An interfaith service trip to Alabama (after Shabbat)

FlamePurpleDECALAt the blessed crack of well-before-dawn on Sunday I'm heading south for what promises to be a truly extraordinary week.

Each year, the chaplains at Williams College partner with the Center for Learning in Action on an interfaith service trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (See Alabama Calling, Williams Alumni Review, July 2012.) This year I am profoundly blessed to be one of the chaplains serving my alma mater, which means I get to take part!

The four chaplains (Jewish, Christian, Roman Catholic, and Muslim) will travel to Alabama with a group of a dozen students from a variety of faith backgrounds. This year's group includes students who self-identify as Jewish, Christian, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Deist, and atheist.

We'll begin the week by visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (and those who are there on that Sunday morning will attend services at the 16th Street Baptist Church; I'm sorry to miss that, though am grateful that those of us who are flying in on Sunday morning will get there in time for the Civil Rights Institute.)

Then we'll spend the week working on a Habitat for Humanity building project together, building a home for someone in need and continuing to help our host community there recover from tornadoes that devastated the area a few years ago. We'll camp out in a local church social hall, and cook vegetarian meals together each night. (I've packed my sleeping bag. The whole thing is giving me fond memories of touring with the Williams College Elizabethans during my own undergraduate days.)

Each night a different chaplain will offer teachings on the shared theme of brokenness and mending. Those evening sessions offer an opportunity to introduce students to our four different faith-traditions, and also to get them talking with each other and with us about how the conversations we're having in the evenings relate to the holy work we're doing during the day. 

Over the course of the week, as we engage with the civil rights movement and how that historic and historical struggle for human rights dovetails with today's politics, I expect that (alone and together) we'll wrestle with our own relationships to race and privilege. For most of us, the American South will be unfamiliar territory, so there's learning to do there. And for most of us, the kind of conscious multi-faith community we're aspiring to co-create will be unfamiliar territory, too. I suspect that all of us will find ourselves pushing up against our usual boundaries from time to time. 

We'll seal the week with what feels to me like a gloriously multi-modal celebration of Shabbat: first we'll attend Friday dinner and activities at the Islamic Society of Birmingham, then Saturday morning Shabbat services and lunch at Temple Emanu-El, and then Saturday afternoon mass (or as I've been thinking of it, Shabbat mincha in a different key) at St. Francis Xavier, with havdalah as part of our closing reflections and integration work on Saturday night. 

(As a student of the students of Reb Zalman z"l -- he who famously called himself a "Spiritual Peeping Tom" and said he liked to see how other people "get it on with God" -- I think that Shabbat sounds like an actual foretaste of heaven!)

I know that this will be an exhausting and overwhelming week -- and I anticipate that it will be at least as wonderful as it is challenging. I don't know that I'll manage to blog much while I'm away, but I imagine that I will harvest spiritual riches from this trip for a long time to come. 

 


Davening with the deer

On our first morning in Colorado, Rabbi David and I are still on east coast time, so we're both awake by five-ish. Around six we tiptoe out of the house where we are staying, get into our rental car, and drive into the foothills. 

The friend (and fellow ALEPH Board member) with whom we are staying lives on a lovely residential street only moments away from the eastern flank of the Front Range of the Rockies. We drive to Flagstaff Mountain to perch at a beautiful overlook called Panorama Point.


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A few of our morning companions.

As soon as we arrive, the first thing we see are mule deer. First a pair of does, then a brace of bucks with soft furred nubbly antlers. We freeze and look at them, and they look at us, and for a moment all is still. After a minute or so we start breathing again, and when they don't turn tail and run we murmur joy to each other quietly, and they stay near us and munch on grass.

We daven at the very edge of the world, watching the sun rising higher. We are at the place where the plains meet the Flatirons. This is where east meets west. We're near where the continent divides. Before us is a vista of flat land as far as the eye can see: trees, roads, some residential streets. Immediately behind us the hills rise up, peppered with pine trees. 

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More members of our morning minyan.

During the shema, as we are singing the words which remind us to take notice of our tzitzit and be reminded of the mitzvot which connect us up, we are visited by a gleaming green and black hummingbird. The hummingbird hovers near us, rests on a branch briefly, and sips delicately from a nearby flowering bush. Its presence feels like a blessing.

During our silent amidah, which we daven standing at the very edge of the hillside -- I have taken off my sandals, in remembrance of Moshe and the burning bush, and I stand barefoot in the dusty Colorado soil -- a hot air balloon rises at the horizon. By the time we are finished davening, there is a minyan of hot air balloons soaring over the distant plains.

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The plains, before the hot air balloons.

 


Among the roses

IMG_3662What happens when one visits a rose garden on Shabbat afternoon with a group of rabbis, having already taken part in Shabbat morning services; when one takes menucha (rest / rejuvenation) time to enjoy nature, to enjoy friends, and to sit with the still-resonating experiences of the preceding week? 

One might wind up finding mystical resonance in everything one encounters. Such as, for instance, the realization that this particular rose garden has seven tiers, seven levels to descend and climb.

Seven is a powerful number in Judaism. To a Jewish mystic, seven immediately suggests holiness. There are seven days of the week and seven colors of the rainbow, both of which point to the seven "lower" or most accessible sefirot (which one might understand as aspects or qualities of God, or as channels for divine light.) 

As soon as the seven levels are noticed, the rabbis in question might start skipping from level to level, naming each as they go: this level is chesed, lovingkindness; this one is gevurah, boundaried strength; this one tiferet, balance / harmony... These are the same qualities we mark daily and weekly as we count the Omer. In this rose garden we move from one to the next with only a few steps.

Or take the fact that the very lowest level -- the one that corresponds to malchut or Shekhinah: nobility, sovereignty, immanent Divine Presence, the Divine Feminine, embodiment in creation -- centers around a free-flowing spring. There is a free-flowing spring in the very heart of the garden. This is almost too remarkable a literary allusion to be coincidence.

In the Zohar, one of the foundational works of Jewish mysticism, malchut is compared both to a rose and to a free-flowing spring. And when each of the seven "lower" sefirot are mapped to days of the week, malchut is mapped to Shabbat -- the very day on which this rose garden visit is taking place. 

Long after returning home, those who wandered among the roses might pause and smile, remembering the sweetness of that Shabbat, the delight of finding an inhabitable map of the cosmos in which all paths lead to the well of divine abundance at the heart of all things, and the heady scent of roses in bloom.

