Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I have just spent the weekend in Eilat with a bunch of friends, celebrating the forthcoming nuptials of one of our number with a drink or three. Whilst there, during Kabalat Shabbat, I was reminded of a promise that I made myself 8 years ago when I made Aliyah, that I would find myself an 'Israeli' shul to pray in as part of my planned immersion into society.

Immediately upon arrival in the country, in the summer of 1996, I set about finding a synagogue that would fit the bill but quickly discovered what I should have instinctively known - that in a city the size of Jerusalem, there is a critical mass of people from each background, that can own form their own minyan and pray in the same way that they used to back in the old country. Therefore Jews who have there origins in North Africa, Eastern Europe and the Goldena Medina all pray in their own separate services. Does an Israeli minyan really exist?

During that period of acclimatisation and subsequently whilst in the army, I had my eyes opened to the fact that the United Synagogue service which I grew up with, was certainly not the only way of doing things. During basic training in particular, I enjoyed the Sephardic custom of singing Shir Hashirim before Maariv on Friday night. The concept of praying as a community is far more prevalent amongst Israelis of North African and Middle Eastern origin and although the chanting of Kabalat Shabbat is, to my taste, unnecessarily long and repetitive, I do like the idea of everyone doing it together out loud, rather than individually and quietly under their breaths.

My synagogue in Jerusalem, Heichal Ariel in the Evelina School at the junction of Herzog and Hazaz/Tchernihovsky, is pretty close to the service that I'm used to from the UK (They also have really comfortable seats!). It is a mix of the old time residents of Rechavia, Katamon and Nayot together with a good dose of new and not-so-new immigrants from the West. I have, in other words, retreated into the familiar Azhkenazi world in which I grew up.

A hotel throws together a very disparate group of people and exposes guests to each others customs. Once again, I found myself swaying with the chanting and really enjoying the unity of the experience. Whilst I'll never get used to the idea that wearing jeans and a T-shirt to synagogue is acceptable, I do feel enriched for the experience.


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