Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Working Man's Minyan

I've started the Haifa Ulpan, and thus far it's been a rewarding experience to speak, write, read, and practice Hebrew all day long. I'm recovering much of the vocabulary I lost over the last two months of relative dormancy in Hebrew study. I live on a modest diet relative to my Yeshiva. The view from my dorm window affords me a picturesque view of the city by the sea (Debussy's Claire de Lune on repeat).

Today I had to walk down several flights of stairs to the parking lot level of the campus building where I have class everyday. The Beit Knesset (Synangogue) is little more than a bomb shelter with a Sefer Torah burrowed into one of the refortified concrete walls.

Just last week I was davening (praying) at Machon Shlomo, a premier Yeshiva in one of Jerusalem's most posh religious neighborhoods, Har Nof. The scholarly elite, millionaires, movers, and shakers of the Jewish world frequently pray in our Beit. The dress code is pretty straightforward, black, white and a snappy fedora (the hat can be any color you want, so long as it's black).

Here I sat in this bomb shelter Beit with the proletariat Jews, men of the working class. Their clothing dirty from the day's work of tending to the University. Their kippas were knit years ago and have rarely moved from their heads since. I sat reading Mesillos Yasharim (Path of the Just by Moshe Chaim Luzzato) waiting with the other seven for another two to complete our minyan (a group of ten Bar Mitzvahed Jewish males). A call is placed from inside the Shelter, and within moments two more Jews enter.

After Mincha finishes, the Gabbai gives a Dvar Torah (a pithy speech on an aspect of the Torah or Jewish philosophy). The men adjourn to their work, and I return to my studies.

We read and translated a story from our text book today, pictured below:

I thought it was touching and so I'll poorly translate for those who can't read the Hebrew:

A tourist visited Jerusalem. He walked through the streets and saw that all the walls and houses were built from stone. He approached the wall of the ancient city and saw that it was made of stone. He departed from the city to the surrounding mountains, and looked all around. He saw stone in the mountains and paths, and wondered why all of Jerusalem was made of stone.

During his return to the city, he turned to an old man and asked "maybe you can explain why there are so many stones in Jerusalem?"

The old man answered him, "In each generation of Jews that come to Jerusalem to pray and cry at the Western Wall. With all their tears they feel their hearts turn to stone and fall. This is why Jerusalem is so full of stones."

By itself, the story is demonstrative in Jerusalem's importance to Jews if not a touch on the sentimental side. However, the accompanying illustration deserves accolades. It takes the story's punchline and gives it a witty Zionist twist. The religious Jews are seen crying and depositing their stones in the wheel barrow of the young and aspiring Zionist, complete with his work boots, shorts, and cova tembel ( lit.: dummy's hat: 1950s headgear for Israelis). A great symbol for the dynamics of the modern state of Israel.

I leave the deep interpretations to you.


  1. That was quite a perceptive observation on that illustration, and I think you are right on. The artist meant to convey that while the pious chassidim are crying for times gone by of Israel's former glory, the new-age Jew is taking those tears, or stones, and turning them into something useful.
    Not that I agree with the setup, but that definitely is the point. It probably escapes most people who see it.

  2. just curious - if a minyan is made up of ten bar mitzvahed men, how do you count as one of them. did you get bar mitzvahed and not tell me?