Netivat Sofrut: diary of a Soferet

Adventures of a female sofer learning to heal the world by doing Holy Work...writing a Sefer Torah

נחזיר את השכינה למקומה בצייון ובתבל כלה

"Let us restore the Divine In-Dwelling to Her Place in Zion & infuse Her spirit throughout the whole inhabited world."

So wherever we are, let us bring the Peace of G@d's Presence.

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Location: Vancouver/London, British Columbia/UK, Canada

SCRIBAL EVANGELIST As the only living certified Soferet (סופרת - female Jewish ritual scribe) & the first woman to practice sofrut (creation of sacred Hebrew texts) in over 200 years, I feel an obligation to blog about my experiences of The Work. I am also currently researching the foundation of a lost tradtion of women practicing this holy craft. For more on the services I provide, please see; Sofrut Nation. I am now available to engage with students, male or female, wishing to enter into the preliminary stage of learning sofrut. You are welcome to join me on this path. "Tzedeq, tzedeq tir'dof - Justice, justice you shall pursue." Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:20.

Thursday, September 18, 2003



Wednesday, September 10th

As I expected, I was up all night - spoke to Joel, finally (sigh - what a relief).
I called my sofer - we're meeting at 12:30 - & he told me the story of David Applebaum & his daughter. So tragic - he was the world expert on how to deal with medical emergencies resulting from terrorist attacks. He'd just come back from a seminar in the US & his 20-year-old daughter was getting married, so he took her out for coffee & dessert to celebrate & have some father-daughter time. They were both killed last night. The wedding was supposed to be today. He'd trained & co-ordinated all the people who raced to rescue him last night, but there was nothing anyone could do.
I talked to Joel again til it was time to go for my sofrut lesson. I told him the story. He was silent & speechless. Particularly about the idea that someone could be murdered on the eve of their chupah.
My sofer said, "better - improvements - not worried - getting the hand of it". Specific improvements are still needed on my Gimel, Tav, Tet, Lamed, Shin & Alef. These adjustments are subtle - we both know that, that I can write kosher just the way I do now, but these changes will improve the beauty & legibility of my script when they are words in sentences :) Which is the next step. Writing not just random words he calls out in the studio or I find in my sidur at home, but writing out full sentences! How exciting! We're going to start reviewing the Halakhah in Chapters 1-12 of the Qeset HaSofer soon...
I ate lunch & decided to check out the Cafe Hillel scene. I figured they'd have it barricaded, which is good, but I decided to walk down the opposite side of the street, just in case. I don't want to get too close. I don't want to *see*. I just have to appraise. It's a primal urge in me. I crept down the east side of the road slowly, not wanting to appear like a lookie-loo, & viewed the scene. There were very tall, powder blue walls put up - wooden, like the type around construction sites, but these didn't have any little square windows cut in them. These had posters proclaiming the murder of David Appelbaum pasted all over them. They reached almost to the very top of what used to be the glass store front - so, almost a storey. The building & what had been the entire patio area was enclosed. The whole stone façade, what I could see of it along the top, where the huge sign used to be, had been blown off by the explosion. There were several young security men in official fluorescent vests standing around & leaning against the walls of the enclosure & the sand-filled waist-high plastic barricades used to block the sidewalk from any pedestrians. I'm really glad the site was so closed. I didn't stop, I just kept going down the road & made a left at the railroad tracks so I could go for a quiet stroll away from the traffic. I don't get out much, with all this homework I have to do...
I got groceries & once again bought the wrong kind of goat cheese. I need to improve my Hebrew.
I made a quick dinner & ate in silence.
I went to sleep. I was so exhausted from being up all night, feeling terror & grief as I listened to the noises outside & watched the images on the news. One person had actually been decapitated by the blast. Medics had to gather up body parts & place them in plastic bags so they could be sorted at the hospital & returned to their families. This is so sickening.
Mirit woke me & we chatted. Her English is amazing! SO great to hear her voice!
I did e-mail & icq - it's my sister Dona's birthday. She's 74.
Joel called to check on me again & sang me to sleep.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003



Tuesday, September 9th

Today felt weird & icky & just *not safe*. Very much like the day of the #2 bus bombing in Me'ah She'arim. I walked to the Rova (Jewish Quarter of the Old City) early this afternoon to pray. There were *many* many more soldiers & police out today. They must have some intelligence that someone is walking around with explosives today. OY. I'm used to guns & flashing lights & x-rays & barricades & UN vehicles everywhere, but now it was like we were at war & being invaded...which I guess we are. They were stopping & checking all of the cars moving in or out of the city, not just Arab-owned cars or cars with Palestinian license plates - EVERYONE. They were interviewing each person in every car one at a time & searching everything & everyone - & in a city of, what? Half a million people? That's an enormous undertaking. I'm so glad I walk.
As I crossed Qeren Hayesod & spied a Palestinian flag air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror of a white Subaru that sped by me...
I strolled through The Sultan's pool/Hell on my way between Yemim Moshe & the Rova & up the corridor of gift shops...did you know they have souvenir shops in Hell also? :) This is quite a place!
I went through the Armenian Quarter to buy a little present for Kyla, a Muslim friend of Joel's & soon mine as well, hopefully. I would've liked to go through the Shuk, but it's just such a hassle for a blonde woman to enter there alone (at my own risk!) & nobody I know will go with me. So sad.
I'd seen this beautiful little ceramic tile covered in Arabic writing, so I brought it to the shop owner & asked to buy it. "What does it say?" I enquired. As I do Arabic calligraphy, but do not, in fact, *read* Arabic, I thought I ought to know exactly what I was buying for my friend. For all I knew, it mught be a barrage of insults to tourists, or anti-Jewish or *something* that would've rendered a meanigless gift for me to give to her.
"It's the Lord's Prayer."
I chose out something else for her :)
The Kotel was *not* blocked off today, so thank G@d I could commune with the glowing stones. "My spot" was even free! I stood thoughtfully with my hands on the warm rock & breathed consciously, gathering the thoughts of my heart so I could bring them to HaShem with greater intention, & hopefully feel some relief from my current fears. I wept.
I strolled back to Yafo - as I passed through the Gate, I spied an Arab woman & her daughter (I assume) crouched under the shade of a tree. The child looked physically to be about 3, but the look on her face made her seem 40. The woman put out her hand & began gently whispering to me in Arabic. She may have only been my age, or a bit older, but her eyes looked a century old. I opened my wallet & poured out all my change, whatever it was, & handed it to her little girl. She placed a hand over her heart & bowed her head, quietly speaking her blessings (?) & gratitude (?) as she extended the other out to me in what seemd like a benediction. I was so touched, I just bowed respectfully back to her & smiled, heading on. I didn't even remember how to say "salaam" to her, I was so moved...
I marched up Ben Yehudah& was encountered by a Charedi man with his tedaqah (charity) box & little red threads & charms he was ready to exchange for a few sheqels. He kept calling to me, "Giveret! Giveret! (Ma'am!) tzedaqah!"
I raised my hand against him & said sorry, that I didn't have - & I really didn't!
"It's a mitzvah!" he called after me. I ignored him. What was I supposed to do? Tell him I'd just given all my coins to an Arab woman?
As I was crossing the street by Moulin, marijuana smoke wafted by - smells like Vancouver...
I spent 2 hours with my sofer today - letters, letters, letters - he re-cut nib - he said I was doing really well, doing excellent - he's still concerned about time frame - but he's letting me move onto words now & not just lines of letters & letter combos. All this as we learned & listened to Chinese lullabyes. He mentioned that perhaps we could get pre-scored klaf - he also teased me about the particular kulmus I was using & how it had become my favorite. "You've grown beyond the quill & have to learn how to let go..."
The Doar (post office) was a circus - after going through the usual security check & bag search & body search & metal detector, I was in a line-up being delayed by a Mexican woman wanting to mail several huge boxes back home. The tellers & she were working back & forth in Hebrew-Spanish-English :) as none of them spoke the same language very well. The one man taking care of her would exclaim each time she co-operated: "Halleluyah! - Barukh HaShem!"
I made dinner & cooled off. I need the air conditioner on practically 24/7.
I went to sleep at 8pm as I was exhausted from being outside in the heat - it was 11:20 when I awoke to sirens & helicopters. I felt sick immediately. I knew something *really* horrible had happened & I could tell it was close. I really needed to know where the pigu'ah was, because sitting inside surrounded by all these scary noises was too much. I got onto ICQ to ask my friends - what's going on? I didn't know if it was really safe to go outside. Joel wasn't at home, so I left a message with his housemate to let him know that I was ok. It was making me crazy to just sit there & not know what was going on or where it was. I just couldn't sit there with all the screaming sirens & terse voices barking out instructions over megaphones. My friends on ICQ told me to stay inside or to go to my sofer's. They were just worried about me & wanted to make sure I was safe. But I hurried out to the main street anyway. My arms were folded hard & stiff in front of my chest as though it were freezing out, but of course it wasn't. I was just afraid of what I might find. I could feel that only making the choice to witness this horror would be a life-changing experience for me & I didn't know how it would affect me. I wonder if this is how Mum felt during WW2. It was just as I'd feared. There were masses of people - every kind of Jew, tons of emergency crews, cel phones, flashing lights making the scene like daylight & the road was chockerblock FULL of people as far as I could see from north to south. I could see it was a block south - didn't go look any closer as I don't need to be a voyeur when people are murdered - I didn't want to *see*. I could barely breathe. I just wanted to know if it was really out there on the street. I didn't go any closer. I came back in, weepy, & called Mum.
I wanted to make sure I could tell her I was ok before she heard about it. I don't want her to worry.
I turned on the news. It was Cafe Hillel that was hit by the bomb. I didn't want to see the pictures of medics gathering body parts - pieces of innocent people who'd been torn apart by the explosion. Knowing it was my favorite local coffee joint was enough. It was the coolest place & my friends & I used to hang out there on the patio. My heart & my guts felt stilled & heavy.
The scene here, even though I didn't "go look", is unbelieveable & it was still life-changing to approach it. I feel sick. I'm going to say tehilim. & weep. I hope my sofer & his family are ok. I'll be up all night. It's too noisy outside my flat & inside my heart to sleep.
"Melekh chaya l'almaya y'mageyn am l'hon m'shacharin." - May The King who lives eternally shield his people who pray to Him. From Yetziv Pisgam.



