|Red, ripe rimonim at Rami Levi|
FMM #7: The Season of Pomegranates
I'm falling in love all over again. It's the first day of school. The radio plays back-to-school songs, songs about the aleph bet and being the smallest boy in the gan (and also "Don't Know Much About History" for good measure). From my mirpesset I watch backpack-laden children head down Rehov Brodi towards beit sefer Evelina de Rothschild. The sky is cloudy, the air cool. I sip my coffee and feel the tiniest bit of nostalgia for my ulpan days.
It's the season of ripening pomegranates. Their delicate crimson petals have long ago dropped, making way for the shiny green fruit, now reddening, their crowns heralding Rosh Hashana. I love to watch the seasons of the fruit trees - lemons in winter, plums in early summer. Here in the Garden of Eden. Chodesh tov, shavua tov, shabbat shalom - these words of greeting are now part of our lives. And our days are indeed tov.
After two years in Israel, life here is both more predictable and yet continually full of new discoveries - we discover new parts of the country with our hiking club, new pearls of wisdom with our Torah teachers, and new slices of life far from the tourist scene. Such as my friend's high tech workplace in Har Chotzvim with two kosher employee cafeterias - one dairy, one meat - where I feasted on meat kreplach, savory sweet potatoes and lemony radish salad. Adam and Eve didn't have it this good.
There are predictable characters - the Bedouin woman squatting outside Mr. Zol in her black embroidered kaftan, selling fresh parsley and mint yelling, "Bo-ee, na-na, bo-ee, na-na, petrozillia giveret"; the macho shuk vendor near Jaffe Rd. shouting a deep gutteral, "Aaaggggvaaaniot shalosh shekel" as if he's got uncontrollable Tourette's syndrome. And the unpredictable - like the woman cooling her feet in a shop window fish tank, goldfish swimming around her painted toenails...
I have three jobs now and they're mostly in Hebrew. That is until the end of the day when my foreign language skills disintegrate and I ask a patient to please remove her legs, and another to make an appointment with the picture frame.. (My Russian manicurist tells of once running into the street after a customer who had forgotten to roll his pants legs down, yelling "Sir, sir, take off your pants"). I enjoy my work, my colleagues and the little perks of employment in Israel. Like getting a gift certificate to the grocery store before Pesach, a bottle of wine for Rosh Hashana and an invitation to my boss's Succah party. We start our monthly staff meetings with a d'var Torah. Then we have lunch. Why? Because in addition to being the people of the book... we are a people of food.
We are a people of food and Jerusalem is a city of festivals. We are constantly entertained. Even when we don't want to be. The occasional heavy metal beat of a distant summer concert "rocks" us to sleep at night. But it's not unpleasant. Songs in the key of life, to quote Stevie Wonder.
After spending a good part of the summer in the USA I managed to catch Jerusalem's post-Tisha B'Av burst of energy. In less than two weeks I attended the International Puppet Festival, a Tu B'Av Dance Festival for women in ancient Shilo, the International Arts and Crafts Fair, an evening of Shakespeare in the Park and the Israel Wine Festival - dreamily wandering the gravely paths of the Israel Museum's sculpture garden, sipping Teperberg's bubbly Muscato and re-uniting with old ulpan pals while the evening breeze and the live jazz music wafted around us.
Sometimes living here feels like being in summer camp, taking an afternoon rest before going out for the evening activity...
My small contribution to the arts in Jerusalem includes having my adult Broadway Jazz dance students, sequined vests and all, perform "Steam Heat" at the Beit Shmuel theater. I'm preparing lesson plans for the coming year for "One Singular Sensation" (Chorus Line) and "Cool Boy" (West Side Story). I love choreographing (Marty still runs the other way when I take over the living room and get into my creative zone) and I find it thrilling to watch my students learn a whole new movement vocabulary. American Jazz music is one of Uncle Sams' best exports and we're taking it to the streets. Earlier this summer we (Studio 6 students and teachers) entertained an evening crowd of pedestrians at Kikar Zion on Jaffe Road.
Jaffe Road. This is perhaps the greatest entertainment of the Summer of 2011 - the new light rail, the rakevet hakala. Shiny, sleek and gleaming, it glides through the center of town in sharp contrast to the old British Mandate era buildings of Jaffe Road and the eldery shuk shoppers schlepping their wheeled carts filled with chicken, plums, zaatar bread and olives. The light rail's first few weeks (coinciding with the end-of-summer-what-to-do-with-
the-kids period) were free of charge. Large families piled on, young and old, Jews and Arabs. As expected, most natives had no concept of letting passengers off the train before they get on. This train, this new animal is baffling to many. But no worries, I aim to civilize the uncivilized, one at a time by loudly proclaiming "Slicha!" to train etiquette offenders and explaining proper train manners. It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it...
We work, we play, we pray. One of Marty's great joys is attending Kabbalat Shabbat services at Kol Rina synagogue in Nachlaot. The neighborhood, built over a hundred years ago, is a maze of low buildings of stone and concrete, with water drainage channels in many of the streets, reminiscent of Roman cities. Walking through Nachlaot is like time-traveling back several centuries. The synagogue is in a windowless bomb shelter painted pink with wall fans that make a noisy attempt at keeping the air moving. The davening style: sweaty Carlebach, and standing room only on Friday nights. Lecha Dodi alone takes about twenty minutes and after that someone says "Letsgo" in English as if it were a new Hebrew word, the chairs are moved back and the energetic dancing and jumping up and down goes on for about ten minutes. Marty says, "The room is jammed, so to use an engineering term - the energy density is very high."
In the men's section, Jews of many flavors. Turbans and streimels, black velvet hats, fedoras, white caps, black kippot, knitted kippot, a kippah atop rastafarian dreadlocks. You'll find striped robes, bowling shirts, tie-dyed shirts and jeans. And Marty in his REI shirt and pants, grinning and soaking up the sheer electricity of the davening, prayers fueled by achdut, brotherhood.
There's no denying that Jerusalem is a city of prayer. Citizens might catch up on their morning davening on the bus, or even in the waiting area of their physical therapy clinic. Some street names have a holiness to them - each time I take a cab to my job at Rehov Gesher Hachayim in Makor Baruch, I am asking the driver to take me to "the bridge of life in the source of blessing". Indeed.
With each passing day, month and year I more deeply understand the meaning of "L'heot am chofshee, b'artzenu, eretz tzion, Yerusalayim" - "To be a free people in our own land, the land of Zion, Jerusalem". As the season of pomegranates leads us toward a new beginning, we wish you a life of abundance, bursting at the seams; a life of fullness, the way a seemingly full glass of pebbles fills even more when water pours in the spaces between the stones. Shana Tova U'metuka. M'chakim l'chem. We are waiting for you.