Shakshuka!

I realized something kinda crazy: I have had this blog going for 8 months, and I have yet to post a single recipe. Now, depending how long you’ve known me, you may or may not know just how into food I am. I’m a lot into food. I’m a lot into cooking. I’m a lot into baking. (In fact, past me had a now-mostly-defunct-food-blog). I’ve done a lot of cooking (and some baking) this year. But, I have yet to post a single recipe…until now.

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Tomato season is back. When I first arrived in the fall, tomatoes were everywhere and I found myself making dish after dish with them, as is the only appropriate response to loads of in-season tomatoes. Then, as happens every year, the weather cooled and the tomatoes started tasting sad, and I stopped buying them.

Since they’re back, it was time for me to take on a dish that, at home, I felt pretty lukewarm about but that, here, I have come to love. I’m talking, of course, about shakshuka (pronouned shock-SHU-kuh).

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Here are my folks eating shakshuka in December at Tmol Shilshom in Jerusalem

Shakshuka, it turns out, is pretty easy to make. I won’t claim that mine is perfect or perfectly authentic, but I enjoyed making it and I’m excited to share how I did with all of you.

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Ingredients (for 1-2 servings):

  • Glug olive oil
  • 1 small onion, medium dice
  • 1/2 red pepper, medium dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 large handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2-3 tsps paprika (hot if that’s your thing)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
  • 2 eggs
  • a few sprigs of basil, parsley, or both
  • bread, veggies, and tehina to serve (optional)

 

Procedure

The key to shakshuka is to be gentle. There’s no rush. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat, let the oil warm up, and add the onion. Let it cook for a few minutes, stirring a bit, until it’s started to soften and go golden. If it starts browning, you’re in a rush and cooking it too high. Chill. Cut the heat back. IMG_1884.jpg

Once the onion has started to go soft, add in your garlic and pepper, which will naturally offer a little bit of moisture if you’re cooking low enough. Let them cook together, stirring, for 3-5 minutes.

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Time for the tomatoes to make their debut. Slide them in, along with as much of their juice as you can manage to preserve. Add the cumin, paprika, and some salt. Then, after cooking a couple minutes more, add in the water. Many shakshuka recipes that I saw called for both tomato paste and water. Since I opted for cherries, which have a little less juice, and I didn’t have tomato paste, I just guestimated here. IMG_1894.jpg

Now it’s really time to let time do its work. Let the mix come to a simmer (giving the heat a tiny boost if necessary) and cook for about 10 minutes. The tomatoes should start to fall apart without completely losing their sense of self, and much of the water should integrate into the mix. IMG_1897.jpg

Now it’s time for the egg well. I don’t know how easy it is to see in this picture, but in the middle of the pan there’s a square that’s a bit deeper than everything around it. That’s for your egg. (If you’re cooking 2 eggs at once, you’ll need 2 egg wells. If you’re planning to get 2 meals out of your skillet, I suggest cooking 1 egg and then cooking the second egg as you reheat the leftovers. It tastes better fresh.)

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Crack the egg into the well, being careful not to break the yoke, and then cover the pan. Timing is the tricky part here. You want the yolks runny and the whites not. I mean, you can cook your eggs however you like, but that’s how I like them in this. I set a timer for 7 minutes the first time and found the yolk too solid and 5 minutes the second time and found the whites solid enough to not be scary but not as solid as I like. I think 6 would probably be the sweet spot but I haven’t had time to try it yet.

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When the egg is done to your liking, cut the heat, garnish with herbs, and serve up. I like to have bread for dipping and crunchy veggies and tehina for contrast, but you do you. Happy Tuesday, folks.  IMG_1905.jpg

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Shabbos Blessing- Week 26

Real talk: I am writing this post as I stuff “oatmeal squares” (you know, the cereal) into my face. This is what happens when I don’t plan meal times properly, I shop quickly (because shabbat is soon) and hungry (because, as established, I don’t plan meal times properly) at a store that stocks some American products, and I get home to an apartment where I have very little in the way of “healthy, immediate, right now lunch.”

