Saturday, March 13, 2010

Caravan #11

And I find myself back in the world of petel and chocolate spread. A world where everyone wears army watches, sits cross-legged, and plays music on nylon-string guitars and cellphones. A world where you clean the floor with massive buckets of water and squeegees. And a world where, I once again find myself speaking in a tongue to which I am not native.

Caravan #11
So I'm not in Caravan #17. Praise be to Allah. I'm in Caravan #11. And its beautiful. But there's still nothing in it. Which just sort of means I'm still living out of my suitcase. Which is fine. For now. I have one suitcase of clothes and one of books. I'm not sure what to do with the one full of books exactly, especially because there's no way I'm going to get through them with all they're trying to get me to read in Hebrew. Plus, there are no bookshelves in Caravan #11. But we'll see.

OK where to begin? I feel like I've been here for ages, when really its only been what? 2 1/2 days? I spent the weekend next door, in Kfar Adumim with a friend, lets call her Raisin, who I know from when I was in Migdal Oz, which I think probably has something to do with the fact that I feel like I've been here forever. Plus I slept here Saturday night. Alone. Oh, and I stayed up all night Thursday night. They take their mishmar here seriously.

OK, a word about the people. Ages range from twenty to thirty -- my chavruta (study buddy) is twenty-eight ... as of yesterday... and they're really wonderful. The vast majority came with no Jewish background, and consider themselves "Chiloni" or "secular". There have been some questions that people have asked that have sort of blown my mind. "What is the Talmud", for example. Or "Who was the Rambam?" Stuff like that. But no one laughs, no one even smiles, they just explain. Its really wonderful - the lack of cynicism is one of the things that really struck me. The best example of the sheer lack of frustration, disgust, anger, sickness of heart and pain came during our "group time" - a wonderful decompression and reflective practice that amounts to a sort of group therapy that I experienced both in Migdal Oz and on Bronfman - people said lots of things. But one girl said two things - right after the other - that really hit me as just beautiful and pure. She said that the two things that she took with her from the week were that first, Aramaic is a very "cute" language and that she enjoyed trying to puzzle together a sugya of gemara, and second, that Wittgenstein was right and that language does not express what we want it to express, ever. And I as I sat there, I felt the need to say how much I appreciated what she had to say. So I raised my hand and I did. I began, "its amazing how much siniut there is in college." A few people looked at me funny and someone said "what?" So I repeated -- realizing -- "its amazing how much tziniut there is in college." And they I started laughing. And so did everyone else. The word "sini" in Hebrew means "Chinese person". But the word "Tzini" means "Cynical person". And I had confused the two. I think I'm going to start זמן קבוצתי (group time) at Penn. Its hard for me to understand why no one has until now. Its beautiful.

A Word on Shoes
People don't wear them. Not no the grass, not on the porch, not in the mess hall.
We went up to the Mitzpeh (lookout) which overlooks the Wadi (which Israelis call the "Vadi" since there's no "w" sound in Hebrew) twice on Thursday night. Once a bit before 3am and once at 5 to watch the sunrise (even though the mitzpeh faces West). Both times I watched people climb the small mountain that Alon sits under without shoes. Both times I imagined the gravel of our path digging into the tender underbelly of my feet. Both times I sort of cocked my head and thought "wow, people really don't wear shoes here". Oh and I almost forgot, on Thursday, before the whole crazy mishmar thing, one of our teachers, a man who is well-respected, teaches TOSHB"A (Oral Law) at Hartman high school, and was giving us a class in literature which was, in turned out, very interesting, took his shoes off as soon as he walked in to the Beit Midrash. And it was not because "the place upon which he stood was holy ground". No. It was because people really don't wear shoes here. And then - the kicker. On Shabbat was in synagogue in Kfar Adumim (which has, essentially, the same atmosphere as Alon. In fact, Alon is built in Kfar Adumim land. In any case, they're pretty much the same) I happened to glance down to the men's section below. And lo and behold, one of the guys who I had met the day before was standing, praying, and had no shoes on. Let me repeat. He was praying and he had no shoes on. It is Halacha, al pi the heilicke Shulchan Aruch that commands that when one prays one must have on footwear. But I decided that I think that once one's become so callused and coarse that you feel no need to wear shoes ever, one's feet literally become one's shoes, and so - presumably - there was no Halachik problem with it. But still. People really don't wear shoes here.

Ok that's enough for now - more later. Its windy right now so I thought about putting on a song about Ruach which would have a nice dual-meaning. But instead, I've decided to put on something a bit different, something I was listening to last night. Its by a band called The Miracles of Modern Science, a very talented group of guys playing strings. The song: Luminol.

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