25.1.16

Back - and forth - again

Im back again! With an article I wrote to the international MAROM Journal!
If you will be in London on the 21st March please join the event of the Journal's launch (Volume 2)!

The article is about Lab/shul where party and davening are merging, and where - perhaps for the first time in my life - I felt I could bring any friends, aquaintances or relatives to be part of it, without feeling out of place!


Rebelling through davening? Lab/Shul, a Gesamtkunstwerk of tfillah

One of the most pressing issues Jewish organizations face today is how to engage the growing masses of unaffiliated young Jews in their communities. For organisations for whom religious practice is important, this engagement often involves participation in prayers. However, this is not an easy task, given that religious services must compete to occupy their congregation’s free time with more accessible leisure activities. It seems especially challenging to attract busy young adults; particularly those with low Jewish literacy but high expectations. Yet, there are a number of communities across the world who are able to answer these needs in unique and experimental ways. Take the New York based community Lab/Shul: a “laboratory “of Jewish religious practice that meets on Jewish holidays and once a month for Shabbat services. It is genuine in itself: it does not affiliate with any specific stream of Judaism, therefore can be understood as post-denominational. In just two years Lab/Shul has grown incredibly quickly, and it is by far the most exciting experiment I have ever seen in this domain. But what precisely is it that makes this “God-optional” and “everybody-friendly” community attractive? What can other communities learn from it? In the following essay I will outline some of the basic features that I found particularly engaging during my experience with Lab/Shul. Though this study focusses on a singular community, I hope to contribute a possible answer to the global issue of the decline of Jews participating in religious practices.

            I first heard about Lab/Shul after moving to New York in 2013 to pursue a pHD at New York University (NYU) in Education and Jewish studies. When I was inquiring about services for the High Holy Days, a Hungarian friend of mine – a young, secular Jew, a professor of theatre studies – told me she was going to “Labshul-or-what’s-it-called,” for Kol nidre, which she labelled a “very alternative community.” It caught my attention because this particular friend rarely took part in any Jewish activities, especially not religious ones, and even though I chose a different service for those specific high holidays, Lab/Shul remained on my to-do list. It is a testament to how much New York has to offer when it comes to Jewish life, that it was not until over a year later, in January 2015, that I could taste the atmosphere of Lab/Shul - finally.

            In the summer of 2014 I moved back to Budapest for a year to participate in launching MAROM Budapest’s most exciting project ever, Auróra: a unique, self-sustaining, and self-governing grass-roots Jewish community centre for young adults offering a rich programme of cultural activities and NGO activism. A memorable moment of our first year in Auróra was the visit of Rabbi Amichai Lau Lavie, the founder and Rabbi of Lab/Shul. Amichai came to spend Shabbat with MAROM in Budapest in the January of 2015. His program included: an interactive lecture on how to reconcile queer and Jewish identities, a kabbalat shabbat service and a study session about what we can learn from the Torah regarding community building. It was clear from the excited reactions of the crowd that had squeezed into the different facilities of Auróra that Amichai’s personality, ideas and vision matched perfectly with our own members’ and audience’s needs and practices. Amichai’s musical-spiritual style of service, his sensitivity to social justice, and his rebellious take on inspiration and creativity chimed with the values and minhagim at MAROM Budapest and Dor Chadash, our egalitarian, masorti minyan. Amichai’s visit was both inspiring and encouraging: it reassured us that Jews could share similar ideas about how to worship G-d and how to build a community - regardless of their respective age, nationality, ideology or social and cultural background. It was one of those rare moments, where it seemed possible to redefine the frames of the global Jewish peoplehood and make connections that transgressed geographical borders.



            After this experience, when I moved back to New York the first thing I did was to attend the Lab/Shul service during the high holidays of 5776. I was so excited to see it after the special experience in January, that in August I even signed up for Lab/Shul ‘Prepent Day Series.’ The concept is simple, during the 40 days leading up to Yom Kippur you receive a short, spiritual daily reflection in your inbox – written by Amichai Lau Lavie – explaining how he connects halachah, prayer and the general Jewish tradition with his everyday life, and inspiring you to do so, as well. The aim of the series is to help you prepare for Yom kippur, the day of Atonement – from such elevated excercises as to think through your final testament up to the prosaic questions, such as can you do tashlich using your toilet. Making a connection of the everyday with the traditional forms is an essential part of Jewish practice. German Egyptologist Jan Assmann claims that unlike Egyptian culture – which ceased to exist after ancient times – Judaism survived because it invented both the practice of interpretation (commentary) and the act of actualization, the combination of which makes text alive and relevant. The ‘Prepent Day Series,’ and everything I have experienced within Lab/Shul since then are the perfect embodiment of this practice.