Monday, September 8th

I can't keep up this tight, controlled, repetative work! It's so boring because I can't get into the Zen space it requires & I'm not *doing* anything, I'm just making letters (dayenu!). & they're horrible!
I mean, to an untrained eye they probably look great - seriously. But *my* eyes aren't untrained & neither are my sofer's. There's an empirical standard I must achieve.
I worked myself silly until 11am & then slept til 3 pm

Back into R' Nebenzahl - "One who wishes to check if his soul is following the straight & narrow path should compare it to each kotz (oketz = thorn or in this case serif) & tag (Zayin-shaped crown) of the Torah, to see whether or not his soul is following an identical pattern. Any discrepancy is a sign that he has not maintained his natural sense of "right", A sign that he has followed the majority in his miscalculating ethical standards - & thereby his heart has become misaligned & is no longer attuned to the infinite wisdom of TORAH" p.187
"The essential truth which our Sages teach us here, is that man must choose a profession that will serve to enhance his spirituality - his intrinsic Torah vales & mitzvah observance." p.199
Well, I believe I'm doing both here. At least, I am in that process. Of this I have no doubt. Barukh HaShem.
I heard Coldplay - their song "G@d Put a Smile Upon Your Face"...
I spent a halfhour in my sofer's studio in a critique session - he was quite charitable about the work I did on the watercolour paper. Which I was surprised at, because this is the work I considered particularly sub-standard. & he's very critical - I mean *discerning* ;+> - & exceptionally honest with me about my work, which is like gold to me. We're going to take the next step now...



Sunday, September 7th

My homework was awful today!
I'm really dissatisfied with my lettering. I mean, I've got the forms, but sometimes a letter or two will start getting inconsistant as my hand tires & it's *so* frusterating. & my spacing needs work. Basically, I'm a perfectionist experiencing The Long Dark Night Of The Soul, so it's Hell. Actually, catching a flick in Hell would be really nice right about now...& it's just up the road...
This Work requires that my lettering is PERFECT. There are 4,000 rules to have memorized - yes, FOUR THOUSAND - before I'll really be knowledgeable enough to write such a holy scroll. At least I'm getting used to the idea that *I* don't have to be perfect, that my soul doesn't have to be. But these sacred letters must be.
Full of fear & nausea once again, I slept on couch til 1 am.
When I moved to my bed, the spooky noises kept me up - so I watched the ginger tomcat fish in the pond below my kitchen window. It was very cute. He was unsuccessful. Lucky goldfish.
I read my R' Nebenzahl book again, looking for a way to ground myself into producing improved lettering.
B'ezrat HaShem



Saturday, September 6th

Ahh...Shabbes :)
I went for lunch to my sofer's & he & his wife & kids were great, as usual - there were the same friends as last week, the the addition of Tzipporah, a beautiful Moroccan woman from Chicago who was a very bright light. She was attending classes at She'arim (Gates), a Charedi (ultra-orthodox) women's yeshivah (seminary) & loving it. She luminous & had the voice of an angel! It was a real pleasure to sing z'mirot (Shabbat songs) with her.
While I was helping my sofer set up for lunch, he'd asked me whether he'd been of help, with his e-mail reply to my questioning of Self. He wasn't sure. I thanked him & told him I was much better, that I *knew* at some point that I was going to have a spiritual meltdown, that I jusy didn't know when, & that it was all well & good. One can NOT (*should* NOT) skip flippantly into such a serious honour as writing a Sefer Torah. There are many levels of preparation & for me, anyway, this re-grounding was one of them. I explained how the task was mountainous to my expressions of faith. He was pouring wine into his kidush cup, listening thoughtfully. He looked up into my eyes & muttered a line from the Sh'ma, "...b'chol levavkha, uv'chol nafshekha, uv'chol me'odekha." - referring to the fact that we *must* serve G@d, "...with our entire hearts, with our whole souls & with every part of our minds." I smiled. He's right. Normally the word for "heart" in Hebrew - "leyv" - is written Lamed-Vet. In the Sh'ma the word for "your heart" - "levavkha" - is written with TWO Vets. Why? This is to recognise & acknowledge that our hearts have 2 inclinations - one that is purely motivated & one that is selfishly motivated. & these words of G@d ask that we use *both* those inclinations in the ways which we relate with The Holy One. So basically what my sofer pointed out to me is that being aware of my shortcomings & "human-ness", is important, but that G@d doesn't expect me to be "perfect" (whatever *that* is!) before I attempt this Holy work.
Thank G@d!
We hung out for a while after lunch & talked about literature & told jokes & then I returned to my apartment for a schluff (nap).
After I woke I continued to read R' Nebenzahl's book, even though it had spun me into my spiritual crisis :) I'm very stubborn!
Shavu'ah tov!
The eveningsa are so beautiful here. Soft & fragrant.
I finished cutting ALL of my quills, even the goose ones, & I re-shrpened the turkey kulmusim (quills) I'd been using. They need to be re-shaped every 10 lines of writing, as they dull quickly. This is very high-maintenance Work :)
I blogged & e-mailed all night because I got all hopped up on Twizzlers :)

Friday, September 12, 2003




Editor: Regarding the article about Aviel Barclay ("First woman to write a Torah," Bulletin cover, Aug. 22), feminism has one serious obstacle and it's all a matter of practicality.

For a sofer, ritual purity is essential. As mentioned in the article, no base metals may be used in the production of a Torah, as they would make it ritually impure. What is not mentioned is that the sofer himself must be ritually pure, cleansing himself in a mikvah every morning and being very, very careful of where he goes (visiting cemeteries is out), what he touches and what he eats, so as to not accidentally make his work impure. For two of every four weeks, a woman is ritually impure and may neither touch her sofer-husband, nor work on a Torah, herself.

To make a long story short, I am not in the least implying that a woman cannot be a soferet; what I am saying is that it is not practical. Aviel Barclay may not work on her Torah for two weeks out of every four, nor may she even have it in her home during that same period, lest she accidentally make it impure. It takes a long time to complete an entire Torah and it will take her twice as long as a sofer of equal skill. It's never been a profession that women have been actually barred from doing; it's simply impractical – and thus became tradition.

Congratulations to Ms. Barclay. I think what she is doing is wonderful. In fact, she produced my brother's ketubah. I just hope that this aspect of ritual purity is kept in mind when accepting a large commission.

The original article as published can be found here.



Friday, September 5th

I'll be 35 years old, G@d willing, when I start writing this Sefer Torah & I will have wanted to do this for 32 years by the time I begin the work.
32 years. 32 is the gematria of lev, heart. The 32 paths of the heart. I believe now that's why this privilege has come to me at this time, because each year since my first inspiration at the age of 3 I've been doing the work associated with each or these paths, climbing that ladder. must look into it further...
I'll begin with R' Areleh Roth.
My sofer dropped by & brought me TWIZZLERS!!! He's the best! I'd e-mailed him about my spiritual crisis & he'd been really helpful. He invited me for Shabbes.
Thank G@d I have such great people in my life that help me take good care of myself!



Thursday, September 4th

Did a LOT of lettering today. My hands & forearms are sore...
At 7 p.m. I'm doing laundry a couple of blocks from my apartment & these Israeli teens are making a video!
It was so hilarious, I laugh out loud as the little one with shining brown eyes & brunette pigtail springs for hair in baggy red plaid pyjama bottoms which say "bootylicious" across the butt & a grey baby T climbs inside one of the dryers, complete with Tevas. They take turns climbing inside & videoing each other they all *might* be 15, at most.
I made myself a strong cup of coffee at home. black black. stirred in some White Death (that would be granulated sugar) & got to work.
Felt very weird - almost like I was coming own with a bug or something. I felt a bit nauseous & uneasy. I know I didn't catch a flu from my flights, because they're too long ago now. Sure I had strong coffee with sugar & only a boiled egg to eat, but that wasn't it. Each time I got up from the table I was just a tiny bit shaky. It was almost imperceptible. Something's wrong & I don't know what it is. Yet.

After webbing & blogging, I settled on the chesterfield & began reading Rav Nebenzahl's book on the month of Elul - & how to effectively do tshuvah (after all, repentance is my middle name) & now I understand my problem. I'm selfish. I'm here to do this work for me & not for G@d, to welcome the precious opportunity to perform the special mitzvot required of me while here. I'm taking, not giving. This is a serious flaw. How can I transform this part of my Self?
I suspect that my fears of being physically injured or murdered while I'm here are not just based on the threats that were made against me the last time I was learning with my sofer, but are linked to my lack of chesed in this area, my sometimes patchy faith in G@d (Shoftim 2:10, 12 & 3:2). If only I could find the chesed & the strength to serve G@d in the way that only I am meant to - the whole reason why I walk this Earth - then I would have no need to feel suspicious or fearful of others. I would simply serve & be preserved by the grace of G@d.
Perhaps this is the beginning of the lesson I was meant to learn about myself by coming here, the lesson alluded to in the dream I had the night after I found out that I was definitely coming to Israel. The dream that told me there was a part of myself that was not in tune with G@d & the sacred path I wish to tread. There's been an old spiritual blockage which I haven't *quite* been able to dismantle on my own, due to the pain of the past that turned me into a taker, a taker whom I've mostly turned around & healed, but not completely. Maybe this is it. I think so. I feel so. Thank G@d. Now what do I do?
All I know is that I won't be worthy to write this Sefer Torah until I have healed this wound.
How do I gently open this part of myself which is still protectively closed, still concerned with preserving my Self & my ego above anything else? I don't have a clue how. I only know what. I'm going to go meditate.
All I could do is cry. I was freezing. Sweating. Heart palpitating. & that nasty taste in my mouth...I went into shock. I got under my quilt fully clothed & lay there stiff & straight, shivering, with my hands over my heart, full of dread. I don't know how long for.
Joel called. I cried to him about my revelation. He loaned me all his love & sympathy & told me that I was in the process of becoming the Real Me. Why do I deserve this man? He's so *good*...
As I began to express my experiences, thoughts & feelings to Joel, I cried & came out of shock. Then as I processed my revelation my body became like a furnace, sweating profusely. I was totally overheated so I turned on the fan AND the air conditioner. It was 4 a.m. I still sweated through my clothes & left a puddle on the plastic dining room chair.
I just want to do this work with all the love & respect & consciousness that it deserves. I have to climb out of this chrysalid to do that.

With G@d's help...



Wednesday, September 3rd

Woke with a start & felt confused, nauseous...couldn't remember when I was supposed to call my sofer - just wanted to sleep some more but knew that I would be disturbed and/or miss out on important commitments.
Ate in a daze. I'm definately experiencing some frightening self-evaluation related to how spiritually worthy I am to do this work. To write this holy Sefer Torah.
I did more homework until a quarter to 1, then systematically went round the flat & hid everything sofrut-related in placed the cleaning lady wouldn't see.
My sofer handled the internet thing for me (Hebrew! Must improve my Hebrew!) & we hung out & chatted over lunch.
Then I did EMAIL @ HOME!!!
Barukh HaShem!
So I have a question: why do all Israeli salads have tons of rosemary & mint in them? Like, TONS! It's unbelieveable...
I fired up Limewire & listened to Stan Rogers sing Barrett's Privateers - funny, this tense history & culture dynamic between the US & Canada is so irrelevant here...
I met my soder in his studio for another lesson. On the wall was a piece he'd done for a local poet:

"...But Rachel was beautiful..."
I do what I have to
like an obedient daughter
or a dog - not for your fingers
in my flesh - I watch you
every day as you watch her
Since I'm the ugly one,
the one pushed into your bed
at night when you can't
tell the difference.
I've got another
son inside me, and still
you watch her - she doesn't
sag as I do after each birth
until you fill me again.
why can't you look at me
in daylight, or take
my hand and press it
against your mouth?
I'm not a stone, a shell
your foot rolls over
in the sand - the life
gone out of it
Maybe I am -
Your sons have sucked me
empty, and dull.
I leave your tent at dawn
as I walk to the river where I
throw my clothes off,
and the water shows me
my body floating
on the surface. It shivers
when I touch the blue dome
of your unborn child -
I touch my unwanted self
where the smooth skin
stretches over my breasts,
the silver veins - I'm cold.
I enter the water
As you enter me - quick -
like insects doing it while
they fly - the shock of it
lifts me,
and I swim raging
against the stream

- by Shirley Kaufman

He's pleased with my improvement - a hard admission to win from him. I still have write a *lot* in between sessions & I'm running out of klaf, so I've had to buy the water colour paper he recommended to practice on as I can't afford more klaf right now.
What a great day after all :)



Tuesday, September 2nd

Called my sofer about our next lesson.
Homework did not go well - each letter gets worse than the previous - confirming that I definitely shouldn't write during a spiritual crisis - I'm so unsatisfied with each letter & word combination that I re-sharpen my quill in between each. The ink is pouring onto the klaf in globs - I deepen the centre cut when it shoots up the shaft like lightening towards my left hand. Scared me. I guess it isn't soft enough to manipulate like this
I spent 2 hours with my sofer listening to his commentary on my homework.

