Chanting, witnessing and eating in Jerusalem

Uh oh- so far my story is more like Eat, Walk, Pray…..

Tu B’shevat-the New Year of the Trees

Full moons in Jerusalem often mean holidays. This month, the month of Shevat- the month of stuffing,I learned from the Carlebach women teachers-  the full moon is the New Years of the Trees (   ( hi Yitzhak and Carol!!) You won’t find this in the Torah- its from the kabbalists.  It’s amazing how many trees and bushes and flowers are blooming here now. I saw a full bed of tulips Thursday.

Almond blossoms every where. Birds of Paradise.  Orange and lemon trees.

Sheikh Jarrah

Before I talk about Friday night and Saturday Tu be shevat seders and chanting, I want to write about Sheikh Jarrah (SJ). I didn’t know anything was going on there unitl I received an email from the U.S.  Sheikh Jarrah is a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, about a 20 minute walk from the Damascus Gate in the Old City. I live at the very other end of the alley/road that leads out the gate. So all in all, basically, a walk from Greenwich Village to Lincoln Center.

Every Friday afternoon for months, Jews, Palestinians  and others have gone to SJ to protest American money buying houses that are occupied by Palestinians and turning them over to (I believe mostly American) Jews who are moving in.

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the sale of the houses to the Jews is legal because these houses were owned by Jews before 1948 and the deeds are still good.

I feel troubled and upset that  anyone is losing their home. I’d like to see  Restorative Justice Circles happen to sort this out in a way that meets everyone’s needs. . As an American Jew, I feel  frustrated and hopeless that American Jews are moving in in this way and weakening prospects for  peace.

I feel troubled that the protests are scheduled to coincide with shabbat candle lighting and  that there are signs and some chants that call these Jewish families  “racists” and “settlers.” I feel this way because I don’t have any trust or hope that labeling them in this way will lead to peace, to recognition of our interconnectedness.

So I felt pulled to go to this week’s protest, as a witness for peace. Also to show that not all American Jews are supporting this- so self expression for me. And also because I feel concerned and moved to  support the rights of people to protest. I was waivering about going- I’m an American, this isn’t my country. I will leave in a month and people are left here to live with danger and uncertainty.   At our Friday morning breakfast at Cafe Hillel,  I asked my Israeli family ( a couple in their  ’80’s) if I should go- they both said yes, yes yes. Batya said, if I wasn’t so old I’d go.

So with their blessing I walked through the Old City, up Nablus Road, past the American Colony Hotel,  to  join several hundred young Jewish Israelis singing and drumming and chanting, and lots of people my age and generation and women from Machzon Watch and Palestinians, including two young women I spoke to who said their parents had moved into their house in 1952  (the year I was born!)  and now have been served with papers saying they have to move.

As I had intended, I left before Shabbat. I am doing my best to keep to my intention of living the Jewish time cycle here. Mor and more,I look forward to shabbat, love when its here, and feel sad when its over. I’m already thinking ahead to next shabbat- what to do, where to go, how to step into it.

Kabbalat Shabbat and Tu B’ shevat

I already wrote about some of the chanting at Nava Tehila at Friday night
Kabbalat Shabbat. After the services, about a hundred of us walked from the basement of Kol HaNeshama to the basement of the Nature Museum for a pot luck dinner and Tu B’shevat seder.

The diversity of trees is astounding here. So the tu b’ shevat seder means celebrating, contemplating, learning from, and eating, olives, persimmons, figs, raisins ( green, black, yellow), plums, almonds, carob, oranges, lemons, pomegranates,  dates, sabras ( a cactus fruit with the hardest pits I’ve ever tried to digest), bananas, coconuts, walnuts……. Is your tummy going wild  already? Mine did.

Saturday morning, after the late night tu b’ shevat seder, I walked over to another apartment off he main square of the Old City Jewish Quarter ( they live next to an archeological dig), and went with  my friend and teacher  from the Carlebach community,  Emuna Witt, to  daven ( recite the prayers of a service, in this case,the shabbat morning service)  in St. George’s Hospital just outside the Old City. We went to daven with Marcie, an American woman who had a massive stroke after moving toIsrael a  few years ago; she is now paralyzed and bedridden. After the davennening- art scroll orthodox style- I asked if she’d like to hear some chants- Marcie can nod her head up and down, that’s her speech-
she nodded yes.

