Shanah tova u'metukah to all! I have not written a blog in a few days because Friday was Shabbat (pretty standard at this point haha) and then Rosh Hashanah started on Sunday. Although I have experienced a handful of Shabbatot here in Israel, but both ended up being pretty new experiences.
On Friday, I spoke with some friends at the university who were interested in experiencing Shabbat services in Haifa. We used google maps and searched "synagogues" near the school. One showed up that was right down the hill, so we decided to meet at 5:45 and walk together. We got a little lost, but we spotted some men in kippot and sort of followed them for a while before asking them outright where the shul was. They were very nice and walked us to the building. It was an Orthodox synagogue, so I went behind the mechitzah with some friends, which left the one boy, Jakob, who came with us alone in the men's section. He isn't Jewish and only speaks some Hebrew, but the men in the synagogue were so welcoming and they found a man who speaks English well to sit with him and help him out. That same man, Aaron, invited us to a more Anglo shul the next morning...Saturday...at 8am.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people wanted to sit this one out, so it ended up just being Jakob and I who walked to shul in the morning. There was a bar mitzvah that day, so there were many more secular people in the room and a lot of candy throwing, which was fun. This was an Orthodox shul as well, and despite the fact that there were more English speakers there, I asked for help with page numbers in Hebrew, which I was pretty proud of. After the service, a couple invited me and Jakob back to their house for tea and cake and told us all about places to go for Sukkot and Simchas Torah. All in all, I was so impressed with how welcoming the community was, but there are still many aspects of Orthodox practice that make me uncomfortable not matter how kind the people are.
On Sunday morning, I hopped on a bus to Jerusalem and got off at Harel to meet my friend Noa, who I stayed with for Rosh Hashanah. She was the Israeli emissary to Providence last year, and I saw her in Jerusalem when Joey was visiting, and got an invitation to her house for the holiday. Her family was so sweet, and when I first got there her father showed me around the city. He took me inside a government building and I got to see the outside of Netanyahu's office, which was so cool! That night, we went to a kibbutz just a few kilometers from Gaza and had a great dinner with apples and honey and pomegranates, just as you are supposed to for a sweet new year.
The next morning, I went to a Reform shul with Noa and her father. It was so nice to be in a liberal religious environment after an Orthodox-filled weekend. The rabbi was female and many of the people who led the service and read from the torah were as well; I felt more at home. We had great lunch with more family, tons of food, and many little kids and babies. It felt great to be in a family environment after so much time at the university. The rest of the day was pretty calm and ended with a trip to a hookah lounge (I had tea) and Grey's Anatomy.
Finally, Noa and I woke up the next morning and headed out to Tel Aviv to meet up with some of her friends and sit on the beach. We tanned (I burned) and went swimming in the sea. We also bought some food later in the day and went to see some other friends Noa has in the city to make dinner. I was asked there if I would prefer that they speak English, but they continued in Hebrew a lot of the time anyway. I had a bit of trouble understanding at first, but after a couple of minutes, I caught on and could understand a majority of what was said, which felt great. At night, I got on a train back to Haifa and met up with some friends from the university on our way back up the hill to the school itself. I was a great weekend and holiday, and I am looking forward to Yom Kippur in Jerusalem as well.