Sunday, June 26, 2011

Temple Beth Abraham in Israel

For the last several weeks we have been counting the days until the congregation arrived.  Now that they are here and we have spent the better part of a week together, the excitement was truly justified.
In the King Solomon Hotel lobby, so happy to see our friends.
As I said to the group on Shabbat, I have loved nearly every minute of my time in Jerusalem, especially my experiences in prayer, but I have also missed praying with my own community at Temple Beth Abraham.  To pray with my own community is Jerusalem is sort of the ultimate rabbinical fantasy.  It’s also just nice to be with so many good friends.  For my kids, especially Micah, it has been a Godsend.  So much less complaining when they have other kids to hang out with.

The "black hat" frum Rabbi Bloom with  Rebbetzin Bloom in background
This is how we looked upon the congregation’s arrival.  As a gag we decided to look like “haredim,” which means tremblers, known to most people as the ultra Orthodox.  I wore a dark suit and a black hat and had not shaved for two and a half months.  Karen wore a long skirt, long sleeves, and a scarf over her head.  Micah tried to wear payot (side curls), but the rest of his hair was too long for them to stand out.  Overall, though, we truly looked the part.  We pulled it off so well that the majority of our members did not even recognize us, walking right past us on their way into the hotel!  One of our members remarked that he assumed it really made him think about perceptions.  He thought I was just “some religious guy” and therefore walked right by me.  What are all the other black hatters like underneath the beard and the uniform-like outfits?

These pictures don't quite do it justice, but it was awesome in every sense of the word! 

The other unique thing about our arrival was the unbelievable suite the King Solomon Hotel gave us.  With nearly 70 people in our group, one of the largest congregational tour groups this summer, people want to make sure we are happy,  So we got an 11th floor suite with one of the best views of Jerusalem in the entire city, a 200 plus degree view on our gigantic balcony.  Our tour guides say it might actually be the very best view in the city.  I was doubly lucky to get the suite since there was a Rabbi Blum staying in the hotel as well, and they almost gave it to him instead.  There was also a group from Valley Beth Shalom there, and two 3rd cousins of mine, Andrea and Kerry, were a part of that group.  It is very “small world” Israel  run into people unexpectedly, but I never expected to see my Los Angeles cousins!

The first day was spent in the City of David, the highlight being the 40 minute wet walk through the tunnels of King Hezekiah.  Hezekiah created a system of water tunnels (actually expanded an existing system) which sustained Jerusalem through the siege of the Assyrian King Sennacherib around 720 BCE.  The water reaches as high as your waist, and it’s dark and a bit scary in there, certainly not for the claustrophobic.  Still, it was a great experience for kids and adults alike.  We passed the time by singing songs as we walked, and we all felt great at the light at the end of the tunnel.  
On the way into Hezekiah's tunnels.
We then went to lunch in Emek Refaim, our hood, and it was fun to watch people looking through our restaurant recommendations and loving the results.  I got the laundry and shaved, coming back with the “old” new Rabbi Bloom.  I barely recognized myself.  Afterward, we participated in a hands-on archaeological dig through remains that were dumped illegally by the Muslim Waqf.  It was fun to discover ancient pottery and mosaics for ourselves.
Sifting through the archaeological debris for hidden gems.

The next day, Thursday, was also spent in the old city of Jerusalem.  The day included a nifty scavenger hunt to help us better understand some of the sites in the Jewish quarter.  Keshet, our tour operator, really does an amazing job of doing things on multiple levels, for the adults who have been here before to the many children of all ages.  There are three counselor with us in addition to our tour guides, Yishai and Meirav.  In the afternoon we went inside the tunnels behind the Western Wall.  What they have done with that site is really amazing, and equally amazing that there is any controversy about trying to discover the past of this ancient treasure.  You can see pieces of not only the 2nd Temple, but the 1st Temple and even before.  There is also a little movie that explains how the ancient Israelites were able to move 570 ton stones into place during the building. 

Inside the walls
I also took a side trip during the break up to the Temple Mount, which today is inhabited by the Muslim Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque.  I was wearing shorts, so we had to pay 30 shekels for these scarves to put around our legs.  The Dome of the Rock is an architectural beauty, but non Muslims are only allowed inside during certain hours.  Of course, this was also the site of the ancient Jewish Temple Mount.  To some extent you can get the sense of what it must have been like with thousands of pilgrims observing the holiday sacrifices on Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot.  Because Muhammed dreamt of Jerusalem in his famous “night vision” described in the Koran, it became a holy site to Muslims.  They conquered it in the 800’s and set up the gigantic mosque to replace Judaism’s holiest site.   While we do not have access to it any more (nor would I want to see the ancient Temple Cult with its animal sacrifices set up), there is a certain sadness for me and many other Jewish people when walking upon the hill.