 

With gratitude to the friend who suggested a visit to the Berkeley Rose Garden during a break between open mike conversations on the California swing of the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour. Shabbat shalom to all who celebrate.


An ALEPH Listening Tour week in California


25790244914_d8ecaa678c_zHow can I begin to write about the sum total of ten days of ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour travel? This is our twelfth of thirteen trips over the course of a year. The others were weekends or conferences: deep and intense, but relatively brief. This one lasted for more than a week, and the level of depth and intensity did not falter. 

I began in Las Vegas at a P'nai Tikvah Shabbaton for which I was the visiting scholar. Rabbi David began in San Diego at the Spiritual Directors International conference, connecting with spiritual directors both inside and outside of the Jewish Renewal community, and did a community Listening Tour open mike with Elijah Minyan and Shirat HaYam

We met up in Los Angeles. We did a community open mike there, with a ma'arv service, hosted by Holistic Jew. We met with a focus group at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and with Ziegler's dean Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. We met with Rabbi Mike Comins of Lev Learning. We met with a focus group from the Academy for Jewish Religion California and talked about interseminary collaboration. We davened on the beach.

We traveled north. We did a dinner and a community open mike at Chadeish Yameinu in Santa Cruz. We had a lunch and a focus group conversation with the Aquarian Minyan. We met up with Rabbi Noa Kushner from The Kitchen, and Jeff Kasowitz and Rabbi Adina Allen from The Jewish Studio Project. We met with a group of millennials and young leaders convened by Hazzan Shulamit Wise Fairman of Kehilla. We met with Rabbi Michael Lerner of Beyt Tikkun.

26408034396_dc4d38be1c_zWe co-led davenen at Holistic Jew in LA, and participated in leading davenen at Kehilla Community Synagogue. At Kehilla Rabbi David was the darshan -- teacher of Torah -- on Friday evening, and I was the darshanit on Saturday morning. We leyned from Torah on Shabbat morning before a beautiful community babynaming. We spent Shabbat afternoon holding a community open mike session.

We dined with theKehilla Community Synagogue board and the Chochmat Ha-Lev board. We traveled from hither to yon across communities and neighborhoods in the Bay Area. We stopped often to marvel at California's palm trees, blooming roses, sea otters, and vistas where Pacific waves are rolling in to shore. We did a community open mike at Chochmat Ha-Lev, once a Jewish meditation center and now a congregational community of practice. We flew home. 

26369480892_9b059b9258_zThose are the outlines of our itinerary, but they barely scratch the surface of the conversations, the deep sharing, the hopes and dreams articulated, the rebuilding of bridges, the new and renewed connections contained within our week-plus on the road.

Everywhere we go, we hear some things that are unique to the place that we're visiting. No two communities have the same history, the same needs, the same story. And everywhere we go, we hear some things that resonate with things we've heard in other places we've been, which means that the harmonies of common notes are beginning to emerge. I'm beginning to get an idea of what it will be like to begin working on Renewing Renewal, the report that Rabbi David and I intend to offer before Rosh Hashanah. What will be the integration of this fifteen months of traveling, opening our hearts, and listening with all that we are?

25848716563_0c688f9266_z (1)Right now I'm thinking about (what were for me) unexpected similarities between Vancouver and California, and about the West Coast and its general friendliness to innovation. I'm thinking about how deliciously different is the davenen at each of these Jewish Renewal communities -- and also about what makes the davenen feel similar in heart and spirit even when it takes different forms.

The Bay Area has a unique Jewish Renewal history, and I'm fascinated to see that some of the spectrum of differences spanned within ALEPH writ large is also spanned within the Jewish Renewal communities of the San Francisco Bay Area. I love this evidence of Jewish Renewal's multivocality.

We have one more Listening Tour trip to go: the Denver / Boulder area in late May. We have online focus groups scheduled with states and countries we couldn't manage to reach in person. We're always receiving emails in response to our big questions about what you hope the future of Jewish Renewal will be. And as we move into summer, the Listening Tour will reach its conclusion and we'll dive into synthesizing what we've heard -- though of course the holy work of listening will always be part of our service as co-chairs, even when the formal tour is complete.

26198300790_2d9b2e44f5_z (1)It's humbling to hear people's deepest yearnings for Judaism and for spiritual life. And it's awesome to have an opportunity to serve an organization that I think can bring those yearnings to fruition.


Special gratitude is due to Rabbi Diane Elliot of Embodying Spirit, Enspiriting Body and Rabbi David Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue for facilitating our connections with various branches of the Bay Area Jewish Renewal community.

Photos from top to bottom: us with dean Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson from Ziegler; with an Aquarian Minyan focus group; with a focus group of young leaders convened by Kehilla Community Synagogue; at Chochmat Ha-Lev. These photos and many others are in my California Listening Tour flickr photoset.


A Listening Tour weekend in Vancouver

26058278726_157e7bec26_zEvery stop on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour is different, and every one has been amazing in its own way. But I suspect that our weekend in Vancouver may stand out in memory as one of the most memorable experiences in a year-plus of remarkable experiences.

Maybe that's in part because we traveled such a very long way to be there. Maybe it's in part because we were visiting such a storied community, one of the largest and longest-standing Jewish Renewal communities in the world. Maybe that's in part because the people at Or Shalom welcomed us with such open hearts.

Our visit began with a dinner gathering with members of the host committee, and then after a too-short night of sleep continued with brunch with a group of Or Shalom millennials who spoke to us about their spiritual lives, their hopes, and what "doing Jewish" looks like for them. 

On Friday evening I led a sweet and intimate family Shabbat circle, a few prayers and a few songs and a meditation on the week which was then drawing to its close. Then we davened with the Or Shalom community, savoring a service co-led by Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan and Rabbi Hannah Dresner (along with musicians Charles Kaplan, Martin Gotfrit, Joe Markovitch, David Kauffman, and Nomi Fenson.) We danced around the room, we sang and prayed, and we marveled at the beauty of the clearing evening sky as we opened the door to welcome the Shabbat bride. (And Rabbi David gave a beautiful d'var Torah about keeping our spiritual fires burning.) After davening and dinner we heard origin stories and histories from Or Shalom's almost forty years of existence, starting with the early years as a havurah in Reb Daniel and Reb Hanna's living room.