            I followed Amichai during the 40 days of prepent and loved every word of it. I was already so excited to see Lab/Shul live, that I was even willing to pay for a ticket – something a Jew coming from Central-Eastern Europe would rarely do, unless there was an exceptional reason. It was the first time in my life I had paid for a synagogue service (!), but the price was reasonable, and I felt it was right to support this new and exciting initiative. And from the moment that I bought the ticket, I felt no regrets; the services were both amazing and unforgettable. During the fall I was able to participate in a few more Kabbalat Shabbatot with Lab/Shul, all of which were so beautiful and exciting that I still feel the urge to share them with others. I believe these examples can somehow lead to basic principles that may be the foundations of a new worldwide movement that helps us to reconnect with our sacred tradition.
 
            It seems that the most important element of Lab/Shul’s engagement is the central role that music plays in the services. Lab/Shul – as well as other engaging Minyanim I have participated in and enjoyed across the world – offers valuable musical experiences in addition to religious ones. Dor Chadash (HU), Nava Tehila (ISR), Assif (UK), Romemu (US) are just a few examples that come to my mind when I think about similar services. I know that for halachic reasons many communities cannot have musicians, but actually, one of my strongest musical experiences happened in V’ani Tefillah, an orthodox minyan led by Rav Raz in Nachlaot in Jerusalem, where singing, the melodies and kavanah are worthy stand-ins for actual musical instruments. Liturgical music – in my interpretation – is supposed to open people up to spirituality, to relax them, and to help them to bond and be present. Music arouses emotions, it amplifies and embodies them in an abstract but sensual way. It is the melodies, the abstractness, the repetitions created through music that enables us to leave our everyday, stressful life and enter the realm of utopia. Each community needs to find their own music. Musicality is not only to be found in music: music and poetry are intrinsically bound, and both can be extended to other areas such as the gaze, movement and even decoration.

            One of the most striking and powerful experiences of the High Holy Days with Lab/Shul was to understand how they transformed the siddur from a book into a movie. The text of the prayer was projected on a huge screen in the middle of the room towards which everyone’s chairs were facing. The projections showed the Hebrew original of the prayers, its transliteration and a unique and beautiful English translation; all designed and displayed in a simple and elegant style. Everyone looking at the same screen, reading the same text, in the same rhythm, accompanied by the same music, created a much more collective experience than the usual individual struggle to follow a personal prayer book. It was much easier to participate, to be present, to sing and enjoy. This new posture changed my entire perception of prayer: instead of looking down and murmuring to my siddur, I was looking up and ahead in the direction of the musicians, and felt in complete union with the text, my fellow congregants and the music. It was not possible to lose one’s place - you always knew which part you were at. Because the text was shorter, I usually had enough time to read both the Hebrew and the English translation, which made my experience much more meaningful than if I had just read one or the other.  Of course, this method necessarily reduces the amount of text read out loud for it is impossible to chant the whole service in such a deep and engaging way, but sometimes less is more. Of course this innovative practice raises complex halachic, educational and communal questions – but I guess that is why they call this a Lab/Shul, because it allows you to experiment and re-evaluate your former hypotheses. With its sensual style, non-judgmental environment and easy accessibility, this form definitely seems to be highly suitable for engaging those same masses I mentioned in the introduction.

            In addition to the projection, at the High Holy Days service Lab/Shul also prepared a little booklet, which contained interesting and funny complementary materials – from riddles to a poem of Pope Francis in English, Hebrew and Arabic, which was later used in a workshop. On the Kabbalat Shabbatot I attended there were no projections of the prayers. I guess people are much more familiar with the liturgy there, so there was neither educational, nor other reason to do so. On these events the projections were used as decoration. For example, when we read the story of Noah in the Torah, a rainbow was projected on the screen.  The rainbow was then echoed in the Rabbi’s d’var torah, his rainbow-color tallit, and more abstractly referred to the community’s commitment to LGBTQ inclusion which was highlighted in the speeches in between prayers. There is usually a two-page black and white Xeroxed flyer, that includes the main parts (refrains or occasionally selected parts) of the prayers, blessings and announcements. It does not include the Amidah, but a few people bring their own siddur for that part of the service. What happens usually is that whilst no one really looks at the text on the paper, they are able to join in to the mantra-like, meditative prayers simply by listening to and repeating the songs.

