Sunday, June 2, 2013

Marissa in Synagogues

A few weeks ago (pre-Turkey), I mentioned the Jewish holiday of Shavuot but I never wrote about what we did that night. We got to celebrate it by staying out late and attending lectures at a Jewish cultural center (ok- it wasn't a synagogue, but it was close). This was the only major Jewish holiday we'll be in Israel for, so it was a cool experience. Me and the other five people here that speak Hebrew here had special permission to stay out late. We were living on the edge by BYU Jerusalem standards haha.

Shavuot commemorates Moses receiving the Torah, and it's celebrated by studying. So it's more of a religious holiday than a crazy party holiday, shall we say.

The first lecture we went to was completely in Hebrew. We didn't get a lot out of it, but we did understand some things. I understood more at first, but as the hour went on I started to get burned out and understand less. It was something to the extent of what the definition of a Jew is and what the definition of an Israeli is. The second lecture we went to was in English! I'm so good at that language. It was about the importance of Moses receiving the Torah and what Christians and Muslims thought about it. It was kind of fun to learn what rabbis think Christians think.

I don't know if listening to lectures sounds fun to you, but it was for us. It was fun staying out late and being surrounded by Israelis. It was fun to see how many people were out late just to listen to religious lectures. And I can now officially say that I've celebrated a Jewish holiday in Israel!

Another milestone I can claim as of two days ago...I have now officially attended a synagogue service and had a Shabbat dinner. Our professor who teaches the Israeli and Jewish Civilization class here arranged for all of us to visit his synagogue (on different weeks). For the six of us that speak Hebrew, we also had the chance to go visit a family's house from the synagogue and eat Sabbath dinner with them.

The service was really interesting. It was on Friday night, which is the beginning of the Sabbath. It was made up mostly of songs (or maybe prayers that are sung). There is no piano or anything, all of the songs are a cappella. It was an Orthodox synagogue, so the men and women sit on separate sides. There was a man at the front leading the songs, but for the most part everyone sang along together. We had prayer books to try and follow along (it was all in Hebrew). I was able to keep up for the most part.

One of the parts I remember was when everyone stands up, faces the back, and bows. This is the moment when the Sabbath officially begins and the Sabbath "bride" enters the room. It's like in a wedding when everyone stands up to face the bride.

Me and two other people went to the same family's house for dinner. The family was all originally from England, and the grandparents had only moved to Israel recently and didn't speak Hebrew. It was really fun! They were funny, especially the grandparents. They kept trying to ask us questions about our religion, which we're not allowed to answer at all (due to a special agreement the Church has with Israel). Some of my favorite quotes:

"Are Mormons allowed to vote for Democrats?"
"It's okay, you can tell us about your religion. Ours is really weird too, we understand."
"That's weird you don't drink alcohol. I guess our food laws are weirder. At least we can drink alcohol." *takes another sip of wine*
"Do you have to be Mormon if your parents are? Because we sure didn't get to choose to be Jewish."
"Is your religion secret like the Druze? Is that why you can't talk to us?"
"I tried to visit your 'cathedral' in Washington D.C. and they wouldn't let me in."

Good times. We couldn't explain anything to them. My other favorite quote of the night was "Arabs get EXCITED if you wear tight clothes around them." The grandpa also tried to convince us that dogs are scared of Arabs, so that was special.

As for the religious aspect of the dinner, they start with a song (Shalom Aleichem, which we knew!). Then you do a ritual hand washing, and they say a blessing on the food and the wine. Challah bread= so good, by the way. They didn't light candles, our theory on that is that dinner started after sunset and they light the candles right at sunset. It would be breaking the Sabbath to light candles after the Sabbath started. Also, that's why there's no pictures of this. Taking pictures, or using any electronic device, is considered breaking the Sabbath.

After the dinner, they said a few more prayers and songs in Hebrew. It was really cool to have studied some of them in the past and know what they mean.

It was such a great experience! It was so nice of the family to let us invade their house and learn more about Israelis and Judaism.

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