So I’m supposed to be doing ulpan homework right about now, but I am tired and any attempts to focus on the nice words in the pretty language seems to be for naught at the moment. So instead I’m painting my toenails. They can only be described, in the vein of Kissing Jessica Stein, as “sexy-ugly”. Or maybe just ugly, but in a way I personally find quite appealing. They’re a sort of irridescent yellow, the color of egg yolks. I’ve been sort of craving orange-colored things in my life lately, but alas and alack, the drugstore in my neighborhood isn’t quite the girly-girl paradise that you find at your US chain stores, so I’ve had to make do. There will be green polka-dots added after everything is dry.

I suppose this episode is a pretty good microcosm of my ulpan world, really. I’m trying to focus, I am. I want to be a good kid and learn–I really do want to learn–but at a certain point of overload, I shut down and need to take recourse in the more tactile world. For a few days I made some elaborately beaded necklaces–there’s a great bead shop down on Emek Refaim–and I may stop by there for a supply refuel tonight. I love little crafts–of which I consider my elaborate toenail creations a piece. I’ve no great skills artistically or in terms of real crafts, like knitting or embroidery or whatever, but I’ve found that in the very in-your-head world of rabbinical school, it’s good to explore the possibilities of low-level creative and aesthetic pleasure.

Speaking of small pleasures, when I think of Jerusalem in the summer, this is what I think of:

Brightly-colored flowers against pale, pale stone.

Things are starting to find their own flow. I’m still checking out different davvening possibilites–to my great surprise, I had an incredible time at Yakar this Friday night. It’s a place started by followers of Shlomo Carlebach, and for a few reasons I didn’t think I’d connect there, even though I had some great experiences upstairs the last time I was in Israel. (There are 2 levels–upstairs is the younger–ie 17-23 yo, and downstairs is for “grownups.”) The mechitza is not split down the middle of the room, but rather halves the room the other way, that is to say, women are in the back–and there are no real moves, as there are in a lot of other Orthodox shuls around, to increase gender eqality. Plus, really, spiritually I didn’t think it was gonna be my vibe.

But it was amazing. I walked in, and could tell right away that the place was charged. Whereas at Shira Hadasha, which meets in a building/room that’s used for lots of other things during the year, the people have to come in and bring the energy/ruach/kavvannah/intentionality/whatever each week, Yakar is its own building and they know a thing or two about energy-raising, and the stuff can just stay there all week. You can tell, it’s tactile and present. Then they started Kabbalat Shabbat with a long, long series of niggunim, wordless melodies. Niggunim are at core designed to put one in a trance state, and again, these people knew how to make that work. Rather than being a big ecstatic experience (like they have with the kiddies upstairs), this was a deep, slow, meditative experience. And I realized, oddly, that the fact that they had no feminist rhetoric actually enabled me to let go–at Shira Hadasha, I’m always acutely aware of the imbalances, and my brain’s pretty plugged in to who’s leading what, eg. But here, it was clear that there was going to be none of that, and strangely enough it enabled me to just. let. go. and have whatever experience I was gonna. Lots of God showing up, to a degree that’s not everyday for me. It was good. (This is not to say that I think women having some power in shul is not better than them having no power, and we’ll see what my long-term relationship to Yakar will be. But I think ultimately the lesson here was about releasing expectations, and how useful that is.)

The davvening scene is soooo weird here. Shabbos day I went to a minyan (the Leder minyan) which is less egal in a lot of ways than Shira Hadasha, but both a man and a woman douchened (led the Priestly blessing), which is VERY unusual. (Very few places douchen at all, which is a whole other shebang about why.) Anyway. Hopefully if I don’t find, like, a spiritual home in one place here, I’ll have a few that feel like good places to go on a regular basis. Definitely still exploring.

Anyway. My tootsies are dry. Now I’m gonna fix my evening coffee plans and see if I can convince myself to do a little more homework before that happens. Unngh. Homework.

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