            Music, poetry and the unique use of the siddur just a few of the many peculiarities of Lab/Shul that make the services both attractive and meaningful, but there are many more.  All Lab/Shul events start with volunteers greeting the participants at the door. This makes your experience much more personal, and takes away the awkwardness of arriving to your community where you might not know that many people.  The location of the prayers and the arrangement of the prayer space are well chosen, too: Lab/Shul is a pop-up community that meets at random, atmospheric spaces. The participants sit in concentric circles during prayer; the musicians sit in the middle. Lab/Shul is run by volunteers, and events are promoted on the community’s website and on Facebook. There is often an open bar and buffet style dinner served before, after (and sometimes during) the service, which creates a sense of community among the members.

            What I found very important during my experience with Lab/Shul was the way Amichai – and other speakers – connected the service to our everyday life. Whenever I went to Lab/Shul there was always some reference to what happened in the world that week. Even though it seems clear that Lab/Shul stands strongly on the left-wing, liberal spectrum of the political arena, the inclusion of the truth and power of the news – good or bad – into the service is not concerned with bringing politics into the synagogue. It is much more about acknowledging the unity of humankind - and our awareness of the joy and sorrow that happens beyond our own physical existence. In light of this, it is significant that Lab/Shul offers regular interfaith services and events. In fact, Lab/Shul is truly ‘everybody-friendly,’ – to borrow its own language – which is to say that every member of the community is viewed equal regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Lab/Shul represents a community united because of the diversity of its congregants, not despite of it.

            While I am writing these words, I am back in Budapest for the winter break, and I am happy to spend some time with Dor Chadash where I bring back the spirit of experimentation. I will soon return to New York and I am excited to be back and explore ‘Jewish New York’ further through alternative minyanim, and cultural events a lot of which I am sure will take place at Lab/Shul. There is nowhere like home – but sometimes you can find your second, third, fourth home. If you visit New York – or Budapest, make sure to spend shabbath in one of my “homes”, and take a piece of experimental spirit with you!



14.11.13

New York - a city hiding its past

After a long break, I decided to get back on board here again for various reasons. I relocated to New York - so I guess my life is more adventurous again. Also, there are quite a few people close to my heart, who are not in command of this beautiful language Hungarian :) and I do not want them to googletranslate my Hungarian posts, which were updated in the last month or so. I actually became tri-lingual - switching between Hungarian, English and Spanish on a regular basis, so I guess it make sense for me also to express my experiences in languages other than Hungarian.



So, yes! New York! New York! A great place! Certainly! But also a tough city. You really need to earn everything here. Of course, relocating - and starting a new life would be challenging anywhere, I guess, not to mention that I just started a PHD program, at a prestigious university, after having left academia for quite a few years. In addition to that I am managing a really awesome, but really challenging project from here that is happening in Hungary. It involved time-travel! You will hear more about it later ;) But Im not the only person around me who is constantly sleep-deprived and broke :) it seems like this can happen to you here quite easily, so watch out!

So, this September I moved to Queens, Astoria from Budapest, and I did not understand in the beginning, how lucky I was with the place I got. I live in a townhouse, with a huge living room, and fully equipped kitchen, and two cats - Cleocatra and Tut-Han-Kan. They are cute, even though we have been having a small war-situation with King Tut for a couple of weeks in October, who have been leaving his marks (made of urine) around the house - partially on my shoes, bags - and eventually on ME! He clearly is in love with me, and cannot handle the situation. Ale has also confirmed this. His mother, Cleo, is his total opposite, the embodiment of the cat everyone wants to have, nice, quiet, calm, likes to cuddle, and sit in my lap. Well, of course everyone has a some strange habits, and she is now exception. Every once in a while she suddenly starts to groan and carry some shoes, or towel in her mouth from one place and drops it occasionally on an other place. Isnt she sweet?



