Sunday, July 19, 2009
It was a wonderful Shabbat in Jerusalem. For Kabbalat Shabbat services I attended Shira Hadasha, a modern Orthodox synagogue, filled with hundreds of young people. Like most Orthodox synagogues there is a mehitza, a curtain partition separating the men's and women's sections. Unlike most, both men and women lead the praying. Not a word of the prayerbook is skipped. All the words are sung to wonderful melodies. For Shabbat morning services I attended a Reform synagogue, Mevakshei Derekh, where my cousin is the cantor. They use an Israeli Orthodox prayerbook, but make a number of changes in the prayers. Since everyone is comfortable with the Hebrew, the changes are made by the congregants and not in the printed prayerbook. There was a bat mitzvah, with her especially proud parents, and an informal kiddush. It looked and felt most like our services except of course that it was all in Hebrew--even of course the announcements. At both of these synagogues I felt welcome, although given that their customs are unlike ours I did not feel entirely at home. I felt the least at home on Shabbat afternoon when my friends and I walked to the Old City. There we find a Sephardic minyan praying minhah (the afternoon service). Their beautiful Torah scroll housed in a silver case was magnificent. We were welcomed, but the service, although familiar, was not at all my own. I stood with my friends for whom this traditional service had far more pull. Then I realized that in every other place one must think about which direction we face for our prayers. When we are standing at a shiva home on Long Island we discuss which way is East. When I am standing in Jerusalem the question is: which direction is the Wall. When standing at the Wall, the stones beckon you to prayer. After a long Shabbat walk from the Old City to the Tayelet I returned to Emek Refaim for Motzei Shabbat--the going out of Shabbat. The empty streets began to return to life. The restaurants and cafes began to fill with people by 9 pm. The streets were still crowded at 12 midnight. Here in Jerusalem Shabbat mirrors the seasons. In the heat of Shabbat afternoon the city rests and it was very few people to be found strolling. In the evening, following havdalah, the city returns to play. Walking these streets is where I feel most at home, and where my prayers feel answered.