Friday brought a trip to Yad Vashem for the adults and older children, a trip to the Biblical Zoo for the kids.  The new Yad Vashem is a stirring place, with the architecture itself contributing to the story.  As you go through the story of the Holocaust the museum narrows, and you feel more and more confined.  The combination of technology, artifacts, multimedia, and emotion is overwhelming.  This is the second time I have done it, and it felt very special to go through it with Micah.  Somewhere along the way, through his own reading, he has picked up quite a bit of knowledge, and I was proud.  We ended the trip there in the valley of the communities (stones with the most of the former Jewish communities of Europe) with a ceremony honoring TBA’s survivors Leonard Fixler, Helen Fixler, David Galant, Jack Jeger, Adele Mendelsohn-Keinon, Misia Nudler, Henry Ramek, and Pola Silver.  A sad, moving, important day all at once. 
Haunting Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem
For Shabbat we had early services in a park overlooking the Yemin Moshe neighborhood.  It was wonderful being with TBA for services and having our kids lead much of it, as is our custom.  I taught some of the Carlebach melodies that I have become so attached to here, and many of the members got up to dance.  We have a long way to go, though, to even approach the level of the Jerusalem synagogues, but I’m really proud of our members for giving it a go.  More to follow when I get back to the U.S. in late August.  We returned to the hotel for a delicious Shabbat dinner.  The King Solomon has been terrific—the food, the service, the lobby, everything.  I can’t really understand why it gets negative on-line reviews.  I think it’s terrific in every way (except that they lost my canteen back in 1994, but I need to get over that).  Anyway, after 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.  It was not as good as some of the other places I have been, but it was great to have some of our members witness the joy.  Unfortunately, the joy was mostly just on the men’s side of the mechitza. 

On Saturday morning we went shul hopping.  We began at Shira Chadasha, which has great singing and is as liberal as an Orthodox synagogue can be with women leading parts of the service.  We had been there our first week and enjoyed it then, but they do have a bit of a self-righteous attitude as if they are the greatest synagogue in the world and no one else is as educated, progressive, or as spirited as they.  One of the women scolded Karen on the way out.  “We’re not a museum,” she said. She did not appreciate the idea that so many people would get up and leave at once.  Karen responded that our group only had one Shabbat in Jerusalem, and we wanted to show them several different places.  “We chose you,” Karen said, but this response did not satisfy this woman.  I can certainly understand why it bothers some people in a synagogue that guests would be in and out, but you don’t have to react with anger.  I would love to have such a problem at our synagogue that so many visitors would want to see our synagogue every Shabbat.  By contrast, when we were at the Kol Rina synagogue, and a BBYO group had to leave all at once, the Gabbai thanked them for coming and spending even just a little bit of Shabbat with them.  That’s another way to look at it.

From there we went to the Great Synagogue, which is a massive 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.  The music was at a very high level, but most of our members did not enjoy the lack of participation.
Finally, we ended up at Moreshet Avraham, the Conservative synagogue at the Fuchsberg Conservative Center, where we ate a nice Shabbat lunch.  After that, we had several hours of free time, before Seudah Shlishit and Havdalah with wine tasting, which took place on our balcony.  Most of the nearly 70 people in our group were on our spectacular balcony watching Jerusalem change colors from day to twilight to night.  It truly was a special and spectacular Shabbat. 

Sunday, we left early for Masada, which we ascended and descended by Cable Car.  The story of the mass suicide by the Jewish zealots still amazes me, and the grandeur of Herod’s building is also awe inspiring, despite having been there many times.

That was followed by the Dead Sea Float. It’s quite a sensation, since the extreme salt content causes you to float automatically. Everyone has to do it, but it’s always painful.  It hurts every orifice, and Jonah had cuts on his feet, so it was especially painful.  He also forgot to bring his water shoes out of the bus, so I had to carry him, I fell down with him at one point, and it was sort of a mini disaster.  Still, it's part of the experience.

Then we hiked in the Ein Gedi desert oasis, and our group had a great time swimming by the waterfalls there.

Finally, off to Kibbutz Gonen where we are spending the next several nights.  More to follow soon.

1 comment:

  1. I believe Rabbi Bloom composed this on the bus ride from Ein Gedi to Kibbutz Gonen. That ride also included some history and geography lessons along the border with Jordan and Syria, some camp-like singing and breathtaking views of The Sea of Galilee (aka Kinneret).

    We are lucky to have Rabbi Bloom year round in Oakland. The 70 of us here in Israel are truly blessed to be in Israel with the entire Bloom family and our community within our community for these 10 days.

    I will never forget the Friday evening or Havdalah services with the Old City in the background.