Hebrew chant was a major door into Judaism for me. I love to sing and music stirs my heart.    One of the best things I did when I lived at Elat Chayyim was to participate in Rabbi Shefa Gold’s chant leadership program, Kol Zimra. I am a very grateful member of the KZ community, as we call ourselves.      So I was overjoyed by Marcie’s nod.

In the hospital on shabbat morning,  began with Shefa’s modah ani,- thankful am I. thankful am I. The first words from our lips in the morning.    I wanted to go on to to Elohai Neshama– my soul is pure- , I was feeling uncertain- thinking to myself- if I was paralyzed for life, couldn’t speak or move, would I wake up every morning wanting to sing praises for the return of  my soul back to my body? Is it  outrageous for me to chant these?

I went with my heart. And chanted elohai, over and over.  Marcie was nodding and nodding. We both had tears in our eyes

I finished with the Kirtan Rabbi’s version of kaddish ( check it on u tube if you don’t know it), I said it’s been a way for me to connect with kaddish here.

Another story and bow to Shefa- I am staying in the Old City very close to the kotel. I may have already written that I felt disappointed when I didn’t burst into tears the first time I went there ( a few hours after settling in.) It’s just not been a power place for me. I keep trying, going there every few days, sometimes every day. Three kabbalat shabbats  in a row I went to the kotel, looking for the Carlebach minyan. Never found it. (Since, I have learned that they were there. I just didn’t recognize it!).

Well, on the third week’s  Kabbalat shabbat, I thought I had heard that the Carlebach minyan comes at 7 pm, two hours after shabbat. So I was determined to stay there until they came. I sat in one of the ubiquitous white plastic chairs (I wrote about these chairs when I went to China ten years ago!) I was looking at the wall and at the women davenen there and feeling closed. So I began to chant Shefa’s ptach libi.  (Open My Heart)  over and over and over.  Opened my eyes at one point, and these three Brazilian women I’d met earlier that day over coffee, had pulled up chairs and were sitting next to me. I asked them if they’d like to learn the chant, explained what it meant to me. Yes, yes. So the four of us sat and chanted patach libi, open my heart, over and over, and slowly, slowly,  I started to feel something stirring in my heart.

So yesterday morning, shabbat morning,  after the hospital, Emuna and I went to the kotel – the wall of the temple which is in many ways  the central place for Jewish prayer in Jerusalem. We joined the Carlebach minyan and I wanted to stay there forever. (The gorgeous blue sky and lovely warm air helped).

After a while I left to go to a women’s Tu B’shevat seder with Sarah Yehudit Schneider, the teacher I am living with ( her website is . It was a very moving day for me, being part of a world of orthodox Jewish women who are looking so deeply into how to bring traditional Jewish practices and ways into their lives- with their children and neighbors how to find equanimity, how to practice generosity and kindness.  How to live with an open heart.

Today I went up again  to  the Temple Mount. A place that does have power for me, with all its controversy. I spent time talking to one of the Palestinian guides. He explained so much to me about Islam and he also said that Jews say Abraham took Isaac up here, Moslems say he took Ishmael- and there’s room for all beliefs, it’s the leaders who prevent that from happening. He leaves it all in Allah’s hands. I felt encouraged to hear what he said and that he acknowledged what this place means to Jews. I spent most of  my time up there doing sitting and walking meditation.

I’ll end tonight with this wonderful Mary Oliver poem


I’d seen
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward
the deeper woods, so I

got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped
closer and stared
from under their thick lashes and even

nibbled some damp
tassels of weeds. This
is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be.

This is a poem about the world
that is ours, or could be.
one of them— I swear it!—

would have come to my arms.
But the other
stamped sharp hoof in the
pine needles like

the tap of sanity,
and they went off together through
the trees. When I woke
I was alone,

I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.

Mary Oliver, House of Light
Beacon Press, Boston (1962), pp. 32-33