So, picking up where we left off...
Wednesday was another long, but wonderful day. After ulpan I attended a ritual workshop on Kiddush (blessing over wine, typically said on shabbat and at festivals) and Havdalah (literally "seperation", a ceremony used to commemorate the end of shabbat and the beginning of the week.) It was interesting to hear some of the customs and tradition behind the prayers and how they are used in the Reform Jewish communities. After the workshop, I went with a few friends to see the Time Elevator, an awesome movie/almost theme-park-ride about the history of Jerusalem. Topol, the actor best known for playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, was the narrator, and while the acting was a bit cheesy, the movie itself was fun and interesting.
After the movie I went to my first voice lesson in Israel. My teacher is an English woman, who is just Israeli enough not to be too curt but British enough to have some politeness left in her. Everything we did in the lesson was right on the money according to what I need; we addressed my pitch issues for most of the lesson, which is something I'm very relieved to be working on. She also had me on the floor, doing some stomach strengthening exercises and yoga. That part of the lesson is going to take a bit of getting used to, but I trust that it will work. I'm so incredibly happy to be in voice lessons again; I'd forgotten how nice it is to take an hour and just focus on singing.
Thursday was the last of our "Jerusalem Days," where we travel around Jerusalem seeing interesting sights and learning how they fit both Judaically and historically. While this tiyul was long and tiring, it was probably the most interesting of all of them we've been on. We spent the entire day at or around the Kotel, which is a part of the western retaining wall that surrounded the 2nd Temple. When King Herod was building the Temple, he needed to level out and enlarge Mount Moriah. To do so, he built a shoebox-shaped retaining wall up and around Mount Moriah, surrounding the Temple. The Western Wall is closest to the Holy of Holies, or the spot where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. What a lot of people don't know is that there are other parts of the retaining wall that are still in tact. We were able to visit the southern part of the wall, which contains Robinson's Arch and the steps towards the Southern entrance of the Temple. We actually walked up the same steps that people did thousands of years ago, and we saw some of the mikvot (ritual baths people used to spiritually cleanse themselves before entering the Temple). It was a very powerful and holistic experience, and for the first time, I believe that the Temple was and still is something very holy and special to the Jewish people. We also toured the Western Wall Tunnels which take you underneath the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and along the entire Western Wall.
Perhaps the most enlightening part of the day was observing and listening to all of the B'nai Mitzvah that were taking place. Thursdays are a prime time for B'nai Mitzvah, because it is customary to read Torah on that day. As we studied out texts, it was hard not to listen to the celebratory singing, drumming, cheering, and shofar blowing happening everywhere around us. There is a part of the Western Wall, close to where it intersects with the Southern Wall, where many Reform Jewish families come to celebrate B'nai Mitzvah. At the actual Kotel, men and women are seperated and women are not allowed to read Torah. The ideas of separating sexes and rejecting women from Torah reading and study are not ones that Reform Jews utilize or agree with. Because of this, many Reform Jews (both Israeli and otherwise) come to this particular section of the wall to celebrate the B'nai Mitzvah as a family. It was so beautiful to see the families together, taking pictures, singing, rejoicing, and kvelling in Jewish pride as their child read from Torah and accepted their Jewish adulthood at the Kotel.
I wrapped up the week by participating the Zamirya choir festival, which gathers choirs from all over the world to sing both Jewish and secular music. They have a customary Shabbat dinner, and the cantorial students were asked to speak about Shabbat, lead Kiddush and candle blessings, and sing some Jewish/Shabbat songs. We were able to hear the other choirs sing a bit, and everyone joined in for a song session at the end of the evening. The whole night was a constant reminder of why I'm here, singing and Judaism blending together to create beautiful and very sacred music. After dinner I went over to PJ's to see everyone and hang out for a bit, and then had a lovely phone conversation with Linda, who I've been missing very much since I've been here. It was a really nice way to end a busy yet wonderful week.
FYI: We are currently having issues with internet in our apartment. Until we get them fixed, my Skype number is not the best way to reach me. I may be unavailable by phone for the next couple of weeks...as soon as the problems are fixed I will let you know.
As always, much love to everyone. I'm thinking of you in Jerusalem!