So Astoria has been great, nice ambient, bars, lot of Spanish-speaking vibe and close to town. 
I rented this room only for a month, but since I was unable to find anything in September, I was so despaired I can't tell. In the last moment luckily enough, the girl whose room I am renting decided to stay where she is now (in Boston), - knowing my situation and her wanting to spare some money this was a win-win! So I ended up staying here for a couple more months, until December. From January I'm hoping to be able to move to an other part of Queens, named Ridgewood, to become neighbors with one of my best friends, Sarah! I cant tell how much I am looking forward to it, and I wont be calm, until I have not signed that contract, but everything has its time. So if everything goes well not only I can live nextdoor to my very very good friend, but also I can rent a whole apartment for not much more than I pay here for a room. This also means, I can have "overnight guests" - a term that here is being used in advertisements for rooms / apartments referring to your love-relationships, usually in a negating form: "no overnight guests please"... 

So after having spent two months here, I obviously have a lot to say, but one thing I realised lately was that my passion, namely the Jewish quarter and local history of Budapest just does not make sense here. This might be a little too harsh to say, of course, we know there is the Lower East Side, and I know a lot of Americans, who were visiting Budapest, and it seemed like they understand the concept. I guess I am only now realizing how different it is from here. The way heritage, cities, built environment is conceptualized here is just soo far from how we think about it in Europe that I started to consider changing my theme for my dissertation.

An example. A couple weeks ago Alejandro visited and we were doing rather "touristic" things, or at least what we thought was touristic - like trying to find places where chess being played, or the best sushi :). Among others, we went to see the oldest house in Manhattan, from the 17th century. When we got there, we were a bit confused, as there was no sign, or nothing on the building. We stopped to make some photos, and it was funny how some passerbys also started to wonder what this building could be. It is located on the edge of Chinatwon, and it is a bank today. 


I actually started to doubt our guidebook was correct, so I asked and American, who said, we were right, and that well, New York is really bad in acknowledging its own, history. Everything is so much about change, and just looking forward. I guess he is right, and it surely has a lot to do with the different size and history of development of these places. The concept of the old city center, and the walkable city just does not exist here. The metropolis in some sense is the death of the flanuer. There is much more mobility here - and much less rootedness, which has its good and bad sides.

We also visited to the Museum of the City of New York, cause we thought, we would get some insight to city history there. We both love cities, and we both are very interested in getting to know New York - as it is today - and as it was in the past. However, the museum left us with not much of what you would expect in a European museum. The single object of the exhibition that was representing the history of the city of New York was a 15 minutes video. Other than that there was an exhibition on New York and activism - which was extremely interesting - looking at social movements from late 19th century until today - Afro-American, Gay, Green, Bikers, Homeless - all pretty cool stuff! But nothing from the romantic and romanticized past, the glamour, the good old times!

And you know what, maybe that's what we need in Europe, or in Hungary. We live too much in our past, among our old buildings, in our old feudal or aristocratic systems, and we are even proud of it. We call it culture, and heritage - and we feel like we belong to something greater by maintaining it.

I guess in Europe Berlin would be somewhat an exception - a good combination of this old and new. 

But even though history is not always easy to access here, I feel like I need to learn about it. I want to understand where I am, read about its history, and immerse in its literature. You can also just come, and be here, but there is a history, here, too. Its just different from ours, and not so easy to access - or is not accessible the same ways, as home.

For over a month, I was constantly lost - which is partially how I am in general whith my great sense of always choosing the opposite direction :) - but also just the semantics, and size of the city is so different.

Apartment hunting, was an other unexpected challenge. You need to know the nighborhoods, and there are so many, and more importantly, you need to have - and earn a lot of money - otherwise, you will simply not be able to rent an apartment here. Again - a total different concept of space, and access to buildings and the city. Not to mention the fact, that here people are renting places with no furniture, which is insane. :)

I don't want to sound too critical, I do find a lot of things charming, and cool here, but I guess I'm still in a transition phase, where I am identifying differences, and trying to position myself, and create a safe and homy environment around me. You might call it homesickness.

Anywhere you are, you will be able to find the places that talk to you, the people who bound with you - and there is few other places where you would have so much option like here. Just this week I found out that my favourite synagogue on the Lower East side, today named after the Spanish Angel Orensaz, who bought it in 1986, was founded by Hungarian Jews on the turn of the century. After what I just described above, you can imagine how moved I was when I learned this. 


Inside it is very beautiful, too, I could not make a photo this time because there was a wedding in preparation, but it somehow reminds me a lot to the Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest.
Not so much the architecture, but somehow the space inside, its size, and both synagogues are empty today - only that this one was bought by a private person, and being managed, but the Rumbach is still decaying.