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Like this amazing hummus in Abu Ghosh yesterday.

Ok. Having eaten a few large handfuls of supposedly-good-for-you-but-actually-probably-full-of-GMOs-and-definitely-added-sugars-and-generally-processed-and-oh-dear-why-did-I-eat-that cereal morsels, I am now prepared to slow down and offer all 10 of my fingers to the keyboard.

(For those of you who are new to how my brain works, welcome. I generally find it an entertaining place to be.)

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This is a block from me: car and horse in the street, motorcycle on the sidewalk. Ok then.

I wasn’t sure if I would be in Tel Aviv for shabbat this week. I went to Jerusalem yesterday for our rabbinic consortium class, and I stayed with a friend to attend a program there this morning. I had an invitation for shabbat dinner with some lovely people but I decided to come home instead. It’s not that I don’t like shabbat in Jerusalem. It’s a lovely place to be, with great egalitarian davenning options and wonderful people with whom to share meals and company. I’ll be spending at least 2 of the next 4 shabbats down there and look forward to them. But, when it comes down to it, I just wanted time to continue to settle.

I’m not sure what feels unsettled about Jaffa at this point. I’ve been here for nearly a month now. My routine isn’t fully set, but it’s close. I guess what it comes down to is that I’m one of those introvert-extrovert cusps (to the degree that those distinctions mean anything), and this month has been an extremely introverted-dominant one for me. I’ve loved spending time with friends and exploring Jaffa and south Tel Aviv. I have also felt the need for almost as much quiet time at home as I can get my hands on. Soon enough, I’m sure I’ll “reset” to my middle ground norm, but for now, introverted is good.

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Tel Aviv Shabbat– a little different from Jerusalem

I’ll be honest– there’s a lot on my mind these days. The program our consortium took part in yesterday, along with a number of recent conversations, all seem to be connecting to a similar place. That’s going to be its own blog post soon, if I can figure out a way to write it down. For now, I’m going to be gentle with myself and bring in this week’s blessing.

Week 26 comes from the first person I can’t really keep anonymous: my mom. I guess I could have said “my parent,” but, well, there it is. She sent me the lyrics to “Forever Young,” along with this message:

Here is a blessing from me, via our newest Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan. It’s one I’ve always loved. When I was young, I listened to Joan Baez’s version until the record was scratched! I love you!

“Forever Young”- Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

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early spring at BINA

One of the lovely perks of my place in Tel Aviv is that I have a record player. It’s not the best, and the person who owns this place doesn’t match my tastes much. Still, he’s got some classics like “The Beatles” and Leonard Cohen and, yes, Bob Dylan. There is something that feels different about setting up a record to play as opposed hitting a button on a phone or computer, or even putting a CD or tape into a player. I like the process. I like the gentle way you have to treat the record and the player to bring the music into the space. It’s a good reminder of just how sacred music can be, whatever its source.

On the bus back to Tel Aviv an hour ago, I was listening to an episode of “On Being,” an NPR radio show produced in Minnesota that my mom and I have both enjoyed listening to for a long time. It so happened that the episode, an old one that I never got around to last summer, featured Mohammed Fairouz, a first generation Arab-American composer who’s barely out of his 20s. The episode is definitely worth listening to for its own sake, but I’m thinking of it now because he talked about song lyrics as poetry. In the same way that the lyrics to 19th century German lieder are considered poetry now, he thinks that “The Beatles” lyrics will be considered poetry by future generations. Poetry and prayer are so closely linked, and even though I’ve honestly never been a Dylan devotee, I can definitely see a prayerful poem in his lyrics.

This week, may we all help keep joy in one another’s hearts. May we sing one another’s songs so that none of us forgets our own. And may we all feel young enough to continue the work.

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And may there be cookies for everybody.

Shabbos Blessing- Week 17

It’s Hanukkah. That alone would make this week special.

