In one word: Uplifting.
I just had my first Shabbat as an Israeli and it was everything I could have hoped and more. I started by venturing to a synagogue I found online as being “Olim friendly”. For those who are new to the terminology: an Oleh or Olah is an immigrant. Olim is the plural form…so things around the city are known to be Olim friendly if there are a lot of English speakers and/or they cater to a foreign crowd. So…with this knowledge in mind, I left my house at 19:30 for 20:00 Kabbalat Shabbat services (I’m trying to get used to the 24 hour time thing…so I’ll be using it from now on). The shul is a Modern Orthodox one, meaning women sit on one side and men on the other. I like this setup significantly better than women being up in the balcony…I just feel more a part of the service being on the same level and having everyone daven together.
I was a bit early and there were not a ton of people there yet, but still more than my synagogue in Brookline on a normal Friday. I was one of three women when I came in, which I actually expected based on my Israeli synagogue experiences previously. Last time I went to synagogue here I was one of three women for the entire service, the women didn’t say a word, and were completely blocked off from the men in a very small upstairs room with full curtains. This experience was very different. As it got closer to 20:00, women started to fill my side of the room…young, old, some wearing long dresses, some pants…they ran the gamut. I was excited already…then, davening began. It was so passionate and spirited. Not one single person seemed to be unhappy or drifting off…everyone was so present and just giving that moment everything. It hit me right then in the middle of service, that I am in the land of Israel, praying with Jews from all over the world, with G-d closer than ever and it was such a moment of clarity for me. I know I am meant to be in Israel, and moments like these confirm that. So, I have officially found my synagogue here! Check it out here: http://www.126benyehuda.com/
Now, if having a wonderful Shabbat service was not enough, I turned around to leave the shul and I see my friend Tiffany from Birthright!! She is doing a program in Jerusalem, but I had no idea she was in Tel Aviv…and there she was! She introduced me to her friends and the boy she was staying with in Tel Aviv. In true Israeli fashion, Tomer (her host), asked what I was doing for Shabbat dinner and immediately invited me over to his home. I was told that people here would do this, but I did not expect it on the first night and especially not from a stranger! How wonderful to live in a place where a complete stranger will invite you into their home, feed you, pray with you and expect nothing in return. This is the Israel I came for. So I thankfully accepted his invitation and we all headed to his apartment for a Shabbat dinner. It was so much fun and such an unexpected way to spend my evening. (So, Tomer, if you ever read this post: thank you for making my first Shabbat in a new country truly one of the best I have ever had. I appreciate it so incredibly much!)
The next day, I went to the beach with the same group, for my first taste of Israeli Saturdays…mostly spent on the beach all afternoon and evening. I put on my SPF 70 (not playing with that Israeli sunshine just yet) and laid out on the beach for hours. Perfect end to a perfect Shabbat!
Today was a bit more hectic, as I went to Misrad Haklita (a government office), went to Ikea with Dani (bought tons of good stuff!), took my Ulpan placement test and actually start Ulpan tomorrow! I got put in a class that started at the beginning of June, so they have been learning intensive Hebrew for 1.5 months already…the woman who administered my test seemed to think I was up to it…but honestly I’m not sure. My Hebrew is not great now and joining a class of students who have lived in Israel for at least 1.5 months, spoken Hebrew everyday for 5 hours per day seems a bit above my own feeble attempts…but I’m taking whatever Israel hands to me and rolling with it…so Ulpan here I come!
If you couldnt tell from my blog posts…I’m loving Israel more and more each day. I can’t even believe I havent been here an entire week yet…it really does already feel like home.
Hebrew word: (Don’t worry, I’ll have a lot more of these once Ulpan starts tomorrow!) טעים (tah-yim) means delicious…because every bite of food you take in this country is literal perfection, so just like thank you…this one gets used constantly.
Hebrew song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkRFTKgF21E