And there are other things. On our corner there is a small jewelry shop owned by a man, who is Hungarian. I did not know this until recently, and I am planning to go and talk to him this week.

So here I am, in New York, the city of constant change - looking for my place - and you can join me on my journey here - if you like to travel with me ;)

15.5.11

eco-bio-ezo Jews

I found myself with a bunch of goats and jewish activists during the weekend - somehow -  in the  woods of Connecticut, two hours from New York, at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center (IF)

Even though I am in genera open to spirituality - whatever this word should mean - I tend to have some  second thoughts about this eco-bio-ezo culture - like all urban fighters - and I did not understand so much how Jewry comes into the picture. I don't say that I understood it all, but it is much more clear now that I came here. Who would not have fun in such a wonderful environment, in the middle of a forest, by a lake, where you are waken by birds singing, and you are fed by only bio food. The most compelling  was though the credibility - and seriousness - its done here: the soap, the toilet flushing, the wooden floor in the jurt, the cheese made out of the goat milk and the most efficient (German) heater system - all work according to the latest rules of ecological sustainability. Everything is simple and natural - at the same time everything is comfortable. and beautiful. All this put in the Jewish context - synagogue on the lake side, kosher food, Jewish texts, books- all provide an interesting plus - an additional point of access, point of connection - for Jews, or thos who feel connected to it. Naturally there are things that are too much / and not enough - the spiritual kabalath shabath was a bit below my expectations, but in the end of the day it was nice, too. 

On the first day I spent hours in the bookstore - I tried to understand, decipher where I am by  looking at the books, cds. It is amazing how wide the culture of spiritually alternative Jewry is in America - (renewal, spiritual, yoga, kabbalah, reconstuctioniss, LGBT, organic jewish cooking book,  Jewish meditation, etc.) and also a lot of stuff about Jewish social justice. The connection of the two is not evident - for me - the conference where I am is also trying to explain this connection with more or less success.
The shop had its effect, I spent all my money on cds, e.g. I bought the two cds of Rav Raz that I was looking for in Jerusalem, because someone told me he saw it, but I did not find it. I guess, I needed to come until Connecticut to get it...

The IF is by the way a selfsustaining organic place, with several programs during the year -  drumming, editation, music workshop, yohga, organic farming, sukot, pesach, etc. You can be recharged here - for longer or shorter time or just simply rent out the facilities for a conference. Kosher kitchen, synagogues(in one fo the a torah ark from reused materials)
or an synagoge with windows looking at the lake. The center was made in 1893 by the Jewish working gorls society. The agency was established to offer Jewish working women, primarily immigrants in the New York garment industry, an affordable vacation. The agency paid for the vacation and reimbursed campers for lost wages. In the 1940s Camp Lehman began offering co-ed summer vacations to young adults, including ex-GIs and students who could not otherwise afford a vacation. In 1956, the agency moved to its current home in Falls Village, CT, and began serving a new segment of the Jewish community, senior adults. In the early 1990s the agency began to open its doors year-round, and it became the primary retreat center for the Jewish communities of New York and New England. Each year, over 30 Jewish organizations, spanning the denominational spectrum, hold retreats at Isabella Freedman. In 1994, in partnership with Surprise Lake Camp, we developed the Teva Learning Center an innovative experiential learning program for Jewish elementary school students that integrates ecology, Jewish spirituality, and environmental activism. In the spring of 2003, Isabella Freedman developed a new program called ADAMAH: The Jewish Environmental Fellowship. ADAMAH is a leadership training program for Jewish young adults that teaches the vital connection between Judaism and environmental stewardship.

IF is a CSA,harvest is weekly, and the food is delivered to the members in the area.

Kashrut and sustainability is not always easy to reconcile.  The pickles that are made here, are put in glasses, which cannot be returned for re-use because of kashrut. All of the food that we consume here is grown here. The transportation of the food that is brought in or out are done by  trucks that run on vegetable oil.  The vegetable oil is collected from the resturants nearby.

I know this from Shamu, one of the key people running the place, who speaks Hungarian, btw. and is the cousin of  Marom's partner in Hungary, the owner of  Kőleves ...
This is funny, because we have been working together with Kőleves on our project Bánkitó, a similar project ideology - experience  - a lake + Jews + social justice + ecology /sustainability

This here is less civilised, it is not a village, but a camp, and not only for 4 days, but for the whole year . It is funny that the jewish yoga - renewal - social justice embodies a holistic philosphy of all is one - two points of the world - ánk and Falls Village can be connected through so many points.

