Making Major Progress

I cannot believe it has been almost a month since I got here, and at the same time, considering how much has been accomplished already, I cannot believe it has only been a month. I’d like to say the past two weeks have been pretty normal, but is there really anything “normal” about living in a city in Zimbabwe, with the opportunity to teach a community about their roots? I’ll be honest – it’s pretty cool.

Let me first clear up some of the misconceptions of how I am living right now. I am not living in a hut. I am living in a house with a real bed and a real bathroom. Yes, Harare has power cuts fairly often (just about every day for anywhere between five to twelve hours) and water cuts every weekend. But once you figure out the best time to shower, and you remember where you left your flashlights so you can feel for them in the dark, it isn’t such a big problem. There are (somewhat) paved roads. There isn’t much in the way of sidewalks, but I didn’t see sidewalks half the time I was in Europe either. We do have a garden here, which is a huge plus, but there is also a supermarket just 20 minutes away where you can buy most of the things you’d be able to buy at your local ShopRite. And although I am really missing the colors of New Jersey in autumn right now, the colors of spring in Harare are a pretty great replacement. In a couple of months I will be going to the country for a few days, which I am told isn’t as developed, but for now, I am in the city, living very comfortably.

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Westgate – The shopping center near me

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A small glimpse of what spring looks like here in Harare

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Now that we’re into more of a routine here, there aren’t as many opportunities to write, but I will try to keep the blog as updated as possible. Here is what we have been up to thus far:

Not only can many of the students read Hebrew as if they have been doing it for years, they are beginning to understand some of what they are reading as well. We are translating full sentences of traditional Hebrew in t’fillot and conversing completely in simple Hebrew. The students are beginning to pick out words in psalms and songs that we are learning that they know and understand.

Until recently, the Shabbat morning service was similar to most Shabbat services around the world, but much of the service was either read through in English or in Hebrew, along with selections sung in Shona. We are now replacing the straight reading and actually putting t’fillot together with traditional nusach. In just three weeks, the service has already transformed – but as it is an ongoing process, I can see a lot more progress being made in the next four months.

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The best part of teaching music – I can teach my favorite songs.

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I am also teaching Torah Trope (how to chant from the Torah). Some of the students have a bit of background in this already, but we are starting completely from the beginning. So far, I have taught some of the most common trope phrases and learning to chant (instead of read) the second and third paragraphs of the Sh’ma. My goal is to have a full Torah reading here in two months with as many participants as possible.

We are also discussing all of the holy days (holidays, Rosh Chodesh, fast days, Shabbat, etc.), the Parshiot, and Israeli history. Because of the timing of my arrival (right after the high holidays and just as we were restarting the Torah), we were really able to start everything from the very beginning. Most of the students have a basic understanding of these subjects. Now, we are going into much further detail. Part of being a Jew is actually feeling Jewish. This isn’t something that is taught, it just that happens. So we are not only discussing Shabbat, but what Shabbat means to us, how we feel every week when Shabbat comes around. We are not only discussing the Parsha or Israeli history as events that occurred, but as the stories of our ancestors, our people. 

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Weekly Torah study

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To me, Judaism is so much more than simply knowing how to chant t’fillot or study Torah. It is the smell of challah that fills the air on Friday afternoon. It is the sound of everyone singing “Al Kol Ele from outside your room. It is the excitement you feel when you understand the story of Noach in a different way because of a d’var given on Shabbat. Here, by delving deeper, the students are gaining skills and knowledge, but also that inner connection to the rest of the Jewish world that cannot be explained in a classroom.

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Teaching Brenda to make a traditional four-strand braid with her Challot

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The finished product!

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In other news…

We have been working hard to get the word out about the Harare Lemba Synagogue, starting with our Facebook page – feel free to check it out here.

I got to help with gardening again. Today we planted different types of flowers in the front of the house.

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(Of course Shlomo helped too!)

I have found that Harare sunsets really do live up to the hype.

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One of my TRYers sent me a very sweet going away gift that included a deck of cards with a quote on each card (I shared with some of them that I collect inspirational quotes). I really loved today’s quote of the day:

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