Rucheli's Writings

Readings, Ramblings, and Religious Rantings

Urban Exploration: Lifta October 18, 2010

Filed under: My Blog,Photos,Travel — rucheli @ 3:58 am
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Urban Exploration, or UrbEx, is defined (in Wikipedia) as “the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of urban areas or industrial facilities.” Well today I had the opportunity to join the ranks of photographers and adventure hungry people that partake in such an odd hobby. And it was amazing.

Last night my friend Talia and I were discussing how we really needed to go on a photo-hunt sometime soon, and I had heard of a place named Lifta that was supposed to be easy to get to and amazing to explore. So we were thinking about skipping our Sunday afternoon class at some point in the next few weeks to head out for a few hours… Lo and behold, this morning our Rosh Yeshiva came in and told us that our afternoon teacher was not feeling well (refuah shleimah) and that we wouldn’t be having class at all between 1:30pm and 7:30pm… In Judaism we call that Hashgacha Pratis, or Divine Providence. Perfect 🙂

Right after classes and a quick lunch, Talia and I caught the bus to Tachana Merkazit (the central bus station). From there we walked across the street, behind a sketchy gas station and down a dirt path until we got to a spiral bridge that led to another dirt path… Within 10 minutes we had reached the edge of Lifta, an abandoned Arab settlement that was evacuated during the 1948 War for Independence. With the exception of some hippy-ish squatters that have settled into a few of the buildings that are more intact, the entire town remains in a state of ruin, untouched since the war. There are about a hundred stone houses and buildings that are scattered across the mountain side. Some are easy to reach and some take a little more creativity, but as a whole it was a great first exploration trip. It had a little bit of everything… crazy people, buildings with the floors blown clear out by rockets, houses filled with trash from the local squatters, a mikvah, water tunnels, stone paths overgrown by nature; you name it, it was there somewhere.

Talia and I explored for a few hours until it started to get dark and our reason got the best of us. Although we saw a lot of the area, we will definitely be taking another trip in the coming weeks. And next time we’ll have better flashlights so we can see where those tunnels really lead to… Until then, here are some photos of our trip:


Best of Lifta

Overlooking Lifta




Park-Hopping October 8, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 3:20 pm
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One of the great things about Israel is that parks are everywhere. In fact as a country, Israel has one of the highest number of parks per capita in the world. And we at Mayanot like to enjoy these parks as frequently as possible 🙂

After Simchat Torah in Israel was over, everyone outside of the country of Israel still had 2 days of the holiday left. If you’re wondering why that is, I recommend this article from which explains it pretty well.  In any case, because the rest of the world was still celebrating Simchat Torah, Israel didn’t want to miss out on the fun… thus the concept of Hakafot Shniot was born. Literally meaning “second circles”, it’s a celebration of the fact that everyone else is still celebrating. The only difference is that since the holiday itself is already over, we get to use live music, microphones, special lighting, and huge open expanses filled with food vendors and popcorn machines. These Hakafot Shniot celebrations happen all over Israel, with the larger ones in Kfar Chabad, Bnei Brak, Chevron, and here in Jerusalem.

Photo by RealJerusalemStreets

While the original plan was to take a bus to Chevron, none of us felt like rushing to the bus station and traveling after the chag was over. Conveniently, the biggest Hakafot Shniot was at Gan HaPa’amon (Bell Park) just down the street from school (15 minute walk). I had no idea it was going on, but while I was at dinner with a few of the other girls, I got a call from Menucha saying that we should head over after we ate. So after we paid our tab at Tal Bagel, we walked over and found a huge crowd of people flooding the entire park.

We grabbed a spot on a hill to the left of the stage and sat back and enjoyed the show. The live bands were great, the dancing rabbis were entertaining, the Head Rabbi of Israel was there and inspiring, and the company was the best ♥ What an amazing way to appreciate the fact that this was the best possible year to be in Israel during the chagim (holidays)! While the rest of the world had three different weekends where they couldn’t work or clean or drive or use technology for three days in a row, we had one, and the rest of the time we had breaks between the holiday and Shabbat. Perfect!

Lunch Time!

Lunch Time!

Another unrelated but equally enjoyable parks experience was the picnic in the park that a group of us decided to have last week. Another park down the street (this one only 10 minutes away) is situated on this plateau above the surrounding area and has beautiful trees and grass and landscaping… something that takes a lot of effort in most of Israel. So we decided one day during lunch that we were going to drop by the local market, pack some lunch food, and enjoy the amazing weather we’ve had recently. The result was 2 hours of worry-free relaxing and food with some of our favorite girls.

It really is incredible how a country in the middle of the desert can turn itself into such an oasis. Then again, anything is possible.