I came home tired & fidgety & wanting to sleep but at 7pm that's just a bad idea, so ate & paced & walked to Russian compound & did e-mail.
A guy tried to pick me up on the way home (returned by 11:30)
Mum called at midnight & we chatted for 1.5 hours. It was really good to connect with her.
Lailah tov!



Monday, September 1st

When I woke I realized that my sofer hadn't called at 11:30 as he'd said. I ate, showered & generally recovered from being horizontal (thank G@d it isn't any harder for you). I called him at 2 p.m. & he still didn't have his act together. He couldn't meet at 6 because he had Tai Chi at 7. We made the time 5:30, unless he could do it "a drop earlier", in which case he'd call.
Now I can get on with MY day...
I strolled up to Feldheim to check on those book prices for Joel - Shemirath Shabbath & Derekh HaShem. Strolling. Body didn't want to make much forward motion, particularly uphill, so I took it easy as I poured with sweat & drenched my clothes by the time I'd been out 10 minutes.
Living in Israel is like a daily encounter with a stunningly beautiful woman who is intensely passionate & at the same time intensely angry.

When I returned home I ate & crashed from the heat exhaustion - rested for hour & a half before my lesson.

In 1.5 hours we did Quf, Mem Sofit, Mem, Lamed - his wife dropped in a couple of times - he did "alexanders" & instructed me to ignore him as I wrote multiple words which he'd periodically call out from his studio floor.

I'm drinking litres & litres a day & I have no idea where it goes...
I'm *constantly* dehydrated, but still thrilled to be here.
I'm even too tired to read Woody Allen...
So I napped on my chesterfield & journalled.



Sunday, August 31st

I called my sofer at 6 p.m. I'd called him a couple of times earlier, but it was busy.
So we're meeting at 6 p.m. tomorrow, "...unless tomorrow is very different & we can meet at 5:30 or one pm...I'll call you around 11:30..."
I'm just relaxing & journalling right now. I'll finish my homework in a bit &, depending on how I feel, I'll stroll to the netcafé & Shai know what? Scratch that. No, I'm not going. I want my sofer to fix me up with internet at home tomorrow, so why would I drag my fershtinken carcass all the way to the Russian Compound if I don't absolutely have to? :)
Tomorrow I'll get cash & groceries, then do my laundry (which involves sitting), meet with my sofer & deal with our learning process & my net situ. THEN I'll take care of my web needs, banking, etc. I'll be fine :D

Is HaShem *really* going to let me live long enough to fully enjoy these brakhot (blessings)?

"You gotta have the guts to go & sit out there & do your thing & let people throw rocks & bottles & whatever at you." - Meatloaf

Meatloaf is my hero. How could he know that one day he'd inspire & give hope to a potential Soferet ST"M? May he live a long & happy life...

Did my homework. It was good. ALL of my letters have improved noticeably, particularly Dalet, Bet & Hey. I finally got the hang of the legs on Dalet & Hey, so I'm quite pleased. I filled the klaf with multiple words made up of the letters my sofer has demonstrated for me - the only letters permitted to me. I went crazy on the last two lines & did Alef, Tet, Samekh & Quf. I couldn't stand it anymore. I understand the Zen-like discipline I require of myself to be present with each letter repeatedly in order to beautifully perfect their forms, not just make them kosher, but I'm not quite there yet. I must perfect myself before I can in turn perfect the Alefbet.
I had a war with this current quill. Each time I sharpen it, I take a tad too much off the sides & am left with too narrow a nib width. This means I have to re-carve the whole thing, which takes time. It's fine, because my hand can always use a different activity to balance the constant controlled movements & contracted state it must maintain during the lettering process. A change is as good as a rest. Thing is, when I re-carve I'm so careful to *not* take too much off that I end up with a slightly dull nib, which makes the letter edges less sharp & it's really hard to make the tagin.
Practice, practice, practice.



Saturday, August 30th

*Yawn*. Woke around 9:30 a.m. & puttered about, getting ready in time to make it to Yakar by 10, when Kri'at HaTorah begins. I walked in during the Kohen aliyah, so ayn baya (no problem).
Yakar was nice - nowhere near as crowded as it used to be. It seemed to me that the mechitzah had been moved up somewhat so the women had more room...I sat alone at the front right next to the door on a single chair. I sat quietly & listened to the leyning with my eyes closed, meditating on the letters & their sounds. I davenned with no sidur. I met my sofer outside afterwards & we chatted with an obnoxious little man named who shall remain nameless. He asked me what I did for a living & I replied, "I do what he does - only not as well". My sofer said, "She whines." Then he wanted to know how I got my name, so I put him off. The two of us strolled back to their place via Ehud Olmert's house & a bizaarre few acre garden full of rubble, sunflowers, & this weird pierced-out painted pole construction with a giant set of chimes on a metal frame set into the earth beneath it. Then we started talking about cults. Then we ran into a drunk friend of his - she was quite hilarious. We were never introduced.
Over lunch we all talked about ketubah wording & halakhah (Jewish Ways) & R' Melchior vs. Rav Steinsaltz & legal vs. Halakhic it really got me thinking about equalization in Joel's & my shtar...
After a wonderful meal, I spent the afternoon alone reading "Side Effects" by Woody Allen
After Shabbat I strolled to Qaniyon Malkhah (the big mall) - it was only 45 minutes each way.
Relaxed when I returned home. Scarfed down the remainder of the whole olives & journalled. Did some looking at my Hebrew calendar found Dad's Yahrtzeit - Tishrei 28, so its Parsha is B'reyshit...ugh. This year I get to light the candle the night of October 23rd, when he died.

Looked at my finances. Dismal.



Friday, August 29th/Rosh Chodesh Elul

Did the rest of my alefbet - the last half wasn't quite as good as the first. The letters' lines weren't as clean. I was really in the Zone yesterday when I did the first ones...oy.
Talked to my sofer about meeting today (2:15) & getting ready for Shabbes. He's also going to help me with Bezeq so I CAN FINALLY GET INTERNET AT HOME!!! YAY! He's my hero! :)
Very little Shabbes prep today - I'm sticking close to home so I won't be all exhausted by the time candle lighting comes around.
Learned with my sofer for over an hour. He made me tea & we went over Khaf sofit, Zayin, Chet & Nun sofit. It was good. I have my work cut out for me.
I didn't actually do much else today - just got ready for Shabbat, which didn't require much as I'm going to their place for both dinner tonight & lunch tomorrow, I have my groceries, the cleaning lady did her job (sort of) &, well, really nothing left to do but to fantasize about accomplishing my Work here...

I lit my Shabbat candles. I sat on the edge of my bed & cried for a while, the whole time repeatedly saying "thank you" to G@d for the precious opportunity I've been given by Kadima to come here & learn & then to do this important work over the next year...
I davenned (prayed) & headed to my sofer's. His wife & kids & Noa & I hung out on the mirpeset (balcony) in the nice breeze for a bit, waiting for him to return from shul (synagogue). Then Anat came. They both work with children. Noa spent her holiday in Tel Aviv last week with my sofer's wife. Anat lives in a slum neighbourhood as a part of a community reclamation project where they teach children, clean away the rubble, plant gardens & help job-train the adults. She's quite amazing.
Dinner was great. The company was terrific. I'm so lucky to know such people! Salmon, Golan wine, discussions of all kinds & Qafeh Tourqi (Turkish coffee). & Wild Turkey bourbon, of course :) My sofer finally passed out reading Mishneh Brurah & a book on Japanese culture. I asked him if he was searching for Torah in the Japanese culture & he replied that the trick is to find Japanese culture in Torah...

Shabbat shalom!



Thursday, August 28th

Brekkie of this great German meusli called "mestermacher" - I wonder what "mester" means? That in Yotvatah yoghurt, a boiled egg & green tea - yum!
I did homework all day - still battling with the tagin (crowns) & okqetzim ("thorns) - serifs, more like) on my letters & making them finer.
I needed to get out, so I walked to the Russian compound for e-mail - there were HUGE billboards everywhere: "Jaffa Road closed to private vehicles" - only police, army & transit. I'm actually getting used to seeing UN vehicles everywhere, too...

Walked home along Ben Yehudah - Chaim Dovid was playing in the band shell they'd erected. Wow. He's one of my fave Jewish musicians - he plays with such an open heart, an open soul. He's really in love with G@d. He's a sofer as well, but I've never learned that from him. I stood in the crowd & closed my eyes, absorbing the vibe, the sound, the atmosphere. This is heartbreaking. The fact that all these beautiful people are risking their lives just by coming to a street fair. That why the streets for blocks around were closed to private vehicles. That's why I had to be searched before I was allowed in.

May we bring peace to each other & ourselves soon...



