Arrival, Tues. 12/27
The first half of our week was in Jerusalem. We stayed at Ramat Rachel, a nice, unpretentious hotel on a historic kibbutz. Jet lag and impatience for the day to begin kept me awake most of that first night, a little troubling since the very first thing I had to do on my very first day in Israel was chant Torah at morning minyan. I wore my white High Holy Day tallit, which seemed the only proper attire for this city. I felt like I was still dreaming. In a small, airy room on the lower level of the hotel, sunlight streaming through a window from above, I trembled as I read and tried to imagine what stretched beyond that sliver of sky, and the actual place we turned to face every week at services.
Later that morning, after hearing a lecture by journalist Tom Segev about his adopted Ethiopian son and the challenges facing modern, multi-ethic Israel, we visited a center when Mizrahi Jewish women (of eastern and Sephardic descent) learn to be entrepreneurs and gain a voice in a society where they're an underclass, and very often victims of racism. Some are now chefs--we ate their wonderful food--and heard the music of an Iranian-Jewish woman who escaped an abusive husband and, thanks to this organization, went back to school and is now an acclaimed performer. (She was accompanied by a man on the segur, an instrument I'd never seen before, kind of like a dulcimer but cooler). We spent that afternoon at Yad Vashem, about which my words cannot do justice. I experienced similar emotions at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. but here in Israel, grown from the ashes of those days, I felt like I had stepped into the deepest pit. After a brief visit to the enormous menorah outside the Knesset, followed by dinner and candlelighting at the hotel, we listened to a performance at the hotel by Yair Dalal, who played the oud like all of Israel was dancing on his fingertips.
It was a long day--I was dazed, exhausted, and very happy--but still not sure if I belonged here.
On another topic: I helped lead services again this evening (the eleventh time). I was surprised to be asked; we now have three rabbinic interns, plus another layperson who's been doing this for years, so I'm way down in the list of people who get to do this amazing thing. I had enormous fun, and it felt different, somehow, than all the other times. Maybe I'm different now. I was in a kind of musical fog, like walking on a road with a rhythm so comfortable and familiar that I didn't have to think, but only breathe in and exhale the song. We sat in a semicircle, the rabbi, musicians and I, surrounded by the rest of the congregation. I could see their faces--the drummer next to me as clearly as the man in the last row--as we built this one big prayer together.