Saturday, January 26, 2013

Šabat Šalom!

For the first three weeks that we're here, our program has arranged for us to attend Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday evening) services at three of the different synagogues in Prague.

Last night we were supposed to go to the Old-New Synagogue, which is the oldest of them all. (I'll be able to write about more about the synagogue after we actually go on a tour, but for now all I can do is give that link). Except that plan failed when the services usually held there were moved to the High Synagogue, because the heating in the Old-New Synagogue is not great and it was all of 15 degrees outside...and inside.

There were more women than men at services, though our program contributed about 6 of the women and a group of traveling Israelis about our age contributed another 5 or so. It was a nice service, and comforting that all the tunes were, for the most part, familiar. The d'var Torah was in Czech, translated into English after every paragraph. Still, very hard to understand. Afterwards we joined some community members for a delicious Shabbat dinner on the first floor of the synagogue, where it seems like they serve Shabbat dinner every week. Good to know. They also did a Tu B'shvat seder! (Tu B'shvat is the Jewish new year for the trees. It's customary to eat fruit and nuts in celebration)

This is the facade of the Jeruzalémská Synagogue, which is only about 120 years old. I went there for services this morning with two friends; we had passed it last night, so getting there was pretty easy. It was quite an effort to go in, though--we were interrogated almost as much as the El Al flight attendants interrogate you when you go through security ("Why are you here?" Shabbat services, we should be on the list. "What list?" The Jewish studies list. "What did you do last night?" Go to Shabbat services at High Synagogue. "Why don't you have an ID?" (Even though I did): It's Shabbat and you don't carry on Shabbat, etc.) A combination of poor heating/insulation and poor attendance means that services are conducted in a small side chapel and not in the huge, beautiful, high-ceilinged main sanctuary, although you have to walk through there on the way to the women's section so we got to sneak a peak. (Tours are closed in the winter because it's freezing, so it really was a sneak peak!) Using one of their prayer books made me feel like a kindergartner, because I couldn't read any of the translations! But I think the transliteration helped, because I got to see how some of the letters are pronounced. 

One of the girls had met a Czech woman in Israel at her seminary a few years ago, and got us invited to their house for lunch, which was delicious and wonderful! It was one of those very long lunches, the kind that take four hours so you're full but feel like you're snacking the whole time instead of stuffing yourself. And there was a lot of fruit (fresh figs, dates, pomelo, persimmon (!), pineapple) for Tu B'shvat. It was a very funny meal, though: there were about 10 guests and everyone could speak different combinations of Czech, Hebrew and English--I think only one person knew all three. Of course I go to the Czech Republic and communicate with people in Hebrew! But once our Czech classes start (next week) hopefully I'll be able to say more than "ahoj." 

The walk back--both last night and this afternoon were freezing. This says 17 degrees, but I'm pretty sure it was colder. At least it's not windy like Chicago! And the future is looking bright--50 degrees by Wednesday? Sounds like vacation to me!

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