by Robin B. Zeiger
My memories of Friday in Richmond are of crowding everything into the end of the week at work and waiting with anticipation for the weekend. Friday in Israel possesses a different and distinctly Jewish rhythm. Flowers are sold at almost every corner. Many folks are off work for the day. They rush around shopping and running those last minute errands before the stores close and buses stop running early Friday afternoon. Students typically come home early. The secular bus driver wishes you a Shabbat Shalom as you depart from the bus. There is an anticipation of Shabbat in the air, even amongst those who are less traditional or secular.
My husband is off for the day most of the time. In typical fashion, we often attempt to cram two days of errands and projects into one, while cooking and clearing for Shabbat; a recipe for disaster. Recently, on a whim, after a particularly crazy Friday, my husband and I abandoned "ship" about an hour and a half before Shabbat. We left the last minute Shabbat "cleaning" to our kids and ran away quietly to an official Emek Hefer Kabbalat Shabbat (Welcoming the Shabbat) experience at Nahal Alexander.
Jonathan and I were pleasantly surprised and duly impressed. We were greeted by a musical ensemble playing traditional Jewish and Israeli music against the beautiful lush green backdrop of the banks of River Alexander. About 40 participants of all types and ages lounged in the grass. Young children bounced about and clapped, adding strong family flavor the event. .. One of the members of the entertainment group led everyone through songs and stories designed to create a pre-Shabbat mood. Grape juice and challah were handed out to all. In typical Israeli style everyone sang along with little prompting.
Jonathan and I came to the event knowing almost nothing about it. Einat Vivante, from Partnership 2000 made an off-hand comment that we'd like it. She didn't tell us we'd discover that one of the members of the band is none other than Inbal Briskin-Pery, Partnership 2000's coordinator of the Emek Hefer/Richmond connection. I am quickly learning that Inbal is multi-talented and a wonderful visionary in her roles as a Jewish Agency coordinator, owner of a small business, and mother. Now I can add singing to her repertoire.
Israel in general and Emek Hefer in particular is a small place. In many ways Emek Hefer reminds me of Richmond. I run into people I know all the time. And someone always knows someone who knows someone who can help.
I learned from Inbal that she had helped organize this Kabbalat Shabbat experience through an Emek Hefer Jewish cultural organization, Zayit that is funded by Avi-Chai and The Jewish Federation of New York. Zayit offers many cultural events throughout the year that are aimed at the entire spectrum of Jews and Israelis - from secular to religious.
On a subsequent car ride with Inbal, I got the whole scoop. Inbal told me that the Kabbalat Shabbat program had been her brain-child after an eye-opening experience in America. As a young adult, Inbal served as a camp counselor in America at a Jewish overnight camp. The camp expected the Israelis to help with some of the Jewish religious rituals (e.g., Kiddush). Surprisingly the average secular Israeli does not always know much about such rituals. The camp was astounded. They made assumptions that all Israelis know such things, but this is not the case when it comes Jewish ritual. In contrast, all Jewish Israelis are expected to pass one Bagrot (high school exam for the diploma) in Tanach - Bible studies. Thus, the average Israel has an amazing command of Biblical history and its connection to the State of Israel.
Inbal returned to Israel from her camp experience with a purpose. She wanted to give the average secular Israeli in her community knowledge and connection to Shabbat. At that time she was learned about one of Zayit's suggested workshops for community leaders from a local newspaper. Inbal joined the workshop. She then began to lead Kabbalat Shabbat in her moshav of Beit Yitzhak. The Zayit regional Kabbalat Shabbat program began two years ago as a grass-roots effort and has become a regular program in the area in the spring and summer.
Jonathan and I had run away from home hassled and tired. The Kabbalat Shabbat program along the river banks was just what the doctor ordered. We are both always inspired and thankful for religious and cultural experiences that bring all types of Jews together in camaraderie and harmony. Zayit had done just this. We returned home to a mostly clean house in time to light our Shabbat candles with inspiration. I think we will go again. Do you want to join us?
From the Avi-Chai website:
Zayit: an acronym for "Jewish cultural identity," refers to a community-based initiative in the area of Emek Hefer (near Netanya) that aims to nurture a rich and full Jewish life in the region, based on study, celebration, and social action.