In the morning, I met a few of my colleagues in the lobby of the the hotel to walk to a new-ish minyan in town called Kehillah Shira Chadasha. Now, generally, I am morally opposed to what is known as a "mechitza minyan" -- meaning a service where men and women are separated by a mechitza, a curtain or other barrier that serves to keep the genders separate. I'm quite an egalitarian, if you haven't noticed, so these kinds of prayer experiences tend to bother me. My classmates will remember that I regularly refused this kind of services while we were living here. I'm just not a fan of sitting in the back, or in the balcony, or in any other way not feeling like a full participant in the service. BUT. I encourage you to click on the link to read about this particular kehillah because it is very interesting. For example, they require both 10 men AND 10 women for to count a minyan. That is an interesting way of going about it. And, there were two women rabbis going with me who are also committed egalitarians, so I felt that I could embark on this personal journey into the world of a mechitza minyan.
We arrived and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the mechitza went down the middle, so that men and women were side by side. The mechitza itself was somewhat light (sheer-ish) curtain, and when we arrived a man was leading the prayers. But after he was done, it switched, and a woman led the Torah Service. The Torah was read in the middle of the room (the mechitza was pulled back), and both men and women read Torah and also were called up as aliyot. I was duly impressed by this show of egalitarianism (which I was assured was not merely a "show.") For the D'var Torah, the mechitza was pulled back entirely, so the darshan could see his whole kahal. His sermon was fully in Hebrew, so I had to work hard to focus my brain around it, that's for sure.
Overall, the experience was quite lovely and enlightening. The singing was divine, and I enjoyed seeing the varied group of attendees. When I inquired, I found that the core group is not, as I expected, entirely American ex-patriates, but many native Israelis. It is good to see Israelis taking control of their Judaism and not just saying the old stand-by joke "the shul I don't go to is Orthodox." Although I would certainly term this "modern orthodox."
Anyway, after this very nice experience, we went back to the hotel for a study session with Rabbi Schwartz, the senior member of our rabbinic group. Rav Schwartz is the Av Beit Din (head of the rabbinic court) for the Chicago Rabbinic Council (CRC) and other organizations, including, I believe, the national Rabbinical Council of America. We were told that he is a fabulous teacher, so we were interested to hear what he had to say. We were not disappointed. Rav Schwartz taught us about the mitzvah of "lo tachmod" -- do not covet -- (we were reading the Ten Commandments that week) and it was a great shiur.
Afterwards, we had lunch! (Because eating is definitely high up on my list) Leah Ingerham, cantorial student at HUC and product of Am Shalom, joined us for lunch, and it was great. Definitely a meal not to be missed. Even the pareve desserts were worth eating. Yummy. (This is what I love about food in Israel, even when it's a meat-meal, you can eat all the salads and vegetables and definitely not feel like you're not getting a good meal. No veggies and french fries here, I tell you.)
After lunch, Leah and I went into the Old City . It is one of my favorite Shabbat afternoon excursions -- because it so wonderful and bustling on Saturday afternoons. I love to browse in the Arab markets, and I was very proud to remember my way around the city. After the browsing around, we made our way to the Kotel (Western Wall), and it was so good to be there and say a few words of prayer. The Kotel isn't a place that I went regularly when I lived here; as you've read my mechitza issues -- it's nowhere more prevalent for me than at the Kotel, where women are cramped into a small space while men have a huge area in which to be....and space isn't exactly my only issue. But still, a trip to Eretz Yisrael isn't complete without this journey.
Then we went home and relaxed for a bit before Shabbat was over (it ends early in the winter, you know), and a group of us went out for dinner at Rosemary, a restaurant that is next door to Michael's first apartment in Jerusalem. Mmmm....french onion soup. Then we walked through Ben Yehuda...what a nice end to Shabbat. Tomorrow -- busy day!