in Dubai and China, we feel extremely fortunate to have generous friends all over the world..  Yaron and Tali Lipschitz, who spent three years in Oakland as educators and Shlichim in various capacities,  have given us a standing invitation to do our laundry at their house!  This is an even bigger deal than it sounds.  There are no do-it-yourself laundromats in Jerusalem.  They do it for you, and it costs 50-60 shekels per load.  You also have to lug it there yourself.  So we will not only save about $30 a week, they are even giving us rides  back and forth.

Thank you Yaron and Tali, for the friendship, food, and laundry!
Yaron's father also owns a restaurant called Eucalyptus in the Artist's Colony (which we hope to try soon), and, given his experience with gourmet food, this was an unbelievably good meal.  It was the second night of Passover, but we did not celebrate a 2nd Seder.  In Israel, Passover is only celebrated for 7 days, not 8, and therefore there is no "second" day Chag.  Micah entertained their 4 year old (he's really amazing with little kids), and we know we will see them often.

The Apartment
Speaking of people we saw, after purchasing three new mattresses and throwing away the three old ones, the apartment smells much better.  Smoke smell not entirely removed but almost.   Enough so that we invited former TBA members the Kafin's over for Shabbat dinner.  They have two boys, one of whom, Toby, is Micah's age, so it was a really nice evening,

Museums
Visiting some of Israel's amazing museums is part of our children's education, so we intend to do many.  We are attempting to go in historical order, more or less.  Most museums cover many centuries, but still, there's a general order to it.  We first went to the Bible Lands Museum, which looks at most of the lands mentioned in the Bible.  It follows the Jewish people's journey, starting with ancient Mesopotamia (today's Iraq, where Abraham lived before he got the call from God to go forth to the land of Canaan, today's Israel) and follows the path of the ancient Near East.  We saw a similar display in Dubai without a single mention of Israel or the Jewish people.  The contrast was striking, and it was nice to follow it from the Jewish people's point-of-view.  They also have a great kids activity booklet, which kept the kids engaged.
Map of Abraham's journey from Ur to Canaan
The other museum we visited was the Tower of David Museum, which essentially shows the history of Jerusalem from the time King David set up shop here to the present day.  It includes the Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Mamluk, Crusader, and Ottoman rule as well.  There are many full scale models from different eras, so you can really envision what it was like in each era   You also get magnificent views of Jerusalem from the top..
Taken from the Museum Courtyard
The View from the Top
We also saw a "4D" movie about the history of Jerusalem, a combination "thrill" ride and movie called the Jerusalem Time Elevator.   The kids loved this one, and it continued to reinforce all they are learning about Jerusalem in a fun way.

 Shul of the Week:  Kehilat Har Horev.
 I 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.)

Wines of the Week
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.
                                  Galil Mountain Shiraz CabernetShiraz

The second was the 2009 Teva Shiraz from 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 70.

Shavua Tov, I hope all our weeks are as wonderful as this one was for us..

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

This Year in Jerusalem!

The Passover Seder ends with the line "next year in Jerusalem."  I have never been in Israel during Passover.  The one year I could/should have been, 1991, my first year of rabbinical school, I left the country because of the first Gulf War, so I am very thankful I had the opportunity to go this year. It is magical.

Many people want to know what you say at the end of the Seder if you are in Jerusalem.  Do you say "next year in Oakland?"  Actually, you still say "next year in Jerusalem," because the idea is that, ideally, you should be here every year.  They actually add a word to the phrase "benuya," which means rebuilt or in a rebuilt state.  "L'shana haba'ah b'Yerushalayim benuya."  Next year may we be in Jerusalem, and may it be rebuilt to its holiest state. It will be at least another 10 for me, so I enjoyed it while we could.

We were set up by the Conservative movement with a very nice family (Charlie and Alexis), who had three boys of their own who spoke perfect English as well as Hebrew.  So Micah and Jonah were very happy.  The food was delicious, and the Seder was meaningful for both children and adults.  It was a 40 minute walk, and we didn't leave until almost Midnight, but it was great to do at least once.

