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JULY 2006

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Marne and Leora Rochester.

First Fruits

Little Leora's first Shavuot..

A friend of mine turned to the Conservative Yeshiva to see if someone would be willing to help a single mother at home as part of the volunteer program. When the woman called me to get directions and I was going to tell her what bus to take, she responded, "I don't take buses." I thought to myself, "But there hasn't been a bus bombing in Jerusalem for quite a while now." Not that anyone here has negated the possibility, especially with Hamas in power now. But life has resumed a normalcy in Jerusalem, and we have become a bit blasť about terrorism.

The Shavuot celebrations start here about a week before the actually holiday. The first sign is at the supermarket; free samples of various dairy products are offered to shoppers, and kits to make cheese cake are put on display, as a salesperson tries to sell it. I politely declined the kit. When I make cheese cake, I don't do it from a kit. This year I decided to make Chocolate Cheesecake Ice Cream and Sour Cream Chocolate Cake instead. The cake won me first prize in my synagogue's Shavuot dessert contest two years ago.

The night before Shavuot there was a street fair in the Moshava (German and Greek Colonies) in Jerusalem. They closed off most of the main street to traffic and had police searching everyone who came in past the barriers. (A small inconvenience worth the security.) The streets were lined with vendors and every few meters I ran into another friend. I bought brownies from my friends? daughter, selling them as a fundraiser for school. I also got cotton candy, orange juice, and corn on the cob --- the dinner of champions. There were arts & crafts stations set up. And there was a little parade that Leora watched with wonder. At one end of the street there was a woman playing the harp. In the middle a jazz band. A little farther someone with a keyboard. My favorite was the drumming circle set up for kids. Kids took turns echoing and playing along with the leader. Even though Leora wasn't able to play, she seemed to enjoy this. I hope this isn't a sign that she'll want to play drums when she gets bigger. The neighbors might have something to say about that.

On Erev Shavuot, my synagogue, Kehillat Mayanot, had an Italian style pot-luck. This was one way to ensure people would be there for the tikkun (learning session) after dinner. They had different classes set up for different age groups. In past years, I've gone "tikkun hopping" to my shul: Pardes where they have the study sessions in English: and possibly another shul or center, if there was a topic of interest. The word "tikkun" literally means "fixing". (Tikkun olam means "fixing the world.") It is a tradition to stay up all night on Shavuot and study until the morning, with the help of caffeinated products. At 1, 2, and 3 o'clock in the morning you'll see people walking from one to tikkun to another. But this year I didn't make it to any other tikkunim.

I was also planning on going to the Kotel but didn't quite make it. There's a tradition of dovening shaharit (the morning service) at the Western Wall at sunrise. On the way walking there, usually around 4 o'clock in the morning, you are joined by people coming out of the side streets, heading in the same direction, and you soon become part of this mass flow of thousands of people heading to the Old City. The walk itself is an amazing experience. Then once you get there, dovening while the sun is rising above the walls of the Old City and Temple Mount is awe inspiring. 

Since the egalitarian minyan has been dovening at Robinson's Arch, in my opinion, it's become a more spiritual experience. I don't like the fact that we don't have the right to doven in an egalitarian minyan at the Kotel Plaza, but in getting us out of the way, they gave us a more peaceful and beautiful spot. Standing in front of these walls and stone that, like the Jewish people, have survived thousands of years, while the sun comes up, and singing the prayers and Hallel is something I cannot describe in words. You really have to be a part of it and feel it. I hope next year to take Leora to experience this.

Speaking of the "wonder baby," each day she gets more wonderful. We're now experimenting with food. She's also into spitting now. Sometimes there's more food in my hair than in her tummy. She seems to enjoy the sweet potato and squash. They also make for better photo ops than the applesauce and cereals. I also gave her a taste of my chocolate cheese cake ice-cream. She really liked that. That's my girl!

She also now sits by herself. I wasn't quite ready for this. We went to the doctor a couple of weeks ago and she asked me if Leora can sit by herself. I said she can sit up against something but I didn't know if she could sit by herself. So, I sat her up on the examining table, and what do you know! She sat by herself. Not even a wobble.

I have some other good news. As of 1 July, I will be gainfully employed by Gesher. Gesher (Hebrew for "bridge") is Israel's oldest and largest educational organization dedicated to bridging the gap between different segments of the population in Israel and between Israelis and the Jews in the Diaspora. It will feel good to be earning a paycheck again and to be with adults for a few hours a day. To celebrate, I bought Leora two really cute outfits and a tambourine yesterday. She liked banging on the tambourine and sometimes tasting it as well.

Marne Rochester