25481624483_023d3430dd_zOn Shabbat morning, Rabbi David and I co-led p'sukei d'zimra, the first section of the morning service. (As it turned out, we chose melodies wisely, and the community sang along with spirit.) Then we enjoyed a Shabbat morning service led in turns by Rabbi Hillel Goelman and then by Rabbi Hannah. I was privileged to offer the d'var Torah that morning, on what it means to me to be a nation of priests and how that dovetails with the work we seek to do in ALEPH. After another festive meal we facilitated a community open mike session, harvesting ideas, yearnings, "ouches," dreams, and hopes from the community at large. 

On Sunday we breakfasted with ALEPH Canada colleagues at a vegetarian Vancouver institution, spent the morning with the Or Shalom board of directors, lunched with congregants and clergy, and spent the afternoon with a 2o+ person focus group of involved and invested Or Shalom folks. In between these meetings and meals and meetings-over-meals, we managed to walk a bit by the water; to marvel at the blooming trees and the view of Mount Baker in Queen Elizabeth Park; even, briefly, to see a harbor seal in its natural habitat! Our visit wound down with a final meal, and some debriefing and visioning for the future, with Rabbi Hannah before we regretfully made our way to the airport to begin the three thousand mile journey home.

We have hundreds of pages of notes from the Listening Tour so far -- from the nine stops we've made in person, and also from countless phone calls, zoom videoconference sessions, and emails. And we have many stops yet to go -- we're nowhere near done. We're beginning to see some common themes which are emerging (which are beginning to spark our conversations about what might be in the "Renewing Renewal" report we'll be putting forward before Rosh Hashanah). I'm fascinated by the things which are parallel or similar everywhere we go, and equally fascinated to see things which are different in each place we visit.  I continue to be endlessly grateful that we get to do this work. It's an honor and a privilege to get to sit with people and hear their yearnings and hopes for what ALEPH and Jewish Renewal might become.

 

Dave Kauffman took some terrific photos from the Listening Tour weekend. Thanks, Dave! And deep thanks to the organizing committee and to all of our Or Shalom hosts. 

 


Vancouver-bound

VancouverWe're on the road again! The next stop on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour is the one for which we'll be traveling the furthest: Vancouver, British Columbia.

Our weekend in Vancouver will be hosted by Or Shalom, Canada's Jewish Renewal community of longest standing. As their history page on their website notes, they began in 1982 as a havurah, a group of friends meeting in people's homes. Or Shalom's first rabbinic leadership came from Rabbi Daniel and Hanna Tiferet Siegel, with whom I studied (halakha and spiritual direction, respectively) in rabbinic school.

More recently the congregation was led by Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan, another dear rabbinic school teacher and friend. Today it is led by Rabbi Hannah Dresner, yet another dear friend from rabbinic school! I am delighted that all of these luminaries will be joining us for the weekend. This will be Reb Hanna's second stop on our Listening Tour, as she was with us in Boston last fall when we enjoyed beautiful morning davenen and our first open mike session at B'nai Or in Boston

As has become our custom, the Vancouver weekend will be chock-full of a variety of different kinds of encounters. We'll have opportunities to daven with the Or Shalom community (and we'll participate in leading the davenen, too.) We'll hold open mike sessions, offering members of the community the opportunity to share their stories, remembrances, frustrations, hopes, fears, and dreams. We'll meet with congregational leadership and with young people. We'll talk about big-picture questions of the ecosystem of innovation, and smaller-picture questions of what Or Shalom and Jewish Renewal in British Columbia need from ALEPH and what ALEPH needs from Or Shalom and from Jewish Renewal in BC in return. 

I imagine that some of our conversations in Vancouver will be parallel to the conversations we had in Montréal about the unique valances of Jewish Renewal in Canada. I imagine that some of our conversations will be unique to this place and this constellation of participants. And I imagine that some of our conversations will echo conversations we've had in other cities -- and also with other communities via videoconference when our lives, finances, and "day jobs" haven't permitted us to visit in person. (If you are in a place which is not on our itinerary, and would like to speak with us about your hopes and dreams for the future of ALEPH and Jewish Renewal, email chair@aleph.org and we'll do our best to set up a videoconference!)

I know that our time in Vancouver will be too brief to adequately have all of the conversations we want and need to have. (And don't even ask me whether we're going to do any sightseeing. We're flying out today, and back via a redeye on Sunday night; this is the very definition of "short and sweet.") Our mantra has become "to be continued," because every conversation is inevitably only part of the story, and there is always more that we can learn. But even though it won't be "enough" time, I know it's going to be delightful. We can't wait to daven, listen, and learn at Or Shalom this weekend. To our hevre (friends) in Vancouver, we look forward to seeing you soon! And to everyone else, stay tuned; I'll aim to report back next week with notes from the road.


Tabernacle

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The Tabernacle at the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, built 1879.

 

We took a ferry to Martha's Vineyard not knowing what exactly we wanted to see. Our friends with whom we were vacationing offered to watch our kid for the day, which meant we had the option of exploring as grownups -- walking as much as our feet would bear, snapping photographs of things we found interesting, stopping to read on park benches -- the way we used to do before our son was born. Our feet led us to the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, also known as Wesleyan Grove.

Back in the 1800s, there was a trend of summer religious camp meetings. People would come and set up temporary housing -- canvas tents, sometimes with wooden floors, sometimes with floors of earth and straw -- and several times a day, preachers would give over the gospel and the community would pray. Martha's Vineyard was home to the first religious camp meeting site in the United States. A group of Methodists set up camp here in what they described as a venerable oak grove.

19524844593_bd33796d6d_zAs the camp became established, a few things began to shift. The central preaching area became covered by a big canvas tent, and then by a giant wrought-iron open-air worship space called the Tabernacle -- still used today.

Those who came to camp for the summers stayed initially in small canvas tents with wooden floors and ornately scalloped canvas rooflines. When canvas became scarce, because of the American Civil War, families began erecting small wooden cottages instead -- with similar scalloped roofs.

Some say the cottages are meant to be reminiscent of the old canvas tents. Others say their designs are meant to evoke churches. They have double front doors which open like church doors, framed by the kind of windows one often sees in churches too.

In the one cottage which is open as a museum, we saw a framed yellowing printed sheet bearing the original campground rules. Those rules indicated, among other things, that a light was to be kept burning in each tent (or house) all night, not to be allowed to go out.

