Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Shabbos here, a Shabbos there -- Shavua Tov!

For the first time, I made bread. But it wasn't just any bread, it was challah. It was made in haste, without really measuring anything, but with love and necessity as Shabbos approached Friday. And it was seriously the (second) best challah I've ever had. I can't lie, Chabad rebbetzins make the best challah out there. But next time? I'll make it on Thursday, for it was really pushing it. Also, I fully intend on making a half batch, maybe even a third -- this much bread is enough to feed a few families. I give you, the beautiful loaf (unfortunately you won't get to see the ugly loaf, for it was truly ugly).

It was my first Shabbat back in the U.S. after two spent in Israel -- one in Jerusalem, one in Tel Aviv. Shabbat in Jerusalem was flanked by trips to the Western Wall, haKotel haMaaravi. We visited the wall, where men and women were bringing in Shabbat in droves, dressed in their best, davening and weeping at the wall. I searched far and wide on the shelves that line a small wall near the Western Wall for a siddur that might be my speed, but the only Artscroll I could find was a weekday. As I perused the shelves, a woman with a head covering, long skirt, and modest top walked up to me and questioned something in Hebrew. I responded that I didn't understand and she, in English, asked where I was from. We exchanged pleasantries about her being from Canada and me being from the U.S. and then she asked me which siddur she should use. Me!? She asked me? I guess I looked like a pro, but unfortunately I couldn't offer much help. I was frustrated that I hadn't taken my siddur with me, not to mention that I'd left my chumash at the hotel so I couldn't say tehillim for my dad. So I took my place at the wall, and tried to say Misheberach, but the words? They didn't come. I tried time and time again to focus on the words, to daven, but they wouldn't come. My thoughts were jumbled. I shoved two notes into the wall, placed my hand upon the old, cold stone, brought my forehead to rest on the back of my hand, and wept. I did as the women did and walked backwards away from the wall, crying, wondering how I'd become that person -- that emotional, devout, religious, hopeful and optimistic person who could be so moved by a wall! It's just a wall! A gigantic remnant at which generations of Jews have prayed. A place of solace and common ground, a meeting place for prayer, a wall that, if perhaps a few stones taller might reach the feet of G-d. Then? I gathered back with the group, and we walked about 3 miles, though it seemed like a lot longer (it took us more than an hour) back to our hotel.

(Note: That photo was taken on Saturday, after havdalah, post-Shabbat!)

Shabbat day was interesting -- both in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv -- in that people asked me a lot of questions  about why I was doing what I was doing. Oftentimes I was stopped by Hasidic Jews at the Shabbos elevator saying, "You know this is the Shabbos elevator, right?" So I was probably confusing to the eye -- wearing pants, modest top, hair covered (because hair dryers are so not Shabbos friendly). One of my roommates in Jerusalem offered to blow dry my hair, but after I explained why it wasn't in the spirit of Shabbat, she loaned me a cute hat instead. I relied on others to let me into our hotel rooms, for others to push hotel elevator buttons when the Shabbos elevator was packed (we were essentially on the 8th floor in Jerusalem, but lucked out on floor No. 1 in Tel Aviv), and answered questions about why I did these things and why I don't think they're outdated and useless mitzvot. In Jerusalem, everything was shut down -- cars were few on the street, workers were few in number at the hotel, and Jews mulled about the lobby reading Torah and napping in easy chairs. In Tel Aviv, businesses were open and cars abounded, filling the streets as if it were any other day of the week. As you can imagine, I preferred Shabbos in Jerusalem over Tel Aviv. I napped on Shabbat, but I missed Tuvia and our Shabbats filled with boardgames, reading, and rest. It definitely wasn't the same, and I felt pretty isolated amid a group of people who -- although I love them to pieces -- complained quite a bit about how we couldn't go out and about on Shabbat. If only I had had boardgames there ... maybe I could have swayed a few to the absolute bliss of a restful Shabbat (and I say this half-jesting).

The meals? They were okay, and the kiddush and haMotzi were much appreciated. As a result, and thanks to one of our group leaders and a loyal former-IDF soldier-turned-security guard, I finally learned why it is that we dip our challah in salt on Shabbat. You see, salt never spoils or decays, thus it represents the eternal covenant we have with G-d. Brilliant!

As time goes on, I know I'll remember more about Shabbat, and as such I'll share bits and pieces as they come to me. Like the beautiful havdalah ceremony we had in Jerusalem thanks to a ba'al teshuvah by the name of Rabbi Mottel (the hippest rabbi this side of Eden), the singing and burning of the havdalah candle, explaining why I cover my hair, having my roommates at both hotel experiences be kind enough to let me in and out of the room and keep certain lights on, and more. I spent a lot of time this Shabbat feeling kind of empty, but that's for another post. I am glad to be back, though, and I'm glad I got to spend some time playing games, resting, and I look forward to using the brand new Kosher Lamp that Tuvia's mum picked us up for Chanukah.

With that? Shavua tov everyone :)