Wednesday, August 27th

I made some lunch & got ready for my class with my sofer. I arrived at 1 p.m. & his wife let me in: "Mi zeh?" she called down the stairs, "Aviel" I responded, suddenly thinking that I might be early because my brain is so unreliable when I'm tired...oh well, I thought, we're friends anyway, so no biggie, I'm sure.
"Come say hello to the birthday boy", she beckoned me inside. "Aw, jeez - I can't believe I forgot..." I said. So he was was still eating lunch & she got me some water & their eldest child brought me birthday cake. We chatted for a bit about her trip to Tel Aviv with the kids, how her work is going, etc. - she is *very* cool. I really like her a lot.
I happily reminded her that *she* had a birthday coming up in a couple of weeks & she sort of waved it off with a smile.
So I headed down to meet my sofer in his studio & his wife invited me for Shabbes - YAY!
I gasped when I saw the ketubah he was working on on his drawing board - elaborate scenes of crashing waves at dawn, of stags & eagles & *vultures* all surrounded by "papercut" panels on klaf. He mumbled something about a monstrosity. I was speechless with horror.
He showed me the facsimile of a Haggadah thathe'd done & had just dropped off. It was quite amazing - very naive gouache illustrations & his calligraphy. He'd obviously had a little fun with it. The reproduction was so good, you could practically scratch the gouache off the paper :) Then we talked about Woody Allen & he did an impression for me of the Pocket Watch Joke.
We got to work. He panicked today about how much time we have left. I felt pretty unnerved by that, but this is my sofer. "You're leaving too soon," he mumbled. "You said 20 sessions", I countered. He proposed we make a schedule & I agreed - & I'm going to hold him to it for Friday. Once that's set up, I'll call Dov (another sofer who teached women some things, but not everything) & try to get sewing learned...
I was quite critical of my homework & of the work I was doing in front of him. He reassured me that it was just that my quills weren't sharp enough & that the particular klaf I was working on was exceptionally furry & that not to worry - I'd "get" it. That's how you get supportive statements out of him - you criticize yourself before he has a chance to :) He gave me more klaf & I left.
I was home by a quarter to 3, having spent a little over an hour with my sofer on Hey, Yud & Khaf, & crashed out until 6:30. Blah. SO tired...
It was only a 15-minute stroll to the closest mall & when I got to the front door security the two Ethiopian men there tried to pick me up, so I said, "S'licha, medabeyr anglit?" ("Sorry, do you speak English?") They stared & I shrugged. I slipped by them :)
On my way out I ran into Yuri, the security guard from Strudel ("Mike's Place"). We chatted & I headed on.
On my way into my front gate I saw the lizards for the first time up close - they're *so* CUTE! Little & rubbery looking skin & big eyes & pale bands of bare colour...& SUCTION CUP TOES!!! It occurred to me that these wee beasties couldn't possibly be the banging, clawing creatures I hear & feel every night against my walls & roof, so...what sort of animals could be responsible?!?!? I shudder to think!
The stuff of nightmares...



Tuesday, August 26th

I'm in a Gevurah (strength) vs. Chesed (compassion) balancing act. Gavri'el HaMalakh (the Archangel Gabriel) was the awesome messenger whose strength put fear into the hearts of those he came to instruct, yet he communicated their mission to them in a way that they could hear it & left them with a sense of peace & direction. I was finally able to define where I'm at after sitting with him in my heart last night. He heard me. I've come here on a heart/Tiferet journey this time, not a head/Keter journey. I've come with a more open heart, with less (no?) arrogance & with my heart ready to overflow with tears at any moment. He told me about myself :) they way only he can. Chesed & Din (judgement). Balance. Black fire on White fire. Correcting letters. Forming them perfectly by adding, not subtracting. Having the CONSCIOUSNESS, the KAVANAH to form them beautifully the first time & not return later to scrape away. So much a metaphor for our lives. ALL our lives.
I was left with a feeling that I have to pour love into this place, while I have the chance, while I'm here. The "Nachazir" chant I learned from Naomi Steinberg came to me & I sang it once. "Nachazir et HaSh'khinah limqomah b'et Tzion uva Teyvel kulah". Let us restore the Sh'khinah to Her Place in Zion & throughout the whole inhabited world. In other words, wherever there are people, let us bring the Peace of G@d's Presence. I'm going to do some chant & breathwork with this later.
I sat & drank my green tea. "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem"...& all her precious souls. Not just the Jewish ones. I wept.

Yehuda's studio fiasco - I never made it. It was so boiling hot & I was so disoriented by the time I got to the neighbourhood that all I saw was a dirt road here & a dirt road there & I knew I was so close I could've spit on Yehuda's front door, but I gave up & went into that enormous Theatre mall complex for a drink. The security guard didn't just check my bag & metal-detect me, he asked me why I was coming to the mall. I tried to explain myself & he let me through, but only because I'm a non-threatening "Anglo-Saxit"...I ended up staggering home in the oppressive heat through a strange part of Gonen - totally the wrong neighbourhood - & collapsing on my bed. I was damp for the rest of the day, even *with* the air conditioning on...
I took a nap from 3 - 5 p.m. from the sheer exhaustion of wandering in the dusty desert heat.
I hit the local art store to buy this crazy special 3D ruler to do my homework with.
Called my sofer & left a message about when we'd meet tomorrow.
Called Yehuda & got alternative directions from Maurene to his studio. We chatted about how great Shabbes was & how wonderful it is to spend time together again.
My homework manifested as such: Bet is a bit of a battle, but Dalet is coming along nicely. Reysh is more of a challenge than it should be & Vav is only good when I write it larger .

I don't know even what time it was when I was finished my lettering, but it was light out & the birds were singing. Such strange birdsong here...



Monday, August 25th

Inbal & I had a great breakfast in my flat this morning! There's nothing like sharing a meal with good friends!

I had a one hour lesson with my sofer. We covered Dalet, Reysh, Vav...I learned also that the turkey quills not just fatter & thicker, but less flexible & if cut shorter/less tapered suit heavy handers like us. Very important to know...

Inbal & I walked to Migdal David (David's Tower) because neither of us had been there before & they had these interactive plays going on on several languages. They had actors in period costumes stationed at various places around the citadel to teach people about the history of that part of the Old City. We were really excited about it, so were very disappointed that the tickets were all sold out. We strolled around the front (free) part of the grounds as they were about to close to the public (read non-ticket holders) anyway. It was interesting & fun, what we *were* able to see, but I'll have to go back again another time.
We were boiling, so we searched the Rova for cold drinks that would pep us up - & we found a place that served qafeh barad @ central square in Jewish Quarter! YAY! I finally asked Inbal what "barad" meant. She said, "Well, it's from Pesach, the seder."
"Barad is one of the 10 Plagues - it means 'hail'."
I laughed my guts out! "I'm drinking a Plague? That's *so* GREAT!" We lazed in the shade of the café at our table & just people-watched. It was fascinating. There was a Charedi (ultra-orthodox) guy in the square, out in the boiling sun, with a box of tefilin (phylacteries). On the box it said, "Tefilin - Just do it" with the Nike swoosh. He was stationed there to encourage unsuspecting Jewish men who looked like they weren't observant to put on the tefilin & teach them the blessings. A special kind of person stands out in the midday summer sun wearing black wool & a kippah AND a hat *just* in case the opportunity might arise to help someone do a mitzvah (commandment/good deed), to do kiruv (outreach). Poor guy - the whole time we sat, all the men he approached veered away & ignored him.
There were 2 tables of French (Jewish) tourists near us. That was fun - they looked so happy & relaxed with their kids. I got to eavesdrop a bit, too - my French (being Canadian) is much better than my spoken Hebrew. Inbal leaned over to me & asked in a whisper, "Aviel, what language is that?"
"Oh. So nice to be able to understand!"
I smiled. I didn't feel like such a Prole now. Still, I must improve my spoken Hebrew ASAP. My reading & writing ain't bad, but that doesn't get you far in a country where everyone is in such a hurry.
After our rest in that rare patch of shade, Inbal & I walked to the Kotel. We came down the south western steps leading to the Plaza & were stopped by a crowd about halfway up. The security wasn't letting us in. There was a bomb that had been smuggled in & they'd cleared the area so it could be safely diffused. We had no idea how long we might have to wait, so we settled in on the steps with the other tourists & pilgrims. More chatting & people watching. A Charedi man in a long black coat approached us with a handful of 10 sheqel coins, shaking them rhythmically. "Tzedaqh, tzedaqah..." he called. He looked at each of us in the face.
"Tzedaqah for a Kallah." he stated. Providing for a bride who is too poor to have a wedding is a very high mitzvah, so I opened my wallet & gave him another 10 sheqel coin. It's not much, but it adds up. He was very happy for my donation. He smiled.
"Thank you. Thank you. Are you married (I was wearing my baseball cap)?"
"Yes." I grinned sheepishly. I still can't believe it.
"May you have a good husband. A good wedding & a good husband." He said, smiling. I thanked him emphatically. I didn't expect a blessing from giving charity - I just did it because it was the right thing to do. How sad, to have the opportunity to marry & have money barring the way. I'm poor myself, so I empathize with this girl, whoever she may be. He kept blessing me as he backed away, respectfully & I continued accepting his wishes for me, making eye contact, until he vanished into the crowd. It was only then that the importance of his blessings really sank in. "May you have a good husband". Suddenly the worlds of difference between a "good" & "bad" husband & how radically different my life would be with one or the other (G@d forbid) really hit me. This is the home I wish to build with my partner & dwell in the rest of our days. You can't underestimate having a good partner.
We alternately stood & sat for ever, it seemed, just 50 metres from the Wall (not the Pink Floyd one, the Jewish one!), only being able to look at it & it's empty Plaza. Not being allowed to approach it or touch it or pray there. Very disheartening. Inbal wanted to take the bus home after we'd prayed, but we couldn't get to it, since we had to cross the Plaza to that stop. The stop where the last suicide bomber got on bus #2 & exploded in Me'ah She'arim, taking 22 others with him to their deaths.
Eventually we left & made our way back out through the Old City & up Yafo to the next-nearest bus stops, where I said goodbye to her & waved her away with a big smile. She's so great!
I was up for an adventure in Me'ah She'arim - so off I headed. On my way there I passed a plaque on a stone wall next to a driveway which read "Shalhevetyah Centre". I smiled. That's a word from one of my favourite parts Shir HaShirim. The Shalhevet Yah is the holy flame of G@d that burns, but does not destroy. Love is called the Shalhevet Yah in these verses.
The streets were CROWDED with people! & there I was again with exposed wrists. I overheard a comment in Hebrew about my ponytail. That either I was married or I was not married, so if I'm covering my hair because I'm married, I should cover ALL my hair, not have this provocative blonde ponytail bouncing about behind me. OY. I won't come back here again unless I'm more thoroughly covered.
I hiked home home through the colourful Ben Yehudah street fair.
Did my homework - made copious notes in my cahier as well.
I journalled till 2 a.m.

During this time I came to the realization that the negativity & dross that's been filling up my open heartspace along with the holiness...the closure of my space due to bad vibes is from the fact that this is, in potential, a very dangerous place & there's so much tension & hatred & intolerance - not just between Arabs & Jews, but between Jews!!! This is *not* "Yerushalayim shel Zahav"("Jerusalem of Gold"), this is *not* the Yerushalayim of R' Shlomo Carlebach's songs. Maybe it used to be. I have faith that it *can* be, as I fight my ko'ach ha'medameh (power of negative, hopeless illusion) & remember that Moshiach Consciousness is coming & that Olam HaBa is waiting for *us*...

B'sha'ah tovah...