Because of the state of our apartment this was the most cleaning we have ever done for Passover.  It felt truly liberating to get rid of not only our literal chametz (products made from wheat, barley, oat, spelt, and rye in a leavened state), but to have a mostly clean, functioning apartment.  We had to throw away three old mattresses, whose smoke stench was beyond repair and buy three new ones, but it was worth it.
And dumped in planters.
Massive chametz burning "stations"
all over town.
By the way, this year we are Sephardic.  We have decided that we are not going to worry about eating the Kitniyot (additional restrictions added by Ashkenazic Jews in the Middle Ages) on rice, corn, millet, peas, and legumes).  Most Israelis keep the Sephardic restrictions only, and because of the language barrier, it is very hard to tell which is which for us.

We are having fun exploring some of my old haunts.  We went to the "mekolet," which is like a corner store, closest to where I lived my year in Jerusalem.  A gem of a man named Tuvye is still the owner and is there every day.  We enjoyed catching up in my broken Hebrew.  

They pronounce the second "L"
and say Lin-co-lin"
Tuvye the Mekolet Owner

  One of our other big outings this week was to the Shuk, Machane Yehuda, a huge open air food market. 





Other things we bought there included a soccer ball and a basketball, which the boys have brought to some parks, including a miniature park paid for by Kirk Douglas, where, when people see them playing with the balls, join in in an instant pick-up game.  The fact that they don't know any Hebrew seems not to matter at all during these times.  And while most of the Israelis do not know much English,  they somehow seem to know the swear words, which Micah finds hilarious.
Pass it to Micah; he's wide open.
Chag Sameach, a happy Passover to all!



Saturday, April 16, 2011

First Shabbat in Jerusalem

Camera out right at the airport.
First and foremost, this picture reminds us what we love about Israel and why we are here.

Can there be anything more precious?
After a very challenging first few days following the luxury of the rest of our trip, I made the family walk to the Wall on the second full day to remind us of that.  Now, for the rest of the story...

1. Jerusalem is very, very crowded during Pesach week.  The stores, the streets, the restaurants are almost unmanageable.

2. Despite all that, Shabbat is very, very quiet, and felt very peaceful and wonderful to us.

3. Shul of the Week.  Every week I will describe the synagogue we attended for Shabbat.  Our goal is to go to a different one each week.  The first one 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.

4. Wine of the Week.  The closest grocery store has a great Israeli Kosher wine section, and I have decided to try as many as I can, working my way, in good Hebrew fashion, from right to left.  Each week for Shabbat I will try a different wine, a Shiraz and a Cabernet from each winery.  This week it was the 2009 Dalton Shiraz from the Galilee Region (where most Israeli wines are made).  For comparison, the two best Kosher wines I have ever had are the Cabernets made by Covenant and B.R. Cohn.  I rank them a 97.  The Dalton Shiraz I give an 87.  It was good, reasonably smooth and spicy at the same time with hints of raspberry and a good balance of tannin.

6. People we Saw.  Nowhere does the world seem smaller than in Jerusalem.  Jewish geography's epicenter is here.  In the first three days here we saw the following people we know:  Rachel Brott, Ariele Scharff, Becca, Lori, and David Rosenthal (had Lori and David at our place in the afternoon), Rabbi Daniel and Jennifer Greyber and family (had us over for Seudah Shlishit), Rabbi Stuart and Vicky Kelman, Rabbi Joe and Rolinda Schoenwald, Rabbi Julie Saxe Teller, and several counselors from Camp Ramah.  I had to send Jonah into the Women's section a couple of times to ask him to bring people out so I could greet them.

Look who we ran into at the Wall.

