This week's portion: promises
A novel by Edeet Ravel

Another Renewal (and renewing) Shabbat

We gathered in the ampitheatre at the Conservative Yeshiva at 6:30 on Friday evening. As I entered (and went directly to embrace dear friends), Dafna -- one of the two musicians who collaborates with Reb Ruth to create Nava Tehila -- was playing guitar and singing a niggun version of "Yedid Nefesh," a love song to God. We sang as others arrived, sparking more smiles and more embraces. My friend Deb; Reb David (of Romemu) and his fiancée; Holly, who -- with my friend Ora, also here this summer -- was part of my mishpacha group at Elat Chayyim in the summer of 2004. And, of course, we were joined by a couple dozen Jewish Renewal college-age kids who're in town this Shabbat, the reason for our gathering in the first place.

We quieted our singing to a gentle hum, and Reb Ruth explained that when the kabbalists of Tzfat invented Kabbalat Shabbat, the service for welcoming the Shabbat bride, they made a point of davening outdoors -- as we were doing in that beautiful breezy twilight moment. But the CY had other physical plans for us, so we continued singing as we moved into the lobby of the hostel and lit candles; we sang as we descended four flights of stairs (ripples of song bouncing up and down the tiled stairwell); and we sang as we entered our windowless basement room deep in the earth, where we proceeded to raise some pretty amazing musical and emotional energy during the two hours of our davenen together.

Last time Nava Tehila met, I was just back from my day trip with ICAHD. This time, Shabbat came right on the heels of a day trip to Bethlehem and Hebron. (A post about that is coming soon.) I'm grateful to have such a warm and sweet community to cradle me through the emotional aftershocks of my dips into the West Bank.

Like last time, we chanted selected pearls from the psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat, to the accompaniment of two guitars and a few drums. Reb Ruth offered a word of teaching before each. Shiru L'Adonai shir chadash, "Sing unto God a new song" -- a chance to become aware of the new songs of ourselves which we are constantly singing to the Divine. B'amud anan yedaber aleihem, "From within the pillar of cloud [God] spoke with them" -- an invitation to enter into the cloud of unknowing, to be open to the voice of God arising out of what we can't see or know. For me one of the most powerful chants was Shame'a vatismach tsion vatagelna b'not yehuda, "Listen and rejoice, Zion, and dance, daughters of Judah" -- I was overcome with emotion watching my three-year-old housemate as she danced joyously around the room.

As we worked our way through the psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat, I was struck by how powerful it is that our liturgy connects Jews around the world and across all sorts of ideological divides. On the right and on the left, we were all turning our hearts toward the Divine and welcoming the presence of Shabbat into our midst with more-or-less the same words. (That's a gloss, obviously; there are places where our liturgies differ substantially. But in that moment on the cusp of Shabbat, the common ground was what was most meaningful to me.) It's both comforting and challenging to have that commonality: with Jews who speak my language, and Jews who don't; with Jews who share my politics, and Jews who don't.

The last psalm before "Lecha Dodi" includes the lines Kol Adonai al hamayim, El hakavod hir'im, Adonai al mayim rabim. ("The voice of Adonai is upon the waters, the God of glory thunders, Adonai over the mighty waters.") That chant rolled like gospel, a call-and-response like the best kind of blues. It was amazing. When it had finally died down Reb Ruth said quietly, "If you've ever wondered what is kavod, what is glory...? What you're feeling in the room right now: that's what it is." Just remembering it, I'm getting chills all over again.

After the davenen, I joined two friends at the Three Arches restaurant at the YMCA (one of the only places I know here that's open on Shabbat.) They had dinner, and I had dessert: an enormous plate of sugar-sweet watermelon, accompanied by dense little bricks of feta cheese. Sublime. All in all: a fitting chatimah (seal) to another week in Jerusalem.

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