Monday, September 08, 2003



Sunday, August 24th

"Modah ani lefanekha..."
I am *so* lucky.
Barukh HaShem.
I got on with my day: laundry, the office place "Express", food, connected with my sofer & then my Israeli girlfriend Galit, sofrut homework...
I want to say something about my adventures so far in sofrut: wow. It is both just as I imagined, this final learning stage, & at the same time a surprise. I think both are good :)
For one thing, the quill cutting isn't as complicated as I thought it would be. I mean, I've read about it & seen pictures of the process & ordered a few professionally made ones in the past to *really* see how they're done properly. But never even attempted to carve one myself, even tho' I love carving (wood, metal). The quills are turkey - the ones I bought in Me'ah She'arim - & goose - the ones that Fred Nudel brought me from the shochet (ritual butcher) in Montréal - & they have different characteristics. The goose are much thinner that the turkey - less than half as thick - so carving them is a more delicate matter, particularly in awling out all the smelly interior chamber-like material of the shaft after they've soaked. The exacto-blade (the inconvenient Israeli version I bought here, anyway) is serving me very well, but I definitely need to find some razor blades.
The ink is really something, the way it behaves on the klaf. With regular drawing ink & a metal nib on paper, I can just drag the pigment to wherever I want it in one stroke & it's there. & it stays. This Nahari d'yo has to be gently coaxed along. It must be enticed to spread itself over the klaf & then convinced to remain there. This requires much more drawing out & many more strokes. Once in position, it stays put on top of the klaf, drying expectantly.
The klaf I'm currently doing my homework on - it's velvety prepared surface is more of a battle for sharp letter edges than the other Torah klaf I've worked on before. Beautiful to look at & feel, but quite a challenge to write on. It's ok - I'll get the hang of it (G@d willing).
I went out to Café Hillel with Galit & had a qafeh barad - which was very excellent indeed.
We later met our friend Inbal at the Kotel. Both Inbal & Galit had lived & taught in Vancouver last year, so they had a grocery bag full of notes their elementary students had written to be placed in the cracks of the Wall. What a gevalt! It was so sweet to see these two placing hundreds of children's requests for G@d between the stones.



Saturday, August 23rd

I woke so starving that I was a complete mental case. I made a snack & thus regained my sanity enough to walk to shul :)
The stroll to Yedidyah was beautiful! So quiet in the streets of Jerusalem on Shabbat - not a single car to break the stillness of the fresh morning. Still early enough that the sun wasn't piercing my eyes & skin yet. Even so, most people seemed to already be in synagogue by now - they start early here, often 8 or 8:30 a.m.
The morning was so soft, even the cats who live in the dumpsters seemed less skittery, less afraid when I approached. I floated to worship through the long, gentle shadows.
Yedidyah was just as I'd remembered it. In the basement of a Dati elementary school in Baqa, with separate men's & womens' entrances. There was a security guard at the gate of the tall metal fence, typical of schools here. One of the reasons I sometimes reconsider raising a family here - the schools are bordered by stone walls, heavy steel fences & barbed wire. I don't want my children growing up thinking that spending their childhood inside what looks like a prison compound to be either normal or desirable. I passed the guard with his enormous automatic rifle (wasn't an M16) & we nodded to each other. After all, it *was* Shabbes...
I had a tremendous time re-acquainting with old friends! Thank G@d everyone is happy & healthy & their children are growing!
After Shabbes I worked on my lettering & prepped for tomorrow...

Saturday, September 06, 2003



Friday, August 22nd

Met with my sofer at 9 a.m. for learning the fine art of sirtut (scoring klaf [parchment]) & the next installment of letters: Dalet, Reysh & Vav. I'd cut more quills & made many experimental "play" strokes as homework after my first lesson with him, on the broad, the flat & the shpitz (corner) of my new nibs. Now he wants me to cut some of them thinner - Megillah size.
We have to use klaf (parchment), gidin (sinew), quills & a sargel (awl made from bone, wood, or a rose thorn) from kosher animals because "the Torah is to be in our mouths". This is from the Laws of Tefilin. I was surprised to learn that the sirtut must be done upside down (!) in order to create the ridge required for proper writing. My sofer demonstrated a few times the yaw & the pitch of the sargel & then had me try it. We use this ridge to kinesthetically guide our writing strokes.
Homework was to review Qeset HaSofer about the laws of correcting the letters properly re overwriting, scratching out, which you must do in what order, etc. To study the laws of writing with the proper kavanah (intention), chapters 1 - 11. Also, to do sirtut with 1cm spacing & to make a series of horizontal stroke exercises he assigned.
He let me use his computer before I left, but was unreachable - grrr.
At home I unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate the Bezeqint automated helpline in Hebrew for an internet connexion.
Headed to Rova for net - STILL unreachable
I then walked to Internet Club in the Russian Compound & FINALLY did e-mail re Joel & Life & everything, answered extraneous messages.
Home for shabbes :)
Shabat Shalom!!



Thursday, August 21st

Alarm clock pro is still not working
I spent an hour on the letter Bet with my sofer this a.m. I wondered why we'd start here as I always begin teaching with Yud, it being the foundation of each of the other letters. But this script, Beis Yosef Torah k'tav ST"M, is very square & straight, so Bet it is...
As usual, my sofer's calligraphy is totally amazing & mine is thick & ugly & plodding in comparison. I wonder why nobody has ever commissioned him to write a Sefer Torah - it certainly would be the most beautiful one in existence. But probably few, if any, could afford him for such a project. His Bets are straight & square & light & have personality & his tagin (crowns) are hair-thin. In comparison, my Bets are slightly rounded, either more squat or too open, & the tagin are crude. I have to write them on the shpitz (top corner of the oblique-cut nib), he says. This is very different from drawing out each letter, like I used to (& my letters looked *great*). I need a lot of practice.
Enjoyed my lunch of whole wheat pita, green olives, choumous with zatar & feta with tea. AAAAHHHHHHHhhhhhhh.......
Already exhausted by the heat, so I took a nap.
Explored Har Tzion (Mount Zion) alone. The climb up was a real killer in this heat - very steep going. I reached the stone wall where I remember there was a black scratching which read, "qever david" ([King] David's Tomb) with a barely discernible arrow pointing in a direction you couldn't go from there, on account of the stone wall topped with barbed wire. It survived & I continued my pilgrimmage up towards the left of the religious graffiti. I followed the winding paths & steps to the summit, where I found myself at the front steps to the huge Greek Orthodox church you can see from the west. The door was closed & everything was silent. Eerily silent. I strode through the unkempt grounds, all dry grass the same yellow as the limestone this city is built from. There was nobody around - *nobody*.
At all.
Just me & the wind in the broken grass & the seemingly abandoned buildings. No birdsong. This was dangerous. Me alone with my laptop on deserted Mount Zion. & a basketball court. & a thick metal cage securing some kind of pit. The cage was like the ones I saw at the circus in daze of yore, complete with solid metal cap. I peered in as I encircled it - an old underground church? No, a miqveh, it's telltale division on the broad steps giving up its secret. I made for the single green patch at the side of a far building, hoping it was an entry into the streets leading to the inhabited part of Har Tzion. It was. Phew. Last time I was here in '97 I was mugged by a Palestinian, so I'm relieved to drift into the company of other worshippers. I strolled the worn stone into the arched alcove, complete with hand washing station for prayer, which lead to the tomb of King David. No thief awaited me under the darkened archways like six years ago. I washed & proceeded to the tomb. I put tzedakah in the tin box locked to the wall by the entrance & entered, where there were others davenen. I stood, breathing in the arched stone room, the Sifrei Torah in their cases lined up on the top of the semi-cylindrical tomb, 6 feet high, which was draped in a rich blue embroidered velvet cover, all the way to the floor. On it read "David Melekh Yisra'el Chai V'Qayam" (David, King of Israel, lives forever). I said Hallel, made a note of the fact that this place still did not touch my heart, & left.
Did e-mail in the internet cafe in the Rova. The Russian guys there are so obnoxious :) I love Israel!



Wednesday, August 20th

Rolled out of bed at a quarter to 9 to the tune of my landlord & cleaning lady yammering on about *something*. Turns out the alarm didn't sound, but my computer woke up at the designated time. That's useful...
Called my sofer. He's hilarious. We discussed last night's bombing. "It's just the same thing, over & over again." he said in a hopeless tone. We also chatted about sirtut (scoring qlaf [parchment]), what flick he should take his children to today, etc. We're going to meet tomorrow at 9 am.
I'm so tired I'm nauseous again. It'll pass. In the meantime, I should do my laundry & errands in the village. Get change for the cleaning lady. Thank G@d I'm alive & healthy.
Finished my everyday & walked through Bloomfield Park on my way to do e-mail.
It occurred to me that I'd never checked out the Windmill in Yemim Moshe. This windmill, such a historic landmark, I painted on so may ketubot for so many couples & yet, I'd never had a good look at it. So I went in. It was free (yay!) & I learned a ton about Sir Moses Montefiore & his decades of charitable work with Jews all over Europe as well as all the people (not just the Jews - the Arabs too!) of Eretz Yisra'el. Quite amazing. Very cool architecture in the neighbourhood, too, in this first Jewish neighbourhood established outside the walls of the Old City, with a windmill & green space & small plots of land to grow vines & fruits. People still live there. It has an amazing view of the Old City, as it's just across the valley which used to be referred to as Gehinom (Hell). The city's midden was here, so there were always garbage fires burning & this is where the Christian concept of Hell comes from. I must say, they've cleaned Hell up nicely, tho' - now it's a park with an outdoor theatre & concert space :) Not so bad a punishment if you've misbehaved in this life, to be sent to the movies :)
King Herod's family tomb is in the north end of this park & I checked that out as well. Very mysterious, the worn, broken cave breaking the surface of the lawn like a sounding whale...
I was wandering about through some of my favorite streets behind Ben Yehudah after my e-mail stint & this old guy followed me near T'mol Shilshon (a very excellent coffee house). I just turned & stared hard at him, annoyed. Then I slipped down a lane & out the back by some construction.
On a partially finished glass front building some graffiti read, "Ain isur yesh mutar" (There is nothing forbidden, only permitted) scrawled above a pentagram in white spray paint. I smiled. If only I owned a camera...
There was some kinda crazy thang goin' on at the Italian Synagogue - kiosks & flags & tables & banners & colours & I'll have to have a peek later...but I have more quill cutting to practice!