7. Apartment Hell.  Our apartment is the right size and in an ideal location in Jerusalem called Emek Refaim or the German Colony.  It's where all the cool, hip places are and is in walking distance from all our schools, camps, and the Old City.  And the neighborhood is quite tony.  Our apartment, however, has not been maintained in years.  Most of that doesn't bother us.  The person we had take a look at it before we signed the lease said that the furniture was outdated, but it was otherwise fine.  What we weren't told and, for some reason, we forgot to ask was if the previous tenants were smokers.  And how.  Despite professional cleaners, the place reeks of smoke, especially in the kids room.  We are working on it--air fresheners, baking soda, bringing the mattresses outside, but it's a tough adjustment.  Also, one set of neighbors is very mean.  We share a common courtyard with about six apartments.  There are several tables right smack in the middle of it, and one family insists that only they can use them.  We prepared a picnic down there for Shabbat afternoon, and they kicked us out.  The table and chairs were disgusting and hadn't been sat in for months, but they insisted we were not allowed to use it.  I'm too polite to argue, so I just moved the stuff.  I need a little more Israeli in me, for sure.

Overall, thought, it is magical to be here, and I am trying to soak it all in.  Thank you TBA for giving me and my family this wonderful opportunity.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dubai Tourist Side

Wealthy, Diverse, and Vast are the three words I would use to describe our experience in Dubai.  In many ways it's very Vegas, minus the gambling and booze.

First, cue the slideshow.

video

This is a very relaxed part of our trip.  We're only trying to do one major thing a day, and it's easy to be relaxed when your host has an entire staff to serve you--cooks, laundry and cleaning.  So we feel like we're in the lap of luxury, but is is actually fairly typical of ex-pat life in many of these countries.

Staying with my good friend Justin is not only fun, but also unbelievably educational, since as the U.S. Consul General, he is the ideal person to teach us about the ins and outs of Dubai.  It also gives us great insight into the complications of U.S. policy in the non Israel part of the Middle East in these tumultuous time.

So here is what we've done so far.

We've seen Ski Dubai, an all indoor artificial snow resort.  Didn't do it, as I couldn't consciously pay more for this than the price of a lift ticket.

Went to a great museum on ancient Mesopotamia in Abu Dhabi.
We weren't allowed to take photos in
the museum, and the Blooms and Siberells
outside the museum were awfully cute.
The kids are really enjoying hanging out together, and they put on plays for us every evening after dinner.

Visited the old part of Dubai and took a 25 cent riverboat to the spice and gold souk (market).
        

Went as high as they allow you to go at the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
              
                       Trust me, it's taller than it looks.
The view from above.  I was scared.



Went to Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world.  Over 1200 stores, each of them gigantic.  Amazing sweets and gelato everywhere you turn.

This is a sculpture of divers at a waterfall
in the mall.  It is also much bigger than it looks.

The kids participated in this all kids world called "Kidzania," where you get jobs and spend money in this all kids world.  Hard to explain, but it was amazing.
Micah and Jonah chose to be painters and race car drivers.
Funny, they didn't have Rabbi on the list here in Dubai.
    www.kidzania.com

Went to one of the fanciest and tallest hotels in the world, Burj al Arab.  We had to show them our reservation confirmation at three different places just to walk onto the property.

We ate in the round part sticking out.
Went to one of the biggest waterparks in the world, Aquaventure at one of the most over-the-top hotels in the world, the Atlantis.

Resorts and Condos on the man-made "Palm Tree" Island
The "Leap of Faith"
Atlantis, Dubai
Dubai is an open society, so you see a great diversity of people at the malls.  Many of the Arabs wear traditional dress, and the standard uniform here seems to be men in white and women in black.  It is custom, but given the heat, it's one I find uncomfortable.  Even more uncomfortable to me is that some of the women wear what is called a Nikab, which means they are entirely covered up until the eyes.  It is ethnocentric to judge a culture that is not your own, but on a gut level, it is really uncomfortable to see.

Overall, another amazing experience for us all, but glad to be going "home" to Israel.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Shabbat in Dubai?

