Saturday, November 25, 2006

Shabbas Together?

I am writing only a few hours after the finish of the Machon Shabbat Byachad (think thats how you spell it), which I intend to describe now is some detail. In order for you to understand the issues in question and why there is a question mark at the end of the title, I should give some mention to the make up of the blog. The Machon is a non-religious Jewish institute, and so its participants came from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds. All Jewish denominations are represented here right from modern orthodox all the way to liberal Judaism, and everything in between. Shabbat Byachad means this weekend we all stayed at the Kiriyat and had Shabbas together. Therefore the big question is how do you have a shabbat which makes everyone happy and comfortable with the way things are done. Many people wanted to have a strict orthodox shabbat, which means no music, electricity or general creativity, luckily major conflict was avoided and everyone respected those who were uncomfortable with breaking shabbat.

Before I go onto the services, where most of the conflict was caused, I should really mention the planning and everything else. The machon is split into two chavura's (groups coming from the word friends) and it was down to my chavura to run this shabbas. We all divided up responsibility between different groups and I became part of the onegg (friday evening activity) group and the steering comittee, whose job it was was to organise everyone else. I very quickly took control of the onegg whilst becoming almost irrelevant on the steering comittee, probably down to my own laziness. Essentially the steering comitte fell into the control of one of its members, Amelia who essentially took it upon herself to organise the shape of the whole shabbas. Coming from someone who uses his coat pockets as his filing system her organisational skills scared me.

The byachad started on Friday morning with a charity breakfast, and although I was rather disgruntled about having to get up at 8 in the morning on the weekend (in Israel Friday is the weekend) I was instantly cheered up by the sight of bagels, my first since I had come to Israel. We had woken so early because soon after we had finished breakfast we borded the coast and drove for about 1 hour and a half to a kibbutz near Rahovot, where we volunteered for a charity called to Table to Table, by picking the tomatoes that the farmers had left behind, which would then be sent to those who could not afford them. We did this for about an hour, as we needed to get back in time for shabbas which comes in at about four in the afternoon. Back at the kiriyat I had a quick lunch and then spent an hour preparing for the onegg.

After a quick shower and group photo we brought shabbas in with the traditional candle lighting and kabblas shabbat service, a service full of joyous meant to express the Jewish joy at the advent of this special day, it is not meant to cause pain, annoyance and confusion. And alas we reach the time where we must look at services. There had been a general consenus in our early meetings that we should do all praying as one group and not split into denominational services, thus the group who role it was to plan the services was charged with the task of coming up with services that everyone was comfortable. The comittee was comprised of at least one person from each denomination in attempt to make everyone happy and make sure that nothing got done. I thank the Lord I was not on this comittee so I can only judge by results, which were not favourable, and on this I am supported by most of the comittee. Kabblat Shabbat was a total mish-mash and I was not alone in being totally confused in what was going on. Before dinner an ad hoc gathering convened in the hallway outside the dorms for a polite discussion (heated arguement) about the service, and the way people acted towards it, apparently some walked out. Was a conflict brewing at the Kiriyat or was it an isolated affair.

Dinner was very pleasant with good food, no wait sorry I apologise its just natural when talking about a meal to talk about good food, I shall rephrase, edible food, a good atmosphere and lots of singing, something that I felt had been lacking at meals since I got here. Yet for once everyone sat down together at dinner as one and sang their hearts out with all the wild, repetative and downright weird songs that traditionally accompany a Jewish dinner on a Friday night.

After dinner was the onegg, which as I stated earlier it was my duty to run (therefore there might be a certain bias in the following paragraph). An onegg is traditionally a time when everyone gets together to tell stories, sing songs and play games, although in a Noam onegg we play all the most disgusting and depraved games we can think of. I was told very early on to avoid that sort of onegg and so went in search of an alternative. An idea for a very different onegg was presented to me, in order to remind us all of Friday night TV why dont we run 'Have I Got Jews For You'. Thus a number of us came together to devise said program in which there would be a number of rounds based on British Quiz Shows in particular 'Have I Got News For You' and 'I 'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue'. Without going into to much detail we had five different teams and then a panel of judges, who held up signs with comments and scores based on how funny the answers were, of course we were deliberatly not keeping score. I obviously am not going to rave about the program being mine, although I will say though that it was very well received and when it was announced that it was the last round, there was a general murmur of dissent and we decided to put another round in, so that seems like a fairly positive indication.

The next morning I was dragged out of bed at the ungodly hour of 10 am, for sharharis (morning prayers), once again confusion ensued, although this was largely cross denominational as parts of the service done by all were inexplicably left out. Following the service we had lunch complete with more edible food and singing. After lunch there was an array of activities to choose from and I decided to have a go at touch American Football. This particular sport was chosen because Danny, my roomate and the one running the program, had an American football in the room and so thought that qualified him to run a game, he unfortuneatly possessed absolutely no knowledge of how to play. Nethertheless we compiled a set of rules which all were happy with and we believed bore a slight resemblance to the game. Playing 5 a side for half an hour provided more that enough excercise and a draw was a perfectly acceptable result.

Following this we went as a group for a gentle shabbat stroll along the Tayelet a promenade which looks out over Jerusalem, providing the most wonderful views. Normally we are not allowed on it as it runs through certain Arab villages and is thus deemed not safe without a guard, which is a great shame and it is very near to the Kiriyat and provides excellent escape. The stroll was thus very refreshing and relaxing and provided a lovely conclusion to shabbat. Finally we returned to the Kiriyat for Havdalah (a short service which sees out shabbat), which was held on the roof. We were brought up to the roof one by one, and were given a lit candle, we were then asked to walk through a path of candles and stand around a candlelit circle, it had the distinct feeling of a very Christian service. Nonetheless the service was very atmospheric and pleasant and the candles provided enough heat to keep off the encroaching cold, made worse by our positioning on the exposed roof.

As a post-shabbat activity we went as a group to the Soup Cafe (that's Cafe not Kitchen) a small restaurant in central Jerusalem. The Soup Cafe is one of the more interesting ideas I have seen for a restaurant. It is a very small rustic place which looked like it was in need of a paint job. It served only soup and drinks, and was very well known for its Jazz Scene. It is apparently normal for people to come with their instruments and play to the rest. We came with both drums and guitars and a few people played the piano they had there, however being the sole clients in the Cafe for the first hour and a half (we had booked the place out) we were unable to hear any of the music the place was famous for, although I did catch sight of a double base on the way out.


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