Rucheli's Writings

Readings, Ramblings, and Religious Rantings

Farbrengen Time! October 2, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 9:34 pm
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Photo by Chana Miriam

There is a phenomenon in the Chabad world. It’s called a “Farbrengen”. What is this foreign sounding word? It’s Yiddish for a gathering, specifically a Chassidic gathering. It is characterized by a long table, lots of people, good (or not so good) snacks, deep mind-blowing conversations, songs and niggunim (wordless melodies), and almost always enough alcohol for each person to have their own bottle.

Let me explain the last part of that sentence… Yes, Orthodox Jews drink alcohol. No, it is absolutely nothing like a college party. The purpose of a farbrengen, according to the Rebbe, is  “to encourage each other in Torah learning, the fulfillment of the Mitzvoh with Hiddur [beauty], and the spreading of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in general.” Alcohol is sometimes used as a way to open up people who are generally more reserved in a way that encourages participation in the intensely deep and often personally involving conversations. Getting drunk is never encouraged, and one should always be in control of their mental faculties.

This particular farbrengen was at Rivka Marga’s house… She is a teacher/administrator at the Mayanot Women’s Program, as well as the wife of Rabbi Gestetner, who is the Executive Director of all of Mayanot and the Rabbi at Mayanot Shul. They’re pretty much an awesome family. During Sukkot they had a farbrengen for the guys on Sunday night and for us girls on Tuesday night. Rivka Marga kicked all the boys out of the house so we could have the Sukkah to ourselves. This allowed for deeper conversations and of course, open singing.

Singing is one of those things that we don’t get to do so often since guys aren’t allowed to hear a woman sing unless it’s their wife. And since we are so kind, we try to make that easy for them. The only exception is if there is a large group of girls singing and they can’t see the group or identify which voice is coming from whom. I know this concept can be a little difficult to process, so if you have any questions about it, feel free to post in the comments below and I’ll provide more information. Moving on, singing was a go for the night, and it was a blast. We all sang the night away, and shared “Dvar Torah”s [lit. word of Torah] about Sukkot and what we’ve learned in classes our from the families we’ve been eating our meals with. It was a great “bonding time” with the girls, and hopefully the first of many, many more farbrengens with Mayanot to come! ♥


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!


Kohanim at the Kotel

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 1:24 pm
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We interrupt your normally scheduled programming (i.e. posts catching up on the last week) to bring you footage of the Birkat Kohanim at the Kotel from this morning.

Birkat Kohanim is a special priestly blessing that is given to the people by the Kohanim (descendants of the priestly line from King David and King Solomon) during major festivals. Twice a year, once during Sukkot and once during Pesach, thousands of Kohanim gather in front of the Kotel in Old City Jerusalem to bless the entire Jewish people.

What was absolutely incredible is that thousands and thousands of Jews from all walks of life were there for the blessing. From secular to Haredi, Ethiopian to converts, soldiers to the Chief Rabbis of Israel, all of us gathered together and davened the same service at the same time in the same place. This is very unusual for the Kotel, because usually hundreds of minyans are having separate services at the Kotel because everyone is scattered and from different backgrounds. But today we were able to use the loudspeakers since we are in the intermediary days of the holiday, and it echoed across all of Jerusalem. It was an incredibly moving experience, because no other time in the world we know today do so many Jews gather for the same holy reason. It’s by far the closest we can get to serving Hashem the way we used to in the times of the Temple, at least until Moshiach comes (bimherah beyamenu)!

Here’s a video courtesy of Yeshiva World News. Enjoy 🙂


What’s in the water?

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 1:22 am
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It seems that a lot of the Jewish holidays this time of year revolve around water… Not surprising since the Torah is compared to water, and both are considered the source of all life, spiritually and physically speaking. However the month of Tishrei has two separate instances where water plays a central role: Tashlich and Simchat Beit Hoshoeva.

Tashlich took place on the first day of Rosh Hashana. This old and meaningful Jewish ritual involves going to a body of water and performing tashlich “to cast away” our sins from the previous year. Standing next to a river, ocean, canal, stream, lake, or pond -preferably with fish in it- we recited prayers asking for Hashem to pardon our sins and forgive our iniquities. Why next to water? One reason (of many) is that the prophet Micah (7:19) says “and You shall cast into the depths of the sea all their sins.” Why with fish? Very interestingly, they are seen as good luck for Kabbalistic reasons…

Water with fish is optimal since fish are not subject to the “evil eye” and are also known to have many offspring. Fish do not have eyelids, so their eyes are always open. This is likened to G-d’s constant supervision over us, and we pray that He mercifully care for us. Also, just as fish may be caught in a fisherman’s net, so, too, we are caught in the net of judgment. This awareness helps awaken us to repent.

So basically what happens in Tashlich? We go to a body of water and throw our sins into in order to cleanse our souls and get ready for teshuvah and Yom Kippur.

Then 14 days later we enter Sukkot, and what do we do? We sing and dance and are joyous and happy. It’s a commandment to be happy for 8 days! Why? Because of Simchat Beit Hashoeva, “the joy of the drawing”, talking about the historical drawing of the water that happened during Sukkot in the times of the Temple. The drawing of the water itself is an interesting act, because usually during Temple sacrifices there was a wine offering, but on Sukkot we drew water from Shiloach spring and offered that with our sacrifices. This was always accompanied with the simcha -happiness- and dancing long into the night.

So how is this related to tashlich? On Rosh Hashana we throw our sins into the water… and on Sukkot we draw the water back out. What kind of sense does it make to draw the water that we just cast our sins into?!

Chassidus teaches us that after tashlich come the 10 days of teshuvah, or return and repentance. If we do true teshuvah, if we regret and repent and know that we would never do it again in the same situation, then something amazing happens. The sins that we did are not only forgiven, but they are even turned into merits! After teshuvah, when we are being judged by Hashem, those old sins that we cast into the water count as mitzvot. Then along comes Sukkot, and all of the sudden, the water drawing makes more sense. We threw sins into the water, we turned them into mitzvot, and then we draw them back out of the water.

That is why Sukkot is such a time of happiness and joy, we are adding all of the sins of last year to our merits of this year, completing the cycle of teshuvah in a way that can only be celebrated by dancing, singing, and rejoicing for a week straight!

May we all collect our many merits this Sukkot and rejoice in the light of our new mitzvot! Chag sameach!!


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…)