The conference where I am is called SIACH  which means dialogue but also meditation, it is also the root of the word messiah. The participants are Jewish organizations' leaders, acitivists, who are running some kind of social justice project.  MOstly americans, but a lot of organizations from Israel, also, and some from the UK.  Yesterday, e.g. the director of AJWS, Ruth Messinger talked, who is the American star of Jewish social justice.  The american organizer of the conference is Hazon - that among others organizes biker- demonstrations, and are committed to social justice.An other linking point with Bánkitó - where we also incorporated the biker-subculture. Until now the most heated debate of the conference was about Israel - and about the relation of the Jewish social justice scene to Israel. People talk about "mccarthianism" - apparently there cannot be a helthy dialogue about Israel in America within the Jewish community, because the criticism of Israel is not accepted. This is mostly true in organizations / institutions athat are engaged in Jewish continuity, education, etc. ,as the donors of these organizations are rather right-center regarding Israel. The more liberal left wing Jewish donors usually support rather art, culture, hospital, universities, etc. Other than this there were a lot of interesting individuals, organizations here, and it was an intensive relaxing, and inspiring experience, even if there was not as much discussions about social justice issues really, as I expected - but it is to be continued.

3.5.11

Nachlaot - an other Jewish quarter

Nachlaot to me is a  bit like Budapest' Jewish quarter, even if there are no traces of such rich cultural life here. However, there are many similarities. It is here that you can catch the genius loci - that must have been characteristic to all of Jerusalem in the old times. The old street structure is preserved, narrow spaces, tiny squares, trees and bushes, stones of many hundred years, spectacular doors - and cats.Also, here you can find a sense of community, young people who live in alternative ways.

Some old houses are deserted, and there are poorer and richer parts next to each pther. Most of it is renovated though, and because of its central location, and its historical and architectural character - real estate prices are quite high here.



Nachlaot - means estates or privately owned lands in Hebrew. It is a small island located opposite the Jerusalem market (Machane Hayehuda). Over the borders of Nachlaot it is rather dirty, noisy, and busy traffic, reflects modern architecture - but entering the small streets here you suddenly feel like walking in a fairy-tale world, you hear stories, see birds, smell images.

The two busy roads are its boders - Bezalel and Agripas just stress the outstanding charm of this area. Agripas became quite impossible since they relocated the buses here from Jaffo - to give space to the new tram. (The tram is already running! - but noone can use it yet - so its like a ghost of the future - I heard of several versions when it will be open for the public - it seems like the latest November)


Just like in Cracow's, Berlin's, New York's or Budapest's old (Jewish)quarters, Nachlaot attracts students, artists and forever-youngs - who have here an additional hippi-religious feature. Thus, some of its street art also reflects its relation to Judaism.






Nachlaot style



Whoever is strolling here will find tiny old synagogues among the romantic buildings and hidden squares shaded by orange trees. For instance here is the community of the hasid-like, hippi-like, music-oriented rabbi (Rav) Raz, one of the coolest communities of Jerusalem. It is located on the corner of Aryeh and Mishkanot streets. You enter at a blue gate, then climb up on steep stairs. Kabalath shabbath is an absolute must here, sacharit is more fun for guys - as it is not egalitarian. The mechitsah is in the middle, the stands in front of it, right in the middle to the men and women side in the front - just like the torah ark, which is located on the center (in the front). Rav Raz is a great spiritual leader who is using his siddur partially to give the basic rythm - so while singing and moving heavily, he is smashing the book with such a force on the actual page that some pages are already quite devastated and it is hard to say where is the border between the material existence of those words on paper - and the actual meaning / concept of them.

Coming here I finally understood what is kavanah. If you go, expect a lot of singing - and a relative long service - kabalath shabath minimum 1,5 hours (sacharit 3-3,5 hours) - but time flies, and it gives you a chance to actually read the prayers while understanding and experiencing them. Spontaneous dancing, crying, laughing is frequent - and it worth to come right after candle lighting, because it gets crowded very quickly.

