I had my test for ulpan today, it was about two hours of written work and ten minutes of speaking, with a solid two hour break in the middle. I made it into kita (class) bet (second level) with the promise that i would learn atid (future tense) at home. I had the great opportunity to meet a woman who is traveling the world as her husband works for an aerospace company. She is not Jewish, and she asked the question: “Didn’t you learn Hebrew while studying the Torah?”
The answer was no, and then I launched into an explanation of Reform Judaism and how it *failed* me as a youth, melodramatic, but in terms of my Hebrew proficiency, correct. As I explained to her that I am going to Jerusalem in two and half months, she exclaimed that i must be excited becuase Jersalem is, after all, עיר הקןדש, the holy city.
I paused. Can a city itself be holy? Here in the “Holy Land” I think it is an appropriate question. What does it mean to be a holy city? Becuase Tel Aviv certainly has a lot of potholes (lame attempt, I know)…
I love Tel Aviv. I feel more “in Israel” in Tel Aviv (perhaps because I have a residence here) than in Jerusalem. I come in contact with far more native Israeli’s, and there is a more genuine feel here. I can also walk to a beautiful beach, the open market, bars, coffee shops, synagogues, a green park, ride my bike, and learn Hebrew.
As I came back to my apartment and prepared myself a salad with vegetables that I purchased at the shuk (picture above), I came to a realization. In America, I went about my daily life work, food, sleep, repeat. But here I enjoy going to the shuk, finding the fresh vegetables that are dirt cheap, watching the people filet a fish for me, smelling the spices, and people telling me to buy food that is sababa (great). That is holiness, and a connection the world around us. When I took a shower this morning and forgot to turn on the hot water heater (most Israeli homes have a “Dude Shemesh”, a solar hot water heater with a supplementary electric heater), taking a lukewarm shower made me appreciate the midday sun. That is holiness. Hanging my clothes out to dry while saving energy, that is holiness. Walking along the beach and listening to the stories of Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, Manachem Begin, and the formation of this modern country not 60 years ago, that too is holiness.
I am excited to being Ulpan in Tel Aviv, and eventually HUC, for my friends old and new and not yet made to arrive, but I think that it is up to me, wherever I am, to make that place holy. So for now Tel Aviv is my עיר קןדש, my holy city.