Tuesday, August 19th

Note to self: "gevinah t'nuvah" is *not* yoghurt!
Let me tell you a bit about my neighbourhood, here: there are pet shops, pizza & pilates! I'm in heaven!! Funky Hippie New Agey shops with flowy clothes, crystals & books, too. YAY! I'm home! :)
I hit my local art & stationary supply store this morning to pick up blades & various other nifty tools for my first official session with my sofer in over 5 years: Quill Cutting for Dummies :)
Quill cutting with him was quite an experience. 1.5 hours of organic carving. The feathers I'd brought with me from Vancouver had been given to me by a supportive friend who'd visited a shochet while in Montréal. They were goose. My sofer wasn't so impressed with them. The ones I'd bought in Me'ah She'arim were turkey. They were much fatter in circumference & the actual thickness of the shaft was better. They could be carved & shaped more effectively as they're just hardier. Don't have to be sharpened or re-shaped so often & therefore last much longer. They're stiffer as well, so heavy-handed calligraphers like he & I can press as hard as we normally would & get the effect we want out of the finished nib & without it bending. I'll still use all of them, just to get a feel of what's best for my particular hand & style, but so far in all the years I've known him, all the advice he's given me based on his own requirements has suited me just fine.
He went over the basics of the several cutting steps & awling out procedure in order & watched me do my own. "Oh, so you've done this before..?" he said. I hadn't actually, never carved quills, anyway. Just lots of different kinds of wood & metal & stone - & feathers are of course a *really* different material to work with, so my cuts didn't look much like his. Still, it was encouraging to get that feedback from him.
I returned home with a couple of brand new quills :)
Called my favorite bookbinder friend at his studio & it was SO AMAZING to hear his voice! WOWEE! I've missed him & his wife & kids SO SO much! I practically cried on the phone, I was so excited! I'm going to visit him in his new bookbinding studio soon...
After we hung up it rang again, like, THIRTY SECONDS later & I picked up the phone. "Shabbat lunch..?"
"SURE! Yes please!" So Shabbes is taken care of now :) I'm *so* excited to see them again!
I headed to Arta, near Ben Yehudah, & picked up more supplies. Browsed & salivated over the art things I was *not* going to buy as well...
I walked home through Liberty Bell Park - a great alternative to busy Qeren HaYesod. The park, with it's arching green vines & random PoMo sculptures was full of black hat ultra-orthodox families & Arab families playing. The children weren't actually playing *with* each other, but *near* each other, so that's good (I thought). They were also taking turns lining up for pony & camel rides! Haven't seen a camel in years! This one was cream-coloured & wasn't as ornery as they usually. Tolerating the children quite well, actually. It was so heart-filling to see them play & ride & all their smiles & hear their happy shrieks & giggles.
I took a nap. This heat is oppressive.
Sat down to eat my favorite Mediterranean meal of pita, choumous, feta & olives.
Homework time - soaked my quills in water for several hours as permy sofer's they're organic material, not unlike fingernails, the softer they get then more they stink. It's not a heavy smell, but very distinct, & presses my primordial brain buttons so that I always feel as though I'm in the presence of something dead.
As I was working, I heard a number of different sirens all racing past me. I thought they were heading south, so I was concerned that perhaps something had happened in Gilo or another one of the Jerusalem suburbs only a half kilometre from Beit Jala or Beit Lechem. Then I heard all the helicopters & felt sick. I knew something terrible had happened, or was happening, & I had no idea.
I answered the phone. It was Joel. "Thank G@d you're alive."
"Oh," I said, my voice dropping & the pit of my stomach imploding, "Something *has* happened, then." All he knew was that there had been a bus bombing & that there were at least 15 dead & 80 injured. He didn't know where, but it had just come up on his computer. He said he was relieved that I was safe at home, doing my holy work. But is my work any holier than anyone else's? There are no guarantees. I acknowledged & thanked him warmly for his love & presence. Then I called Mum just to let her know I was OK. I didn't want her hearing about the pigu'ah & feeling anxious about my safety. She hadn't heard the news yet & was grateful that I'd called to let her know ahead of time.
I watched CNN til 3 a.m., the only news channel I could follow as the Hebrew news reports were just too fast for me to follow, hoping to catch the details. It happened in Me'ah She'arim. There were so many families & children because they had just came from celebrating a Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel. They'd all taken the bus home. There were 20 dead & over 100 injured, & children among them.
I was just there at that intersection yesterday at 6 p.m., only 27 hours earlier. some of those children I saw playing in the street may be dead now. So might Chanie & Malka - G@d forbid!
Straightened up & took a shower to try to wash this awful day away. Then set Alarm Clock Pro for 8:45 am.
Went to sleep at 5:30 am.

Friday, September 05, 2003



September 5, 2003

Issue of obligation, not desire


Your article on Aviel Barclay (Bulletin cover, Aug. 22) included a brief accounting of my position on the halachah regarding women writing sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls). I would like to clarify my position. I have studied and deliberated on this matter for about a year now. Due to the limitations of this venue, the following is an oversimplification of my view. Nevertheless, it will provide some understanding of my approach.

My inclination in matters of gender and halachah is to search the halachah for permissive and inclusive trends within our tradition. I understand the tradition itself encourages the expansion of sincere religious expression for women (as well as men) within halachic boundaries. From this perspective, I have studied on my own, as well as with Aviel, many texts regarding the issue of women serving as sofrot (scribes), and I have consulted with renowned Torah scholars. As of yet, I have not found within our traditional legal sources sufficient legal ground to validate women to write sifrei Torah. In fact, I found one lone voice in the classical literature whose legal arguments to validate women writing sifrei Torah seemed to me and many others to be questionable.

While my research found that sifrei Torah written by women would be pasul (ritually invalid for public Torah reading), I do not believe that it is therefore forbidden for women to write sifrei Torah. Rather, any woman who so desires, is permitted to write a sefer Torah. The fruit of her work, however, would not be considered valid for ritual use. Nevertheless, I imagine any hand-written sefer Torah would have tremendous personal significance and the process of writing it would be awesome and inspiring. It could be used for educational purposes, learning Torah or as a reference. In light of this, and knowing Aviel's integrity, ability and sincerity, I support Aviel's study of sofrut and her project to write a sefer Torah.

If you are like me, you find what I have written so far unsatisfactory. If you are like me, you are left asking, "Why on earth would a tradition that is supposed to bring us closer to God disqualify women from writing sifrei Torah?" A partial answer to this question is based on the overriding ethos of halachah. One of halachah's main principles is that zechuyot (merits or privileges) are granted primarily in relation to hiuvim (obligations or responsibilities). It is in part because the hovah (obligation) to write a sefer Torah, while incumbent upon Jewish men, does not apply to women and sifrei Torah written by women do not attain full validity.

I believe acceptance of this fact is key to the perseverance and development of our tradition. For thousands of years, our tradition taught us to look at ourselves as individuals who are obligated, endowed with responsibility, commanded. We now find ourselves immersed in a society that trains us to look at ourselves
as entitled.

As mentioned, halachah teaches that entitlement is not automatic. It grows out of responsibility. The opening narrative of our entire tradition emphatically demonstrates this point. Adam and Eve are entitled to remain in the garden only as long as they obey the Divine command. The rest of the discussion around halachic entitlement is commentary on this foundational story. A change in halachah that changes only privilege without changing obligation and responsibility is not in keeping with our age-old tradition. The validation of women writing sifrei Torah must be based first upon imposing an obligation for women to write sifrei Torah. As of now, I have not heard anyone suggest a change of the obligations. I, for one, am not sure we could change the halachah to require women to write sifrei Torah if we wanted to. Yet, even if we could, would now be the appropriate time? When the overwhelming majority of Jews do not consider themselves obligated to basic halachic requirements, are we to add new ones?

I find myself in the following dilemma. How can I maintain integrity of our tradition and, at the same time, validate sincere and legitimate religious yearning that will bring an individual and a community closer to God. I believe that I have found a path that to a large extent resolves this impasse. Shaarey Tefilah, the synagogue that I have the honor to serve, under my direction has commissioned Aviel to write a Megillat Esther for us. Because women are obligated to hear the Megillah, the thrust of the halachic discourse indicates that they are privileged to be valid scribes to write the Megillah. Whereas the writing of a sefer Torah by women is validated by one lone halachic voice, the writing of Megillat Esther is endorsed by a long list (and by my count a large majority) of renowned and reliable authorities whose halachic reasoning is persuasive.

This approach, while not fully satisfying egalitarian inclinations, provides an outlet for Aviel's talents and spiritual aspirations, a venue for our community to take pride in the accomplishments of one of its beloved members and, at the same time, maintains the tradition's vitality, integrity and ethos. If this short piece inspires support for this project, I believe our community and the Jewish people will be enriched. If it arouses a consciousness of the need to raise the banner of obligation and "commandedness" among those who disagree with my conclusions, we will be rewarded just the same.

Rabbi Ross Singer is the spiritual leader of Shaarey Tefilah Synagogue in Vancouver.

Thursday, September 04, 2003



Monday, August 18th

Expenses so far incurred without receipts: Internet = 10 NIS, 5 NIS, 20 NIS, 53 NIS, 10 NIS
Tzedaqah = $5 US, $5 US, 30 NIS, 10 agurot, 10 agurot, 5 NIS
Water = 10 NIS, 10 NIS, 5 NIS, 5 NIS, 5 NIS
Art/Sofrut supplies = 19.90 NIS, 55 NIS
Went to my sofer's & just had a magical time in the presence of him, his clutter, his amazing art & wow, I'm just speechless :)
It was really quite breathtaking & *almost* overwhelming to be back in his studio & just around his person. There was old work, new work, indescribable poetry & images. wonder he's one of my heroes :)
His wife & children dropped in while he & I were having tea (he's *so* fussy - it's kind of endearing & alarming at the same time) & we hugged & chatted.
They congratulated me on my engagement & looked really happy & excited. After they left he gave me a shopping list & told me to go to a particular place in Me'ah She'arim, "if I wanted an experience"...I said yes, of course, but would they sell me the goods? He said, well, tell them what you really want to do with it & see what kind of an experience you have :) He asked me to buy him a Tiqun Tehilim if they had & gave me 100 NIS. Watched him work on a ketubah.
Into the bowels of Me'ah She'arim I went, list in hand, surrounded by the rough hewn stone plastered with warnings to women about modest dress, patchy sidewalks (if you can call them that), stained roads & the most indescribable odours. Everywhere there are men & boys. They wander the sidewalks with their eyes turned away from me if they're over, say, 10 years old. To the younger ones I'm a curious sight with my bare forearms & they stop their street games to stare. This one is Bratzlav, the other Kotzk. Followers of R' Areleh Roth abound in their striped kaftans...those look *so* comfy! It's like wearing your pyjamas ALL the time! I wanna join! :)
I happen into the sofer supply place & am met by a couple of young, overweight men dealing with the sofer & an extremely stern middle-aged looking woman in a chestnut-coloured sheytl (wig) sitting on a chair facing the entrance. She stared at me hard - the only way she'd stop is if I looked back at her for a bit too long. There was a clock on the right hand wall between the door & the shelves with all the goodies. It had a slot in it to put tzedeqah, so I popped 10 agurot in there, hoping they'd hear the sound & feel like they could trust me. It was rather like being in the jungle, my being more concerned with their image of me that I was able to carry my own Self to them. I removed my shades, again hoping that would facilitate his eventual co-operation. "S'licha" - I slipped between the stern woman & the two men & began browsing the shelves...I WAS IN HEAVEN! So much klaf & bar magnifiers & d'yo (ink) & erasers & knives! YAY!
I took a small bottle of Nahari ink & found a qeset (inkwell) for myself & put them on the lower shelf in front of me. There was a special sofer ST"M drawing table/lightbox made of gorgeous wood in the back, complete with qeset holder, lamp & a shelf. I drooled. I didn't dare ask how much, but BOY would that table make my fantasy job faster & easier...I also found a couple of boxes of mezuzah klaf already cut & scored! & they were only 10 NIS! & they came in different sizes! I was so excited I wanted to buy the whole shebang, but I just took note & will come back later when I know how much money I have left. I'm going to e-mail my potential mezuzah clients in the meantime...
The kindly old sofer asked me in Hebrew if he could help me. I put the ink & qeset down on his table & asked "Yesh l'kha sheysh kulmusim (do you have 6 quills)?" & he showed me that he only had uncut ones, the turkey feathers were 4 NIS each & the stripped ones (with fletch removed) were 5, so I just got 6 of the unstripped ones & asked for a Tiqun Tehilim, which he didn't have, but he told me that I could call the number of the publishers of the tiqunim he had there on the shelves. It was a number in B'nai B'rak. A town so religious that they don't have a police force. Apparently everyone there is too afraid of G@d.
I made my purchase (only 104 NIS!) & asked for a cheshbon (bill). He was very helpful & I won't be so freaked out next time I go :)
Perhaps my baseball cap - worn principally for the sun, but with the added bonus of giving people the impression that I'm married - is what did the trick. He may have assumed that I was in doing an errand for my non-existant sofer-husband.
I sauntered out of Me'ah She'arim I into Strudel to treat myself to a celebratory beer. It was so yummy. Weinhefeshaften or something - wheat beer from a 1027 recipe. Hung out with the ne'er-do-wells there, including a guy from Toronto, who was obsessed with the Tragically Hip to the point of believing that "Bob Kagan" was written about him at his summer camp & tried to guilt me into making aliya, a woman who forced her parents & a beit din to allow her to choose her own name for herself when she was 5 ("I was very stubborn") & the sexy granola serving wench with her puppy called "Nekafah" (which will remain untranslated).
They were curious about my bag of feathers, so I told them what I was up to & they thought it was really cool. There's always a great flow between secular & observant people when one of them is a boundary-crosser, provided the crossing is out of expansiveness & love.
I walked home.
Barukh HaShem.



