Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jerusalem--Week 4 and Israel's independence Day

The most amazing/eventful thing about this week were the two holidays:  Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Memorial Day) followed immediately by Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day).

Yom Hazikaron is an incredibly solemn day.  Since nearly all its citizens serve in the Army and Israel is perpetually at war, nearly every resident has either lost a loved one or knows someone well who has lost a loved one.  So it is a day of sadness and reflection, not a day of barbecues and appliance sales as in the U.S.    There are also all kinds of programs.  We went to one for a unit of soldiers near our house at night, and one at the kids' school in the morning.
Yom Hazikaron Ceremony for Soldiers
"Tekes" Ceremony at Boys' School
The most dramatic element of the holiday is the moment of silence at 11 AM, where an alarm sounds and nearly the entire country stops everything.  Cars stop in the middle of the road, and people get out and stand in quiet solemnity.  It is really a poignant moment, as you can see in the video below.

Then, the next day, commemoration turns to celebration and solemnity turns to silliness with Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day.  This day is marked with free concerts, free museum admission, and the oddity of people bopping each other on the head with giant plastic hammers and shooting silly string and shaving cream at one another.  We joined the throngs of people on Ben Yehuda Street, listening to the free concerts, eating cotton candy, and watching fireworks (they started an hour late at 11:30 PM!).  Occasionally I have been asked if Israelis feel at all guilty that their country's independence represents another people's tragedy, as Palestinians call this day "Al Nakba," the great catastrophe.  And while I do have great sympathy for the Palestinians as a people, I often wonder why nobody asks me as an American if I feel guilty celebrating July 4, given that so many British died in the Independence War and our land was essentially just taken from the Native Americans.  Virtually all the countries in the world were established at another's expense, yet only Israel's establishment seems to be questioned.  In any case, Israel is rightly proud of all they have accomplished in its 63 years, and it was very meaningful to witness the celebrations.
Decorations at the Kids' School
Bloom and Greyber Boys
People We Know
We got to spend Shabbat with three young adults (18/19 year olds), Emily Pascal, Rebecca Rosenthal, and Hannah Sosebee.  It was truly special getting to spend Shabbat in the holy city of Jerusalem with 3 girls who I both "Bat Mitzvahed" and confirmed.  It's the kind of stuff we rabbis dream about.

About the only thing more fulfilling will be participating in their weddings, God willing, in 10 years or so.  They were all pleasant company and doing amazing things here in Israel during their "Gap" year before college.  And Micah and Jonah decided to put on many performances for them from the "Key of Awesome," a not always appropriate set of Youtube videos.  But they are hilarious (both the videos and the boys performing them), if I do say so myself.

We also got to spend Friday brunch with my good friend Brenda Ganot. In High School, she went by Brenda Fishman, and we were co Regional Presidents of the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization in the Bay Area.  She made Aliyah right after High School, and it always great to catch up with her.
Shul of the Week
This week we attended 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 a disappointment.  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 do 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.  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 and dance as well, so they are clearly participating openly.

Wine of the Week
This week's wine was a 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, just ahead of the Dalton Shiraz. I gave that one only an 83, but that was because it was the first one I tried.  In retrospect, I'm changing it to 89.

We are counting the Omer right now in the Jewish calendar (days between Passover and Shavuot, and it's a time of solemnity in the Jewish tradition), but for me, I was too busy counting all my blessings.  What a wonderful week!

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