Shabbat, Great Synagogue, and Beit Kadima


Busy is my normal routine here and Shabbat is no exception. In the late morning, I went to Nahlaot to help friends move out of their apartment in preparation for their return to the United States. While in the neighborhood, I also scoped out an apartment for a friend of mine who is coming to town in mid-September.

After the not-so-heavy lifting, the fun began. In the early afternoon, I made my way to Mahane Yehuda to stock up for the week. As I hurriedly alluded in my last post, I hosted my first Shabbat meal in my new place on Friday. It was planned for six people, so there was a fair amount I had to pick up. Fortunately, food at the shuk is incredibly cheap. I filled my entire backpack with fruits, vegetables, spices, grains, and tofu, bought a babka for dessert, and got a shwarma for lunch all for 90 sheqalim. That’s only about 25 USD. Of the 90 sheqalim, 20 were spent on the shwarma and about 25 was spent on the tofu, leaving a mere 55 sheqalim for everything else. I love this country.

Once I got home, it was already getting to be late in the afternoon so I was in a bit of a rush. Dinner was fairly simple: israeli salad, couscous, quinoa, and stuffed peppers. Friends brought wine, challah, pickles, and olives. I was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough, but we were overloaded. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Before dinner, I met several of my friends and walked to Nahlaot for an outdoor minyan I had attended several weeks before. It was not quite as lively as the last time I was there, but it was still really wonderful to be outside. There I ran into some good friends of mine from Chicago who had just arrived earlier that afternoon, and they joined us for dinner. As it turns out, most of my dishes and cookware used to belong to one of these friends when she was living in Israel a year or two ago. It’s a small small world indeed.

In the morning, I went to the Beit Knesset HaGadol, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue for Shabbat morning tefillah. This enormous synagogue is not necessarily the flagship of Israeli orthodoxy but it is certainly one of the largest and most mainstream of shuls in Israel. It is particularly famous (aside from its size) for its incredible chazan (cantor) and men’s choir. While I generally do not prefer to attend a “performance” in religious settings, it seemed worth doing at least once. I was not disappointed. The davening was incredibly slow (I showed up right as the Torah service was beginning and was able to catch up from the beginning of Shacharit before the Torah was removed from the Aron HaKodesh) but stunningly beautiful. I would truly recommend that anyone visiting Jerusalem over Shabbat who has not been here before take the time to attend, regardless of denomination or political orientation. It is an experience unto itself.

In the afternoon, I met up with friends for lunch at their new apartment in Rehavia. As it turns out, they are living in the historic building of Beit Kadima, an apartment complex constructed in 1945 originally to house British Officers. In 1947, the building was used by members of the UNSCOP Commission while drafting their recommendations for the partition of the British Mandate. In 1948, it was used by the Haganah as a military outpost during the War of Independence. My friends’ neighbor is an elderly woman who has been living there since 1947 and has really seen all this history in the making. She sat us down for a few hours in the afternoon in front of her apartment, shared with us hers and her husband’s life stories, talked about the neighborhood and all the people in it she has known over the years, and took us on a tour of her apartment pointing out all the gifts and artwork she has been given by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. These are really precious moments, and I am glad we got to share them with her.

In the evening, I went to a friend’s surprise birthday party in Ramat Eshkol which was lots of fun. And of course I got home far too late. This morning I am catching up on “little things” like laundry, cleaning up the apartment from the weekend, and soon making my way back to HaGiva HaTzorfatit to deal with a few banking and cell-phone snafus. Later on in the day, I am going to give a quick ring to one of my research contacts and set off on the next stage of my work here in Israel at last. It should be a nice day, so long as I can beat the heat. Weather has been in the high 90s, low 100s (low to mid 40s C), so shade and hiding in air conditioned cafes has been a necessity. No run this morning, but perhaps again tomorrow.

Thanks for reading and Shavua Tov.

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