WHAT'S A NICE JEWISH BOY 
DOING IN DUBAI ON SHABBAT?

When I have told people that one of our stops on this sabbatical was Dubai, there was always a double take.  Seriously, Dubai?  I even had to get a second passport without an Israel stamp in it just in case.  But still, why Dubai?

Besides wanting to see some of the kitsch (tallest skyscraper in the world, mega resorts, etc.) the main reason is that I have a very good friend there from childhood, Justin Siberell, who happens to be the U.S. Consul General in Dubai and is hosting us at his beautiful home.  It's great to catch up on old times and talk about what we are both doing today.  It also helps that he has a 9 year old boy and a 6 year old girl for Micah and Jonah to play with.  It helps even more that he has a cook and cleaning staff.  This is the life, let me tell you.
         
                      From South School 2nd Grade Class
                       to a Rabbi and a Consul General in Dubai
Their Kids:  Emmie, Sam, Micah, and Jonah


Dubai reminds us of Shanghai in that it is one interesting skyscraper after another. I'll do another post on the sites (tallest skyscraper in the world, indoor ski resort, etc.) The new pushes out the old, not always for the better.

A fairly typical looking Dubai Mosque in the older section of the city.

Boats across the creek, about 25 cents a ride
Just a few of the many skyscrapers of today's Dubai
                                          
In any case, whether real or imagined, it is never comfortable to be Jewish in the Arab world.  Perhaps I am being paranoid, but I have told the kids that we are not talking about Judaism or Israel out in public here (the "I" and "J" words). As a result there is no official Jewish community in Dubai, though there are a few individual Jews and even Israelis working here for multinational corporations.  Justin asked a Jewish friend who works for him at the consulate if anyone was gathering for Shabbat or if he wanted a rabbi to come visit him, but the person was going away for the weekend, so we were on our own.

We lit candles, said Kiddush over wine, and motzi over a braided bread that looked like Challah in Justin's home.  We shared the blessings with the Siberell's, and despite the fact that there would be no minyan for us, it was really a beautiful, peaceful moment, knowing that even in Dubai, there was Shabbat for us.

The moment of peace was shattered the next morning when looking at the headline of the newspaper, which read.
The story actually provided some context for the current conflict, but the headline and lead paragraphs for what Israel was trying to do (respond to a Hamas rocket which struck a bus of Israeli teenagers) was jarring.  There was also an appropriate story about Shimon Peres and his thoughts about Palestinian statehood right next to the article placing the blame for this latest round solely on Israel.

Dubai is actually quite a diverse and tolerant place in many ways.  Gulf Arabs are actually the minority here, and you rarely hear Arabic being spoken.  There are many Indians here, as well as Pakistanis, Pharsees, and Westerners.  There are gigantic malls with American stores and fast food restaurants (but the meat is all Halal), and there is no de facto the "West is evil" mentality here at all.   But Israel is still the ultimate pariah

I decided to look at some of the books on the shelf here about Dubai.  An autobiography by Easa Saleh  Al-Gurg, one of the most prominent business figures in Dubai, is pretty typical in its aproach.  In the introduction, he says:
The Wells of Memory: An Autobiography
 
"one aspect of my rejection of foreign influence in the Arab world...which was, in my view,    definitely not for the better.  The result was the creation of the state of Israel and its implantation in our midst with the consequent suffering which it provoked.  The reader will find that this is a theme which echoes through these pages... If I return to this matter in my narrative it is certainly not because I am anti-Jewish but because, with the understanding which I have of our history, I know that a great wrong was done, whatever may have been the motives for it."

It's a polite way of saying that Israel has no right to exist and is the cause of all the problems in the Middle East.  The word "implantation" is especially unnerving, because it assumes that Israel is an artificial Western entity, almost ignoring our 3000 plus years there.  Oddly enough the author understands it and quotes the Passover Seder "next year in Jerusalem," but it doesn't translate to the acknowledgment that Israel has a right to be there.  Of equal importance and irrationality is that Israel has almost nothing to do with Dubai, and yet it is a significant part of this man's story.  The irrational intrudes on the rational, and it is hard for us to wrap our heads around it.

