h1

The rabbi served us shots.

October 21, 2011

Why do you have such a long October vacation?

In my preparation for my trip to Israel, I saw on our academic calendars the observance of MANY Jewish holidays. I’m currently in the middle of Sukkot Vacation. Because of the way this vacation hits the fall semester, I had Hebrew Ulpan for the first month, some steady DanceJerusalem-only dance classes and rehearsals early in the month of October, and the REAL semester will start on October 30. It’s weird to me that my dance semester hasn’t started yet when Mason Gross is at approximately mid-term, but I gather that this is a nice acceleration lane into living in Israel and getting acclimated. Also, the fall semester will last until about February.

What’s also great is that I have all this free time to travel.
But I’ll tell more about that later.

 

What is Sukkot?

Sukkot (pronounced sue-COAT) translates as “Festival of Tabernacles.” Also, “Sukkot” is the plural of sukkah. A sukkah is a temporary structure that a Jewish household will build in their yard. The holiday is observed to remember the forty years that the Jewish people wandered in the desert, living in temporary dwellings. It’s also observed in celebration of the harvest.

There are specifications for building a Sukkah. For instance, the roof is made of something that grew out of the ground naturally. Around here, the roofs are made of palm leaves. The insides are decorated with pictures of prominent rabbis, maybe cut-out shapes of fruit, lights, candles, and garland. It’s a lot of fun for kids, I can imagine, because building a Sukkah is probably much like building a fort and camping out in your backyard.

A number of us got dressed in our conservative best and headed out to Meah Shearim to see for ourselves what Sukkot is like.

 a

Photo courtesy of Michaela Burns

Sukkot on apartment balconies

They cover all the buildings

Sukkah decorations sold outdoor on Meah Shearim

Arba Minim: the Four Species, used in ritual

The Arba Minim are sold everywhere

Everyone shops for the perfect Etrog

 

Sukkah Hopping, Tish Hopping

Our Hasidism professor was very generous in inviting his class to his home one Saturday night. The bunch of us that went were received in his Sukkah, and enjoyed conversation over cake, cookies, and coffee, made by his wife. (I’ll admit that I showed up late, which was an adventure of a commute in itself.)

Before our group left with our professor to explore Meah Shearim at night, we were given a tour of the neighborhood by his son.

 

 

The boy was incredibly enthusiastic about showing us around his block. He knew all the ins and outs of the neighborhood, and everything about each Sukkah! He showed us a small one made for only one man, and a big one that can seat up to thirty guests! We saw Sukkot with lights, with cloth exteriors, some fancy windows… even one with air conditioning! The tour finished, and we were off to Meah Shearim to find a Tish.

I’ll admit that I was nervous. This evening, I was NOT dressed in full Yeshiva style like I had been during my first visit. I wore a plaid shirt with green corduroys and brown shoes. I had a jacket and a bag for my belongings.

The first stop was a Sephardic synagogue. The women left for their section, and the men of our group walked into the building. I was certainly out of place, as I didn’t have a kippah on my head. Everyone was dressed in their black and white, their kippot and black hats. In the center of the space was a circle of men dancing, with kids running about and other men standing and sitting on the sides, cheering. There was live music and a man leading hymns and songs. Altogether, it was an overwhelming scene to walk into. But we came to dance, right?

My professor joined into the circle, which was now going around. One less person to stand near. When he made one full lap, he grabbed my classmate Moshe. I was standing on my own. They both came around and I joined the circle. The dancing was open-ended… hopping, cheering, and smiling, with hands joined. I felt better about being there.

Not a moment too soon, a man in the middle of the circle grabs me and pulls me into it! He dances with me and gestures for me to do the same. So I break it down, naturally. All of a sudden, a stranger puts his kippah on my head. The man takes my bag and actually rips my jacket off of me. He wanted me to get comfortable and stay a while. So we dance until the song is through. It… was… exhilarating. It was such a good time, because everyone was cheering and enjoying themselves, and warmly welcomed my joining them.

On our way out, people came and asked who we were, and where we came from. We explained that we were students from America. I was also asked if I was Jewish. With a smile I replied, “Ulay.” Maybe.

We visited two more tishim that evening. Here are two videos, taken at the last one, which seemed to attract a generally younger and more active crowd. I kept the videos short so I wouldn’t seem too intrusive.

 

 

 

The music at the last place was my favorite. Among the drums, the electric guitar, and the amazing trumpet player, the band almost had a ska sound. When the music got more lively, the scene turned concert style with people jumping with their fists in the air!

 

A Third Trip to Meah Shearim

After another great group dinner last night, I went out with the guys to Meah Shearim for Simchat Torah, this time without our professor leading us around. I have to admit, looking for the celebrations in the synagogues felt very much like wandering College Ave looking for a party with a decent ratio. After wandering around and feeling somewhat unsuccessful, we finally found a congregation and got up the nerve to step inside.

This led to synagogue hopping again, and we found some pretty fun spots. At one place, the rabbi served us shots. You heard me.

When we’d had enough fun, we went to the Western Wall to see if anything else was going on. The scene there wasn’t as lively as we thought it would be, so we had some quiet time near the Wall before we took a taxi cab home.

 

I like being here, and doing these things. I adore learning about Jewish holidays and rituals. My photos would be better, but I also try not to be TOO much of an intrusive tourist. I must remind you that Meah Shearim is ultra Orthodox. There are signs in the neighborhood that tell visitors to dress modestly, and that large groups are offensive. I try to tread lightly, and try not to take too many photos of people when I’m visiting.

So many questions come up in my mind. I see things and want to know more. My curiosity is piqued. I hope I’m able to visit and learn more during the semester.

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. carlo,
    it’s lovely to hear your contact experiences with judaism as it is variously practiced in israel. also, that the music and dance experiences feel like a point of entry for you.
    i’m sure we all look forward to more…
    jeff


  2. […] a conservative outfit with a skirt. The most formal or conservative outfits of all are used for visits to religious neighborhoods, like Mea Shearim or Beit Shemesh. You’ll wear black pants, socks, and shoes, with a plain […]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: