Today, I thought I’d write in the format of an appointment book, to show exactly how I spend my days here. All events are real, but details have been changed.
8:00 AM: “BEEP–BEEP–BEEP!” My alarm goes off. I hit the “off” button and mumble a still-sleepy “Modeh Ani.” (1)
8:05 AM: I stumble into the bathroom and brush my teeth, trying to ignore the horrible mess that is my hair first thing in the morning. On the way back to my bedroom, I grab some clothes off the clothesline, where they have been drying overnight.
8:15 AM: Now dressed and somewhat awake, I try in vain to check my email.
8:20 AM: I give up on getting the Internet to work, gather my stuff, and head out the door, saying hello to some of my flatmates on my way out.
8:25 AM: The bus arrives. I get on it, grab a seat, and start trying to find my ipod. Realize I’ve left it at home. Call a flatmate, find that she’s already left the apartment, and give up on having any music that day. Other classmates board the bus, and I start talking to them, forgetting all about my lack of an ipod.
8:35 AM: We arrive at school. I start davening (2). My conversation with G-d is not as meaningful as it might have been because I’m still not so awake.
9:15 AM: The teacher walks in, we all rise briefly to acknowledge her, and…well, class theoretically starts now, but people are still trickling in.
9:30 AM: We finally start learning. Meanwhile, I’ve grabbed a muffin and a cup of tea from the kitchen, and managed to check my email. My dad has sent me a newspaper article and my Israeli friends (the G. family) have sent me a Shabbos invitation.
9:30 -11:30 AM: Is there any way to describe a morning of learning Torah? Jews are commanded to “la’asok b’divrei Torah,” to toil in the words of the Torah–and it really IS an intellectual workout. My chevrusa (3) and I keep asking each other, “What do you think it means by saying ____?” and alternate between guessing at answers and checking out Rashi, the Ramban, the Mesudas Tzion, and other commentaries on the Torah to see what wisdom they have to offer. After an hour of learning and a ten-minute break, we all reconvene as a class to discuss the insights of each chevrusa.
11:45 AM: Second class! This is a lecture course, where the rabbi reads aloud and expounds upon the works of a medieval mystic; we follow along in our own books, write translations of words when necessary, and frequently interrupt with questions, which then give way to heated debates between students and rabbi as he tries to get us to change our preconceived notions and thus understand the thought processes of our medieval mystic.
1:00 PM: Lunch.
2:00 PM: Hebrew “grammar.” Long past the point of reciting verb conjugations and declensions, of filling in blanks on worksheets, my class sits and casually converses–in Hebrew.
3:00 PM: An elderly, chareidi (4) rabbi walks in, we once more rise briefly to show him honor, and he begins to read. Many students dislike his class, because his style of teaching is to hand out a typed lecture which he then reads to us word for word, and his teachings tend to be a little controversial, but actually, this class is one of my favorites. I frequently stop his monologue to question him on the grammar of the Hebrew text he is quoting, or on a philosophical concept he is introducing, or sometimes simply to ask for clarification about what exactly he is trying to tell us.
3:50 PM: Class is over. “Chana Batya, may I talk to you for a minute?” asks the rabbi. I get up and follow him outside.
He doesn’t waste any words. “Are you interested in a shidduch (5)?” he asks me.
I am surprised. I don’t know what I”m expecting, but it’s not this!
“Um–wow–I–yes, Rabbi, I would be,” I manage to stammer,” but the Rosh Midrasha (6) has recommended that I wait a little while before pursuing shidduchim. Maybe you should run this by him first?”
“Yes, I’ll do that,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to go against the Rosh Midrasha, but Chana Batya, this man is very special–I wouldn’t recommend him to just anyone.” (This is quite a compliment from this rabbi!)
3:55 PM: I go back into the classroom, visibly stunned. “Are you all right?” asks the girl sitting across from me. When I tell her (and by extension, all the other girls in earshot) the response is enthusiastic, and happy for me that this rabbi, a prominent figure in the Torah world, has thought of me.
4:00 PM: The teacher for the next class walks in, and we learn about which daily prayers we as Jewish women are obligated to say. When a question comes up about a translation in a particular edition, put out by Artscroll publishing company, she assures us, “No, I’m not going to say anything about Artscroll. Artscroll is frum (7) and kadosh (8). I’m sure G-d uses Artscroll,” and then, in response to our amusement, she protests, “No, I’m serious!” which results in another round of laughter.
5:00 PM: I slip up to the Rosh Midrasha’s office. “Has Rabbi ___ spoken to you?” I ask him.
“Yes, he has. I haven’t had time to look into the guy, but, what do you think?”
“Ummm…I’d like to know a bit more about him, before I commit to anything….”
“Of course you would,” agrees the Rosh. “Okay, we’ll fix that.” He picks up the phone. I am surprised, as I didn’t expect anything to happen that day….
“Hi, this is Rabbi ___. Could you tell me a little about Joe Schmoe? How old is he?” He listens for a minute, raises his eyebrows in what looks like surprise, then says thank you and hangs up the phone.
“Thirty-seven,” he informs me. “Not a good match, I think.”
“Um. No. Definitely not…..”
5:15 PM: Last class of the day! This class is taught by a rabbi from England, who is also a lawyer. He teaches us about the Oral Law, the part of the Torah that was not written down in the Pentateuch but rather spoken to Moses by G-d and passed down through the generations, only written down as the Talmud after the destruction of the Temple and exile of the Jews.
6:20 PM: This rabbi lives in our neighborhood, so he offers us a ride home. Four of us accept, and as he drives, we pepper him with more questions about his class. We reach our street, and he asks which building we are in.
One girl starts to speak for the group. “Oh, we all live in–”
“A yellow submarine?” asks the rabbi.
And as he drops us off in our submarine and we all head to our respective dinner plans (for me, it’s heating up leftover pasta and cooking some salmon to put on top of it), the school day is over.
(1) Modeh Ani: the first thing a Jew says in the morning. “I give thanks to You, King who lives and endures, Who has returned my soul within me with compassion; great is Your faithfulness.”
(2) davening: Yiddish word meaning “praying.”
(3) chevrusa: study partner (Aramaic word)
(4) chareidi: “ultra-Orthodox” (though I don’t much like that translation)
(5) shidduch: match, as in matchmaking
(6) Rosh Midrasha: head of the seminary
(7) frum: religious (Yiddish)
(8) kadosh: holy