Sunday morning’s angel, no kidding, was Exploration. At the time, I noticed only the word, abundantly appropriate in and of itself. As I begin to write, however, I notice, as if I were making this all up to conveniently fit my experience, that it shows my angel on the bow of a ship, spyglass in hand, a small island in the distance. If you could have seen the street as I made my way down Idelson to Ben Yehuda to catch the bus, you would immediately get the reference. The river of water was so high it threatened to cascade over the tops of my boots. The poor woman coming toward me with packages was waterlogged up to her knees. So, I took the least deep cross-walks and decided to wait out the deluge in a small coffee shop where they actually spoke French – which, crazy enough, comes out of my mouth much more fluently than modern Hebrew. As the brioche the menu promised was non-existent, I went with the sufganiyah. I have been dreaming of sufganiyot the way I imagine the phrase “visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.” Sadly, this sufganiyah was, I hope, as poor as they come; however, the folks at the next table were just lovely – she from St. Petersburg originally, they live in Helsinki and are visiting family in Israel. As we chatted, the rain began to subside enough to pay the bill and catch the 10:30 bus (#13) toward Tel Aviv University and the Beit Hatfusot – The Museum of the Jewish People. It turns out that many of the museums in Tel Aviv are open on Shabbat and closed on Sunday, so my first choices were closed … and this turns out to have been a good thing because of all of the delightful things that happened because of the buses I took, the people I met, and the things that I saw today.
This was my first exploration (to use the day’s angel) of using a bus in Israel and it was quite simple and pleasant, not to mention, it would be a ridiculous walk to the University and the bus was dry, fast, comfortable, clean, and cheap. I went through security to get onto campus, which just meant showing my passport at the gate to a guard. The museum is near the art school and large sculptures, Mediterranean vegetation, and bird songs greet its visitors. A big green, happy fellow covered with butterflies greeted me with joy despite the ominous clouds and the myriad puddles, and the hours in the museum were pleasant, predominantly because of an exhibit that spoke directly to the liturgy and prayer enthusiast in me, entitled Hallelujah! Assemble, Pray, Study: Synagogues Past and Present.
In this exhibit I found a mishkan (a sanctuary) for my liturgy-loving, rain-sogged, jet-lagged, over-sugared, highly-caffeinated self. (Yes, friends, that morning stop to avoid the flood was a health hazard of epic proportions to my recently gluten-avoiding, desperately-striving-not-to-indulge-my-caffeine-and-sugar-craving body.) I allowed myself the extended opportunity to just marinate for a while in an exhibit that felt as if it had been planted there just for my delight ~ models of synagogues including the Elkins Park synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, ritual objects, siddurim (prayerbooks), including Kol Haneshama, the Reconstructionist siddur we use most often at The Little Minyan Kehilla.
I also luxuriated in the sensual pleasure – visual and auditory – of four films on continuous loop and large screens, the most interesting, artistically, showing the activity (or inactivity) within synagogues all around the world and throughout all hours of the day – large and small, urban and not, and (a bit disappointingly) all traditional (whether Orthodox, Conservative or Reform). The other three clips were of liturgical music of different varieties and pieties linked by a visually delightful, mystical flow of important prayer fragments that eventually broke up into individual Hebrew letters which floated toward you, a la Star Trek, and then eventual re-constellated into another prayer fragment. I posted to Facebook as this site doesn’t allow videos.
Ordering lunch at the museum cafeteria was a bit daunting even when I finally was handed a menu in English … I am so bashful about my Hebrew and the man taking my order was NOT going to indulge my English. I made it through ordering my salad and water but failed the simple test of being asked my name – seriously! He caught me off guard as I didn’t realize until after the face-warming repetition of the prompt that people were being called up to get their orders as they came out of the kitchen. “Jessica,” I finally offer, and step aside to comfort my little girl self who has emerged despite the grey hairs that give away my advancing age. I look at my receipt and see this: גסיקה – gimmel – samech – yud – koof – hey, and I recognize my name and smile. Biblical Hebrew does not have a “J” sound – gimmel is only a hard G like gadol – big or goy – nation. I keenly remember another time of deep embarrassment when we listened to some audio reel of the Merchant of Venice in Miss Briss’ 7th grade English class. Every time Shylock said the name of his daughter, he said “Yeeeeh-ssika!” For a long time thereafter, some of my classmates would call “Yeeeeh-ssika.” As a woman calls my name over the microphone – Jessica with a soft g/J, I smile and step forward for my salad.
When I leave the museum complex, I am struck by the clean smell of the Mediterranean air and notice the very tall palm trees. Perhaps as a result of the rain and the many puddles, the birds are singing with what sounds like wild abandon and sheer delight (or shir delight – “shir” meaning song in Hebrew). Around the campus there is signage about the birds and between that and the palm trees I feel a bit closer to my parents’ home on Sanibel Island where I know my family is congregated for the holiday and birthday celebrations.
Feeling accomplished and a bit tired, I head for the bus and am struck by the way the municipality of Tel Aviv (and, I suspect, Israel in general) encourages plastic recycling with enormous metal “crates.” I have yet to see how these get emptied, but I suspect it is infrequent only because of the enormity of the container. The second thing that captures
my attention after finding my bus stop is that advertising is, for the first time in my life, geared to my holiday observance and NOT to Christmas-observes. I am still new enough to being of the majority culture vs. being the perpetual “other” to be totally tickled by seeing Chanukah EVERYWHERE … must be all of those years growing up in and living in a country where Christmas is EVERYWHERE and where, still, the switch to “Happy Holidays” is treated by too many as “robbing” people of Christmas.
On my way back to the heart of the city I speak at length with a lovely woman (definitely one of my Women of Valor) who initially helps ensure I take the correct bus back to Tel Aviv but quickly becomes a friend. We talk about museums, art, dance, music, city planning, politics, and the rain. She grew up on a kibbutz and came to Tel Aviv in her early 20’s “for a few years.” She has lived here ever since and is coming from her home near the University to help out with her grandchildren for the evening. As we chat, she mentions that I should look into the special concerts going on right now to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Israel Philharmonic. The EXHILARATION that results when I take up the challenge of adding this EXPLORATION to my day is deserving of it’s own post.