Another post on the tourist side, after our visits to the tallest building in the world and gigantic waterparks will follow later in the week.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

China--The Tourist Side

CHINA—THE TOURIST SIDE

A great family at the Great Wall.
First, another shout out to our hosts, the Bessler/Baum’s who have taken amazing care of us in China.   Besides arranging everything for us from meals to trains to hotels to translation, having three friends for Micah and Jonah to interact with has been a godsend.  They have been craving interaction and friendship with people other than themselves, and for at least this one week, they got it.  Micah even went to the international school for a day in Shanghai with Eli (their 11 year old), and he had a marvelous time.  He even got to meet a kid from Iceland there, something I certainly have never done.

If you were to ask us to describe our tourist view of China in two words, they would undoubtedly be big and crowded.  The scale of cities, buildings, public squares, and crowds is overwhelming.  This was true in all three places we visited:  Shahghai, Kaifeng, and Beijing.

In Shanghai we were amazed at the many skyscrapers and loved the crowded feel of what was happening on the ground, in particular the markets, especially the bird and animal market.  In stall after stall you get to see birds, crickets, scorpions, rabbits, turtles, and more everywhere.  


We also enjoyed the “fake” market, where we had hoped to replace broken suitcases and MP3 players.  Bargaining starts at a quarter of the asking price.   Max Baum, the middle son, and Joanie did most of the bargaining for us.   We were successful on the suitcase front (two pretty decent suitcases for the equivalent of about $25 each), but not as successful on the MP3 players.  Even though all the ones we buy in the U.S. from Coby or Sandisk or any of the other non iPod manufacturers are made in China, but apparently, you can’t actually buy them in China.  All you can buy are fake iPods, which say iPod on them, and we bought a couple that weren’t compatible with our computers.  They were very cheap so we didn’t mind taking the risk.  Still, I thought they would just be very cheap and not last for long, but instead, they didn’t work for us at all.

In Kaifeng we loved the authentic Chinese feel of the city.  Our hotel was also terrific, which helped, and this was the place where we got more smiles and stares than anywhere else in China.  Traveling with our two boys and the three Baum boys makes many Chinese stop and stare.  They really prize boys here, and to see five at once (which they assume are from one family) is a site for them to behold.   Since Casey is not traveling with us, it seems that some of the families think all five are mine, and maybe in their imagination about foreigners they think I have two wives.   Listening to Eli, Max, and Sam translate the whole ensuing conversation made me laugh every single time.


Beijing had all the touristy things.  We saw the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and much more.    


The scale of all these things is massive.   We enjoyed the hike up and down the hills and stairs at the Wall.  We were all quite proud of how high we climbed, and it provided the opportunity of some badly needed exercise.  We barely saw Tiananmen Square, since we raced through it in order to find a bathroom.  We happened to be there on a public holiday (the day where Chinese visit their ancestral graves), so being able to even move through the crowds was a challenge.  Speaking of crowds, the driving is worse than in any city I have ever observed.   Cars share the road with bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians.  The spaces are so narrow and everyone so aggressive that we were shocked we didn’t witness any accidents.
.
The city of Shanghai is sprawling in ways that makes Houston or Charlotte look sleepy.  Manhattan sized skylines have been popping up everywhere in the last 10 years in Shanghai.  The architecture is often interesting and beautiful, but seems to be done with no planning or forethought or consideration for preservation.  
                             Yesterday is giving way to today all too quickly in Shanghai.

Historic neighborhoods and sites are often demolished without a second thought, and with no clear planning, who knows what this city and this country will look like in the future? 

