Hope everyone's week was wonderful...mine sure was.
Last Sunday night after I submitted my latest blog post, Shaina and I went to the Community Center in Pisgat Ze'ev for their Tu B'shvat event. Yoel and his wife Chava picked us up at our dorm, and we drove right to the center. When we got there the entire room was an explosion of color and music. It was sett up a lot like an event that would be held at my own Synagogue. Round tables all over the room, pretty, theme like decorations on top. Art work around the room, done by the kids from the community, entertainment ( a woman singing A LOT of songs in Hebrew, with a piano accompanist), and an all around lively atmosphere. Everyone was so very warm, and caring, and everyone that Yoel introduced me to was so eager to meet me, and get to know EVERYTHING about me, Wagner, my stay so far at Hebrew University.
Through the night we blessed four cups of wine representing the change in all four seasons. As well as different blessings and songs for the different foods that come from trees (oranges, nuts, olives, figs, dates, etc.). It was a lot of fun, and Shaina and I learned a lot about celebrating this holiday in Israel. By the end of the night however, we were very tired, maybe because of the wine, but also because we had just started our first week of 5 HOUR ULPAN CLASSES!!!
During the week it was literally wake up at 7:30, walk to Ulpan by 8, and be in class starting at 8:30. We had to do this because it is the last 2 weeks of Ulpan before we start the semester. So we have to learn as much Hebrew as possible in order to take a final Hebrew placement exam by the end of the second week (a two part oral Hebrew exam, and a written exam). However, because of the Israeli elections on Tuesday we had off from school, and got to sleep in, relax, and study. The down side of not having class on Tuesday though, is we had to have class on Friday, which normally does not happen because people are getting ready for the Sabbath. O well, Shaina and I dealt during the week. We went to classes, had lunch straight after (around 1:45), went back to the room, did homework, napped, played on our computers, ate dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed. That was pretty much our routine every day, UNTIL.........
Saturday night (Valentines Day), it was our friend Ariana's 18th Birthday. Which is kind of a big deal in Israel because that is the age that you are officially legal (while in the states it is 21). On Friday Ariana went into the Old City with her friend Margo and celebrated Shabbat there. Then Saturday night, right after sundown, Shaina, Becca, Sarah, and I met Margo and Ariana at Cafe, Cafe, (so good they named it twice Sarah says). We sat down for dinner and the people at the restaurant started setting up all Valentines day decorations. We figured, hey it's Ari's b-day, lets celebrate our "love" for her, and we did. The food was amazing, they have an assortment of different kinds of pastas that you can mix-and-match with different sauces. They also had sandwiches, beautiful salads, and main dishes that mostly involved Salmon, and Tilapia (that's was Becca, Ariana, and I got). We were so very full by the end that we couldnt make room for dessert. However, we definitely made up for it later.
After dinner we took a bus to Ben Yehuda Street and walked to a Bar that was recommended to us by my new friend Shai Bar. Shai was the sheliach ( Israel exchange student/member/helper if you will) last year on Staten Island, and now he is working at the Pisgat Ze'ev Community Center with some of the youth that is there. He called me during dinner and told me about this great place called Goldy's, so we walked down Ben Yehuda and found the bar, which was very packed, but finally got a seat. We had so much fun, we got Ariana a hot chocolate cake, and sang Happy Birthday to her. Then Shai actually joined us for a drink, and so that we could finally meet. He is very sweet, and is a lot of fun to be around, which makes me hopeful that we will be able to work together somehow at the Community Center during my internship. We only stayed out for a couple of hours, because we had class bright and early the next day, for our second week of 5 hour Ulpan, and our final exams.
OK...I know that all of this might seem boring to some people, but these experiences have been really important to me. I have made some amazing friends that are a lot like me (not just because they are Jewish). I have a group of friends that I live with, and ones that live in the student village, and I love them so very much. We have a lot of fun together, and like to go off on little adventures together. Then there are people that I don't get to see as much, my friends in my Ulpan class. They are about 13 people in my class, and I am really good friends with four of them, two of whom are about my mom's age. The younger one's; Sarah, and Virginia, are so sweet. They always help me whenever I am having problems understanding the classwork, and some of the things that the teacher might say that I will miss because I am still writing the previous information down. They are both absolutely wonderful, and I don't know how I would get through these Hebrew classes without them, and their wonderful smiling faces every morning. Jen, is one of my other girls. She is the true mommy of our little group, and I always feel comfortable talking to her whenever I am having a hard time in class. she remind me of my mom a lot, which always makes me feel good when I am really homesick. Jen can just look at me and tell that something is wrong, and she will just look at you with her big mother eyes and ask you to tell her what is going on. She has a very sweet and soft voice, and is always soothing during hard times.
Then there is Ilona. Ilona is from Germany, and is not Jewish, her daughter was taking Ulpan for her schooling so Ilona decided to take it as well, for a new experience. Ilona is a little bit older then Jen and has a couple of grown children, and one grandchild. Ilona is very quiet, especially during class, but she has an amazing mind, and a very loving and spiritual way about her. We think of each other as kindred spirits because both of us love to sing, and feel a deep connection with prayer when we are singing. During our half hour break today, Ilona and I had a very long conversation about our experiences in music and prayer. She told me that when she gave birth to her first child, she was not allowed to see her baby after she was born. The nurses took her away after birth and put her in a room with all of the other new borns until a later time, when the mother was completely healed. Ilona didn't like this at all, and she knew that her baby would not like it either. She knew that her baby was going to cry all night until she could be with her mother. Ilona said that after this notion, she closed her eyes and started to softly sing to her baby as if she was still in the room. She said that she felt like she was in a trance, and couldn't stop until she knew that she had calmed her baby, and that after only a couple of moments she knew that her child was sound asleep. From then on, she sang the same song to her baby every night, and did the same for all of her children. Now her first born is studying at a music conservatory in Israel, and is studying vocal music. That was absolutely amazing to me, I always thought that thing like that could happen, but hearing it from a first person point of view was so beautiful. Ilona and I then went on a tangent about how we feel when we sing, and what our body does when we get so into it that is feels like prayer. We both feel a complete connection to G-d when we sing/pray, and that it does not have to be a specific song in either Hebrew or English, it can be from inside, and when it comes out nothing can touch you, and you can feel a whole new connection to the things around you.
I feel like that is how I connect to the Reconstructionist movement. I see an everyday prayer and I make it relate to myself. I can sing the tune, and say the words, but in the end it has a completely new meaning to me, and I feel a more spiritual connection to the prayer, and that I am not just saying it for myself, I am saying it for everyone, and for G-d at times.
I hope that whole shpeal wasn't to "out there" for your guys, but hey, it gives my blog some depth, don't you think??