The Torah’s Feet October 6, 2010

Filed under: Poetry — rucheli @ 1:56 am
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silent shuls but sukkahs filled
one last wave of the species as
Hoshanah Rabbah brings closure
to the homes Hashem willed

parchment rolled
inanimate scrolls
ink and hide hidden
under velvet and gold

men start circling
wooden doors open
dancing and drumming
and circles of singing

whats this? are you seeing?
the parchment moves
up and down and around and around
the Torah starts living

once a year it happens
hide and ink come to life
and Jews forget strife
for the sake of these actions

these yidden all meet
at the shul to dance and
sing and give for once
the Torah some feet


Dance the Night Away September 26, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 3:10 pm
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If you read my previous post called “What’s in the Water?” then you know that this week is Sukkot, a time of joyous celebration, singing, and lots of dancing… If you want to participate in the fun, Jerusalem is the place to be! All this week they are having Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebrations in every neighborhood in the city. Each major Jewish sect has a sort of “headquarters” here, and the parties can be intense and last long into the night. The thing is that unless you are from one of those groups, it’s hard to figure out what, where, and when everything is happening this week.

Lucky for us Mayanot girls, our Rebbetzin Chaya Levinger has the inside scoop 😉 She grew up in the Meah She’arim neighborhood in Jerusalem, the main ultra-orthodox Haredi area in this part of town. In Meah She’arim there are more areas than you can count that are each attributed to a different sect of Judaism… Breslov, Toldos Aharon, Slonim, and Karliner just to name a few, each with their own distinctions in dress so that you can tell what Rebbe or Rav they have allegiances to. It’s a great place to observe traditional Judaism in all it’s different forms, so long as you are dressed modestly and not walking in a group with both men and women in it.

Over the course of a few hours, Chaya took us through back streets and winding alleyways to shuls we never would have found on our own. We witnessed all different types of dances and songs in a handful of different sukkahs and beit knessets. It was amazing to see so many different types of Jews invited into these ultra-orthodox neighborhoods. No matter what background, everyone was invited to join in on the simcha. I’ve never seen such an open display of Ahavat Yisrael, and it was heart-warming and enlightening at the same time 🙂

One of the highlights of our evening was name-dropping. The Toldos Aharon group of Chassidim is well known for their passionate dances, which vary from circles of break-dance style moves to well-organized line dances to all-out rock concert-esque mosh pits. (Watch the video below from last year.) Because they are so well-known, the Toldos Aharon shul is always completely overcrowded during Sukkot, to the point where last year girls were getting hurt just trying to get in to watch the men dance! Because of that, this year they had their entire neighborhood blocked off with guards at the entrances and the only way you could get in is if you had a ticket. Well there were 13 of us and 0 tickets but we wanted to get in. Luckily, since Chaya is so awesome, she was able to name-drop. Turns out that her grandfather was a very well-known chassid of Toldos Aharon, so just mentioning his name magically produced 13 tickets from a chassid standing near the gate. Amazing how well that works 😉

All in all it was a crazy experience, one that would have been totally impossible without our amazing staff here at Mayanot!


Sukkot in Seuss-land September 23, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 7:10 pm
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What would Sukkot be like if Dr. Seuss ran the world? Here are some ground rules, found by my friend Talia and apparently originally created by Rabbi Arthur E. Gould, Sukkot 1999 – 2001.

The Laws of Sukkah According to Dr. Seuss

You can build it very small 1
You can build it very tall 2
You can build it very large 3
You can build it on a barge
You can build it on a ship 4
Or on a roof but please don’t slip 5
You can build it in an alley 6
You shouldn’t build it in a valley 7
You can build it on a wagon 8
You can build it on a dragon 9
You can make the schach of wood 10
Would you, could you, YES you should
Make the schach from leaves of tree
but shouldn’t bend it at the knee 11
Build your Sukkah tall or short
No Sukkah’s built in the Temple Court
You can build it somewhat soon
But never in the month of June 12
If your Sukkah is well made
You’ll have the right amount of shade 13
You can build it very wide
You cannot build it on its side
Build if your name is Jim
Or Bob or Sam or even Tim
Build it if your name is Sue 14
Do you build it, YES you do!
From the Sukkah you can roam
But you should treat it as your home 15
You can invite some special guests
Don’t stay in if there are pests
You can sleep upon some rugs
Don’t you build it where there’s bugs
In the Sukkah you should sit
And eat and drink but never spit
If in the Sukkah it should rain
To stay there would be such a pain 16
And if it should be very cold
Stay there only if you’re bold
So build a Sukkah one and all
Make it large or make it small
Sukkah rules are short and snappy
Enjoy Sukkot, rejoice be happy. (more…)


Day of Atonement, Day of Ascent September 22, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 12:55 pm
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I’m going to attempt to catch up on the missing blog posts from the last few days, we’ll see what happens. I think we left off just before Yom Kippur, so here we go.

