Tisha B’Av

2013-07-15 21.47.29Relating to the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Av is both easier and harder here than in Chicago. On one hand, you can’t look at the Kosel without seeing a ruin, and we see it often. Every time we hear the muezzin calling the Muslims to prayer at Al Aqsa, it is a reminder that Har HaBayis is not what it was or will be. The deep divisions between various factions here in Israel testify that we have not yet resolved the issues that brought churban Bayis Sheni.

Reading Eicha from a scroll, at the Kosel.

Reading Eicha from a scroll, at the Kosel.

On the other hand, we are immersed in a vibrant Jewish lifestyle here. Torah abounds, and we live (mostly) peacefully and prosperously in our eternal home. Even a hardened opponent of secular Zionism surely can’t help but feel the thrill of Jews having returned en masse to Eretz Yisrael. From this point of view, it can be hard to feel the galus.

In Chicago, whatever other distractions there are, you have the unavoidable fact of galus – that you are there, not here.

Although I did my davening at the yeshiva, I did go down briefly to the Kosel last night. It was, indeed, a balagan, but it was inspiring to see so many different groups sitting on the ground, reciting Eicha (the Book of Lamentations). I plan to go again today, despite the heat. May this be the last time we observe Tisha B’Av as a day of mourning.

A group of Temanim (Yemenite Jews) recite Kinos at the Kosel.

A group of Temanim (Yemenite Jews) recite Kinos at the Kosel.

Yitzi seems to have taken Tisha B'Av too far - sleeping on the floor.

Yitzi seems to have taken Tisha B’Av too far – sleeping on the floor.


The last day of school

Shalom with his Rebbe.

Shalom with his Rebbe.

Today was Shalom Gershon’s last day of school here, and the last day of my own zman (term) in yeshiva. Although I may be able to pop in a bit when seder resumes in Elul, that will be our last week here and there will be a lot of packing, etc., keeping me from really getting back into it. So, for all intents and purposes, this marks the end of my sojourn this year as an avreich (full-time adult yeshiva student).

There’s a tefillah that we say when leaving the beis medrash (study hall) after a day of learning:

…מודה אני לפניך ה’ אלוקי ואלוקי אבותי ששמת חלקי מיושבי בית המדרש ולא שמת חלקי קרנות

“Thank you, Hashem, my G-d and G-d of my fathers, for placing my portion among those who sit in the study hall, and not placing my portion among those who hang around on corners…” (loosely translated)

Leaving the beis medrash today, I had a really hard time saying the tefillah. I have a first-rate job, and a terrific life, waiting back in Chicago. It’s not exactly hanging out on street corners. But having my portion among those in the beis medrash

This entire year, I’ve been intending to write up some discussion of what learning in yeshiva is like. I keep putting it off because it’s easier to write about other things. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to capture its essence, and there are aspects to many of the subject matters we’ve been learning that people might find distracting and cause them to miss the point. But I do need to try, since it has been the central point of our little adventure. B’li neder, I’ll try to put something together. (I also plan to put together a post on how the boys’ year in school has been.)

But I’m feeling the pain of leaving full-time learning behind on a lot of levels. It isn’t just that I’m going to have to massively cut back on an activity that I’ve come to enjoy so viscerally. Nor is it just (“just!”) the fact that we consider Torah learning to be the pinnacle activity for personal development and reward. There’s also the fact that, as a latecomer to observant Judaism, I’m so far behind in the skills and knowledge necessary to be part of the learning community – which is to say the mainstream. After a year, on top of what I have been able to cobble together in the past few years, I feel like I’m on the entrance ramp. I have basic abilities, though my language skills are still lacking. It seems like a little more work and the world of Jewish texts would really open up to me.

I knew that, whatever progress I made this year, I wouldn’t be satisfied with it. I’m sure if I’d gotten even further, I still would feel like I just need a little more. Satisfaction is always just out of reach, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. So the question now is how much I’ll be able to close the gap back in Chicago, when I’m back in the regular routine. Of course, now matter how much it is, it won’t be enough.


Catching up with friends

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one posts it on FB, did it happen? (Now that I’m not cross-posting these to Facebook, I don’t know if anyone is even going to read them anymore, but I’m going to keep going…)

We’re spending this Shabbos in Har Nof, to see our friends, the Maslins, who made aliyah from Chicago a few years ago. The funny thing is that, aside from a couple of chance bump-ins, this is the first time we’re really seeing the Maslins since we got here nearly a year ago. Other friends from the “Old Country” have fared similarly – we’ve seen the Goldblatts in nearby Ma’ale Adumim once (a great Shabbos!), the Burstyns in Ramat Bet Shemesh a couple of times, Rachel Tzipporah Avrahami a handful of times, the Doroviches once (another great Shabbos!) plus a bump-in, etc. Only the yeshiva-aged children of friends, who come to us, have we seen more regularly.

I’m not sure whether this is because we’re so busy (which we are), locked into our schedules (ditto), car-less, slowed by having small children, or what. We definitely have issues getting out & about, though. About 6 months ago, we decided we needed to establish a regular “date night.” We went out a grand total of once. And brought Mordechai. Hmmmm.

So, apologies to all of our friends. It’s not you – it’s us.