Not too much, but Nachlaot also has a bit of usual hip urban staff- there is a second hand clothing store and two pubs - e.g. the Slow Moshe around Nisim Bachar street.
I also have found a small community center here, called Haohel @ Nisim Bachar 25. You can get a very cool design map of Nachlaot here that marks the synagogues, shops, galleries -  even the gnizah! Haohel also organizes own events - Torah learning for men and women, open air kabalath shabath,  community centered leadership training, and much more!

The nearest dish mikveh to my house was also in Nachlaot, if you live in the center and you need one - here you go. The yellow paper warns the people toyveling not to throw the paper everywhere. Dishes can only be dipped once the papers removed - which is sometimes the most challenging part of this weird custom...

This all is of course only the surface and there are  many other small surprises in Nachlaot - this part of the city with its unique atmosphere -
a number one destination for strollers and discoverers, romantics!

27.4.11

Mimuna

I have been soooo excited about spending Pesach in Jerusalem since the beginning of the year already.  This time last year, when we were singing Hashana haba beYerushalaim - after too many cups of red wine - it did not even cross my mind that this will be a self-fulfilling oracle - I mean I did not think that this utopistic symbolic act will actually happen this year.

Seder nite - and I knew this already before - did not feel  not like at home. After all, Pesach is the holiday of the diaspora - and the idea is to remember one's home - one's origin - which is - ironically - in Budapest, if I look at it from Jerusalem. And of cours, in 'Pest it is the same chevre, the same old jokes, ironic-funny-sederplatting - last year already with an orange - all that just to lead up to an orgy with guitars, matzohs, singing, - until you can't  tell the difference between Purim and Pesach....

So I ended up in Yamin Moshe, opposite the Yafo gate, real close to the wind mill., a t a friends family . The place is outrageously beautiful with its narrow streets and passages - so it was already uplifiting. The Seder itself was very accurate, we oops - we did it again - said, dipped, asked, hid, sprinkled, drank - and al that funky shit - and by half past mindight we were already done. We played a funny game which involved -singing and standing up during "Echad mi yodea"....

The following days of Pesach went by without big excitements,  except for tha Jerusalem became so crowded that became challenging to do anything  in public space. I was happy to be invited for the meals to friends and family  - as our kitchen turned into a space ship - covered with alufolia. with no cooking option . My roomate has even taken the couch apart, because she felt the chometz inside. In the end I was truly surprised when I found a pair of shoes under the couch the existence of which were unknown for me before. ...and yes,  we found a piece of challah under the couch, also! By the eve of hag seni I was more than fed up with matzah, though. I would not have expected that the highlight of this holiday will be not the Seder in the end, but the chometz-orgy in end of Pesach.

A friend of ours, an absolut secular Israeli -took us to a mimouna, a moroccan mufleta-party. The host was the owner of the bar "Avram" , whose apartment had an  ca. 100 sqm garden.

Quite a huge crowd of people came together for the big feast. There was a  moroccan music band, even - Nino, the master of oud played and sang, and the crowd danced in the colorful dresses  

Of course we ate mufleta, that looks like  crépe, but has a more raw taste, and is served with butter, honey and marmelade  - or whatever those sticky jellies are...

there were crazy sweets available there -anyways- e.g. tomato-marmelade! and of course some alcohol ... At some point even the police came. This was unexpected, as the average age was 40  - but party is party - even if you are not 18 any more...
Well, this was the end of the week of affliction - with a grande dolce vita! Everyone should mimunah once!

5.4.11

NU!

I saw Matisyahu on the street the other day!!

Ok, it was not Matisyahu, but looked like him. It was actually his 1:1 size image in front of a small shop. In the tiny room there were ca. 8-10 kind of T-shirts hanging and two personnel selling them. They were very nice and helpful, immediately explaining where I am exactly. This is not just a regular shop - they claimed. By buying a shirt I can support different causes!

Nu is merchandising initiative for NGOs and causes. You can buy a fairly good quality  and hip looking T-shirt on a fair price. Depending on which cause you would like to support, you can chose from a great variety:
Leket Israel providing food for the needy; children - from different places including Palestina - who need heart operation and receive medical aid in Israel,  Haiti, Gilad Shalit, or victims of the fire in Carmel., etc. If I remember correctly ca. 20 % of the T-shirts actually price is going directly to the charity.


There are other shirts that do not stand for actual charities, but are rather general causes you can support. Such is e.g. the Idan Reichel project, or the Head of Ben Gurion put together from the lines of the Declaration of Independence, or Hana Szenes' story. I guess these go 100 % to the NU project and you can support the idea of a democratic Israel  - or heroic (Hungarian) Jewish women - by wearing those items.

