Paul Schiller University of New Haven MA `13
I found this Shabbat to be physically, intellectually and spiritually refreshing. It started with the ladies lighting the Shabbat Candles in the hotel lobby. We then proceeded to doven the Friday night service under the leadership of Rabbi Gray. A lovely Shabbat dinner followed. We then did some additional icebreakers and team activities. Shabbat Morning began with some students attending services at a local synagogue. During an activity session we did some further ice breaking activities and discussed the perceived differences between the typical American and Israeli teen, in preparation for meeting Israeli soldiers tomorrow. We then went into a Wrap Session with Rabbi Gray where we were free to ask the Rabbi any question to learn more about Judaism and other subjects. We then went from talking to walking and took a leisurely shabbos stroll through the neighborhood. During the walk, we toured a local a synagogue. We ended Shabbat back at the hotel with a traditional havdalah service.
Personally, I was moved by two specific sessions. The first was the Rabbi’s wrap session. It was amazing to observe the free atmosphere of the room. We were discussing very serious and sometimes personal topics and, as students, we were encouraged to ask whatever we wanted to ask and the Rabbi was sure to answer the questions as thoroughly as possibly. Through these answers, I gained a great deal of insight that I was hoping to hear. I came on this trip to gain a understanding and appreciation of Israel’s history and culture. Although, I am content with my spirituality, I wanted to learn more about Jewish ideals, so that I could strengthen my sense of spirituality with knowledge. My background is such that my Jewish education focused more on practice than ideologies. I found it both enlightening and refreshing to find out what is written about various subjects such as conversion, contraception and the afterlife.
The other session which I found to be fascinating was the tour of the synagogue. The congregation was founded in the 1950’s by Polish Jews who had survived the Holocaust. On the steps leading up to the shul were stones engraved as a memorial to the citizens of from various countries who perished in the Holocaust. Along the steps were a line of six trees planted for the six million Jews who perished. At the top of the steps, there was a large sculpture that represented bringing an end to all war. I thought it profound that the memorial stones lined the steps in tandem with the trees as they represented the death that occurred during that dark period in our people’s history. Yet they had grown in time, which I interpreted as remembering our history and growing from it. They all lead up to the top of the stairs where the sculpture was. It seemed to represent the progression to eventual peace.
Inside the synagogue, we settled in to the sanctuary where a congregant who had made Aliyah thirty years prior enlightened us with his personal experiences and perspective on living in Israel. We then went to a room where a scribe wrote out the scrolls for mezzuzot and tifillin and repaired Torah scrolls. While the job of the scribe has not changed over time, I was fascinated by the fact that he uses some modern technology to assist him in his duties. He photographs Torah scrolls with a high resolution camera and then puts it into the computer, which scans the photo for any mistakes or signs of wear that need to be repaired in order for the Torah to be valid. While he still does the writing by hand, some very modern techniques save him valuable time in the examination and repair of the Torah scrolls. It is still an arduous task to inscribe scrolls with holy text. A short, twenty line scroll takes several hours. It was quite a site to see that the scribes still use the ancient techniques to create such holy materials while also utilizing some help from modern equipment.