Last Friday morning I got on a bus from Jerusalem to Tzfat with Menucha, Talia, Chana, and Amy. It was a 3.5 hour bus ride, which in Israel is a very long time since the entire country is the size of Rhode Island. It took so long because Tzfat (or Zefat or Safed) is almost as far north as you can go before hitting Lebanon or Syria.

Map of Israel

Tzfat is in the Top Right Corner

The ride wasn’t bad though because the scenery was great. Israel is one of those places where you are a few hours from everything… Beaches, mountains, deserts, living history, modern skyscrapers, snorkeling, surfing, camel riding, whitewater kayaking, you name it. Northern Israel in particular looks like central California. Green mountains, vineyards, flourishing farmlands, large bodies of water, it’s just gorgeous.

We got into Tzfat at about 1:30pm and found our way to Ascent, a hostel and retreat center in Tzfat. Ascent is a great place to go for a cheap night of sleep, meals, holiday programming, and great classes with local Chabad shluchim (emissaries). For Yom Kippur they were completely full, with about a hundred of us staying and participating in the holiday programming. We had called and made reservations for 4 people…. and there were 5 of us. And since I was the last one to join on the bandwagon, I was left without a place to sleep. So when we got there we asked if there were any beds that had opened up. No. Any cots or extra mattresses? No. Any extra pillows and blankets so I could sleep on the floor? NO. Great… (more…)


The Chicken Dance September 16, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 12:50 am
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Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day. After being in Israel for a few short weeks, I’ m throwing myself literally head-first into traditions that date back thousands of years. Tomorrow’s experience of the day? Doing the original chicken dance.

It has long been a custom in Jewish cultures across time and space to participate in a ceremony called Kaparot (or Kapores if you have an Ashkenaz accent) in the days preceding Yom Kippur. This ceremony involves taking a live chicken [rooster for a man, hen for a woman] and moving it in circles around your head while reciting the following verses:

“This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my expiation. This chicken shall go to death and I shall proceed to a good, long life and peace.”

We then send the chicken, a symbol for our sins, to the most Kosher and pain-free death physically possible and it’s then donated to the hungry and poor for their next dinner. This is all done in hopes that if G-d was to decree death to us on Yom Kippur as punishment for our sins, that in the merit of this charitable act, that He will change His decree.

Notice that I said “moved” and not “swung”… We are as humane as possible, the purpose is not to traumatize the poor animal. (Good thing PETA isn’t established in Israel.) But in the case that I completely chicken out (sorry for the pun, I had to), there is an option of doing Kaparos with money. And we actually found out today that the gematria (numerical value) of the letters kaf-samech-fay (kesef, or money in Hebrew) is the same as the value of the word kapareh (atonement) so that will work too. But that’s only a last-resort alternative. We’ll see what happens… Pictures will NOT be coming later for this one, sorry folks!

For more info, below is an excerpt from on kaparot:

The custom of kaparot is an ancient one , and was established as a reminder of the goat that the High Priest recited confession over on behalf of the Jewish People. That goat was sent to Azazel. However, in order to ensure that the practice does not resemble a sacrifice in any way (since sacrifices are forbidden outside of the Holy Temple), a chicken is used — since chickens were not offered on the altar.

The rite consists of taking a chicken — a male takes a rooster and a female takes a hen — and waving it over one’s head three times while the appropriate text (found in the Siddur or Machzor) is recited. The fowl is then slaughtered in accordance with Halachic procedure. The monetary worth of the kaparot is given to the poor, or as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.

We ask G-d that if we were destined to be the recipients of harsh decrees in the new year, may they be transferred to this chicken in the merit of this charity

If a chicken is unavailable, one may substitute other fowl or animals; many people use a Kosher live fish. Some give the actual fowl to the poor. Others perform the entire rite with money, reciting the prescribed verses and giving the money to charity. There is no prescribed dollar amount; the donation should be according to one’s financial abilities.Though the word kaparot means “atonement,” one should not think that kaparot itself serves as a source of atonement. Rather, we ask G-d that if we were destined to be the recipients of harsh decrees in the new year, may they be transferred to this chicken in the merit of this charity. Furthermore, (many find the rite of kaparot very disturbing, and that is exactly the point), the mortality of the chicken should remind us of our own mortality and inspire us to correct our past and value our future.

[Even children, who are devoid of sin, do kaparot, since they, too, are sometimes the recipients of harsh heavenly decrees.]