Thursday, July 12 – Eitan’s Bar Mitzvah

In the morning, Jennifer, the kids, her parents and her sister Hilary were picked up by a guide and a van and taken for an amazing day of touring including Caesaria, Dalyat al Carmel, Bahai Gardens and ending the day in Tiberius.

I would tell you all about their trip, except I wasn’t with them. So we will leave it to Jennifer to tell us about the Great Tiyul to the North (at least the first day, I joined them for the second day).

My day begin with another amazing lesson by Donniel Hartman. It was brilliant, and his warmth and compassion, which pour out with his every word, are as exceptional as his brilliance.

His lesson for the day was about how people think small when they begin to vex over maintaining their own possessions. We care about the poor, but not if I have to see them, talk to them or somehow be affected/infected by them.

In fact, Donniel said in reference to this kind of self-centeredism that it “makes good people mediocre.” A powerful sentiment.

Looking at a number of rabbinic texts he offered that people need to escape their small protectionist thinking and embrace the other and the needs of the other.

He ended with a teaching that I believe has the potential to radically transform lives. He taught that our goal, in the small picture and in the big picture, should not be to be right or to be justified, but rather, our goal should be to take care of each other. “I would rather live well together than be right.”

Clearly, making this work is in the details, but it is a fundamental shift in perspective if the goal is no longer to be right or to convince the other person of my “rightfulness” but rather that we should live well together. Nicely said.

After the morning session, the Institute hosted a goodbye lunch for everyone, though it was a little odd for us four-weekers, since the goodbye lunch marked the middle of our program!

But for those who come for two weeks, including those who just finished the three year cycle that I am just starting, it was literally their last meal.

Watching the ending of the Rabbinic Leadership Institute Class 2, I was again struck by the caliber and standing of the rabbis involved. I was also reflective of where I will be, where we will be as a community, and where we will be as a family, please God, in three years when I sit down to my last Hartman lunch. It is difficult to project, but it would be a glorious moment if my program at Hartman, and more importantly our community at Ohr Shalom and my family, continue along the wonderful, loving, blessed trajectory along which we have been traveling these past years.

After lunch and its speeches, I had a few hours before it was time to head to the afternoon Bar Mitzvah (see below), so I headed to Meah Shearim. I love being in Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) neighborhoods. I am not sure why. There are many challenges posed by these communities, but there is some flavor that I don’t quite understand, but I find tantalizing.

Of course, I was there to shop. I managed to find the Olive Wood Shop I remember from a decade and a half ago, wandered through bookstores, bought some baby gifts, and generally did as much shopping damage as time permitted.

As I was walking down the street, I was almost run off the sidewalk by a Chasid with his face buried in a book. Curious as to what great text had him so engrossed that he was walking down the middle of the sidewalk with the indifference of a bull in a china shop, I glanced back over his shoulder only to discover that he was engrossed in completing a Sudoku puzzle. I love Meah Shearim.

Then it was time to head home, shower, shave and dress. I have lost count, but I am amazed/depressed at the number of times I have put on a necktie in Israel this month. I have worn a necktie more in my first few weeks here than in the two years total I have been in Israel before. Wow do I feel American!

I called a cab. He picked me up downstairs, and I asked him to take me to Beit Hakenesset Ha’atik b’Motzi – the Old Synagogue of the community of Motza. He said, sure, where is that? Whoops, a problem I wasn’t anticipating.

Turns out he knew the natural springs in Motza where he often takes religious men to immerse, and he guessed (correctly) that the Old Synagogue was right next door.

Motza itself is an ancient city, at least going back to the time we arrived from Sinai (See Joshua 18:26). It is a small neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem, at the bottom of the hill when entering from the West. It is a placed where pilgrims traditionally stopped, on their way to the Beit Hamikdash during Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, to wash in the springs before heading up to Jerusalem.

When we pulled into the parking lot, after a wonderful “you don’t look like a rabbi” conversation (of course I don’t look like a rabbi, around here with a necktie on, all I look is American!), he detoured to show me the springs. There was a line-up outside an area that was mostly enclosed by some sheets hung up from trees. But clearly, there were the springs being used as a mikveh. The cab driver mentioned how he enjoyed bringing Haredim out on days that were even too cold for him to go out from his can to smoke a cigarette while he waited for his fare to strip and dip.

I was at the Old Synagogue of Motza for the Bar Mitzvah of Eitan Peled, a member of our congregation and of our B’nai Mitzvah class. It was wonderful to see Eitan, his parents and siblings in Israel on such a joyous day. It was a treat to meet Eitan’s extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.

I was touched that the Orthodox Rabbi did not comment when all of Eitan’s family sat in front of the mechitzah – men and women together. He seemed just fine with the arrangement. Though I also noticed how deftly he managed to avoid leading any part of the service.

Eitan led the beginning of Minchah, including the Torah service and skillfully read all three aliyot. Of course, there was a lot of cheering and candy throwing when he finished. We put the Torah away and I was honored to be asked by the Rabbi to lead the remainder of the service. It was only later that I considered the possibility that he honored me this way so he could avoid leading mixed-seated davening.

At the conclusion of the service, we drove up to Eitan’s grandmother’s home in the heights of Motza for a loving and delicious party.

It was great watching Eitan and his siblings playing with their cousins who they don’t see all that often due to the great distance between San Diego and Israel. It was wonderful hearing these Coronado kids speaking Hebrew. Miko, Eitan’s father, commented on how fast the kids Hebrew was improving during the summer.

It was very special for me to be able to sit and be part of the family on this wonderful and important day in their life, even though they chose to celebrate it so far from Ohr Shalom.

The Peleds are a family of importance within the Israel community and I sat wide-eyed as I heard stories of Miko’s sister insulting/embarrassing Bibi Netanyahu at the University pool the other day, and when I almost fell over in my chair due to a slope in the backyard, everyone started laughing remembering the time Naomi Shemer was sitting in the exact same spot and fell all the way over. (Not to sound overly competitive, but while she may be the better poet, it does appear that I have a better sense of balance – that’s gotta count for something, right?)

I could have stayed for hours and hours, enjoying the simchah, the family and the food, but the family was waiting for me in Tiberius.

So my personal Cab Driver, Yechiel, picked me up at the house to deliver me to Tiberius. He is a really nice guy and after our ride from the airport to Herzliyah and our day at Massada and the Dead Sea, we are becoming friends. It sounds trivial, but it was very sweet that when stopped for gas, he came back to the can with a candy bar for me and treats to give the kids the next day. Like I said, a very nice guy (and no, not just because it is all about chocolate!).

When I arrived at Tiberius, I found our hotel literally on the banks of the Kinneret. Upstairs, Jennifer was sitting in the adjoining room to our 3 angels reading a book, while her parents and sister had gone out for a late dinner.

She had just enough time to tell me that their touring day had been incredible, when the rest of her family returned from dinner.

Jen’s mom agreed to sit in our room and listening to the children snoring so Jen and I could go walk around Tiberius.

What a treat. With the peaceful Kinneret never more than a few yards away we walked through the shops and carts of the mini-shuk, ate ice cream and had a really nice time.

Thank God for the good and the sweet, and our ability to enjoy.

Another very long, very exhausting and absolutely wonderful day!

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