I don't know why that rule was established. Maybe, as the cottage museum guide speculated, it was to prevent hanky-panky in what was then a very conservative religious campground. (We also learned that when a secular summer resort was established nearby, the religious leaders built a 7-foot wall to keep bad influences out!) But reading it, I couldn't help thinking of the repeated exhortation in Leviticus that "a perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out." (See my Torah poem for parashat Tzav.)

I suspect my mind went immediately to the נר תמיד / ner tamid, the eternal light which burned in the Tabernacle (and which now burns in every synagogue) because these cottages are juxtaposed with a "Tabernacle" -- an English translation of our Hebrew משכן / mishkan, the portable tabernacle which our spiritual ancestors built so that the Presence of God could dwell within it -- or within them. (The Hebrew in Exodus 25:8 is ambiguous: "Let them build Me a sanctuary, that I might dwell within...")

Sitting in the wrought-iron Tabernacle, all I could think was: wow, it would be fun to lead a Jewish Renewal Shabbat service here with my hevre! I still remember my first Jewish Renewal Shabbat evening services, in the tent at the edge of the meadow at the old Elat Chayyim. There was a kind of tent-revival feel, and not only because we were literally davening in an open-sided white canvas tent. I'd like to daven in the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association Tabernacle someday.

 

Photo source.


Hortensias

The summer I was fifteen, I spent a month as an exchange student in a small city in Brittany. The city was called Lannion, and it was adjacent to Perros-Guirec, which was the hometown of my middle school French teacher. Each summer he took a handful of his students back to his birthplace. In retrospect, now that I have a child and live a few thousand miles away from my parents, I imagine he must have started organizing the homestays in order to help him afford to bring his kids back home.

I grew up in south-central Texas, where summers last a long time, and they're hot: really hot. (I couldn't quite fathom it when I was instructed to pack some things with long sleeves.) The beaches I knew were those at Port Aransas and South Padre Island, on the Gulf coast, where the water is warm. And the flora I knew was the stuff that grows at the intersection of subtropical and scrub desert -- very Mediterranean. I grew up with banana trees, bougainvillea, oleander, prickly pear cactus, magnolia.

Living in France was an amazing adventure. I remember dinners outside in the long light evenings -- and foods I had never before seen: langoustines, raclettes, buckwheat galettes. I remember the dolmens, erected four or five thousand years ago and weathered by rain and salt air. I remember side trips to Mont St.-Michel with its extraordinary tides, and to Rennes to visit my host family's family. I remember going to the beach. I was determined to swim in the English Channel, even if it were cold!

And I remember noticing that plants grew in Brittany which I had never before seen. I was especially struck by the lush bushes covered with giant flowers made up of many tiny blooms. I asked my host mother what they were called, and she told me hortensias. Some years later I visited the island of Nantucket for the first time with the family who would become my in-laws, and there I saw the same beautiful clusters of blossoms again, and learned their common English name, which is hydrangea.

Hydrangeas grow all over coastal New England. They grow in our backyard now, too -- though in our backyard their blooms are a simple ivory-white. In more acidic soils, like the seaside soil of Lannion (or, for that matter, the seaside soil of Nantucket and Cape Cod), the blooms are blue: ranging from periwinkle, to pale lavender, to a deep purple-blue. They're a kind of natural litmus paper. And every time I see them, I remember for an instant what it was like to be fifteen on my homestay in Lannion.

Hydrangea-in-brittany-france-21329254


Watching the river run

19145421875_5c90bc5c48_zIn the summer of 1989, I spent five weeks traveling the American West with a group called Man and His Land. The trip offered opportunities to taste a variety of different wilderness experiences: backpacking and canoeing in Yellowstone, a river-rafting trip in Utah, horseback riding and llama trekking and mountain biking in Wyoming, culminating in learning how to do some technical climbing in the Grand Tetons. We caravaned in a pair of big vans when we had to move from state to state.

In retrospect, I cannot imagine what moved me to do this. I had never been an athletic kid. I always chose books or art or theatre over outdoor activities or sports. What on earth made me think that Man and His Land was a good idea? (Actually, I think I know part of the answer to that -- it was my friend Milly, who went with me. I think it was probably her idea. But I agreed to it all the same.) Of course, it was a great idea. Even bookish kids can fall in love with the great outdoors, and the trip was designed to be a supportive environment for kids to stretch themselves and find their wings. But it was hard.

I grew up in south Texas, and had been to New Mexico, so the vistas of the American West weren't as mindblowing to me as they were for some of the kids who came from more eastern or more urban locales. But I'd never experienced backcountry camping -- the kind of camping where you hike for miles into the wilderness, and carry everything in and out. I was not in good shape (although at least I wasn't struggling to shake a cigarette habit like some of the other teens) and I huffed and puffed my way up every mountain. MHL asked me to do things I didn't think I could do. Somehow, I did them.

1989 was smack in the middle of the era of the mix-tape. And our trip leader -- a woman named Barb, whom I idolized; she seemed to me impossibly wise, at the advanced age of twenty-eight -- made use of a mix tape in a powerful way. Before each segment of the trip, she would gather us around the campfire and play a little bit of the tape. The trip began with a Cat Stevens anthem: "On the Road to Find Out." Before our warm-up hike in the Great Sand Dunes National Park at the edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, she played us Carole King's "I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet."

Before we went backpacking in Yellowstone, we heard Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It If You Really Want." Before our river rafting expedition, Loggins and Messina's "Watching the River Run." The songs pervaded and permeated our time in the wilderness in a way that wouldn't be possible now in the era of phones which double as mp3 players. It's probably unimaginable to today's teenagers to be away from their music; music lives on their phones, music lives in the cloud! But none of that was true the summer that I was fourteen. That mix tape was the complete soundtrack of that summer.

I don't consciously think about Man and His Land much. But the songs from that mixtape are still with me. Often I find the melodies and lyrics in my head, and only then do I realize what current emotional or spiritual situation has called them forth. Most of these are songs I haven't heard in decades, but they're inscribed deep in my memory. Probably the one which most frequently arises for me is "Watching the River Run." I'm not especially a fan of Loggins & Messina per se, but that one song still holds meaning. Maybe because I first encountered it at a time when I was doing a lot of emotional growing.

