Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Birthday and a Trip to Jerusalem

Last Wednesday was my birthday and what a birthday it was. Naomi had just gotten home two days before but still managed to out do herself. I knew that we would be going out to a restaurant that night so it was basically just another day here, class, lunch, more class. During lunch someone made an announcement that it was my birthday - so everyone sung to me; it was nice.

After classes I was supposed to go down to our apartment and then we'd leave for dinner, well a few of our friends had come up with their kids so I - unsuspectingly - spent a few minutes playing with them; one of them, Chochava (her name means star in Hebrew), really likes it when we play football with her, using her as the ball.

When I finally went down to the apartment Naomi was waiting and after a while we decided that we'd leave for dinner, but that we had to go up to the Dinning Hall to get her jacket which she had left earlier that day. Well I walked into the Dinning Hall totally unsuspecting and there were 25 people there waiting in the dark for me to show up with cake and balloons. I've never had a surprise party before and I was totally blown away. She even made an Eagles cake for me.

After the party we went out to dinner at the nearby winery and had a very nice meal with some wine tasting. It's a great place, nice atmosphere, good wine, good food, and affordable. Did I mention you can see it from our window too? What could beat it?

I've got my work cut out for me come February.

Now on to the trip to Jerusalem. We go there all the time - Naomi every day, while I go probably once every two weeks - so they're not usually special; but this one was. Every month (on the lunar calendar) is a Rosh Chodesh the first of the month. Our good friend Yair asked if I'd be intersted in joining him for morning prayers at the Western Wall for vatikin. Vatikin is the aramaic word meaning the earliest time you can pray on any given day, in the winter because the days are short it happened to fall out at 6:37am. But since we have to drive there, I got up at 4:45 and we left at 5:15 to pick up his brother and students.

We got to the wall at 6:00 and it was pouring, but I did find some time between downpours to take some pictures.

This is how dark it was when we arrived.

If you've ever been to the Wall you know that on the left side of this picture is a cavern for when it's wet. It's a massive place and because today was a special day, despite the early hour, there were thousands of people there.

We prayed the first service with Rabbi Yaakov Yosef leading - the son of famed Rabbi Ovadia Yosef - it was very interesting. On a few parts of the service which are sometimes sung in a happy way, he was literally crying; it forced me to view what we were saying in a different way. So many times you can read a sentence one way and if you'd only read that same sentence with a different idea you'd understand it so differently.

Since we wanted to do our own service for the Hallel (singing of certain psalms for the day) we tried to find a good place for it to happen. Just then, this is after sunrise, the skies cleared and the rain stopped. But since it was still wet, and quite cold, most people stayed inside. So the 15 of us were the only ones in the entire plaza, singing at the top of our lungs, we could hear our own echoes. Very nice.

Very few other people managed to brave the chill and the rain.

This picture is taken (the same flag from above) but looking the other way at the far side of the plaza, so you can see why Jerusalem is called the City of Gold.

After we finished, and Yair did a beautiful job of leading, it started to drizzle again so we went inside for Torah reading and the Musaf (additional) service.

Despite the rain, the fog (it felt like a blizzard without the snow), the traffic, and the time at the wall I still made it back in time to get breakfast before class.

A great but very long morning.