Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Being in Israel on Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) is the best!

Last night I first went to a special "festive prayer service" nearby -- most of the synagogues here do this-- where, before the regular evening service we sang psalms -- the cantor had a guitar, which is unusual for an Orthodox service, because on Shabbat we can't play music-- and everyone was so into it! And we said a full "Hallel" -- actually, sang it all out loud to great tunes -- and blew a shofar. Everyone was in a great mood and it was so cool to be with all these Israelis and Americans, living here, and having a religious service to thank God for Israel's 56 years of independence!

Then I went with to a "singalong" at the local community center. It was a guy onstage with a guitar, and everyone in the audience was, well, singing along! I'd been told that singalongs are a uniquely Israeli institution and I should try to go to at least one (there are several going on around the city). I didn't know any of the words, but I clapped and had a good time watching the Israelis having a good time. I was fascinated to see who comes to a singalong. It was mostly religious teenagers -- you know, good wholesome fun-- but there was also a big group of "cool"-looking non-religious girls sitting behind me, and several young couples and singles, and some older couples. I thought "this event is so NOT cool, and it's fun to see people having genuine fun at a not-cool event." Seriously, everyone who knew the songs was singing along and having a good time. You don't see that much in Manhattan, where being cool is very important.

Then I went to the plaza in front of Jerusalem's city hall -- wait, let me say that again: On Israeli Independence Day I was in Jerusalem and went to Jerusalem's city hall-- to watch the Israeli Folk Dancing. We're not talking about professional dance groups. This is an "everyone is invited to come and dance at City Hall plaza" thing. They had the music blasting and hundreds of people in concentric circles, doing very complex dances. Once again, it was fascinating to see who had shown up and who knows these dances. I was agog at the number of young, urban people who have spent time learning old-fashioned Israeli folk dancing. We're not talking the hora here. These were dances that you definitely need to take a class to learn. It was mostly non-religious types in their 30s-40's, with some older people mixed in. But again, it's incredible how many young people were doing it. A girl with her midriff showing and a rhinestone belt, who was dancing away like she's been studying this for years. She could have been in City Center drinking beer and spraying people with shaving cream, but she'd shown up to Israeli Folk Dancing! I saw several young men, a couple of whom wore kippot, and two women in long skirts with their hair covered, just dancing away. This has got to be the only place where you have hair-covered women, uncovered-head men, and girl-with-rhinestone-belt all dancing together. It was fun and interesting and beautiful to watch, and once again, so fun to be in a country where being un-cool is encouraged!

Today I'm going to a barbecue in a local park-- so traditional that on the radio this morning they are having a contest for "barbecue king," and then hopefully going to a "Living Museum" festival where they'll have all sorts of fun exhibits and activities about 1948; I hear that it's a great event. I also hear that it ends with a huge singalong with 2,000 people, but I'm not sure whether that is happening this year, since they are not doing it in the usual place.

By the way, I gave myself an Israeli Flag Manicure: blue nails with white tips! I'm outta the club!

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