There's something about the metaphor of the running river which speaks to me. Like time, a river flows only in one direction. Like a life, a river may flow past great wonders and also at times great monotony. And when there are sharp rocks along a river bed, the best thing to do may be to let go and trust that the current will carry you safely to your destination. If you try to hold on too tightly to any place along the river's course, the fact of its current can hurt you. Sometimes you have to leave something beautiful behind, trusting that wherever the river is going, new beauty will be there too, waiting to be found.

 

Barb, my trip leader all those years ago, is still leading wilderness expeditions -- now in Alaska.


Coffee talk



We hesitate at the unlit stairwell
but two men sitting in the dark
nod and point us upwards.
Four flights up we reach
al-Sendebad: open on all sides,
Abraham’s tent in concrete.
We sit on plastic chairs
overlooking streets, square, park,
noisy with people in the cool of night.

We are the only visitors here.
Everyone else is local, a regular.
They wear pants and caftans, sport
mustaches and checked kefiyyahs.
I am the only woman in sight.
Two men play backgammon; two
cards; everyone talks. One man
juggles pipe with cellphone,
old world with new.

Thumbing our Berlitz we eke out
requests for hot mint tea and a nargil.
The waiter gestures, raises a brow,
confirming we really do want
what tourist literature translates
as “hubble-bubble pipe.”
The tobacco, cut with molasses,
smells sweet as the honeysuckle
that blooms at twilight.

With their thick mustaches,
backgammon and smoke,
these men remind me of my father.
I imagine him here, nargil trailing
from his lips, scattering dice
on the table and moving stone pips
across the board. He doesn’t play
in person since Philip died,
just online games with strangers

now and then fast words
in the chat window, “What’s wrong,
U still there?” Some of his opponents
are Arabs, Saudis he says, maybe even
Jordanians. Looking out at Amman
at night, listening to the men laugh
and play, I wish my father were here.
Maybe the smoke and coffee
would add up to a common language.

First published in The Wisconsin Review, Vol. 38, No. 1, fall 2003.

Beth's drawings of mint tea and sheesha made me think back to my first trip to Amman, Jordan, in 2002. That, in turn, led me back to this poem. I wrote this in 2002 shortly after our return home.

2002 was before I had my first digital camera, so my photographs from this trip are all prints in an album -- the kind with sticky pages and clear plastic overlays. Twelve years later the plastic overlays are brittle and breaking, and some of the photos don't want to pull free from their pages. Although there were no photos from the nighttime coffee shop visit which sparked this poem, I scanned some of the best ones from the album. If you're interested, you can find them here.


Two years ago: Barcelona

Two years ago this week Ethan and I went to Spain, where I had never been before. He had been engaged to speak at a conference in Barcelona, and we took advantage of that fact to snatch a tiny little vacation. The conference put us up at a hotel we would almost certainly not have chosen -- the W, which is perched on a curl of land at the very edge of the sea. When we walked along the beach and looked back at our lodgings, the building evoked a billowing sail open to the wind.

W

When we are at leisure, we tend to spend our days walking. We walked miles every day, all over the city. We snapped photographs of building facades and architectural details and glimpses of the city life unfolding all around us. Every so often we stopped for a coffee or a glass of wine, and then we set off on foot again. One of the places we made sure to visit was the open-air market. I love breathing in the scents of whatever is local -- fresh fruits, or burlap bags of spices, or the briny harvest from the sea.

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An afternoon on Heimaey

For #throwbackthursday: a few photos from 1998, illustrating a short essay of that same vintage. As far as I can recall, this one was never published anywhere.

 

Lonely Planet is my favorite series of travel guides. The guidebooks focus on exciting places. They're geared to the budget traveler. And I'm charmed by the fact that the series started out as a xeroxed handful of pages about the founders’ journey across Asia. The trick with Lonely Planet, though, is that you have to learn how to interpret their enthusiasm.

Imagine a spectrum of travelers. At one end is the tourist who prefers posh and expensive glamour-travel. At the other end is the traveler whose hiking boots have seen the world and who has the capacity to be entertained by watching fish swim by in a small stream. (No joke; that’s one of the pastimes the Faroe Islands section of our guidebook recommends.) Lonely Planet is geared toward that second archetype.

The Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands says of the island of Heimaey, one of the Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands, so named after the Irish slaves who unwittingly became their first inhabitants), that visitors normally allow themselves a day or two there, but many wish they’d allowed more. "If you have fine weather (which can include light rain, fog, or overcast skies), three days will allow time to best appreciate the place," the Guide says. We read these words as we were planning a five-day stay in Iceland at the start of our honeymoon. We decided to spend two of those days on Heimaey.

We woke around 5:30 to take a small plane from the tiny domestic Reykjavik airport to the tinier Heimaey one. (Getting up early was no problem, given that the sun had never set.) As we approached the island from the air, everything on its small teardrop shape was visible: at one end, the cross-shaped single airstrip; at the other end, two volcanoes, the harbor, the colorful roofs of Heimaey town.

Island

Continue reading "An afternoon on Heimaey" »


Am I ready?

I've packed white linen skirt, white linen shirt, white kippah. When we welcome the Shabbat bride our whole community will be resplendent in white. I've packed my little jar of glitter so that I can sparkle for Shabbos not only metaphorically but literally.

I've packed Shabbat morning clothes, Shabbat relaxing clothes, something appropriate to wear to the Sunday celebration "A Heart As Big As the World." I've packed swimsuit and coverup, because hey, you never know, I might manage a Shabbos swim.

I've packed tallit and tefillin for Sunday morning, when we'll return to weekday consciousness though not quite yet to our ordinary lives again. I have boarding passes on my phone. In the world of assiyah, action and physicality, I'm about as ready as can be.

In the world of yetzirah, emotion, I'm not so sure. I know that it will be sweet to reconnect in person with my Jewish Renewal community, people who I otherwise wouldn't see again until next winter. But what will it feel like to be together for this reason?

In the world of briyah, intellect, I feel reasonably prepared -- and I also know that I'm going to experience this weekend in ways which transcend intellect and thought. No matter how much I think about this, thought can't prepare me for what lies ahead.

In the world of atzilut, spirit, I hope that the spark of divine light which enlivens my soul will derive joy from reconnecting with so many other sparks, and from coming together in celebration of the neshama klalit, the great soul who lifted us all up.

