About forty people came to pray, sing and dance at Kehilat HaLev, a small and eclectic group made up of a few regulars—some American transplants and some Sabras, too—and a large number of visitors from near and far. Quite a few were local spiritual seekers, interested in finding out what Judaism might look like once freed from the hand of the orthodox Rabbinate. I don't think they were disappointed.
Or worked as a professional musician and Jewish song leader before entering rabbinic studies and we found his services to be filled with music. Some of the melodies were familiar from Reform services in North American. Some were products of the Israeli Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. Many are his own compositions in noticeably middle eastern rhythms and harmonics. We sang to his guitar and voice while a percussionist kept the beat on a variety of drums. Lots of fun.
On Saturday morning, we strolled outside in the city's tree-lined boulevards and public parks and plazas. We stopped for a while in Habima Square (pictured above) where we saw young families pushing strollers and letting toddlers wander around in discovery. Couples of every age held hands and enjoyed the winter sun bouncing off their beaming faces. Old men sat on low stoops reading Hebrew newspapers. Artists with sketch pads tried to capture the scene in pencil and charcoals.
This is Shabbat in the style of Tel Aviv. Most of the residents here have little interest in synagogue, but they make Shabbat into their own day of rest. The atmosphere of the whole city slows down into a state of intentional relaxation and enjoyment of simple pleasures. It is not just the change of pace one finds on the weekend in an American city. Shabbat here is long and leisurely, a moment outside of ordinary time in which nothing needs to be done. It is the unforced spiritual Shabbat that has no need for prohibitions and rules. We found it to be a blessing.
Finally, we ended Shabbat with lunch at the home of friends Rabbi Miri Gold and David Leichman of Kibbutz Gezer. I've written about both of them before. Miri recently became the first non-Orthodox rabbi in Israel to receive state funding (although the first check has not yet arrived). David works to build connections between Israel and the North American Reform Movement. He also is a leader in Israel's fledgling efforts for organized baseball.
Very fortunately for me and my family, they are also both excellent cooks and connoisseurs of good food…especially chocolate. Over the homemade humus and stews, we talked about Israel's homegrown movement for liberal Judaism, life on the kibbutz, recipes, rabbinics, trips to Israel, and Kevin Youkilis (I'll never think of him as a Yankee). It was a delightful way to end Shabbat, filling in more ways than one.
Tomorrow, we will connect with my extended family—my parents, my sister and her family, uncles, aunts and cousins—to begin our tour of Israel. I'm looking forward to that, but I am very glad that we have had a few days to settle into the Israeli pace of life before becoming tourists. This was a Shabbat to remember.
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