The Year In Israel

By Max Fruchter

Friday night: Davening at 7:00 followed by a meal consisting of chicken soup, potato kugel, and chicken. Shabbos day: Davening at 8:45; Kiddush at 11:00; lunch at 12:45 with salad, cholent, and chicken served; afternoon prayer at 6:15, followed by seudah sh’lisheet and the closing tefillot. A typical Shabbos for many of us. Other than a few details, such as which minyan one attends, how it is tailored, and what types of people (younger, older, more black-hat, more modern, etc.) compose the congregation, there aren’t many obvious discrepancies between weekends spent in Lawrence, Woodmere, Hewlett, and Inwood.

To say the reverse is true regarding Shabbosos in Israel would be an understatement. The numerous weekends I have spent in locations such as Hebron, Tel Aviv, Ranaana, and Har Nof have cast light on a clear phenomenon: no two Shabbos experiences in Israel are the same. During my three months in Israel, each weekend has proved to be nothing short of a culturally infused, eye-opening experience.

About a month ago, I was fortunate to spend Shabbos in Har Nof, Jerusalem. A family-friendly neighborhood, Har Nof appeals to many who make aliyah as a place where a smooth transition into an Israeli lifestyle can take place. For the family hosting me and a friend, this was certainly a consideration in deciding where to live, although not the determining factor. Over dinner, I learned of the South American birthplace of both spouses (the husband from Uruguay and the wife from Brazil) and the importance they placed on raising their newborn daughter in a place encouraging their native culture.

Not long after deciding to make aliyah, the newlywed couple discovered a place that many Spanish-speaking immigrants inhabit and that offers every cultural nuance desirable, from a Spanish curriculum in local day schools to “Quesadilla Wednesdays” at the Chabad–namely, Har Nof. Such enriching traditions were encompassed in the striking decor of the home I stayed in, the largely chassidic and Sephardic crowd of Jews davening in shul, and the overall aura created by a South American community of Jews.

In an entirely different setting, I found myself two Shabbosos later in the home of a friend’s grandparents in Tel Aviv, a city inhabited by many European immigrants. At the home of the incredibly warm and hospitable family that I was privileged to be the guest of, I learned about their Czechoslovakian heritage. The interesting stories of years past confirmed my supposition that the radish served with soup and “falshe fish” (a chicken-based knockoff of gefilte fish) courses was European in origin.

What struck me as even more intriguing and exotic, however, were the structure of and separation between meals on Shabbos day. Unlike the American-style routine of Kiddush at 11:00 a.m. and lunch at 12:30 p.m., or the Israeli style of lunch at 10:30 a.m. immediately following davening, this family ate a light lunch of salads, light egg dishes, and bread at 11:30 a.m., only to return to the table at 3:00 p.m. to have a more substantial lunch of chicken, beef, and kugel.

Consistent with the exceptionality of these meals were the customs displayed in the synagogue on Shabbat. As the congregation reached Pesukei D’zimrah, a boy approached the bima centered in the shul and began to recite the appropriate tefillah. I asked my host if this boy prayed for the congregation every week, hoping to discreetly uncover whether he was of bar mitzvah age. It turns out that he was 12 years old. Upon inquiring how a boy of that age could pray on behalf of the congregation, I learned that the practice did not have a clear-cut reason. Apparently, this interesting custom had been adopted by the synagogue for many years and remains a collectively observed practice.

If the two weekends described above are not enough to scream “individuality” and “diversity” about Shabbos in Israel, the Shabbos I just spent in Efrat certainly will be. In description of what makes Efrat so special, I imagine the “New York” weather rarely found elsewhere in Israel would be at the top of the list. The brisk air filled with fluttering leaves suggested the looming winter season, a feeling I have experienced at home. In all the other locations I’ve spent Shabbos in thus far, there was unusual heat and a lack of foliage.

But what made Shabbos in Efrat–where I stayed with a family that lives half the year there and the other half in Teaneck, New Jersey–so special was a fascinating guest, a recently enlisted soldier who joined the family for dinner Friday evening. Currently a student of the Farsi language, she was sworn to silence in never speaking the language off-base, unless she wishes to spend years behind bars. Over the course of one dinner, I was exposed to the real emphasis the army places on discipline, in all of its practicalities: how a button left undone can result in an extra day of cleaning on base, or how hair that is deemed immodestly out of place can be the difference between a day off and a day of kitchen duty. No one at the table was left with any doubt as to the supreme self-control, both mental and physical, indispensable to all soldiers of the IDF. v

Max Fruchter, a recent graduate of DRS Yeshiva High School in the Five Towns, is now attending yeshiva in Jerusalem.

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