 

 

If you're going to be at the Remembering Reb Zalman weekend, the Shabbaton and/or the Sunday celebration of his life and work, I look forward to seeing you there. To everyone else, I hope your Shabbat is sweet, and thanks for reading, as always.


Prayer for the Journey

Last week, while I was traveling, I received an email from A Way In / Mishkan Shalom which included a link to an interpretive translation, by Rabbi Yael Levy, of the traditional t'fillat ha derech, the Prayer for the Journey.

It resonated with me not only because of my literal travels lately, but also because it seems to me that every day is a journey. Every day we travel from morning to night; every day we journey further toward the unknown destination of life's end.

Don't we all need a prayer to comfort and strengthen us along the way?


May the One who flows through all creation lead us toward peace.

May we go forward in peace.

May each footstep be walked in the ways of peace.

And may we arrive to our desired destination for life, expansive joy and peace.

Let our paths be protected and all our journeys be safe. 

May blessings come through the work of our hands. 

Let us see the world with eyes of grace, love and compassion. 

And let our deepest values and visions find voice. 

Blessed is the Mystery that calls us present. 

Blessed is the open heart that listens.

 

Take notice, I send an angel to guide you on your way

and to bring you to the place I have prepared.            

(Exodus 23:20)

 

(From here: For Summer Travelers: Prayer for the Journey.)


Memories of McQueeney

Card00528_frIt's funny how memories come back at unexpected moments. The feeling of bobbing in the warm waters of the Guadalupe, lifejacket and waterskis keeping me afloat, with the bright woven ski rope threading through my hands as the boat idled forward. The big plants at the waterside, which we called elephants' ears; how green pecans stained the water and our hands; how we used to chase cottonwood fluff when the wind blew it across the wide-bladed St. Augustine grass.

Packing up the Suburban for two weeks at the lake house: coolers full of groceries, suitcases, our Siamese cat in his carrier yowling until I inevitably set him free and he marched across the dashboard (much to my father's chagrin.) The old songs Mom taught me -- "The Ladies in the Harem of the Court of King Correcticus" and "As I was walking down the street a billboard caught my eye..." The convenience store (was it in Seguin?) where we used to stop to get whorls of the hard spicy sausage which hung behind the counter.

The scavenger hunts my mom used to organize for my friends and me; I remember holding a sheet of paper marked in her neat curving handwriting, wandering around together in search of -- what, I can't recall, but I know we were successful. Climbing down the aluminum framed ladder into the river in front of our house. How my toes shied away from slimy lilypad stems. Making homemade raspberry ice cream, turning the hand crank; how the end result was brilliant pink with the berries' separated druples. Growing a small garden one year -- I couldn't resist picking an ear of corn before it was ripe, and hiding in my secret wilderness place in the unsold lot next door where no one would see me nibbling its sugar-sweet kernels. The thwock of tennis balls against rackets as Mom and Dad played doubles, resplendent in all white, on the court at the Ski Lodge.

Walking with Mom to pick Indian Paintbrush and cornflowers to bring home and put in a jar on the table. Pyrex casserole trays of King Ranch Chicken. Evening boat rides, my father's hair windblown, sitting on the back of the boat and watching the houses and boathouses and limestone cliffs along the river rush by. Early morning boat rides, the river and lake still as glass, perfect for cutting slalom paths in and out of our boat's wake. Venturing down our street with a friend, aiming for patches of shade because the asphalt was hot beneath our bare feet, and then down the boat ramp at the end of the block to float down the river in lifejackets back to our own pier. Playing games of rummikub with mom and friends on the square formica table, pieces clicking and clacking beneath our hands. The taste of the "special" nachos at the Ski Lodge, made with spicy queso. The orange blossoms my parents ordered there sometimes at the bar.

Catching fireflies on hot summer evenings, putting them in jars with perforated tinfoil on top, then letting them go. The pale yellow moths, redolent with dust the color of hardboiled egg yolk, which beat their wings helplessly against screen doors. The zzzzt of the bug zapper at work. Swinging in the hammock, endlessly. The two flavors of Bluebell we used to get at that Pic-n-Pac (Cookies & Cream, and Pralines & Cream), and the treat of scooping curls into beige melamine bowls and enjoying them at night before bed. Watching the Ski Bees show at the Ski Lodge on Thursday nights, pyramids of women on each others' shoulders, followed by brave and crazy barefooters like my brother. On the Fourth of July, after the ski show, lying back to watch the fireworks exploding brilliant against the Texas sky.

 

Photo: an old postcard of the swimming pools at the Lake Breeze Ski Lodge in McQueeney, Texas, sometime before they put up the diving board and high board I remember.


All at once




From God's high vantage
    -- spacetime spread out
        like an endless scroll --
        
 every trip I've taken
    between these two places
        is happening right now.

I'm passing myself
    at 30,000 feet: seventeen
        and flying home for Pesach

clutching a grey sweatshirt
    from the college my parents
        don't yet know I've chosen,

thirty-five with diaper bag
    full of earplugs to hand out
        when the baby starts to scream.

On a plane I haven't taken
    God can see me flying back
        with my black suit folded tight.
        
Knowledge I never wanted
    from the tree I know everyone
        eventually tastes, eyes watering

from the fiery sword
    barring me from the home
        to which no one can return.


I'm spending a few days in south Texas, visiting my parents and reintroducing my son to the sights, sounds, and scents of my childhood hometown. Flying down here a few days ago, I was struck by the vivid notion that if I could see the world as God sees it, I would see all of my trips between my birthplace and the Berkshires at the same time...including trips I haven't taken yet.

The final two stanzas allude to the story from early in the book of Bereshit (Genesis) when a cherub with a flaming sword is stationed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to keep Adam and Chava out. One can read the Eden story as a lesson about childhood and about the bittersweet implications of gaining knowledge and losing innocence. No one can remain in Eden forever.

Wishing everyone blessings on this 42nd day of the Omer.

 


Paul in Jerusalem

Some weeks ago, I wrote a poem inspired by Paul Salopek's Out of Eden walk, his seven-year quest to cover -- on foot -- the original migratory journey of humankind. (You can find my poem on the Out of Eden blog -- Couplets and kilometers -- and it's now available in April Dailies, which you can read about here.) If you have any interest in travel, I can't commend Paul's work to you highly enough. You can read his chronicle of his journey at National Geographic, and on the companion website you can listen to audio clips, look at photographs, and encounter other multimedia glimpses of where he's been.

