Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jerusalem's Light

Tonight we walked around the Old City to take in the Jerusalem Light Festival. It is the fourth year of this celebration but my first time going. All around the Old City there were light installations- artistic designs, performance artists who use light as a medium, booths with light-related objects, etc. It was a beautiful evening and the Old City was packed with people.

Light Festival Cupola at the entrance to Jaffa Gate

As we left the festival and headed home I thought to myself, “it’s only a shame that “Shavuah Hasefer” (“Book Week”) is happening the same time as the Light Festival. Surely, the sparkly lights are taking away business from the book fair.” But when I got to Gan Hapa'amon (Liberty Bell Park) at 11:00pm and saw it packed with shoppers, I realized how wrong I was.

Shavua Hasefer is a huge book fair.  Imagine Beth El’s parking lot filled with the booths of hundreds of publishing houses. Thousands of people were browsing everything from Talmud commentaries to children’s books. The fair seemed to confirm what I read somewhere, that Israel published more books per capita than any other country.

If the Light Festival is magical, Shavua Hasefer is mystical. It reminded me that for Jews, learning is also about light. That’s what we sing- “Torah Ora. The Torah is light.”

On Shavu’ot a few weeks ago, I got up at 4:00am to walk to the Kotel with the kids for shaharit sunrise services. We read from the Torah about the revelation at Sinai just as the sun broke across the eastern horizon. My kids may remember the chocolate milk bags being handed out at King David’s tomb more than the sunrise. Still, I hope that as they hear me and Esther talk about the classes we attend (this morning, parashat hashavua with Aviva Zornberg), they internalize the message:  Torah ora, halleluya!

Shavuah HaSefer

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Brief Description of School

Welcome to Yehuda HaLevi

A few weeks ago my brothers and I started school at a religious public school called Yehuda HaLevi.  I have been informed that in Israel there are three kinds of public schools: regular (secular) public school, Jewish (religious) public school and Arab public school.

In our school, Jewish religion and Torah are embedded in almost everything. For example, if our class gets yelled at, which is quite often, the teacher refers to the Torah and tells us what it has to say about what we did.  Every morning we pray Shaharit extensively.  (Since everybody speaks Hebrew we get through praying almost all the prayers.)  It takes at the most 25 minutes.

Yom Yerushalayim ceremony at school (Koby is third from left in the front row)

Through-out the week we have nine classes having to do with the Jewish religion:
  •   Three classes of Torah
  •   Two classes of Navi (Prophets)
  •   Three classes of Gemara and Mishna
  •   And one class at the end of the week which deals with Parshat Hashavua (weekly Torah portion).

My brothers and walk to and back from school alone almost every day.  So far school has been great to me and I have been enjoying it.  The kids are really really nice and do not make fun of my Hebrew.    

Some Days in the Life...

While life in Jerusalem has settled into a sort of routine, there are always bumps in the road to keep it interesting.  In order to fully experience life here, we recently had the opportunity (not intentionally!) to get familiar with the medical system – twice!  About three weeks ago, Yonah fell at the park and hurt his wrist.  A trip to urgent care confirmed a fracture.  So on to the emergency room we went.  After a long, uncomfortable night of waiting and being prodded, Yonah ended up with an impressive looking cast that goes from his finger tips to almost his elbow.  (You may have noticed the sling in pictures from our previous post.)  Fortunately, after a day or two, the pain receded and he’s doing just fine now – albeit with one hand!  He’s counting down the days until the cast comes off – hopefully next week.

Then last Friday night, after a beautiful music and ruah filled Kabbalat Shabbat (when I was just thinking that it was a fabulous way to begin Shabbat followed by Shavuot), Koby jumped off a bench and landed funny.  Upon coming home, we saw how swollen his ankle looked and it was another trip to the urgent care!  At least this time I knew what to expect.  X-ray showed a possible small fracture, so there was no early morning walk to the Kotel for Shavuot after all.  I took Koby to the doctor this week, and apparently it’s just a bad sprain.  Now Koby is in a walking cast and already is able to put pressure on his foot to walk.

But don’t think we are only nursing wounds around here.  We continue to learn, explore and try to make the most of our time.  In no particular order, here are some reflections on unique, wonderful and unexpected things we have experienced, both recently and in past months.

On a hike in the Judean Hills over Pesah, we had a picnic lunch on top of some remote Crusader ruins.  We had wandered off the main path and were sitting in the weeds.  All of a sudden, a couple climbed over the hill. “Can we get to the path?” they asked.  I did a double take. As they made their way over the ruins, I couldn’t help but ask, “Are you Julie?”  Sure enough.  She was a high school classmate from Chicago!

Our kids now know that King Saul came before King David – not because they read it in a book (although that would have been good too) – but because we have stood in places where both Saul and David ruled.

When walking with Amichai to his gan (pre-school) in the days leading up to Yom Ha’atzmaut, an older gentleman walking nearby commented that he too just took his grandchildren to school (because his son – an eye doctor – had to be at the office).  He remembered when this area (The German Colony and Katamon) was nothing but open fields with donkeys.  I contemplated:  “How wonderful it must be for this man, who may have fought for Israel’s independence, to see the neighborhoods and the next generation grow to maturity.”

In Israel, you can get credit from a car rental company for not driving on Shabbat.

Spice and Araq stand at Mahane Yehuda
We shop at the local grocery store a few times a week.  While shopping is fun because everything is kosher, we often have to figure in 30-45 minutes in the checkout line.  That’s because the cashiers seem to do most things except ring you up. They can discuss the quality of the produce (“complain if it doesn’t look good,” she advises), try to sell you items on sale, ask about your health, and on and on.  When we have the time, we make a morning of shopping at Mahane Yehuda – the open air market.  There we can get better quality, enjoy the vibe, taste along the way and smile at the colorful personalities of the vendors.  Even though the schlep home is farther, it is well worth it!

Dried fruit bins at Mahane Yehuda

We can identify a pomegranate tree by the beautiful red flowers currently blooming.  A shesek (loquat) tree grows outside our apartment building.  We’re not in Kansas (or Minneapolis) anymore.

I enjoy my almost daily stroll hand in hand with Amichai to his gan.  While he chats away for about 18½ minutes of the 20 minute walk, I listen and take in morning in Jerusalem.  From our house we pass through the well-tended Rose Garden which always has a variety of beautiful and colorful flowers in bloom.  Then through the open field showing charred remains of numerous Lag B'Omer bonfires.  Down the street under fig, olive, carob and flowering trees until we get to the big hill that Amichai loves to run down.  Finally through the park with the see-saw and merry-go-round.  Cross the street and we have arrived at gan to walk into whatever project the gaggle of other 4-5 year olds are working on.  Most days now, he jumps right in with a smile.

Whether through conversations with strangers, bumping into old friends, or sometimes just getting bumps and bruises, our time here so far has been filled with moments to remember …