Bruce Sallan writes:
While I know it’s a spiritual coincidence, I love the irony of our two back-to-back days in Jerusalem…days of contrasts. First was the contrast of going to Yad Vashem, followed by the Mahane Yehuda open-air marketplace and then, we had the unplanned contrast of today.
Arnie and I detoured from the group, somewhat, as we all had a free evening. So, these particular details are partially specific to us, but I think will be of interest to all who are following our trip via these blogs as they seemed to be among our friends here who heard about it, at our dinner the next evening.
In the morning, as a previous blog illuminates (why is “illuminate” the word that always comes to mind?), we attended services at our sister (reform) congregation near Jerusalem. Kehillat Mevasseret Tzion, long in construction and near completion, was elegant in its design and simplicity and the service, led by Israel’s first native-born ordained female Rabbi Maya Leibovich, was lovely. A congregant, Gallie, sang exquisitely in the cantorial role, though just a mere 18 years of age. The Rabbi led much of the service in English and other than the extraordinary view of Jerusalem from the windows of the synagogue, much was familiar to us. Later, after an Oneg, she shared some of the difficulties and accomplishments their congregation has lived, in establishing themselves and building their Temple. Among them was the suspicion that an arson fire that destroyed their first pre-school, might’ve been set by very religious Jews who objected to their presence there and their form of Judaism. She also spoke of breaking the taboo that had always existed in Israel of a female Rabbi speaking at or leading a funeral in the state cemetery, which she did recently.
Living as we do in the Los Angeles area, it was stunning to learn of how there are such differences and infighting between the Orthodox and Reform movements in Israel. We learned even more about this at our lecture by Rabbi Uri Regev, in detail about aspects of Israeli life that most American Jews know little…specifically the rules about marriage and the exodus of Jews to other countries to actually get married vs. endure the requirements of the rabbis in charge of the institution within Israel!
So, where is the contrast you ask? This is where we detoured from our group, on a free evening, that followed our visit to Kehillat Mevasseret Tzion. I have an old friend, who invited us to his home for dinner. An American, who made Aliyah to Israel many years ago, whose name is Joshua Mann. He came to Israel to complete his rabbinical studies and stayed. While here, he met another American who had made aliyah a few years prior, Sema, and they fell in love and married. Ten children and four grandchildren later, he lives and studies in a new suburb about 40 minutes away from Jerusalem. 7 of his children still reside in their small home (he’s just 51, by the way!).
We were given the privilege of really seeing how an orthodox religious family lives. We broke bread at a simple meal with them. Joshua and the kids showed us their home, absent of most of the toys and technologies we take for granted (NO TV!), but full of the life and joy everyone prays for. His study was filled, top to bottom, with texts in Aramaic and Hebrew. He teaches Torah a few days a week and otherwise studies…5 nights a week with a group of other men. How he makes ends meet is a mystery to me.
We had a meal of salad and pasta…small portions…no one complained. Afterwards, all the family “benched”. The children attend either yeshivas (for the boys) or seminaries (for the girls). They study year round, getting 3-week breaks in the summer and around the high holy days…plus other breaks around other Jewish holidays. Their week is 5 and a half days…a half day on Friday, the day off on Shabbat…otherwise they study.
By the way, the boys and girls are pretty much “introduced” Fiddler-style to their future husbands and wives! Not forced; but not too different from the whole matchmaker tradition. His two girls are happily married, with two children each and one pregnant with her third! The oldest son is next in line, at 22, to get married. Divorce is rare in their circles.
After dinner, the table was cleared and a ping pong net strung. I was first challenged by the youngest, a 7-year-old and I squeaked by with a win…then Dad took up the family honor but was quickly dispatched by my left handed spin. Finally, Schmoel (the oldest son) took the paddle but sadly this American shut him out, too. The laughter throughtout the evening, knew no bounds, even in this funny game of ping pong on their oval dining room table.
The contrasts!? Too numerous to list. The State of Israel and its people, too amazing and too complicated to understand, though we’re certainly getting a taste. I should add that in all the years I’ve known Joshua, I’ve never seen him without a huge smile on his face. A lesson? Or just another contrast.