Morning prayer at the Western Wall...almost.
Postcard from Jerusalem at BAP blog

Scenes from a Shabbat

The Jerusalem Reconstructionist Minyan was packed: 33 kids from the Reconstructionist youth group, plus the usual crowd, plus a hefty handful of visitors like me. (As Reb Ruth said last weekend at the Renewal minyan, this is the season when Amerian rabbis migrate to Jerusalem!) It was a good service, led by several talented shlichei tzibbur. The singing made me happy.

The woman who gave the d'var Torah offered a lovely insight on the verse mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael ("How beautiful are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling-places, Israel.") In Jacob's youth, he had a lot of ups and downs: stole his brother's blessing, ran away from home, got married and then snuck away from his father-in-law's house, and so on. Then he wrestled with the angel, and became Israel. During the Jacob phase of his life, he lived in "tents" -- temporary dwellings, temporary lives, figuring out who he wanted to be, trying on different ways of being in the world. Once he became Israel and became his fullest self, he was able to build mishkanot, homes where he (and God's presence) could truly dwell. It's a journey each of us recapitulates in our own lives.

At the potluck afterwards, I had the chance to reconnect with Brian Fink, who was on the PANIM transdenominational rabbinic student retreat with me last year. And I met Rabbi Daniel Brenner of Reb Blog! How lovely, to feel connected with the RRC community as well as my own.

We ascended the steps of the Austrian Hospice and emerged to the bright sun of the rooftop. The roofscape of the Old City spread all around us, a jumble of shapes: balconies, satellite dishes, hot water tanks, church roofs topped with crosses, mosque towers topped with crescents. The Dome of the Rock gleamed gold above turquoise like a gem set in the skyline.

Just then the Call to Prayer rang out from the mosque immediately in front of us. The tower is one I had photographed on my first jaunt to the Old City, ornamented with scaffolding at its top; we couldn't have been more than 20 feet away, and the voice was loud and clear. When he stopped singing for a moment, I could hear the voices echoing from the other mosques in East Jerusalem, a weird and beautiful kind of stereo.

I'd anticipated that I would hear the Call to Prayer often here. I heard it faintly once during my first Shabbat in town, but on the whole it hasn't been part of my soundscape. Maybe because I haven't been awake at the crack of dawn; maybe because I'm living and learning and exploring in West Jerusaem. (The high concentration of mosques is in East Jerusalem, that other world just on the other side of town.) The muezzin's call was almost like hazzanut (Jewish liturgical chanting), but not quite. While he sang, I stood on the roof and looked out at the city and tried to impress its roofline on my memory and heart.

I ended my Shabbat in Abu Ghosh, an Arab town just outside of Jerusalem, sitting around a table with three friends, drinking fresh lemonade, and enjoying an unbelievable spread: labneh with garlic and mint, salat yerakot (cucumber and tomato), tabouli, falafel, small green olives, pita...

Abu Ghosh is famous for its hummous; every Israeli I know has an opinion on where one can find the best hummous there (as do most of the American expats I've met), and several people have told me it's the best hummous in the country. Our hummous arrived on a large plate, topped with whole chickpeas, a swirl of olive oil, and a scattering of spice. It was manifestly fresh and homemade, redolent with tahini. (Abu Ghosh is also famous for its history of Arab-Jewish cooperation, though that's harder to experience in a hands-on way over dinnertime...)

Our dinner conversation ranged in all sorts of directions. At one point I mused aloud about whether, if I were writing a Jerusalem sestina, I would use "hummous" as one of my end-words. (The consensus around the table was that it's not a good idea; I may eat it two meals out of three, but it's not a flexible word, so it would limit my verbal options.) As the sun went down, we got back on the road: heading back to Jerusalem, back to this temporary life. Another week begins.

For those who are interested in more Israel photos: I've added a bunch of photos to my Misc. Jerusalem photoset, and another bunch of photos to my Jerusalem: Old City photoset (including some from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the view from the Austrian Hospice roof) -- and I created a new photoset called Shuk / Souq / Market Places. Enjoy!

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