(this should probably be broken up into two or three posts... oh well...)
For the last three years, we stayed by good friends on Shavuot. Doing something three times is a chazakah, meaning you can count on doing it that way every year.
Nevertheless, we were not certain whether we could stay with those friends this year. Last year my husband really suffered without air-conditioning and warned me that we could no longer stay somewhere without air-conditioning (no matter how “cool” people say their home is).
Ironically, though our friends recently got air-conditioning, it did not work out for us to stay with them this year for other reasons. Sometimes life is funny like that.
Unperturbed, I set about finding somewhere else to stay. We have many friends in that area, and I was not worried. But the air-conditioning condition threw a wrench in the works! Not to mention that we are five people, and this year Shavuot is coupled with Shabbat to make a two day holiday!
In the end, we actually split up for sleeping purposes. The kids and I stayed with friends who have lots of space but no air-conditioning and Moshe slept over at friends who have a smaller apartment with air-conditioning. Since Moshe does not walk with us to daven (pray) in the Old City, we are on different sleep cycles anyway (at least for Shavuot).
Last year, my youngest daughter learned at “home” (where we were staying) until she went to sleep; my eldest daughter went to one or two shiurim (study sessions) with us, then went back for a short sleep; and my son stayed with us for all the shiurim, with a few breaks. I wondered what would be this year…..
After Shavuot dinner, our hosts were hosting a group of girls from their daughter’s youth group. Our eldest daughter decided to stay for that. Our youngest stayed too. Our son joined Moshe and me.
In the past, I would walk all over the city, hopping from place to place, choosing which shiurim interested me the most.
Last year, after we decided not to stay somewhere with “standing room only,” Moshe suggested that we go to Pardes for all of the shiurim. We did, and it was great. This year, we went to Pardes again. There were several shiurim offered simultaneously.
We wanted to attend the first shiur (study session) with Dr. Aviva Zornberg, but we were a few minutes late. Moshe was really disappointed. He did not want to sit in the back, where we might not hear, so we went to the alternative shiur, given by David Levin-Kruss, who is an excellent educator (with whom I have had the privilege of working many years ago). DLK’s shiur was quite interactive, and engaged our son more than a frontal presentation would. Despite being the youngest person in the room, our son was interested in the material and actively participated in the discussion. At the end of the shiur, our son commented enthusiastically “he’s a good teacher!”
After the second shiur, with Judith Klitzner, our son had enough and went back to our hosts to sleep a bit. In the middle of the third shiur, with Rabbi Danny Landes (who gives a very dynamic shiur, and always keeps me awake and alert during those late night/early morning hours from 3:00 to 4:00 am), I found it difficult to keep my eyes open. I realized that if I wanted to walk to the Old City with my kids, I had to allow myself the “luxury” of closing my eyes for a few minutes.
After the shiur, I apologized for drifting off to sleep, and mentioned that “I did have chemo yesterday, so I have a reasonable ‘excuse.’”
After the last shiur, Moshe came with me to help wake the kids. This year, our son did not feel up to walking to the Old City, so he decided to stay with Moshe and daven (pray) with a local minyan (prayer group).
The walk to the Old City is a big part of what makes Shavuot so special for me. You start off, the sky is dark, and you see a few people here and there, walking in the shadows of the streetlamps. As you get closer and closer to the Old City, more and more people gather and walk together, until, as you approach the Old City, and the sky begins to fill with light, and you find yourself surrounded by a see of people, dressed in white. The visual affect is magnificent.
This year, we sort of missed that experience. We were a bit “late” and walked most of the way with other “stragglers.”
As we approached the Old City, we discussed where we would daven (pray).
Many years ago, I would daven with a nice group that sang a lot. That group no longer meets by the Kotel, but I heard of another group that planned to meet and daven with a lot of singing. I had even arranged for my friend’s daughter to “save me a seat.”
The need for a seat is not insignificant for me these days. I can no longer stand for long periods of time, and sitting on the stone floor becomes unbearable after only a short time. Since I look “young,” young girls do not necessarily give up their seats for me, and I am not comfortable asking (perhaps I should be, but I am not).
Last year, rather than risk being uncomfortable, I decided to daven at the Ramban Synagogue. However, just as we were going to go in, I heard singing and we followed the sound of joyous prayer and ended up joining a small singing minyan in the Hurva.
When we got to the Old City, my stomach was very upset from the chemo and I knew that I had to daven somewhere with easy access to a bathroom. The singing minyan was in the same place, but the room was very crowded and my girls did not feel comfortable squeezing in. I really wanted to daven there, but access to the bathroom was not so great so I did not insist that we stay. In the end, we davened at the Ramban shul (synagogue); it was not very exciting, but was nice enough.
Afterwards, we went to Moshe’s cousins for Kiddush, like we do every year. This year, I mentioned that we had gone up to Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) for Birkat HaChamah, before Pesach. A rather heated discussion ensued. I felt a swell of maternal pride when my eldest insisted on contributing her opinion to the discussion. She expressed herself strongly and articulately as she advocated for what she believed.
For the first time in years, we did not leave with Moshe’s cousin, who was in a rush. We did leave shortly after him, but our walk home was quite slow, and I did need to rest several times. On the way home, we discussed the possibility that I might not do this again next year. To my surprise, the girls were quite confident that they could do this without me, and my eldest started talking about how she would arrange to go with friends. I could not figure out if I felt relieved or abandoned.
We arrived at “home” around 11:00 in the morning. We immediately collapsed into bed.
At around 2:30, I forced myself to get out of bed. The kids were already up and I knew they needed to eat. We went to an all-day BBQ at our friend’s home. It was SO MUCH FUN!! There was plenty to eat, plenty to drink, and plenty of good company!
Eventually, the kids had enough, but Moshe and I hung out the whole afternoon. At one point, someone we did not know asked about “our story.” We ended up telling our story together, which was a unique experience. It was interesting for me to hear Moshe’s answers to several probing questions that were asked.
When we left, Moshe went to shul and I went to gather our kids. Then we met up for dinner at the home of our friends, where Moshe was staying. Admittedly, none of us was very hungry for dinner. I had a bowl of chicken soup and a bowl of gazpacho and I was basically done eating. Still, dinner was very nice. My friend and I have a long history (our mothers were childhood friends, and we attended the same college), and I took the opportunity to share with her how she had influenced my life by graciously hosting me for Shabbat when I was deciding where to attend university. She barely remembers that Shabbat, while for me it was pivotal in my decision to attend Barnard.
After dinner, the kids and I walked home in the cool night air. Again, we fell asleep as soon as we arrived.
Shabbat day was the culmination of a wonderful two days. The morning was slow for my family; everyone got up at their own pace, davened (prayed), played, etc. Lunch was a pleasure, with delicious food, good conversation, and no pressure.
After lunch, my girls read and I sat with my son and listened to him reading his Torah portion. After an hour or so, he had enough, and went off to do his own thing. I drifted in and out of sleep in a very comfortable chair, occasionally joining a conversation that penetrated my sleepy haze.
Towards the end of the day, my son returned and we played a game together with one of the other guests.
And then Shabbat was over.
As we loaded our car, I thought to myself, I am not ready to give any of this up quite yet, not even the walk to the Old City.
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,