Tel Aviv field trip. Two hours to myself. Do I go to the beach, take off my shoes and put my feet in the foam? No. I walk to the Animation Festival. I won’t have time to see a film but I will get shots of cartoon exhibits featuring the Simpsons dressed as Israelis (Homer Hertzel for instance, complete with tubular beard) and a book of women Superheroes called Eishet Chayil (A Woman of Valor) for my own Superheroine waiting in our Jerusalem garden apartment. And one of the artists who contributed to the collection was there to sign his work.
So what is a Sabbatical after all?
Well, here’s what it’s not: working out, watching TV (except for the Olympics a few times with Hebrew commentary), driving (I was concerned I might have forgotten how), wearing a suit or tie, leading services on Shabbat. (I’m certainly glad I didn’t forget how to do that!)
Here’s what a Sabbatical is:
Learning from great teachers in two Yeshivot, studying Talmud on my own each morning with a mug of Israeli filter coffee, reading Hebrew newspapers every Shabbat after shul, reading two Hebrew novels, eating really well (from our garden apartment’s fruit trees), walking EVERYWHERE, replacing my dorky sun hat with a Panama hat at an international art festival, singing, playing guitar, taking pictures of almost everything, writing, previewing second year student movies at a film school, bringing live music back to the abandoned Jewish sites of Spain and Portugal, visiting every gallery and art museum in a stone’s throw, being a good Levite and washing Cohanical hands prior to the priestly blessing.
Whenever anyone asked me what I was doing in Israel and for how long and I answered Sabbatical, they would almost always assume it would last a year. Although it was three months, I think I tried to cram a year’s worth of experience into it. Religious or cultural experience? Yes!
Most Jews I know fall much more strongly into a cultural or a religious camp. I’ve always felt that I walked a fine line between the two. Perhaps, better to say that I feel an equal obligation to immerse myself in both.
Seeing an incredibly challenging Hebrew translation of Shakespeare’s Tempest was just as compelling to me as hearing a brilliant lecture by Dr. Isaiah Gafni on the Hasmoneans. Hearing a concert lecture by Astrit Baltzan of Naomi Shemer’s music as well as a concert by Shemer’s son, a contemporary Israeli rock musician known for Yalla, Bye, was no less important to me than leading a Wednesday morning Shacharit service with the Conservative Yeshiva’s minyan at the much quieter and not-yet completed egalitarian section of the Western Wall.
Marveling at the underground synagogue in Barcelona’s Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) was moving in a way that was complemented by taking a day to go up the funicular to Montjuic (Jew Mountain – ironically, named after the Jewish Cemetery in Barcelona which no longer exists there among the great sights of the city and the Olympic Village) to revel in the full artistic expression of Joan Miro (who’s output included literally burned canvasses and a later period heavily influenced by eastern philosophy).
Much thanks to the congregation, which granted me the three month respite to study, Rabbi and Deborah Slosberg who agreed to be in Louisville all summer and cover for me including my bar mitzvah students, the staff at AJ which kept me abreast of all and sundry goings on, and the internet which allowed me to respond quickly, for the most part, to anything that required my attention at a seven hour remove from all things Louisville.
If you’d like a deeper exploration of my experiences, you may come hear me speak at AJ on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, Sunday, October 2, at 5:45 p.m. and/or check out my notes on Facebook or AJ’s website. https://adathjeshurun.com/blog.