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Night 1 in Tzion Square

Hanukkah means amazing donuts.

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Thank you, Roladin!

It means lovely dinners with friends and their hanukkiot.

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It means giant outdoor candle lightings.

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It means breaking in my little Jerusalem-bought hanukkiah.

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But most importantly, it means time with my family, who flew halfway across the world to spend the end of Hanukkah with me.

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It is almost shabbat, and it is Hanukkah, and I get to share both with these people I love so much. This week’s blessing doesn’t require words. It’s right here.

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Mom, Dad, and Marzipan rugelach

Shabbos Blessing- Week 15

(New to Shabbos Blessings? Learn more here. ALSO, Hanukkah update/request: I’m still operating with a blessing deficit to get me through all 40 weeks. There are 8 nights of Hanukkah, and it would be super cool if I could get 8 blessings before it’s over– which is New Years Eve, for those playing along at home. So, if you’re so inclined, send me a blessing in the next couple of weeks! Thanks!)

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10 years ago at this time I was coming out of a terrible sophomore slump at Macalester College. The beginning of my second year there was awful. I felt disconnected socially and confused academically. My family was going through a difficult stretch, and being in Minnesota while they were in New Jersey was tough to say the least. To be honest, I don’t remember many specifics about that time. What I do remember is that, during Thanksgiving break, which I spent with dear friends in Minnesota rather than flying home, I suddenly realized that everything was ok. I remembered that I was cared for. I remembered that I had value. That was when Mac, and the Twin Cities, became a second home.

On the whole, I loved my experience at Macalester, and I think it’s safe to say that I would not have decided to become a rabbi without the influence of the chaplains I worked with there. My four years there opened me up to so many possibilities of what it could mean to be spiritual and religious and liberal and social justice-oriented. I worked for the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life for two years. I served on the Multifaith Council for three. I was involved in the pluralistic Macalester Jewish Organization for all four. Today, my dream job would be to be a Jewish Chaplain or Hillel Rabbi at a small liberal arts school like Mac. I think I would never leave.

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The Chapel/Center for Religious and Spiritual Life at Macalester, appropriately blocked by snowy trees. 

Why am I thinking about Mac today? Because, incredibly, the chaplains who worked there when I was a student are still in my life. I’m so grateful for that. The rabbi there, the one I call “my rabbi” to this day, has been a source of support for me since I was 20. He’s even helped me begin to build a rabbinic bookshelf with volumes from his own collection. The minister who was dean of religious and spiritual life when I was a student has since moved on to another university, but we’ve stayed in touch and I continue to look to her as a model of how to be a pastoral presence to people from many faiths. I also still connect with the Jesuit Priest who served at Macalester while I was there, and I have him to thank for today’s blessing:

“Knowing more surely who you are in God’s eyes and ever growing in gratitude, may you continue to trust God’s invitation to give of yourself in ways that bring healing and hope to all of creation.” God bless you Emily.

It seems fitting that this blessing comes up now, just after my health scare, when gratitude is flowing more than ever. In a lot of ways, this week has felt like a border between one chapter of my time here and another. Although fear is no longer pinning me down, I’ve had to actively remind myself of my health, to reset my mind, to remember that everything is ok. I’m glad to be going into shabbat tonight, and next week I intend to resettle fully into my normal self, with creative projects and academic motivation galore.

For now, I leave you with a picture of this donut. It’s sufganiyot season in Israel now, and while any old jelly donut will technically do, most bakeries here take the charge of donut crafting very seriously (think of it as the closest we get to Christmas cookies). This one has its own jelly syringe so as not to mess with the integrity of the pastry before consumption.