As it happens, these last several weeks he's been walking through some places to which I have a deep attachment. (Me and just a few other people, as it happens.) His most recent blog post is about a city I revisited only six weeks ago:

"This place is too complicated," says Yuval Ben-Ami, my walking partner in Jerusalem. He is a big man with gentle eyes. A writer. A radio host. A street singer—a bard. He has hiked Israel’s entire perimeter along its borders. He knows its village bus stations. Its cheap Ethiopian restaurants. Its most scenic battlefields. He has been up all night thinking. "The only way we can do this--"

And with a blue pen he draws a curlicue...

That's from Vortex: Walking Jerusalem, the most recent dispatch from Paul. Later in the essay he writes:

In a 5,000-year-old city where changes in neighborhood zoning rules earn international headlines—such is the ferocity of ownership over each square inch of Jerusalem—we orbit painful questions of identity, of zealotry, of personal loss, of national survival. We trudge over a hundred lonesome boundaries—invisible and monumental—that Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalemites do not cross...

I found his post incredibly resonant with my own sense of the city. It's poignant, surprising, and thoughtful.

Once you read it, click through to the walking Jerusalem map. You can see the dotted line of his walking journey through the city, and if you click on any one of the little icons, you'll be taken to a photograph taken in that spot. (As it happens, one of the first icons I clicked turned out to be the bookstore where I went for lunch with Bethlehem Blogger -- the place where I purchased Crossing Qalandiya, which I just reviewed recently.)

I'm looking forward to continuing to read Paul's dispatches -- especially as he walks through places which are entirely unknown to me. But there's something especially powerful about reading his words, and seeing his photos, from a place which I am fortunate enough to already know and love.


Returning to Hebron - on a Dual Narrative Tour

13492442823_43af1b707f_nOne of the things I knew I wanted to do, upon returning to Israel for the first time in many years, was to go with Eliyahu McLean to Hebron on his Hebron Dual Narrative Tour. I had heard about the trip from a rabbi friend, who wrote to me:

Eliyahu's trip to Hebron is amazing and wonderful and done in tandem with a Palestinian guide. I cannot recommend the experience highly enough... on Eliyahu's trip, one spends 1/2 the day speaking with Jewish settlers, and 1/2 the day speaking with Palestinians. One experiences what is happening on the ground there. It is painful, complex, and not rhetorical or polemical.  It is not either/or to go with Eliyahu, but both/and in every sense of the word.

Not either/or, but both/and: that sounds right up my alley. Eliyahu was the first person ordained by Reb Zalman as a Rodef Shalom, a seeker of peace. (Learn more about his work at Jerusalem PeaceMakers, which he co-founded along with the late sheikh Abdul Aziz-Bukhari, may his memory be a blessing. And here's an interview with Eliyahu at JustVision. While I'm at it -- let me mention that Eliyahu and my friend Reuven collaborated on transcribing the story of Reb Zalman Among the Sufis of Hebron, which I have cherished for years.)

13538370743_c172463a27_nI had visited Hebron once, in 2008, but not on this kind of dual-narrative trip. I was eager to see what I would learn. So last Wednesday morning I woke up early at the Ecce Homo convent and made my way through the Old City, out the Damascus Gate, and all the way down Street of the Prophets to meet up with the group. We were a mixed group of internationals: from Iceland, Denmark, Germany, Canada, the United States, and more. As far as I could tell, I was the only Jew on the tour.

(Long post ahead -- more than 4000 words, and many images, too. I hope you'll read the whole thing, despite its length.)

One of the first things that Eliyahu said to us was, "Remember that this trip is about dual narratives. You may feel at times that they are dueling narratives!" The first half of the day was spent with Eliyahu as our guide in the Jewish area of Hebron, which is called H2. H2 consists of about 20% of Hebron, geographically speaking; about 30,000-40,000 Palestinians live there. He reminded us that Hebron is one of Judaism's four holy cities, was the first capital from which King David reigned, and is considered in Jewish tradition to be second only to Jerusalem. 

Eliyahu speaks to our group; two Palestinian women at the edge of Shuhada / King David street.

He pointed out that both sides in this conflict tend to paint themselves as the victims. For instance: the Palestinian narrative holds that the closure of Shuhada street (which Jews call King David street) is a form of apartheid. That street had been a primary market thoroughfare before it was closed by the IDF. Now it is a ghost town of shuttered shops (and Palestinians are forbidden from walking on most of it), which the Palestinian narrative sees as a land grab and an exercise of power and control. The Israeli narrative says that King David street was closed because of suicide bombings and other attacks on Jews, and points out that Palestinians have access to 97% of the city while Jews are confined to a mere 3%, so clearly it's the Jews, not the Palestinians, who are the victims. (That's one example of incompatible narratives; over the course of the day we encountered many others.)

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The adventure of staying somewhere new

13408497624_548d350a3a_n
View from the roof of the Ecce Homo, twilight. Below: intersection with minaret, shopkeeper's wares.

13408211325_efa47a699a_nI've never stayed in the Old City before. The moment I walk out of the convent guesthouse where I am staying, I'm on the cobblestones of the Via Dolorosa. Merchants selling Christian religious icons beckon me into their storefronts. If I continue walking away from the Lion's Gate, I reach a T-junction. If I turn left there, and follow the road as it zigs and zags a bit, I wind up at the Kotel. If I turn right, and follow the road as it zigs and zags a bit, I wind up at the Damascus Gate.

I don't think these streets are officially part of the marketplace (shuk in Hebrew, souq in Arabic), but there are market stalls along them nonetheless. A few vendors are selling prayer beads / rosaries (both Christian and Muslim), or religious icons. Others sell leather sandals, spices, Arabic candy, loops of sesame-encrusted bread, plastic toys, abayas, and alarm clocks shaped like the Dome of the Rock.

I am an obvious outsider in my jeans, sandals, and t-shirt. Even when I don't have my camera out, even without a guidebook in hand, I am clearly a foreigner, which means that vendors call out to me as I pass. "Hello! Miss! Step inside. Come and see." I smile but keep on walking; I'm not in the market for their wares. I wish I could snap photographs of the market stalls, and of the locals as they weave effortlessly through the foot traffic, but I don't.