Sunday, August 17th

4:15 am. I am still awake as the Muslim call to prayer breaks the pre-dawn stillness. The air is fresh & sweet.
Cats scream at each other on my mirpeset.
At five to six I feel so tired that I'm nauseous. It's light enough now that I can sleep confident that the sounds have retired for the day.
I was heading back that way myself when I realised that I was way too excited to sleep after talking with this shining soul called Joel. I called one of my Israeli girlfriends & we chatted - I told her my good news & she was like, "Lo...", she was so cute! Anyway, she's very happy for me & we'll get together sometime this week after her sister gives birth (!).
I was in the shower when my girlfriend from Vancouver called & we met at Café Hillel for a qafeh barad. YUM! Off walking & talking about our men on our way to Ben Yehudah. I'd totally forgotten what Israeli men are like - they don't just look with their eyes. They don't even simply turn their heads. They watch you with their whole body spun open, arms & legs apart, as if to receive your whole being. Talk about Moroccan testosterone :)
We were at Feldheim on Qeren HaYesod or George HaMelekh or somewhere when I took out my laptop to check if I could detect any wireless AirPorts. I sat on a chair while my friend bought a Gila Manolson book . The woman working there, a tall Teymoniyah (Yemenite) with beautiful, simple clothes & fabric over her hair, said to me in pidgin English, "They used to say 'Man's best friend is dog', but now? It's Macintosh." We laughed together. I'm definitely going back there - also because they have a Metsudah Kuzari I'm lusting after...
We wandered the shops, I checked a klaf for my friend & she kept insisting that we drink water...I need that discipline to come from outside of myself :)
Checked our e-mail in the Russian Compound.
Checked out some frummie clothing stores on Yafo, then walked down past Arta just to make sure it was still there & also browsed some pottery collectives on our way to the Rova. Bookstores galore there! Moriah has moved to this prominent place by the top of the steps leading to the Kotel (on the Dung Gate side) & is HUGE! Pomerantz has taken over the old spot, altho' it's still at the top of Ben Yehudah as well. The Bird of Paradise is long gone (it was on it's way out when I was last here), but there are plenty more old & new things to (re)discover for me here. I'm going to have to spend some quality time in the Rova & *soon*.
There are many things I've noticed about being here that I've yet to properly process.
Joel calls me at home. I go to bed covered in smiles from head to foot.



Saturday, August 16th

I woke at 3:30 p.m... So much for shul. I had a torrid affair with the Sandman once I finally fell into repose & that's all that matters. I don't wish to recall any of my dreams as they were all about my falling short, of my weaknesses being exposed to my ego & of my generally lacking in integrity. So I washed & davened. Their ghosts let me alone. I spent the entire day reading the book that Susan handed me at the blessing circle send-off the Kadima WTP committee gave me so graciously. "Lovesong: Becoming a Jew" by Julius Lester. I was happy that she gave me this book to reach out in hopes of making a connexion between us. & I was curious about its contents - she said she could barely put it down. She's right. There's an uncanny amount of my journey which resembles that of this African-American writer of my mother's generation. An unsurprising amount that does not. Of all the beautifully expressed thoughts & feelings in this missive, the one that bears repeating aloud is, "It is not enough to simply love another; I must learn to love as that other needs to be loved. If I do not, my love is merely an emotional generalization, suitable for all & mattering to none." Barukh HaShem.
I partook of my requisite mitzvot (commandments) today, meals & davenen (prayers). Had a schluf (nap) & read Lester's book cover to cover.
2 siren blasts announced the end of Shabbat. I hadn't recalled this from the year I lived here before, so I sat & patiently listened to the world outside my flat to give me indicators. Within a couple of minutes I heard people getting into their cars & driving off, folks calling to each other in the street & general party noises coming off of the main road. So I said barukh hamavdil & adjusted the fan & air conditioning.
My girlfriend called & we made plans for tomorrow. We're going to meet up in the late morning here & then go souvenir shopping on Ben Yehudah. Maybe catchup with some Israeli girlfriends, too.
I've made myself some green tea & am going to laze out on the mirpeset now.
Shavu'ah tov!
I called Mum & we chatted for over an hour. She told me about a play she went to see at the Langham Court called "Mr. Green", starring Howie Siegel. She said he was playing a 88-year-old man & that he deserved an academy award. I think Howie's terrific & he & Marion have only ever had glowing things to say about Dad in the time they knew him. Anyway, the play sounded fantastic, so I'll keep an eye out for the script as I'd like to read it one day.
Mum also went on a tirade about how nobody can really grow up until their mother is dead. "Are you trying to tell me something?" I suggest that losing either parent is earth-shaking &, not to undermine her claim about mothers, broach the subject of facing one's own mortality. She veers off onto another, unrelated, topic.
Got to talk with my great-niece as well. She was busy trying to save an ant which she found in the bathroom, but Mum told her to flush it :(
This makes me feel really sad.
I unpacked & sorted my laundry.
I put my ALEPH magnet I got at Kallah on the fridge.
I wrote.
I listened to the furious clawing & bumping on the red clay tiles over my head.



Friday, August 15th

I peer across my companions to catch a glimpse or the curve of the Israeli coastline traced in yellow light against the abysmal black of the Mediterranean. What does the Land hold for me now?
As the 747 touches down all her occupants break into applause & cheering. Such widespread gratitude for the completion of a safe journey I have never heard. I smile & feel relieved.
I make my way to exit the aeroplane & am hit by a wall of humidity. 28 degrees celsius & 85% humidity. Wow. Toto, we aren't in Vancouver anymore...
The trolley take us from the tarmac to the Terminal. I read the backlit words over the main door, "Welcome to Israel - Brukhim HaBayim L'Yisra'el" & tear up. "Brukhim". Blessed are you who enter...
Customs was quite hilarious. The girl asked me why I was coming to Israel. Remembering the confused relaxation of my El Al baggage security guy, I told her. "I'm coming to learn with my sofer - I want to be a soferet st"m."
"What?", incredulous look. I repeated myself & she curled her lips into an almost imperceptible - I don't know what it was. Like she thought I was joking. "OK," she said to me with a 'you're just too weird for me to talk to & you need to get away from me right now' look on her face. She returned my passport & waved me on dismissively, "Just go."
I changed money & found a sherut bound for Jerusalem. The sun had just come up. It was already scorching.
The journey from Ben Gurion to Jerusalem was akin to Mister Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland. They have the weirdest billboards here! The driver was a kind, fatherly man in his 50's who brought me straight to my door. "Kama?" I asked ("How much?").
"Arbayim." ("Forty [sheqalim].") Yikes. Still, it's much cheaper than a cab.
My landlord was waiting in the front of the driveway wrapped in his tallis & tefilin attending to his sidur. My sherut driver indicated that somebody looked like they were waiting for me. He looked up. "Aviel?" I smiled & followed him down the drive.
"Wait here." he pointed & I stopped in my tracks obediently. I stood & inhaled the summer morning. A few moments later his wife came out.
She took me through the flat, a one-bedroom jobbie with a large mirpeset (balcony). She was very helpful & made sure I understood that I could call either of them anytime. I was surprised to find that they're both New Yorkers & then equally surprised at my surprise. I settled in.
I called a girlfriend, who wasn't returning to Vancouver for a couple of days, to see if we could hang out before Shabbes. I walked in the roasting dry heat (because I'm not taking any buses while I'm here) to her meet at the Tachanat Hamarkazeet (Central Bus Station). Getting in there is like passing security at an airport: questions, searches & x-rays. It was great to see her after so long. We hugged & she let me use some of her e-mail time (finally an internet connexion!) & we caught up enthusiastically about our lives & loves. We left the netcafé each holding a qafeh barad - SO yummy!
We walked to the Old City together - as she was staying at Heritage House in the Rova - all the while I was remarking at how much things were exactly the same as when I left 5 years ago & how the things that *were* different were REALLY DIFFERENT! Wow. Or as they say in Israel, "Wau."
We chatted about the current political situation as well. She won't buy from Arabs & she doesn't feel safe around them. That made me really sad to hear her express that in no uncertain terms. I said nothing. I understand why she feels the way she does & there's nothing I can say respectfully to it that will make a positive difference to her. I know things are very different here than in Vancouver. Maybe all of us Jews & Muslims in the Diaspora will have to show 'em all how to Share the Land (cue Guess Who rock anthem).
It was really indescribable to return to the Old City. But my heart was not open to it - I could sense that. Perhaps I'm just so wrapped up in my mundane conversations that I'm closed to what's holy around me. I don't know. Maybe I brought too much of Vancouver with me & didn't empty out my neshamah (soul) sufficiently. I dropped her off at Heritage House so she could ready for Shabbes & her davenen at the Wall & dinner chez Rabbi Hanoch Teller & his family (18 children!). He's the author of inspiration Jewish stories of faith & a teacher at some of the yeshivot (seminaries) here. We were met by one of the young Haredi "sentries" at the gate, a yeshivah girl covered from her neck down, cuffs buttoned, opaque stockings. My friend & I hugged & wished each other a Shabbat Shalom. She asked me to kiss the Wall for her.
I made it to the Kotel. The awe & privilege of my being here did sink deeper into my heart, but I was still feeling bombarded with how Jerusalem in so many ways is just like any other city, anywhere. & I didn't like that feeling. I approached the Wall & found "my spot", adopted 6 years ago. I stood with my toes touching her stones, my hands perched on a small shelf made by the wear of the rock. I kissed the wall once for me, once for my girlfriend & once for Joel. I let the people who love me & helped bring me to this time & place flow through my mind & heart in no particular order: Fern, Joel, Susan, Neal, Jeff, Scott, Mum, Dad, Wendy, Rainer...all the people who blessed me at the ALEPH Kallah & wished me well. I wept on the stones of the holy Wall.
On my walk home I overshot. I had my map book in my purse, but did I look at it? - NO! That would be too sensible. I used to live here. I know this neighbourhood. I don't need to consult a map. Everything looks familiar...& the sun is going down! I finally took it out & looked - I was WAY too far south! Serves me right for being such a guy about asking for directions...
I burst into my flat & anxiously lit my Shabbat candles in the *nick* of time.
After my pause of relief & grounded meditation, I went to the bathroom. Altho' some are of the opinion that it's breaking Shabbat to even remove a hair from one's head, I am not. Provided I don't use hot water, my Shabbat will remain intact. I'm willing to risk an icy stream (as I hadn't put on the dood [water heater]) to rid myself of this thick tacky layer of desert dust glued to my body with sweat. I rip off my clothes. There are blisters all over my feet & blood in my left sock. I've also worn a hole in my right one. I take the most satisfying cold shower of my life. So refreshing after daze of travel & heat.
It was a beautiful, wholesome meal, satisfyingly Mediterranean à la "Zorba the Greek": grape juice, bread, feta, olives & the creamiest choumous *ever* covered in sesame seeds & tons of zatar. What a blessing.
I poured myself a glass of water from the litre I'd placed in the fridge. It tasted of bones. I'd forgotten they way Israeli water tastes, the unnerving flavour of millennia of life & death for this Land which so many of us righteously claim as our own but which ultimately belongs to G@d. & G@d will decide, in the end, & there will be no more killing. Ameyn selah.
I finished my Shabbat evening meal & bentsched (said the grace after meals). Thanks, G@d :)
All the strange sounds kept me too suspicious to sleep. Were they stray cats? The lizards which my landlady warned me about? Men with murder in their eyes? G@d forbid. I became acutely aware that I have no outside view of the only door from anywhere in my flat - just a solid thin slab of olive wood with no peep-hole. The iron gate is locked, but I still hear weird scrabbling sounds & sometimes the flat vibrates with whatever is taking issue with its outside walls.
Sleep finally claimed me at 4:30.



