Sunday, April 5, 2009

An Offering of Thanksgiving

As my previous posts have noted, being in Jerusalem has not always been easy for me.  But over the past two days, things have definitely been looking up, as I've been looking inward.

Yesterday, I went to Shabbat morning services at Har El, a Reform synagogue in the city's center.  It was profoundly comforting for me to be there.  The prayers were, of course, entirely familiar; even most of the tunes were old favorites (I hasten to add: in Jerusalem, no one complains, even at Reform synagogues, that the service has "too much Hebrew" as it is the lingua franca)  And after days of seeing so many ultra-Orthodox haredim, it felt really wonderful to davven at a synagogue led by the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in Jerusalem.  She exuded both calm and confidence, and made the entire Shabbat experience a pleasure.

Her sermon/drash was on the todah, the sacrifice of thanksgiving described in great detail in the portion.  She spoke about how difficult and important it was for people to bring their thanksgiving offerings--and how we still struggle to live with an attiude of thankfulness and gratitude amidst the vicissitudes of daily existence.  As I listened to her--surprisingly understanding the vast majority of her Hebrew--I was deeply moved.  I have not been nearly thankful enough, myself.  In dealing with some of the struggles of life here, I've neglected to count my many, many blessings.  I am in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life, for Pesach--the great celebration of freedom.  I am enjoying a six month sabbatical, which is a precious gift from my congregation and community.  And I am blessed with a wonderful family and such a terrific network of friends.

With all of this fresh in my mind, I so enjoyed my walk around Jerusalem today.  I found an excellent used book store and bought a richly insightful haggadah, a collection of very funny short stories by the young Israeli writer Etgar Keret, and The Geography of Bliss, a study of happiness across cultures and continents.  

And I discovered that I enjoy Jerusalem much more if, as I walk, I tune my i-pod to Bob Dylan's classic albums like Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited.  They create a kind of soundtrack for the city that is visionary and psychedelic and more than a little strange--which feels just right.  As I listen to the music, the chaos and aggression of the streets becomes surreal, dada-esque--so I can laugh and enjoy it rather than becoming enmeshed in the struggle.  And I even understood some of the lyrics that have eluded me for over forty years.  The geography of bliss, indeed.

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