gastronomy and piety in Jerusalem
I have in the past been accused of writing rather too much about food and not enough regarding matters of consequence. Guilty, says I, and I’ll probably never stop. Here’s some of each.
Today we had the most amazing figs ever. The ones earlier in the week were at that point the best ever, but they’ve been eclipsed. ND and Sarit (his sister) and I were at En Hemed, the beautiful park where her wedding will take place, scoping out the setting and making decoration plans, when we discovered a huge stand of fig trees, interspersed with grapevines and towering thorny raspberry bushes. All these plants were literally drooping with fat ripe fruits. ND got that crazed look in his eyes and starting grabbing with both hands, dancing up and down the row of trees and moaning with pleasure, his mouth crammed with juicy booty. Later, he could barely eat dinner.
As expected, I’ve eaten extremely well. One can hardly avoid it in Israel. ND's mother not only stuffed us (un-pushily) while in Haifa but loaded us up with Shabbat foods to bring to Jerusalem and share with Eliyahu and his other guests. We had homemade challahs (amazing), baba ganoush, spicy tomato salad, sprout salad, chocolate cake, and fruit. We stopped for lunch on Friday at the restaurant Sarit manages, which is part of a beautiful mountaintop goat farm, and augmented our Shabbat goodies with a bottle of yogurt and a wheel of mild herbed cheese.
However: I have had falafel only once. Shock and horror!
I’ve started a (lame) conversational poll: how much hummus is eaten in Israel per annum per capita? My guess is 50 pounds. I’ve convinced a few people, but mostly folks just laugh and say, a lot. If I lived here I would definitely do my share.
Writing about food is of course an easy out from writing about what’s really going on. I’ve been spaced out and sort of edgy the last few days, which is a paradoxical state in which I feel both calmly patient and emotionally fragile. Some of the tension comes, of course, from meeting ND’s family and new people generally.
A bigger contributor, though, is the experience of Shabbat in Jerusalem. It’s beautiful and oppressive, sometimes simultaneously, in a complex layering of identity and practice. It would take a long time to explain this fully, and believe me, I tried. I’ve just deleted a long-winded description of two religious rituals I attended this weekend and what everyone was wearing and what I was wearing and how they were looking at me and how I felt, blah blah blah. To dissect these messages is like explaining football to a Martian.
In any case, the central problem goes like this. I love the feeling of an omnipresent Shabbat spirit in Israel specifically and Jerusalem particularly, but I hate the lack of feminist/egalitarian communities and settings in which to celebrate. American Judaism is shockingly far to the left of Israeli Judaism on this account: here there aren’t “Conservative” or “Reconstructionist” synagogues, but only Orthodox communities of varying strictness. Secular-identified people can choose between no religious practice or one that is varyingly incongruent with their (my) personal beliefs.
I now find myself on a path of increasing observance, enjoying the feeling of a committed community and a city full of welcoming Shabbat tables, yet sickened by the knowledge that I have to basically swallow some of my dearest beliefs (notably, the right to full inclusion of women and queers and, hey, non-observant Jews, and non-Jews) in order to participate. Check your everything at the door, and you’ll have a good time.
I just read this to ND, and he protests! There are so many places we haven’t been yet! There are many pockets of subcultures, and counter-discourses. There are sincere people trying to live in the creative tension between these two compelling perspectives: egalitarian, feminist-inspired diversity and inclusivity, versus tightly-knit community bound by shared dedication to religious practice. Hopefully, he says, we’ll have the chance to encounter these folks and share notes on our struggles, pains, and triumphs.
Personally, I would like to meet more creative tensioneers. Sadly, I don't have the knowledge to properly engage in this kind of acrobatics: without an intellectual safety harness and emotional net of self-belief below, I am far too shaken by the chasm to attempt flight.