Sunday, July 25, 2004

On Friday, Max and I began our journey in the heat of the day, walking past Ben Yahuda, into the tiny lair of Kippah Man.  Kippah Man presides over a tiny storefront space--to call it a room would be misrepresenting--in which every surface is covered with overflowing stacks of kippot of every size and design imaginable.  Quite a bit is visible from the surface, but so much is hidden deep in the stacks that it is often best to solicit the aid of Kippah Man himself. He asks you a bit about yourself and what you're looking for. Immediately, with almost undetectable speed and agility, he produces a kippah, sometimes several, and proceeds to crown you with it, his dexterous fingers finding the perfect spot for the kippah on your head.  "Teere, Yafeh alecha," he says as he invites you to admire in the mirrors he holds up. "Very beautiful, yes?" 

I bought one, and Max bought two, and we proceeded upward, in the general direction of where we thought Gush Shmonim and Shmuel Hanavi Street would be.  There, we hoped to find Beit Hamusar.  We were unsure  what exactly Gush Shmonim or Beit Hamusar were--we knew only that Max's Rav in Providence had sent him on a mission to find a very special book--Alei Shur--at this place. The Rabbi who wrote this book used to sell it only to those he had first interviewed.  He has since relaxed his policy, but the book remains available first-hand only from Beit Hamusar, in Gush Shmonim. We wandered around for a long time, asking many people directions.  We knew that this place was near Meah Shearim, the charedi religious community called "100 Gates" where men and women are only allowed in wearing "appropriate, modest" dress, that covers their bodies sufficiently.  We encountered a situation several times where we would ask one person for directions, only to be given the aid of someone we had not asked. We inquired at a hardware store, and the man behind the counter directed us to ask the taxi driver waiting outside. Just as we were asking the taxi driver, yet another man, who had heard us inside the hardware store, waved us over to come get into his car. 

This kind soul, a high school biology teacher who had made aliya with his family from morrocco at age 2, talked to us about how there was nowhere in the world to live besides Jerusalem, even with all its intense and crazy problems.  I have heard this impression with remarkable consistency from native and non-native Jerusalemites. When he finally dropped us in the general vicinity of where we needed to go--Shmuel Hanavi street--we were still completely in the dark as to what Gush Shomim and Beit Hamusar were. 

We inquired with one of the many black-coated men passing us on the street, who mumbled something indiscernible and kept walking.  A second black coated man, however, with an enormous beard and equally large smiling eyes, overheard our question and approached us.  He informed us that Gush Shmonim was a neighborhood to the left of us.  He then told us that we were "Zoharim, kmo hashemesh" (shining, like the sun"). He asked if we were married, and then blessed us that we may each find our beshert--our "the one"--soon.

It took us quite a while of wandering in Gush Shomin before we found someone who knew where Beit Hamusar was.  Finally, we found a building with a tiny sign, set back from the street, that said "Beit Hamusar". Hiding behind this sign we found an enormous Yeshiva, filled with suited and hatted teenage boys, studying and talking in the hallways and getting ready for shabbat.  We asked about buying the book we sought, and were told to find a specific man who was in charge of the book.  He said that it was normally sold only on Thursday night, but when we explained how long we had journeyed and that Max would be leaving Jerusalem at the end of shabbat, he made an exeption. He brought us downstairs, unlocked a small cupboard, and asked us if we would like both volumes or just the first. 

Shabbat was wonderful.  Avi's simcha flew in from Monterey before shabbat and took me in its wings into shabbat. Saturday Max and I and a group of folk, most of whom we did not know but quickly connected with, for Shabbat lunch in the park. We spent most of the afternoon in the park, eating and singing and talking.  Max and I briefly visited an old friend of my parents, who gave us a bit of a tour of the old Katamon neighborhood--we learned that the Greek Orthodox church actually owns MOST of the land in Jerusalem!!!

When we returned to my apartment, we found that my roomate Shir Yaakov had assembled a host of colorful characters to close his last shabbat in Jerusalem with the Third Feast.  Some of the people who arrived had actually been at our picnic earlier in the day! Many hours of eating, singing, words of torah, sharing on themes of birthing, destruction and ratzon ensued in a circle on our topmost balcony.

I pray that I can continue to build on the beautiful energy that SY and I have begun to create here even after he leaves on Tuesday. I hope that I can continue to celebrate shabbat learning and rejoicing amongst such shining company.


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