Sunday, April 15, 2012

Friendship journey to Israel - Apr. 15, 2012

Shalom and salaam from Israel! Several months ago Rabbi Jonathan Miller asked if I would help him lead a group of Jews and Christians (mostly from Birmingham) on a trip to Israel. It was being organized by my friends Donald and Ronne Hess. I was honored and feel grateful to be a part of this wonderful group.

I actually set out several days ahead of the rest of the group. Last summer the clergy group that Jonathan and I are part of were in Jerusalem and we met and talked with Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon,, one of Jonathan's seminary classmates and the first woman to function as a rabbi in Israel. She and I discovered a mutual love of music, and I asked if I could perform in her synagogue - Kehillat Yozma in Modi'in, a town between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Our trip began right after an exhausting but good Holy Week and Easter. Starting on the Mon. after Easter I began to pack and clean frantically. By the time I left on Wed. my house was so clean I was reluctant to leave! And in the little spare time I had I was practicing for my performance. So on Wed., Apr. 11, I set out. I took the van from the Birmingham airport to the Atlanta airport. The only other passenger in the van was an Arabic speaker, and just for a moment, I wondered, "What if...?" but that thought is not worth finishing. Will we ever get beyond our suspicion of Arabs and Muslims?

On the way to Atlanta I reviewed the music that I was going to play. Sometimes I become so familiar with pieces of music that I can play them in my head. I'm also ready to work on something new! But I still like these pieces and enjoy playing them.

The Atlanta airport was full of young men and women in military uniforms. I wonder what it will look like when the US withdraws from Afghanistan? I hope we 're not involved in a new war by then.

From Atlanta I flew to London. The flight was long, boring and exhausting. I read from my Kindle and listened to music on my iPod and was struck with wonder at the thought of listening to Schubert at 35,000 feet. I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and the world pretty much dropped away. My iPod contains all of Beethoven's symphonies and piano sonatas, all of Mozart's piano concertos, Haydn's masses, every note Chopin composed for the piano, Stravinsky's ballets and on and on. My Kindle has the Bible, the Prayer Book, the complete Shakespeare, and all of Dickens and Twain. And it is available to me as I fly from Atlanta to London to Tel Aviv.

I really like to fly British Airways but that means changing planes in London. I had a long layover in London and managed to sleep a few hours at the Yotel - a kind of mini-hotel - in Heathrow. Then I flew on to Tel Aviv. All in all I traveled about 2 days to get here by ground and air (including 2 overnight flight).

I've never seen Ben Gurion airport so empty. I didn't check any bags, so I whizzed through passport control and was out to the taxi stand in just a few minutes. Modi'in is about half way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I think the taxi ride was only about 20 mins, and I arrived at Kinneret's house around 6.30 am. She was awake and made me some tea, but most of her family were still asleep. However, her mother, Marilyn, who lives in Sun City West in Arizona, was visiting. Marilyn and I really hit it off. At the synagogue that evening I asked if I could be her "date" and she got a kick out of that.

I learned a little more about Kinneret, too. She has wanted to be a rabbi since she was 15 or 16, but that was before they started ordaining women. Also, she grew up in a Conservative synagogue. (Note: Most Jews in the U.S. belong to one of 3 "denominations": Orthodox (most conservative), Conservative (middle of the road), and Reform (liberal). Today both Conservative and Reform traditions ordain women.) Anyway, she switched to Reform Judaism and she met my friend Jonathan Miller at seminary in New York.

Kinneret's husband, Baruch, and her 2 youngest children, Amichai (son) and Inbar (daughter) were also at home. Inbar is an art student in Jerusalem, and Amichai is in the army but almost finished with his service. He studied music seriously in high school and wants to continue his musical studies after the army. He is a guitarist and interested in jazz.

After resting for a while, Kinneret took me to Kehillat Yozma. Their building includes not only the synagogue, but also a K-6 school. In Israel, synagogues, rabbis, and religious schools are state-supported, EXCEPT for the ones that belong to liberal or progressive Jews, so Kinneret's group receives no state funds.

After showing me around, Kinneret left me to practice for a couple of hours. Even though I was dead tired I went through my entire program and worked on a few problem areas. When I was through I called her and she brought me back to her home.

The Friday evening service was lovely, especially the music. Baruch plays the guitar very well, and the singing was lively. Although people helped me follow along in the prayer book, I was only able to pick out the occasional word. However, when a phrase was sung more than once, I could begin to sing along.

After the service, I went back to Kinneret and Baruch's house for sabbath dinner with them and Amichai and Inbar and Marilyn. However, I stayed that evening with another couple from Yozma - Nechama and Michael Nemal. The Nemals "made aliya" (that is, they are Jews who elected to move to Israel) a few years ago. They are also really wonderful people. They have a nice apartment and two terrific Shar Peis - Zimra ("singer" in Hebrew) and Coltrane.

On Sat. the Nemals took me to Bet Guvrin where there are a series of "bell caves" that were used for various purposes (food storage, burial, etc.) from the 3rd c. BCE to the 6th c. CE. I had never been there before and found it fascinating. On the way back we stopped at Emmaus, another place I had not visited before. We returned around 2 pm, and after lunch, I showered and got ready for my program.

The program began with a "chavdalah" service, that is a way of marking the end of the sabbath and is very brief, but my program did not begin until about 8.30 pm. Because it started rather late in the evening I shortened the program I have been playing. I played the Sonata in B flat major (H XVI-41) by Haydn; Kinderszenen by Schumann; The Children's Corner by Debussy; 3 of Paul Ben-Haim's Five Pieces, Op. 34; and Chopin's Ballade in A flat. Everything went quite well. I had a little memory slip in the Haydn but it wasn't too noticeable. The applause at the end was enthusiastic, and when someone asked for an encore, I played Liszt's "Waldesrauschen."

On Sunday, the Nemals took me to the "shuq" or market in Ramle and then we went to lunch in Abu Ghosh, an Arab village near Emmaus. Tomorrow, everyone else on Friendship Journey 2 arrives, and I look forward to catching up with them at the David Citadel Hotel in the late afternoon.