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Shabbos Blessing- Week 12

Twelve is an important number for me when it comes to rabbinical school, because if all goes well I’ll have 12 semesters total of it. During my first semester at RRC, I decided that each of the 12 should correspond to one of Jacob’s (and Leah’s and Rachel’s and Zilpah’s and Billha’s) 12 sons. So far I’ve been through Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Napthali, Gad, and Asher. This semester is Issachar. Next semester will be Zebulon. Then it’ll be onto the babies: Joseph and Benjamin. Dinah, as the only daughter, will accompany me post-ordination. Anyway, twelve. Twelve tribes of Israel, twelve weeks in Israel. I’m well over the quarter-mark now, for which I’m grateful.

And gratefulness seems appropriate, considering the season. Last night, I had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with a number of other American rabbinical-student-orphans (and a few British and Israeli tagalongs). It felt very homey, from the stuffing to the pumpkin pie to the football game on in the living room. At the request of one of our British guests, we even did the “go around the table and share what you’re thankful for” game. I also managed to trick my computer into thinking that it was in America so that I could stream part of the parade.

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The funniest thing about Thanksgiving for me was that my brain didn’t seem to understand what to do with it. I kept mentally batting it around, trying to impose all manner of inapplicable norms. Thanksgiving, you may be astonished to learn, is neither an Israeli holiday nor a Jewish holiday. Yesterday, around noon, I had yet to buy the ingredients for the stuffing I would be bringing to dinner. My brain leapt around in panic: Would any stores still be open? Would they still have mushrooms? Would it take me over an hour to navigate the crazy busy aisles and check out?

My brain checked itself: “Wait, Emily. This is Israel. This is a normal Thursday. There are a lot of American ex-pats here, yes, but the stores are open and they will not be crazy crowded. You’re good.” I bought the things I needed easily and headed home.

In my kitchen, I set to preparing the stuffing. It’s not an old family recipe, per se, but it is the recipe that we use every year. It’s the best. Don’t argue. The last time I was abroad for Thanksgiving, I made it in a wok. It’s supposed to be baked. Here in Jerusalem, not only could I get all of the ingredients (including sourdough!), but I had an oven to bake it in. As I chopped celery and pre-heated the oven, my brain leapt around in panic: How soon was sunset? Would the stuffing be done in time to be kosher?

My brain checked itself: “Wait, Emily. This is Thanksgiving. This is a secular holiday, not shabbat or chag. You can bring things cooked after dark to dinner. You’re good.”

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My Thanksgiving experience fits rather beautifully into this week’s blessing, which comes from one of my rabbi teachers at RRC. I think that this is the first clergy blessing I’ve shared so far, but don’t worry–there are more coming (and if you’re still considering sending one along, please do! I’m not at 40 yet!). She wrote:

I definitely have a blessing for you dear Ereleh: May you experience many moments of belonging and feel what it feels like to be an insider, and may you have many insights available to you as an outsider.

A lot of people here think I’m Israeli until I open my mouth. I don’t know if it’s my looks or how I dress or if it’s just the culture or what, but I get asked for directions a lot. At first glance, people think that I belong here and know what’s up.

I don’t. I am still an outsider here and expect to remain so throughout my 40 weeks. I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. I’m an American. My future is bound up in that land much more than in this one, particularly in wake of the elections. I want to have a good, growthful experience here. I want to develop a deeper cultural and historical understanding of this place. After I’m home, I want to continue to engage in activism related to this place, because this place claims to speak for American Jews as well as Israeli Jews and I therefore feel at least some measure of responsibility to be engaged. But I have no intention of making aliyah. This is not home. I am an outsider.

Yet, I have had many moments of belonging and feeling like an insider. When we shared what we were grateful for last night, I said that I was grateful to have seen that the future of liberal Judaism was so much bigger than just RRC. I have no regrets about choosing Reconstructionism, but being in Philly– even though it’s actually less than 2 hours from NYC– has kept me from feeling tied into the rabbinical school worlds of NYC (and LA on the West Coast). Here, I study regularly with colleagues from JTS, Hebrew College, and Ziegler, and I’ve gotten to know HUC students as well. People have really welcomed me in. Before September, I only knew one of the perhaps 20 people (mostly rabbinical students) I celebrated Thanksgiving with last night. Almost every Friday night or Saturday afternoon (or both!) I am invited to a shabbat meal. I am so grateful to be forming connections with people whom I may one day share close professional ties. I’m eager, when we all return to the States, to stay in contact. We’re going to have so much work to do together.

