Thursday, August 26, 2010


We went to our first Israeli Bar Mitzvah1 today. That's not entirely true, we've been to a number of family B'nei Mitzvot here in Israel, but our family is... well... unique. Considering the family alone makes up the bulk of the guests, there's always someone to talk to. And y'know, it's family.

But surprise, surprise, this was pretty much like every other Orthodox Bar Mitzvah we've been to. Except it was Thursday, not Saturday. And the party followed the davening (prayers), rather than having to be Saturday night (due to various Shabbat restrictions). And despite it being Thursday, there were still Cohanim2. One of whom was a teenager - so cute! (Is it wrong to refer to a Cohen as "cute"?)

Otherwise, there were the requisite speeches, ribbing by the siblings, tears from the mother, musicians, photographers, videographers and dancin' fools. The main difference between this Bar Mitzvah, and those I've attended in North America? The instant the music started, the teenage BOYS were out of the chairs and onto the dance floor. Yes, the boys. Here, boys think nothing of dancing together and holding hands when they do it. It's a beautiful thing to see. They were even line dancing at the end.

Oh, and the other difference? The photographer was a) packing heat3, and b) while walking around the womens' section during the repetition of the Amidah4, was responding "Baruch Hu uVaruch Sh'mo" while snapping away.

Mazal tov to the family, mazal tov to the Bar Mitzvah, mazal tov to Am Yisrael!

1 - Bar Mitzvah/B'nei Mitzvot. Rite of passage for 13 year old boys. Girls have a Bat Mitzvah at age 12. Contrary to common thought, the Bar Mitzvah is the boy, not the event.

2 - Cohen/Cohanim. Members of the priestly tribe of Judaism. Descendants of Moses's brother Aaron, their responsibilities lie mainly in the Temple. Until the Temple is rebuilt, may it be soon, we keep them busy by giving them small parts in the daily services.

3 - Packing heat. Really? You needed a definition for this one? ;) Carrying a gun. Not at all an uncommon sight in Israel. Except, apparently, in Eilat.

4 - Amidah. Silent prayer, which is then repeated out loud by the person leading the services. During the repetition, the congregation responds at various points with "Baruch Hu uVaruch Sh'mo" (Blessed is He and blessed is His name")

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A dance a day

There are lots of cool things about living in a country that has thousands of years of history in evidence everywhere you turn. I have written before I have apparently failed to write about the cool places right around us, where we take all our visitors. Five minutes away we have an archeological wonderland with remains of a Byzantine Inn, Jewish village with ancient mikva'ot (ritual baths), Arab village and a Crusader Fortress all in one place. Five minutes in the other direction, we have Ben Shemen Forest, which contains the graves of the Maccabees.

We take Maimo on hikes to these places, especially since he seems to enjoy peeing on the Crusaders. So yesterday, Maimo and I packed up and went for a hike through the forest, starting off at the ancient tomb of a local Sheik. There are a number of Orthodox Jews who believe the tomb is not that of a Sheik, but rather, it's the tomb of Matityahu HaCohen, father of Simon and Judah and the rest of the Maccabees. Quite frequently, we see families coming to visit the kever (tomb). It's kind of funny, because the State of Israel has placed a plaque identifying the tomb and giving some background on the Sheik. The Jews who believe it's the grave of Matityahu, spray paint over it with the words, "Matityahu HaCohen." The government comes back and replaces the plaque, the group comes back and spray paints. Ad infinitum.

On our way back from our walk, I noticed a Chassidic man strolling the path ahead of us. Not wanting Maimo to run up and say hello and possibly scare the man, I put Maimo back on his leash and continued to the car. Good thing, too, because while I was looking for the keys to open the car, a police officer drove by (dogs are supposed to be on leash pretty much everywhere. No running free for them, sadly). We got into the car, and since I was on the phone, we sat there for a few minutes so I could finish my conversation.

Which gave me the opportunity to see the man come back to his car, another man got out of the driver's side, and in the middle of the forest, next to the tomb of an old Sheik, the two of them proceeded to dance in the middle of the gravel road.

They had regular hats, not "shtreimels" and longer coats, but this is how they were dancing.

So not only did the Chassidic men save me from a possible ticket for having an unleashed dog, they also put a huge smile on my face. How can you not smile at men dancing with joy in the middle of ancient history and modern trees?