I’m in Israel, mostly unpacked in my new apartment, have met one of my roommates, and made it over to the seminary, mostly for the sake of getting back in touch with the cyber-world, as my apartment doesn’t have internet.
I have spent one Shabbos here so far, and it was quite the adventure. I think I’m going to be saying things like “Only in Israel,” and “Clearly G-d has a plan,” because…well, you’ll see.
I was invited to a Bar Mitzvah this past Shabbos, the son of family friends who I’ve stayed by for Shabbos in the past. They sent me an email with the bus information for how to get to them, and since the bus was in Hebrew I checked with one of my seminary teachers to make sure I understood correctly when and from where I was supposed to leave. Except there was a breakdown somewhere and I ended up showing up at the bus station as it was about to close for the day. My bus had left long before.
I asked the woman standing next to me if she had a phone (since I hadn’t gotten mine yet), and called my Shabbos host family to let them know what was going on and to figure out some alternative way of getting to them. There turned out not to be one, so I expressed my regrets at missing the Bar Mitzvah and turned to the next thing–what in the world was I going to do for Shabbos?
(Side note to any readers who don’t know Orthodox Jewish culture: Just going home and doing my own thing for Shabbos was simply not an option. The point of Shabbos is hot meals and family time and communal prayer and…basically it’s not a time to be a hermit.)
So the woman whose phone I borrowed (I still don’t even know her name!) called a family member and arranged for me to go there, along with another poor soul who’d missed his bus and was in the same situation that I was in. He and I got into a taxi to go to this woman’s family, and he introduced himself to me as Yosef. The cab driver let us off after a short ride…
…and then things got interesting.
Yosef and I both knew the building number and the family name–but neither one was to be found anywhere, no matter how hard we looked. Eventually, when it looked like we’d be schlepping around for quite awhile, trying to find this elusive apartment, he set his bags down in the lobby of a building and told me to wait, that there wasn’t any sense in both of us schlepping around in the heat.
He came back later with an Israeli woman and a cup of Coke in tow, and immediately told me to drink, or else I’d dehydrate quickly. The Israeli woman took us to her apartment and sent her son out with us to try a couple more leads on finding Mr. and Mrs. Elusive’s apartment. No luck….
“Okay,” she said with an air of finality, “so you’ll both stay here.”
We both protested. I could still get back to my Har Nof apartment in plenty of time and look up some of my neighbors, a few of whom are teachers in my seminary; and Yosef was all set to go find a Chabad house (who, as we know from my previous posts, specialize in helping poor Jewish souls who don’t know anyone else in the area). But the woman insisted. In the same breath, she introduced herself to me as Margalit, introduced her eight-year-old daughter and three older sons, and ushered me into the bathroom to grab a quick shower before Shabbos.
So I came out of my shower feeling much more human, incredibly grateful to this woman who’d never even heard of me before yet opened her house to me at a moment’s notice. She then stunned me even more:
“What hechsherim do you use?” she asked me in heavily accented English.
She was asking which kosher symbols I found acceptable; what I’d be willing to eat in her house. Given that I was raised in an environment where you eat what’s put in front of you or risk offending your hosts (for that reason, it took me a long time to start keeping kosher at home), I’m not yet used to the mentality that people have different kosher standards and others who keep kosher just as strictly are willing to accommodate.
I stammered that I really had no idea, that I’d only been in Israel three days and wasn’t yet acquainted with Israeli kosher symbols. Then I remembered that when I’d visited the seminary, they gave me a list of acceptable symbols, so I ran and got it, and she determined that by my school’s standards, everything she cooked was fine.
The men ran off to synagogue and Margalit and I lit our Shabbos candles while her daughter looked on. As I thanked G-d for the commandment of lighting candles to usher in the holiest day of the week, and for the privilege of being able to observe the day, I threw in an extra thanksgiving prayer for the chesed of strangers.
I can’t really say much about dinner. The food was amazing (though much of it was too spicy for me–this family was Sephardic, and it turns out that Sephardim eat a lot of really spicy food and consider such Ashkenazi delicacies as gefilte fish and matzah ball soup to be hopelessly bland). Most of the conversation was in Hebrew which, given my jet-lagged state, I wasn’t really able to follow.
So we wrapped up dinner and I fell into bed and slept like a rock. Came downstairs the next morning to find that everyone had left for synagogue already except the eight-year-old, who didn’t speak any English, but she showed me where I could grab a drink and a bite of breakfast and then pulled out a puzzle. Since we couldn’t really communicate, and she seemed happy enough anyway, I grabbed a book and settled down to wait for everyone to come home.
Lunch was another amazing meal, including a dish consisting of beef and chickpeas, probably slow-cooked overnight since one can’t heat food on Shabbos. After lunch was naptime for everyone (naptime being…well, not actually a law, but it might as well be), and then, just before sunset, we ate a simple dinner and the men went to synagogue again. They came back, we did Havdalah (the ceremony to end Shabbos), and then Margalit’s husband drove us to the bus station.
(I realize this last paragraph sounds incredibly rushed. That’s because I’m at an internet cafe and have only paid for an hour and really want to get this entry up before the computer shuts down on me.)
So…after the Shabbos adventure I went home, and this morning I’ve been organizing my apartment, picking up my cell phone, and other such errands.
Classes start this week. I’m hoping to write about more crazy adventures soon! 🙂