After a long week of shopping classes from 8am until 6pm most days, I headed off to Jerusalem for Shabbat. I was excited to get out of Haifa, a city that seems to be getting increasingly smaller the longer I stay here. I left on Friday morning from the university to the central station and caught a bus right away to the holy city. The ride only took about 2 hours, and with my ipod playing and beautiful views passing by, the trip seemed very short to me. I got off at the central bus station and walked along the train tracks (which run in the middle of the main streets) to the shuk (outdoor market). The shuk in Jerusalem right before Shabbat is incredibly busy and the sights and smells passed by in a whirlwind while I tried not to get trampled by all of the other people. Shopkeepers shouted in Hebrew about their goods and prices, and the stands of challah loafs quickly started depleting. I purchased a whole wheat one for my host and proceeded to Jaffa Street. After about thirty minutes of walking I sat down at a cafe and ate a salad, drank some water, and read a book for my Terrorism and Response class. I received a call from my host that she was returning in an hour or so from a trip to the West Bank, so I started walking toward her apartment. I was very proud that I found my way around without any problems.
My host was Elana, an HUC student that I had met on Yom Kippur who spoke with me a lot on that day because at one point she was deciding between JTS and HUC, the Conservative and Reform rabbinical schools, respectively. When I came over, we immediately stated making cookies together to bring to dinner at another student's apartment later that night. We packed up an Israeli salad as well and headed to Shira Hadasha for Friday night services. This is a famous Orthodox community which uses a mechitza (physical division between men and women) only when necessary, and has a woman lead Kabbalat Shabbat and a man lead the rest. Essentially, they permit women to do everything that they are lawfully allowed to, while most other Orthodox communities limit a woman's role in the community simply out of tradition. I have never felt so comfortable in an Orthodox community nor so inspired by the strength of pluralistic practice.
Afterward, Elana and I sat with a friend who is attending Pardes in the park, and then we left him and headed to an HUC student's apartment for dinner. The meal was great, and about fifteen people were there. We all sat around and spoke about pretty much every topic I could imagine. The people were incredibly welcoming and interesting, and I did not feel separated at all because I am not in their program. The next day, I attended their student-led services as well as Yom Sport, where the students play basketball and do homework in the park before attending Havdallah services in the evening. Even though Shabbat observance varied across the board, but appeared light in general, I felt that they really celebrated the spirit of Shabbat, connecting with friends, family, and newcomers through prayer, conversation, and play.
For the evening, we walked back to the school where there was an interfaith Havdallah service. A group of Muslims, Christians, and Jews from New York/New Jersey came to the school and asked the students all about their program before they took out guitars and we lit candles, smelled spices, etc. Everyone put their arms around each other and swayed, and I felt like I was back at summer camp. All around, this was the best Shabbat experience I have had in Israel, and I cannot wait to return to HUC as long at my invitation stands. Returning to Haifa, I felt a bit disappointed about my city choice; I would have wondered what Haifa was like if I had chosen Jerusalem, but knowing what I do now, I cannot wait to spend as much time as possible back in Jerusalem. Still, many programs, HUC included, stand open to me for graduate school and have campuses in Jerusalem, so I know I will be back for an extended period of time in the near future.