Saturday, July 9, 2011

Jerusalem Week 12--Yemenites, Special Guests, and the Hartman Institute

The steps leading up to our apartment on a street called Dor Dor v'Dorshav.  
On one foot--it's a tough transition from spending all your time with so many good friends (the 65 or so congregants including all those friends for our kids) to spending most of your waking hours with 120 or so rabbis).

Hartman Institute
Last week and this coming week are being spent at the Hartman Institute in a rabbinical study program that goes from 8:30 AM to 9:00 PM.  The Hartman Institute does a whole lot of wonderful things in Jewish education.  My favorite is actually the Jewish ethics training program they do for the Israeli Military Officers, but they also provide high quality education for rabbis from different denominations across the world.  Rabbis from across the religious spectrum (including my colleague Yonatan Cohen from Beth Israel in Berkeley) are studying Jewish texts with some of the most accomplished Israeli teachers and thinkers.  The general theme this year is the individual vs. the community.  The backdrop of that is the fact that more and more people view Judaism as something they can do on their own and don't need to join a community, but we are viewing it not only demographically but through various books in the Tanach, Maimonides, the
Talmud, and other slightly more obscure Jewish texts.  It's definitely intellectually stimulating.  I also took a great elective viewing Israeli society through popular music.  The lyrics of pop songs in Israel are so much deeper in terms of social commentary (think sixties Dylan) than most of what we hear in the U.S. these days.  They exist in American music, of course, but they don't get the same airplay as they do in Israel.  They also offer a course called "Engaging Israel" using over 100 Jewish texts and a bunch of DVD's, and I'm thinking of having TBA purchase it and use it to both learn and have substantive discussions about Israel.

One thing I don't like about the experience is that there are a few too many "students" with far too many comments/questions that prevent the teachers from going through all their material. That's what happens when the students are 120 rabbis.  When I am in the presence of so many rabbis, I tend to make no comments.  Perhaps I'm intimidated.  Most of my colleagues don't share that approach.  The other thing I find slightly irritating is that the institute is a little cultish for my liking.  They seem to believe they are changing our lives and offer the best teachings anyone has ever seen anywhere.  The teachers are good and the material is stimulating, but I have seen many interesting texts taught by many good teachers over the years.  I prefer a little more humility.

Welcome Guests
In the middle of all this we have seen some great guests this week, current TBA members and longtime friends from the BBYO days.  There's always an extra measure of pleasure and holiness when you get to see good friends in Jerusalem.
Longtime BBYO Friend Eileen Sandberg Sunderland
TBA Member on a "Mission" from Federation, Elizabeth Simms
TBA and Beth Jacob Member Michael Sosebee, on the Wexner Leadership Program
One last chance to see the Gottlieb/Glick family
Shabbat with the Yemenites
First, last week's Shabbat we reversed what we had done a few weeks ago, attending Shir Chadash on Friday night and Yakar on Saturday morning.  Both are mostly Anglo synagogues with lots of ruach.  The one disappointment was that Yakar is known for their Saturday Kiddushes and study sessions which usually run in between Shacharit and the Torah service.  For some reason, they did not do this the week we were there, so we missed out on seeing this unique way of doing things.

This 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.  
I doubt we'll go back, but it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Wines of the Week
I have two weeks worth of wines to tell you about.  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.
The second was a 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
Much more wine in a few weeks when my brother Barry comes to visit and we visit several wineries up North.

1 comment:

  1. Shalom Rabbi and Bloom family. Thank you for sharing so many thoughtful insights and fascinating stories. The report on the Yemenite synagogue was terrific. Keep enjoying! Best wishes from the Bruners