Friday, September 16, 2005

Circling Ben Gurion, so to speak—trying to avoid the obvious (part 4)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Mom and Dad having walked us yesterday to the Tali School only about a block and a half from where we’re staying so that we could find our way without waiting for them, we showed up at the Bet haKnesset Masorti Shevet Achim a mere half hour late and discovered, much to our dismay, that they were already up to the repetition of the Amidah. Boy, do they ever davven fast! [Update, Fri., Aug. 29, 2008: I learned, long after this trip, that it's Minhag Yerushalmi, the Custom of Jerusalem, to recite at least Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings) at home before going to synagogue. I've also heard that some have the custom to pray part of the Pesukei D'Zimrah, Verses of Song, sometimes called the Introductory Service, at home as well, and to start with Ashrei in synagogue. That probably accounts for the service having been much farther along after only half an hour than we had anticipated--in our home synagogue, we're barely at Bar'chu after half an hour, but we start with "Baruch . . . asher natan la-sechvi . . ." in Birkot HaShachar at our shul.] The congregation having become much more international in make-up over the years, neither the original English nor the later Russian is used at all anymore—everything is in Hebrew exclusively. We davvened with the synagogue’s Rinat Yisrael Sfard books, so we really had to stay alert and not davven on autopilot—Nusach Sfard combines the Ashkenazi and Sefardi nusachim, so sometimes the words and/or pronunciations are different, and nusach Sfard is also famous for adding extra words. The congregation was led by a baalat tefillah and mixed baalot and baalei koreh, some of whom read for themselves. Much to my surprise, they followed the triennial cycle. Both the d’var Torah before the reading and the one before musaf were given in Hebrew. They did a hecha kedushah for musaf, so the whole service was over in about two hours.

I borrowed one of the shul’s tallitot. It was the largest tallit I’d ever worn, and made the experience literally feel a bit different. Instead of feeling that I was wearing a shawl, I felt as if I were wearing a cape. The tallit was so long, top to bottom, that I was sitting on it, and it really wasn’t possible to wear it both in front of the arms shawl-style and over the shoulders—I really had to put it over my shoulders. I had the real sense of wearing a garment. Maybe it’s time I consider going to a larger tallit.

After Kiddush with the congregation, we went to lunch at Mom and Dad’s apartment. We discussed societal changes over the past 50 years or so. We discussed my dismay that college graduates can no longer be assumed to speak English at a high level of proper usage. We also discussed the increased use of vulgar language, my father insisting that certain words were never said in the Army, whereas my son insisted that vulgar and insulting language is now used by drill sergeants all the time—he’s heard the ROTC drill sergeants on campus put their troops through some really nasty tongue lashings. This was probably the most intelligent conversation my father’s been able to have since we’ve been here. It was a real pleasure.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

S. drove us to the airport. He explained the way that roadside security checks work. What appears to be idle, polite chitchat is actually an integral part of a security check--the soldiers are listening for Arabic accents.

Racial profiling is alive and well in Israel. Jews of B'nei Edot haMizrach origin are far more likely to be stopped than are Jews of clearly Western origin. And that's where the accent check comes in handy--it enables the soldiers to distinguish between Jewish Arabs and Muslim Arabs.

S. doesn't see anything wrong with racial profiling. He thinks it's perfectly logical to stop the folks who are known to be most likely to commit acts of terrorism, and can't understand why we Americans are so squeamishly politically correct on this issue.

He also told me, "Your presence must have jogged Dad's memory--I haven't seen him in such good shape in months," said my brother. "Don't bother coming back next year--he won't know you by then." Dad can no longer remember much for long. One has to repeat things to him six times in the space of an hour. At one point, he mistook me for N., and, at another, he thought I was one of S.'s daughters. S. also pointed out that Mom is as thin as a rail: Every few years, she has a major illness, loses weight, and never regains it. Mom is so frail that she can't manage physically without Dad, and Dad needs Mom to do the thinking. No matter who goes first, the other will be hard-pressed to live alone without help, he said.

We took one photo of S., said goodbye, and got on the interminable lines.


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