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Look how big they’ve gotten! Big kittens! Hillary is consoling Kaplan. 

Zany 5777

It’s late afternoon here. Most of the sunlight has already left my new apartment for the day, although it’s still plenty bright outside. Bugs are buzzing, birds are cawing, cats are screaming at each other, cars are passing by, at least one baby is crying, and Hebrew-speaking voices are echoing in the stairwell, frequently with calls of חג שמה! (Chag Sameach–Happy Holiday!) and שנה טובה! (Shana Tova–Happy New Year!)

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My new room has its own baby balcony and I’m rather partial to it. 

In just a few hours, the sun will set and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5777, will begin.

I’ve always liked having a new year in the fall. Probably that’s because I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in school. I started preschool at 2 and a half, and since then I’ve spent all of one year not in a classroom, on one side of the desk or the other. The idea of the fall as a new beginning makes sense to me because it’s usually a time of transition, more-so in a lot of ways than January 1st. It marks the start of something new.

This year, the really new something is my new place! I officially moved in yesterday and I think I’m going to like it here. The room that I’ve taken over is very much the room of the person I’m subletting from, but I think I’ll be able to make it feel like my space too.

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No I did not pick out the bright pink sheets, but I’m grateful for the person I’m subletting from for leaving sheets and towels for me so I didn’t have to buy them, so pink sheets it is. 

Tonight I’ll be going for services to Kol HaNeshama, a Reform synagogue perhaps 20 minutes walk from here. I’m pretty excited. This is my first Rosh Hashanah as a “Jew in the pew” since starting rabbinical school, and my guess is that it will be the last for some time. I’m hoping to cherish it. It is sweet to be able to choose where to attend services and to go in without anybody expecting anything in particular of me. It’s been sweet this last month not to join my marvelous rabbinic colleagues on the oh-dear-oh-dear-high-holidays-are-coming-and-I-have-so-much-to-do-and-how-oh-how-will-it-ever-get-done-why-is-Elul-almost-over-is-it-Cheshvan-yet? train. It will be sweet to break bread with some new and old classmates over the coming days and to be in a city that will feel like it is experiencing a holiday rather than one in which only a small subset of the population is celebrating. The stores today were packed with people doing last-minute shopping, grabbing up challot and apples and honey like nobody’s business. I can smell a couple of meals being cooked nearby. Rosh Hashanah seems to be on everyone’s minds. I feel like this might be what Christmas (minus the crazy consumerism) feels like for Christians in America? Maybe? Or maybe I’m being super presumptuous in equating the two? Christian friends, you tell me.

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Look at this cool community garden around the corner from my apartment! I’m excited to sit out there and read sometime. 

In thinking about the year to come, I can’t help but note the 3 sevens of 5777. The Hebrew letter that corresponds to 7 is zayin (ז). Last year, celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Philadelphia, I heard an amazing d’var (sermon) from Rabbi Yael Levy in which she spoke of the year 5776 corresponding to vav (ו), which means “and” in Hebrew. She spoke of the year being a time of connection, of living into the “ands” that life presents to us, of saying yes and entering into the world.

Zayin isn’t quite as easy for me to equate to a Hebrew word. I don’t know it as a prefix, and if it’s an abbreviation it’s usually either short for the Hebrew word for “male” or the first word of “may his memory be for a blessing.” So, I’m going for English.

My hope for this Z-influenced year is that it will be zany— according to the OED “amusingly unconventional and idiosyncratic.” Yeah, its synonyms are things like “kooky” and “mad,” but, you know what, I’ll still take it. There’s a fun onomatopoetic sense to the word. It sounds amusingly edgy.