And...the slide show.


video


JEWS IN CHINA--KAIFENG EDITION

JEWS IN CHINA—KAIFENG EDITION

Almost as well known as the Jewish experience in Shanghai are the Jews of Kaifeng.  There are not a lot of Western travelers in Kaifeng, as it is a relatively “small” city of 800,000 people (metropolitan area of 4 million), but at one time, it was the largest city in the world.  This was during the time of the Song Dynasty, which lasted from the late 10th Century to the late 13th Century.  We enjoyed our time there beyond the Jewish part of the tour, because it felt more authentically “Chinese” to us, since the residents there have very little contact with Westerners.

We were introduced to this community by Shi Lei, who is a descendant of these Jews and who spoke in Oakland just before we left for sabbatical.  He also served as our tour guide in Kaifeng, and it was like drinking water directly from the spring instead of from bottles.  Of course, in China you can only drink water from bottles, but that’s another story entirely.  
Rabbi Mark Bloom and Kaifeng Jewish Tour
Guide Shi lei, in front of his family museum.
The Kaifeng Jewish community is shrouded in mystery, but most believe Jews came there during the Song dynasty from Persia.  There they were welcomed by the Emperor and were called, literally, the “people who remove the sinew from the cow.”   This appellation is based on the idea that those who keep Kosher do not eat any part of the animal that touches the sciatic nerve, derived from the scene in the Torah where Jacob wrestles with the angel.   


The Jewish community remained intact for centuries, though often intermarried with the local population so they eventually became physically indistinguishable from other Chinese.  They maintained their traditions, more or less, but almost completely assimilated during the cultural revolution of the fifties and sixties under Mao Tse-Tung.    As a result, there are only about 50 practicing members of the community now, and most practice very little.

What's left of "Teach Torah Lane"
In Kaifeng there is a 3 room exhibit in the very large Millenium City Park detailing the community and telling their story through painting, writing, and photos.  There is a wonderful model of the old synagogue and its courtyard, which looks just like any other Chinese holy place and courtyard rather than like a European synagogue.  Shi Lei also took us to his own family museum, which is also where the community gathers on some Shabbatot.  There he has more photos as well as ritual objects.  Unfortunately, the roof recently caved in, so they are not meeting anywhere, and thus he was unable to gather them for me to meet with them or do any teaching.   He also showed us the site of the former mikveh, which, believe it or not, now is the boiler room at a local hospital.  It is locked, so we were unable to peek in.  Shi Lei has seen it, and the people in town call it the “old Jewish well.”  The hospital is also the site of the former synagogue, so just outside, we sang “Ma Tovu, how goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel,” to remind us that we were standing on formerly sacred space.
He also took us to what they call “Teach Torah Lane,” where the Jewish community used to live.  It is now a rather poor part of town, where we saw two very sad sites:  a cock who is trained for fighting walking around and a pile of animal excrement.  How far from the Torah that used to be taught there. 

One really fun story from this part of the trip involves Jonah.  On the Shanghai Jewish tour, the tour guide had him go to a little toy shop and told him he could pick out any toy in the store.  He picked a basketball, and if you know Jonah, that is not a surprise.  Because we don’t have the space to carry around a basketball for 5 months, he decided he wanted to give it to a boy in Kaifeng about his own age.  He wanted to give it to someone in the Jewish community, but since we couldn’t meet any, he decided to give it to the first boy he saw at “Teach Torah Lane.”  It was a very sweet moment. 


It was an emotional parting from Shi Lei, who was such an amazing host.   Before my trip I was contacted by an individual who had lived there for a year and taught Judaism to some of the members of the community.  This person hopes to get rabbis interested in converting the community formally.  Shi Lei’s take on this is that he, along with other teachers, have sadly divided the community rather than uniting it.  It is hard to know who or what to believe, but there are definite cultural differences that are hard for us in the West to understand.   Most of us would welcome the descendants of the Kaifeng Jewish community to the fold in an instant, but they may not want to go there in the way that the rest of the Jewish world would accept.  Regardless, it was a special moment that we will remember forever.