Thursday, August 14th

Heathrow: I'm 4 hours early for check-in instead of three, which would be fine, except that the 2 El Al locations (one for ticketing & one for security) are shut tight with a sign saying they'll be open 3 hours before the next scheduled flight. There are teenaged women sleeping all over their back packs on the floor in between the metal-shuttered counter & the enormous abandoned x-ray machine. I drag my belongings away from that corner in search of a place where I can sit & find the airport's wireless internet hub when I pass the corner where the El Al counter *used* to be. I stop, remembering the news reports of a suicide bomb years back & look up. The wall above the locked shutter is scorched. Still. People were murdered here.
There is no hub at Heathrow. I look up from my seat directly at a big guy in a light suit using an internet kiosk. Filled with glee, I bound up to it & read the instruction on the side opposite him. British change. I need more British change. It doesn't take credit cards. I began with the 50p minimum it asked for & used it up simply attempting to access my account as each time I successfully logged in it suddenly informed me that the page couldn't be accessed. Growl. A $150 airport card in my laptop, an internet kiosk & NO WAY to access the web. Sigh.
I began browsing the shops, not that I can really afford anything or need anything. I'd checked on the counter & there was still nobody there. The stores aren't so great here anyway, as it's before travellers are admitted through security. I return to El Al only to find it still locked down way past the time the sign indicated & the area like a ghost town. I go to the restroom.
Moments later, as I emerge from the ladies room, a huge line up has formed that blocks my exit. I negotiate the crowd, noticing that they're all speaking Hebrew. The line runs from the suddenly opened El Al counter to way past the block of shops & there are Israeli military all over this. M16s everywhere. Guns, shields, knives, bullet proof vests. It's just an average day.
I queue up & it takes forever to get to the front of the security line, as each of us has to be interrogated & several attempts must be made to trick us into admitting some terrible secret that would have us removed & detained. The young Yemenite man who questions me does not take his piercing black eyes away from mine & aggressively presses me with questions in quick succession, like he's strafing me with bullets. My laptop is prepared for examination & I move to stage two: luggage search & further interrogation. My El Al security check is made by an Israeli Backstreet Boy. "Why are you coming to Israel?" he asks. "I'm learning to be a soferet st"m."
"I'm learning to be a soferet st"m. I'm learning with my sofer." He is secular, so I'm not sure whether he knows what I mean.
"You want to write Sifrei Torah?" he looks confused & is unsuccessfully trying to hide it. It's not his duty to look confused. "Why?"
I open my mouth to begin the mind boggling story when he pulls my copy of "Liqutey Sifrei ST"M" ("How to Write ST"M Books" or "ST"M for Dummies", as I fondly refer to it). "Oo-wah", he exclaims, searching the pages to make sure nothing is hidden in between the pages that would threaten the lives of my fellow travellers. It was great timing. He softened somewhat for the rest of the interview & search & then kept my bags.
"Medaberet Ivrit?" he asked. ("Do you speak Hebrew?").
"Qtsat Ivrit, betach." I answered. ("A little Hebrew, sure.")
I wandered through the maze of taped off security lines to The Other Side. El Al passengers have to go *far* away from everyone else in their own line & go through more, different security checks with more, different equipment & more, different weapons.
I had two hours still, so I wandered the duty free on the Good Side, unburdened by my luggage. Eventually I went to the very last gate in the very farthest terminal, again, for security reasons, to move on to the next phase of checks. There are never any departures from the gates next to an El Al flight.
Waiting to board El Al. Just went through the body search behind the examination curtains, complete with invasive wand & shoe removal. The girl was very apologetic. No problem, I said. She offered me a glass of water & returned my carryon & computer to me, so I'm happy my box still works after they wrapped it in that black foam coffin & shoved it through the x-ray...
So much Hebrew. So many Israelis. Either wearing black & white or skin. Nothing in between but me.
There are 3 young men jamming on the floor of the security area, 2 guitars & a harmonica. Their shaved heads & boarder duds traces a grin across my face as does their music.
I seat myself in the aisle after being shown down a number of corridors...I guess they do this rather than call seat numbers as they do back home. Presently I'm joined by the two Ultra-Orthodox women I saw chatting on the public phones earlier. They are both smaller & rounder than I, with dark eyes & no makeup. It's unclear how old they are. One has a navy shmatte tied tightly over her scalp, hiding her ears & making it obvious that her head is shaved. The other, who sits next to me, has a classy navy pillbox hat (both women are in navy & light blue) over a dark brown sheytl. We don't speak for a while, but eventually I hear her break out of the Yiddish she's chatting with her companion & address me, peering at me over her plastic specs.
I had just completed my tefilat haderekh (travellers' prayer) & softly sung Joel's niggun :) to "Hiney Anokhi..." - which brought further, subtle tears of joy. Their names were Chanie & Malka. They lived in Me'ah She'arim. Malka spoke only Yiddish & Hebrew, while Chanie spoke English because she & her husband lived in Montréal for a time. She asked what I'd be doing for my 2 months b'Aretz, so I said "learning". She was very excited, "With who?". "Oh, probably nobody you've heard of..." I smiled & changed the subject.
They were grateful that they'd been seated next to a woman who dressed "properly". "I just look at all these Yidden, you know," Chanie was talking with her hands now, "& I think 'you're all such a chaval', you know?" She was referring to all the secular Israelis & other non-frum Jews on the plane & how they didn't (she assumed) keep kosher or daven or dress respectfully. "They could be so holy, but instead they're a chaval. You know, if you do an aveyra in the Aretz, it's *way* worse than if you do it anywhere else..." I guess she was trying to find common ground with me, in order to start a conversation. I nodded, then replied, "I actually like to be friends with all sorts of people. I have religious friends (a word I don't normally use as it's so loaded, but for the purposes of speaking to her, it really was the best choice), non-religious friends & goyishe friends. I find that we can all teach each other important things & share what we have in common without focusing on our differences. Besides, then maybe my non-religious friends won't think that religious people are so bad & my goyishe friends won't think that Jews are so bad. It's Kiruv (outreach)." I smiled. She thought for a moment & then a look of appreciation crossed her face. "Well, good for you that you can do that..." she said - or words to that effect.
We started talking about Jewish music. They were quite pleased that I adored Yiddish, even tho' I only know a range of nouns (& the saucy ones at that) that can be used as verbs but I have no clue how to conjugate. Chanie translated everything between me & Malka. She said she could recommend some great tapes to me if I were interested & I said SURE! She went on at length about 3 or 4 Chassidic male musicians whose songs were all about Shabbes, Yontif, Oilam HaBah, etc...she showed me a couple & then wrote a bunch down for me. "I just *love* music!" she glowed at me. "Yeah - me too!" I shone back at her. If only she knew that my first record ever was a Xmas gift from my big sister Tamsin: a Queen 45 featuring their single "Another One Bites the Dust" & "Don't Try Suicide" on the flipside...
I was feeling bold (or completely insane), so I started talking about Palestinians. I told Chanie & Malka that R' Menachem Fromen of Tekoa is my hero because he's Ultra-Orthodox & yet believes that all Arabs (regardless of whether they're Muslim) & all Muslims (regardless of whether they're Arabs) are our cousins & we must treat each other as neighbours. I tried gently to plant those seeds in a way I hoped they'd hear me without feeling threatened & that sounded like it was really G@d's will that we practice gemilut chassedim (acts of kindness) on each other, not just on other Jews & not just on other observant Jews. They swallowed it without complaining. Malka told me of a prophesy in Hebrew about equalization & I was very pleased to hear her say such things & even more pleased that I understood her :)
When the meals came, Chanie & Malka were dissatisfied with the hek'sher on their food. They'd ordered "special kosher" which means glatt, but apparently they'd expected the Kedassia London hek'sher & this is not the right kind of glatt for them. They tried to switch. The staff were as unsympathetic to their request as the two women had been quietly critical to me about the non-observant earlier. Chanie broke out the snacks they'd brought just in case. They shared with me, which was very generous. When my meal came, Chanie pointed out that it hadn't been double-wrapped & said that "they heat up all kinds of things up in those ovens, y'know - meat & dairy & probably treyf as well" & offered me her meal. I was stunned, "You really think so?" I asked. "You just don't know & do you think any of these people care or even know whether something is truly kosher or not? Here - this food isn't fine for me, but it's still glatt kosher & it's double-wrapped, so it's fine for you to eat." I ate her meal. Chicken. It was delicious & I thanked her very much.
We each slept for an hour or two.

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