05 February 2012

בית הכנסת שלוש

We went for a walk after dinner at the hotel (where the Ashkelon Municipality was having some kind of pre-Super Bowl Shindig) and wound our way through the streets of Neve Tzedek, taking in the uncommonly beautiful and calming sites of this old neighborhood which preceded Tel Aviv by a generation, laying the groundwork for its eventual rise to existence.  Down Shabazi, through the campus of the Dellal Center, and up toward Shloush, named for Aharon Shloush, who built a small synagogue for the Jews fleeing Jaffa in the 1880s.

A light was on in the small little shul and so we climbed the stairs, turned the corner and walked in.  There was a rabbi, alone, studying a page of Talmud, and after some brief formalities, we were treated to a remarkably warm conversation.  He himself was a refugee from Libya after the Six Day War and he told us stories about the neighborhood's founding and evolution over the years, becoming the very "in" place that it now is.

The rabbi showed us some of the original furniture from the shul--including the Elijah's Chair, traditionally used for brises and other happy, solemn events.  The rabbi mentioned that some people like to say that Meir Dizengoff's son had his bris there (even though Dizengoff's only child, a girl, died soon after she was born.)  With a sparkle in his eye rolling meaning he conveyed the deeper truth:  this chair is so old, the founding mayor of Tel Aviv stood here for celebrations.  To prove his point, he showwed us that some of the pews are from the old Eden Cinema on Lilienblum Street.

The real treat was reserved for the very end, when the rabbi opened up the Torah Ark to reveal to us the many scrolls and to describe in detail their origin.  Syrian, Libyan, Sfat, Jerusalem--the varied and beautiful scribal work from generations of those who made God's word come to life.

The rabbi gets about 20 people for minyan, mostly young soul-searchers, looking to acquire meaning beyond the ephemeral trendiness of the neighborhood.  No board; no dues; no community programming and the like--a radically different model than what we're used to in organized Jewish communities in the states.

When it was time to go, the rabbi began putting the Torahs away; we left some contributions in the tzedakah boxes on the table, and were on our way.

As we returned to the street, a small plastic bag filled with shoes and clothing for children had been left on the steps of the synagogue.  I imagine that besides studying, sharing stories with soul-searchers, and giving good tours, the rabbi does a turn at helping the poor as well.

*(photos courtesy of Janice Cimberg's iPad)

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