I always wanted to be a “free-spirit”, but hard as I try, I will never be one of those people who can run from place to place having no idea what is coming next. I laugh when people tell me they think I’m “easy-going”. The truth is, I’m flexible, even easily-adjusted to new places, and I like adventure, but it must be a very carefully planned adventure (even if that plan may change, I need to have something). I start to feel pretty uneasy when I don’t have a schedule. For this reason, I became much more comfortable here this week when classes started and I was able to get into the groove of a routine.
My first week of teaching was pretty wonderful. I am teaching seven subjects: Hebrew, Jewish holidays, liturgy, Torah trope, Hebrew music, Israeli history, and Parashat Hashavu’ah (the weekly Torah portion). I teach each of these subjects once a week, except for Hebrew which is twice a week. Each of my classes can be anywhere between five and twelve students, usually an average of about seven or eight, mostly between the ages of 20-35. Sometimes fewer people come because of the distance from their homes or the fact that they must work during the day.
The classes have been so enjoyable to teach because each class, no matter how small, contains students who are so passionate and hungry for knowledge. It’s amazing how well many of them read Hebrew after only a year of learning. I still trip over words when I’m reading Biblical Hebrew with which I’m not familiar. They pick up tunes and t’fillot extremely quickly, which I could never manage to do so well – just ask my sister who had to sit in the car with me for two hours as I forced her to listen to me practice leading Kabbalat Shabbat for her wedding weekend over and over again.
Each class brings new questions and new insights. I think it’s really wonderful that I can start Parashat Hashavu’ah with Breyshit and actually start from the very beginning (there’s an ear worm for you). Anyone who attends services on a regular basis, went to a religious school or a Jewish day school, as I did until eighth grade, learned the story of Adam and Eve countless times. Back in my community theater days, I was even in a show that told the story of Adam and Eve. (Although most of what I remember from that show was arguing with the choreographer about holding Isaac Buchoff’s hand. He had cooties. I was nine.) So you could say I knew the story pretty well. But reading it with a new group of people that had a new perspective, I looked at this story in a way I hadn’t before. Things were translated differently for me and things stood out that I had never noticed before. I am really looking forward to learning more and opening my eyes to new ways of reading stories about which I thought I already knew so much. (Side note: Two musical theater references in one paragraph, my parents must be so proud!)
My favorite class to teach so far has been music. I am introducing a mix of both traditional Jewish songs and Hebrew songs that are a bit more modern. I’m also teaching a few Israeli dances. I talked about the celebration of Simchat Torah this week and the importance of rejoicing and being happy. We danced and sang and laughed. And again, they caught on so quickly. Hearing them sing the song or dance the moves that I just taught them gave me such a fulfilling feeling. Listening to them sing Ma Gadlu, a song that I also taught to my TRYers about six months ago made me feel elated, just as I felt when I heard all of the TRY kids singing it together then.
After the music lesson this week, a few people stayed back to sing just for fun. Hamlet, a Lemba musician, and his friend, Akim, brought out their guitar and mbira and they played a few songs for us in Hebrew and in Shona. Then, they figured out how to play Od Yavo Shalom, and we all sang along. In this mix of instruments and voices and harmonies, I got that feeling – that euphoric feeling you get when nothing else in the world could make you happier. Here is a song about bringing peace, which so many Jews sing together in times of happiness, and here we were, in a synagogue in Harare, all of these people having just learned this song, barely knowing any songs in Hebrew before a year or two ago, singing it together as well.
Here are few short clips I took while we were singing. Listen carefully, maybe you’ll recognize some of the songs:
On Friday evening, Modreck and I went to the local Ashkenazi shul to check it out. While we were on the way there, Allon, a member of the Jewish community, was describing the shul to us. I felt like a kid on the way to their own birthday party. I had butterflies in my stomach. I was so excited not just to see the shul, but to participate in a Kabbalat Shabbat service, my favorite service by far, somewhere totally new, and to meet even more Jews here. Well, I was not disappointed. The tunes were the ones I grew up with, being that these people mostly came from Eastern Europe. Suddenly, I was four again. I was with my sister and my dad, and I could hear Nat Taubenfeld singing L’cha Dodi, loudly, trying to speed everyone up as to not keep everyone from their Shabbat Dinners. The people there were so welcoming to me. I was given endless invitations to come to services again, join them for a Shabbat dinner sometime, or just reach out if I ever need anything while I am here. What a way it was to start Shabbat. The rest of Shabbat, I held onto this feeling of spirituality that Kabbalat Shabbat often gives me, making this beautiful day back in the Harare Lemba Synagogue even more meaningful.
Other fun things that happened this week:
I picked up two words in Shona (which isn’t a lot considering I’ve already been here almost two weeks): hot (kupisa) and thank you (maitabas – and I’m not even sure if I’m spelling that one right). I’ll keep working on it.
I figured out how to get to the shopping center on my own. It’s about 4/5 of a mile away, and a total straight shot, but with my sense of direction, this was definitely a feat.
I also got a chance to work a little bit in the garden behind our house on Wednesday morning. It’s HUGE. We planted kale and sweet cabbage.
I experienced my first Zim thunder storm, which I thought was very fitting, considering it was Thursday afternoon and still Sh’mini Atzeret, the holiday when we pray for rain.
And in other news, my Malarone finally started kicking in, so I’ve started having some of the wildest dreams. It’s been pretty fun, considering most of my dreams so far consisted of me having close friendships with celebrities. This probably stems from my delusions that I will, in fact, someday be friends with all of these famous people without actually being famous myself.