Last day of (my first) ulpan
Both sides now

Tel Aviv Shabbat

I think one of my top achievements in Israel this summer is collecting a whole set of Shabbat experiences that I've never had anywhere else. This past Shabbat I left Jerusalem for the metropolis of Tel Aviv -- a scant hour away, though it feels incredibly different, as Seizing the Day in Tel Aviv (in today's Sunday Times) attests -- and joined friends for a weekend that managed to be at once action-packed and deliciously restful, as Shabbat ought to be.

After a fun Friday (crafts fair and Druze pita with labneh and zataar at Nachalat Binyamin, a spin through shuk HaCarmel, some time hanging out and talking and drinking coffee) we drove to the port, a collection of big corrugated-metal buildings that now house swank restaurants along a wooden boardwalk. (The real shipping happens in Haifa.) My friends and I strolled with their dog along the boardwalk, and then found seats in the big semicircle of chairs set up at the edge of the water near Hangar 14, the weekly meeting place of Beit Tefila Israeli.

In such an open space, it's hard to build collective energy, so the crowd felt a bit diffuse. But a few people were singing with gusto, and everyone seemed manifestly happy to be together welcoming Shabbat in such a beautiful place. One of my favorite moments came early in the service, during the series of psalms that lead up to the formal beginning of worship, when we sang Achla Olam -- a Hebrew translation of What A Wonderful World. The sky above us was blue, the sea sparkled merrily, our voices lifted onto the breeze like kites: a wonderful world indeed.

Early in the service the leader spoke briefly about what a difficult week it had been, alluding to the exchange of Samir Kuntar for the bodies of Regev and Goldwasser. (There's information about the exchange at NOW Lebanon, and I also recommend the round-up of Israeli posts at Global Voices Online.) The remarks were in Hebrew, which I mostly couldn't follow, though I caught key phrases. At the end he switched into English to ask us to think about the week we've had in order to be able to put it behind us and truly welcome Shabbat. When we sang Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu, we moved from slow-and-sorrowful to fast-and-passionate, and the prayer for peace felt deep and real.

We recited the bar'chu (call to prayer) facing the sea. ("This is our Jerusalem," the shaliach tzibbur explained.) And when we reached the amidah (central standing prayer) we turned again to the water and the setting sun, and as our prelude to the prayer we sang "Eli Eli" by Hannah Szenes: "O Lord, my God, I pray that these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the lightning in the sky, the prayers of humanity." (We sang it in Hebrew, of course.) The red disk of the sun descended into haze, and then it was gone.

After davenen, my friends and I chose one of the restaurants nearby and ate dinner outdoors, listening to the rish-rush of the waters. The lights of the port sparkled on the gently lapping waves of the sea that the Romans considered the middle of the (known) earth. As we ate and talked and savored Shabbat, I felt for a moment as though where we were sitting were still the middle of everything. The wide world spiraled out around us in every direction, all the way to the full moon hanging over us like a benediction in the sky.

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