Kendra in Israel #3!

שוק :היום מילת

Milat Hayom: Shuk

Word of the Day: Market

On Fridays, it is common practice to go to the outdoor market (Shuk) which is called Machaneh Yehudah to do shopping for Shabbat. It is a VERY busy place on Fridays–full of locals and tourist, many birthright participants. There are some great restaurants there also. I went shopping with my friend Ayala last Friday and we got some groceries, challot for dinner, rugalach for seudat shlishit the next day, and some produce. I like to get the kibukim (sometimes called American peanuts) They are my favorite! Luckily I was with a local who told me which vendor to buy them from, because the first place I stopped, she told me, is underneath where the birds perch. Yuck. We had a very nice lunch where we overheard a conversation (in Hebrew, of course) where a guest told the owner, “we came from very far to eat here!” and he asked, “oh really? From where?” they answered a town about 45 minutes away, and the owner said, “that’s nothing! I have people who come from America here all the time!”

In contrast to the Shuk, earlier in the week we went to the local supermarket, where they of course they also have produce and many similar baked goods, but they also have a lot of packaged goods­–brands and products that Americans would be familiar with, and that packaging is in Hebrew and in English.

[As a side note, I noticed that a lot of the packaging for these products used script. I often hear the argument (from Hebrew school students as well as the adults in our Staff B’nai Mitzvah) class that we don’t need to learn script. So now you see, it’s everywhere!]

It’s true that many things are written in English here and most people speak English. People often ask  if you need Hebrew to get around here. So this brings me to a question that a friend recently asked, “Is everything in Hebrew? Even official government documents?” I realized the answer may not be obvious. So I had my friend here (who made Aliyah several years ago) pull out some official government documents for my inspection. In fact, her daughter’s birth certificate is in Hebrew. And really, this brings to light a bigger question about Hebrew. Is Hebrew an essential part of the modern Jewish experience? Maybe you might argue that Hebrew is only necessary to be able to participate in the ritual of B’nai Mitzvah. In this country, the revitalization of Hebrew as a modern language is a source of pride. But what is it to Americans? Do we learn Hebrew only so that we can navigate the shuk in Israel? Maybe. Is it to get a jumpstart on ulpan for when we make Aliyah? Not for me. For me, Hebrew is a way to connect with both sacred texts and Jews from around the world. Rabbi Elie Kaunfer makes a compelling case in his article Though I don’t agree with every thing he says (for example, I don’t think everyone agrees that Hebrew is a priority, though I wish they did) I agree that Hebrew is arguably the one thing that has connected all of us from ancient times to present, across cultural divides, continents and sects. It has the power to unify us and strengthen our sense of peoplehood.

What do you think?

Kendra Gerstein is the Director of Curriculum and B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator at Temple Sholom of Chicago