Why I left Facebook

You can probably guess the reasons. It was not a productive use of my time, yet seemed to take up a lot of it. I was also having to hide a lot of inappropriate posts. Social networking is often at odds with frum sensibilities. Plus, I felt like I was seeing less and less by way of nice stuff from friends with whom I want to stay in touch, and more and more of people’s political/social turf wars, including my own. As tends to be the case on the internet, the “discourse” is little more than snapping talking points at each other and, for my own mental health, I really just need less of that in my life. There’s plenty of unavoidable machlokes (especially for a lawyer) without adding it as a recreational sport.

I’m going to miss many of the updates from friends, especially old friends who live far away, but I hope this forum and email can take up some of the slack. In the end, for me, the downside of Facebook came to predominate.


Pesach Part IV: the rest of it

Egged Pesach kv"s

You know you're doing it right when you get that Apollo 11 feel.

You’re doing it right when you get that Apollo 11 look.

Notwithstanding our ill-timed trip down south, we managed to get done what needed to get done to get ready for the chag, without undue bloodshed. Pesach is when frum Jews achieve a whole new level of OCD in our religious fanaticism. Lawyers are often accused, correctly, of a tendency to belt-and-suspenders over-cautiousness. Orthodox Jews at Pesach take more of a put-a-belt-and-suspenders-on-a-jumpsuit-then-burn-the-jumpsuit-and-wrap-yourself-in-plastic-and-duct-tape-inside-aluminum-foil approach.

Chametz signYou can find lots of good explanations out there why we do this. “At Pesach time, chametz is compared to the yetzer hara (evil inclination), and we want to be utterly rid of it.” “We were saved from Egypt by virtue of chumras (stringencies), so we commemorate this by piling on the chumras in our Pesach observance.” “Halachically, eating any quantity of chametz – no matter how small – is a violation.” But, of course the real reason is bragging rights. (“Oh, you only triple-wrap your countertops? This is why we don’t mish.”)



Hagalas keilim. As you can imagine, kids don't find this interesting at all.

Hagalas keilim. As you can see, kids don’t find this interesting at all.

Another great thing about Pesach preparations is that fire is prominently involved. If there are cooking utensils that you want to use for Pesach but have been used for chametz, you have to clean them thoroughly, then do hagala (dunk them in boiling water). Oven racks are heated red-hot with a blowtorch. In Chicago, they set up a place to do this at one of the yeshivos as part of a pre-Pesach fair. In Jerusalem, you’ll see dudes with barrels of boiling-hot water on the street corners.

Here in the Rova, they set up shop in front of the community center. You had to wade through the spectator children to get there. One could cynically observe that they don’t have television… and I guess I just did. But it is really thrilling how the kids get so invested in the excitement of the holiday. For literally thousands of years, Jewish children have been caught up in watching hagala, helping to clean, gathering chametz to be burned, learning to say Mah Nishtanah (the Four Questions), etc., etc. As with pretty much everything, they take their cues from us. Our enthusiasm for Pesach becomes their enthusiasm. And their children’s enthusiasm. And their children’s. And so on, for over 3,300 years.

It is very likely that one of these people had the phone number of the fire department.

It is very likely that one of these people had the phone number of the fire department.

Anyway, back to fire. The day before Pesach, we go through our houses at nightfall, looking for any chametz we may have overlooked (this is called “bedikas chametz“). The next morning, we take all of our remaining chometz and burn it in a giant community bonfire. In the U.S., these fires are closely supervised by local firemen, with at least one fire truck present and ready for action. Here… well, not so much. I’m sure you’re wondering “why burn the chametz instead of just throwing it in the garbage?” To which I say, “what part of ‘giant community bonfire’ don’t you understand?”

Smoke over YerushalayimThe community fire for bi’ur chametz (destruction of chametz) was set up near Sha’ar Tzion (the Zion Gate), adjacent to the Kirk Douglas Sports Area. It’s a walk down the hill from the parking lot. The smoke from the burning chametz was wafting over the city walls, and it brought to mind all the kinds of smoke that have risen over Jerusalem. There were the mighty clouds of the korbanos, the ketores, and the Shechinah… and then the billowing black smoke of the burning Batei Mikdashim, and the whole city ablaze at the hands of rampaging Roman legions. To paraphrase the tefillah we say at the conclusion of learning, “we burn and they burn…” but ours should be for the sake of olam habah.

You thought I was kidding about the Kirk Douglas Sports Area, didn't you?

You thought I was kidding about the Kirk Douglas Sports Area, didn’t you?

Shalom Gershon in his kittel, ready for the seder.

Shalom Gershon in his kittel, ready for the seder.

We were invited out for the seder (another experience for us chutzniks – just one seder!), and we held a family meeting to decide whether to stay home and make our own. Given our usual practice of spending Pesach with family, and friends in the years before that, we’ve never actually made our own seder. We unanimously decided to take this opportunity. In honor of our location, I prepped with the haggadah of Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl, shlita, and the boys came to the seder loaded for bear with their questions.

You would have thought that, with a table of just the four of us (Mordechai was soon off to his crib), things would have gone pretty fast. But the boys were really into it (the candy rewards for questions didn’t hurt), and appreciated the extra attention, and we were still hard-pressed to eat the afikomen before chatzos (halachic midnight, which was at 11:45 p.m. seder night).

As I was sitting at the head of the table, in my kittel, making the yom tov kiddush, it occurred to me that this was the first time anyone in my family had made a seder in Jerusalem in approximately 2,000 years. It was suddenly very difficult to get through shehechiyanu.