In the inside of the T-shirts, "close to the heart" -as they say -  you can find the story of the cause and organization you are supporting. Cute idea - its a bit too much for me, but why not?

I really liked this initiative - the volunteer in the shop, who was so enthusiastic and told all of the stories, and the shirts look pretty cool, too.Of course I needed to get one of these - you can guess which one!

You can find all of the shirts and stories on the official NU website, where you can also order shirts and create your own T-shirt!

Nu, yalla!

27.3.11

MOHO Philly

friday evening I ended up in the Moishe House in Philadelphia. People arrived after 7 and at 1.30 a.m. party was still going on. They finished all of the alcohol broght by the guests (wine) and the Moishe bar was opened, as well, as I heard. What a great idea! We never had that in Hungary -  just a small corner...

Four people live here Cody, super nice - and his dog, Chica; Lawrence, a teacher who is currently very much into girls - so yesterday Cody was correcting papers of his pupils....while he was going out in the night - + two Rebeccas - Karp, Moishe house co-founder, works at AJC, and Becca, very nice host, open and friendly- who works in the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Becca cooked pasta with tomato sauce Friday evening, but the menu was basically put together from the food that people brought to the party - at least half of the guests brought something to eat! On such occasions food is vegetarian, and served in plastic utensils - keeping laws of kashrut. The residents co-ordinate with the guests about what kind and how much food there is going to be brought to the event.

There was no Kabalath shabath davening, but there was a big "Pimp my food"-round - when everyone who brought some food could tell about what they brought, how they made it and who they are by the way.
This is the photo wall at the entrance. I have always been wanting one in Budapest, but never got the chance to do it. Its great!!

Moishe House Philly composts food and gets their vegetables through CSA. - Community Supported Agriculture. 

Guests have brought not only food but wine, too. We had Challah here already, from the challach-yoga session from Thursday.It is good to see that here challa is torn, too - and not cut by a knife - I think that is corny. A difference is though that kiddush wine is not passed around / and there were no small cups for wine.
People wash also, and the bracha is printed on a paper with exact instructions and explanations of how to ritually ash your hands according to Jewish tradition. I had a look at it, and realized that I did not know that we can hold our hands upwards - every day something new.

The Philliy MOHO team is very active, too. It was good to hear that they are co-operating with other Jewish young adult organizations here, and there is a meeting once a month where they coordinate their events. They say they reach out to ca. 100-200young adults monthly. People - guests were quite similar to Budapest Moushe House guests - Judaism s more evident here, though, people more involved in jewish stuff, have more background.And there is no Sirály - where people would go after Friday evening dinner. Kiddush was recited by Brian, ex-Moishe House Philly resident (by heart)

A funny custom here is that empty jars are used as glasses- I like it! A local minhag!



They made just one photo about the event and have asked people before if anyone has anything against it - let it be religious concerns or just general photo-phobia. This is interesting because the MOHO Philly residents are otherwise rather non-observant, actually. Was funny when one of them was seriously thinking about turning the music on at 11 p.m. ... in the end he did not do so. So in spite of the residents non-observant life style, they are kosher, eg.g - earlier just vegetarian and not meat and dairy. Of course here it is much more easier to get kosher food than in Hungary, but I still think it is impressive! There are ca. 100 thousand Jews in Philly- Food brought by the guests is served with plastic utensil - and thus there is no problem with cleaning up or kashrut really.

There is a Moishe House Fame of Hall, as well - funny! a photo with Will Smith hugging Cody. we can also see eX-Moishe resident Brian there, too who still has a key to the apartment! This is so nice, I wish I had one too :)! He actually live just two streets down, so he did not move too far to stay connected! Brian teaches math, and he is now trying to set up a record: he wants to visit to the most of the Moishe Houses - ever. I think he is at 8 right now. He will surely visit Budapest in the summer, too, but he will def. not go to Belorus, as the VISA is 400 USD - insane!

Every small detail is worked out here - leaving the house there is a sign where residents wanna make sure if you left your email in case you want to stay connected.

S, its a very cool house, and ist so interesting that it is similar to the Budapest house in so many ways. Of course Budapest is still the closest to my heart - but this was an awesome experience. Thank you, Philly, for having me over shabbath! Special thanks to Cody and Becca who were so caring and attentive!!