Breathing in, I inhale coffee with cardamom, a tendril of the incense burning at the spice vendor's shop, vehicle exhaust, the apple-like sweetness of nargila smoke. The scents link me instantly with my summer in Jerusalem and with the trip Ethan and I took to Amman. This is the fragrance of the Middle East. I wonder whether I first encountered it on my adolescent trip to Cairo with my parents and sister, all those years ago, but I can't call up those sense-memories. One way or another, there is nothing like this scent back home.

13408386863_c75b22552c_nAround me I hear the clamor of voices, mostly speaking Arabic, which I do not understand. Occasionally I hear a snatch of Hebrew, mostly from the visibly-Jewish passers-by, the men in black frock coats with peyos and hats, the women with their hair wrapped in scarves who push strollers and lead little ones by the hand. The streets are narrow; there is barely enough room for the occasional car which creeps through, horn blaring when the foot traffic gets in its way.

As I return to the guesthouse, the set hour arrives for Muslim evening prayer. The adhān rings out first from one minaret, then from another, and within moments I am ensconced in an aural web of voices coming from every direction. The melody is plaintive and melancholy to my untrained ear. (Not so much a melody as a nusach -- like the old melodic modes in which we sing weekday prayer.) The voices seem to ripple, like the surface of a pond into which stones have been thrown. When the call to prayer falls silent, I hear the sound of church bells.

 

Photos, once again,  from my ever-expanding trip photoset.


Walking in (ancient) Caesaria

13332922384_0e2d06f3c5_nOn Shabbat morning I woke up in Jerusalem and, with nearly twenty members of my extended family, boarded a bus heading north. The first place we visited together was Caesaria (קֵיסָרְיָה / قيسارية‎).

Before our visit, the name mostly evoked the Hannah Szenes poem הליכה לקיסריה, "Walking to Caesaria." Here it is sung by Regina Spektor [YouTube link] -- gives me chills every time. (We often sing this in my synagogue at Yizkor / Memorial services.) The words mean, "My God, my God, I pray that these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart."

Wanting to know more than just that beautiful melody, I read the town's Wikipedia page, and here's a snippet of what it says:

The town was built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BCE as the port city Caesarea Maritima. It served as an administrative center of Judaea Province of the Roman Empire, and later the capital of the Byzantine Palaestina Prima province during the classic period. Following the Muslim conquest in the 7th century, the city had an Arab majority until Crusader renovation, but was again abandoned after the Mamluk conquest. It was populated in 1884 by Bosniak immigrants, who settled in a small fishing village. In 1940, kibbutz Sdot Yam was established next to the village. In February 1948 the village was conquered by a Palmach unit commanded by Yitzhak Rabin and its people expelled. In 1952, a Jewish town of Caesarea was established near the ruins of the old city, which were made into the national park of Caesarea Maritima.

After the Roman material -- I'm always fascinated by Roman-era history, ever since spending all of those years studying Latin -- the British Mandate section is most interesting to me, especially the part about the village notable who approached local Jews in an effort to establish a non-belligerency agreement in 1947, and the Haganah presence which followed in 1948, resulting in the expulsion of the town's residents and subsequent demolishing of most of its houses. That said -- we didn't see any of modern Caesaria, so most of that research turned out to be background for a place we didn't visit!

13332642464_4d176dbb12_nWhere we actually went was Caesarea Maritima, the Israeli national park containing the extensive ruins of ancient Caesaria, which was established by Herod the Great around 25 B.C.E. (The town, not the national park, obviously.) Of course, this means that Caesaria isn't mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures, because it's far too recent for that. We spent a neat morning exploring the ruins along with the guide my sister had hired. He was full of interesting facts about, e.g., where the marble to build the columns had come from, and how the theatre and hippodrome were used, and how the city got its name, and how the manmade harbor was built out of concrete laid underwater during the first century B.C.E. (and why it later eroded away).

Much of what we saw was original -- for instance, the mosaic floors in various places, which were gorgeous -- though the outdoor semicircular theatre is mostly reconstruction, and so is the replica of the stone which bore the inscription "Pontius Pilate dedicated a building here to Caesar in such-and-such a year" -- the original is in the Israel museum, too precious to leave out to the winds and the weather, as it's the only place outside of the Christian scriptures where Pilate is mentioned. Apparently it was found face-down in the theatre; people had been using it as a stepping-stone for years, and were stunned when it was flipped over and they realized its historical importance. I particularly liked the ruins of the palace, with the mosaic floor, and the remnants of what may once have been a swimming or bathing pool, right on the edge of the sea.

13331836623_472610895f_nAfterwards we drove along amazingly twisty mountain roads to the Arab village of Ein Hud (not to be confused with the Israeli artists' village Ein Hod, which is next door) for a meal at Habait Be'Ein Hud, which was one of the most extraordinary meals of my life. There is no menu; you just eat whatever the mother of the household has cooked that day. I love putting my trust in a chef's hands like that, and oh, wow, this kitchen did not disappoint. The place was packed, and we were the only English-speaking table in evidence.

We were seated at a giant long banquet table next to windows overlooking the hills and wildflowers and olive trees. The food just kept coming: hummus, babaghanoush, tabbouleh, olives and turmeric-pickled cauliflower, every Arabic salad and appetizer I could name (and several I couldn't, including one which I think was made mostly out of Swiss chard with lemon and cumin.) That alone would have been plenty of lunch. But it turned out to be just the prelude to plate after plate of spiced rice and chicken, turmeric-yellow rice surrounded by chunks of fork-tender meat, eggplant in a rich sauce, stuffed peppers...!

13331732625_868e9eeafe_nI wish I could have eaten twice as much as I did; it was incredible. I just kept saying "todah rabah! shukran!" to the people who brought the food, over and over again.

That meal culminated in a downstairs sitting area, where we were offered tea or coffee (I chose coffee -- in a tiny eggshell teacup, dark and thick and cardamom-scented, which I sweetened with sugar; the flavor immediately took me back to the last time I was in this part of the world!) and ate baklava and relaxed.

There was another surprise in store. I think a local capoeira club happens to practice there on Shabbat afternoons. At least, my sister insisted that she had not hired them as entertainment; they just showed up, turned on music, and fought / danced / did their beautiful graceful moves. We sipped our coffee and tea, and applauded, and one of my older nephews got up and one of the dancers taught him a few of their simpler patterns...and then we got back on the bus and continued on our way.

 

All photos can be found in my growing photoset from this trip.