For me, an amusingly edgy year would be pretty great. After all, here’s the ark. Here’s the cloud atop Mt. Sinai. I’m not in a normal place for me.  It’s not going to feel like a totally normal year, and it shouldn’t. It can be terrifying or awkward or depressing, or it can be zany, and that doesn’t sound so bad.

For example, I just bought this challah to bring to lunch at a professor’s tomorrow:

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Now you might think that this looks like a round challah, and you would be right. You might also think, if you were buying it at the natural foods store (that I’m sure is going to soak up quite a lot of my budget), that it is 100% whole wheat. And you would be wrong. As I learned when I plugged some of the words into my dictionary, it’s 100% spelt flour. I’m bringing it to lunch anyway. Zany.

For those who are looking towards more “typical” years, I still think zany is a good goal. The difference might be that zaniness gets more-or-less thrust upon me as an ideal framework, whereas for folks in the normal sleeve of life it might be a framework that requires some additional mindfulness. How can you take your normal and make it amusingly unconventional? How can you find amusement in the tough, justice-pursuing work that the world so needs? How can you push against conventionalism when everything just seems blah? How can you break your routines when they’re no longer serving you, and how can you crack a smile when life is throwing so much at you that the idea of a routine seems impossible?

Whether you’re Jewish or not, whether you are celebrating a New Year tonight or just sighing your way into bed before a typical Monday morning, let me invite you into zaniness with me. And I also definitely, for sure, recommend eating some apples dipped in honey. Shana Tova to all. See you in the new year.

 

 

39 Weeks

I have been here for a week.

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Yes. Here! Where that little dot is! That’s me according to my phone, and phones don’t lie. שׁם (sham) has become פה (po)! Dreidels will never be the same.

I have been here for a week. I’ve been staring at the 40 week countdown for what feels like so long that the very notion of my time here being less than 40 weeks seems impossible. Yet, the countdown has started. I’m in the ark. The ark is floating. And this first week has been all about me getting my sea legs.

So I guess I’m in Yeshiva now? I understand that this shouldn’t be a weird concept. After all, I am learning to be a rabbi. Intensive text study is par for the course. Yet, this feels different. I’ve done 12 hours of Talmud in the last 4 days. I’ll do the same for the rest of the semester. We pray every morning and afternoon. I fall asleep with fragments of nusakh stuck in my head. The learning is intense, and it is good.

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Talmud. Isn’t it pretty? I bought it yesterday. 

Grocery shopping in Israel requires more concentration than studying Talmud. There are so many things in the shops, and I don’t know what half of them are, and the things I do recognize or can puzzle out are often not what they seem. A few days ago, I bought a container of what I was very excited to identify as feta. Only, when I got it home, I quickly discovered that it was not like American feta at all. It tasted ok, but it wasn’t really what I wanted. And Israeli groceries are not cheap. In fact, on the whole they seem pricier than in the states, with the delightful exceptions (so far) of hummus, tehina, and bell peppers.

I am also learning that I truly have no notion of metric units. What, pray tell, is a kilogram, and how do I know how many kilograms of apples I am buying? If I can figure this out, I can avoid paying $5 for three apples next time. Of course…it would also be helpful for me to read stickers next time and see that the apples I’m buying are from Washington State. At least they are yummy, even if the locavore in me is griping with every bite. Also yummy? Falafel. I have eaten it twice in the last week and look forward to eating it much, much more in the weeks and months to come.

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Walking anywhere still requires google. Walking anywhere is possible. Last week on shabbat I walked to services (at Har El, a Reform synagogue with a good bit of spirit and responsive readings of psalms… in Hebrew), walked to dinner, and walked home. The streets were traveled– not like an American big city where they’re busy and loud. Just traveled. People were out and about. The shops were largely closed. The roads were largely free of cars. It felt nice. It felt safe. It felt like shabbat.

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This coming shabbat I’ll be resting with most of the Conservative Yeshiva cohort somewhere down south. I’ll post my weekly blessing before I head out Friday morning and look forward to telling y’all about it when I get back.