This time of year is when I began a pivotal life journey in 1971. I left my Chicago home for a junior year abroad at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Let me sit back to reminisce over a cup of hot tea with sugar.
My Bubbe Fischer * had passed away a short time before, on 29 Tammuz. It was then almost three weeks later.*
To proceed to my arrival in Israel, I was hosted by residents of the village Kfar Chabad on the first night when I arrived. A distinguished seatmate on my overseas flight invited me to a relative’s home. As interesting as this is, it warrants an entire account on its own.
Before I left Kfar Chabad, a resident gave me a pair of tefillin. I have been putting on tefillin ever since.
On the next afternoon, I reached Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station. From there I was supposed to go to the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University where I would be staying.
Virtually everything that I owned was loaded into an unwieldy duffle bag. In my stubbornness, I was determined to walk by following my tourist map. I refused to admit that I needed help finding a bus. Besides this, I was too stubborn to admit that I was barely able to carry the bag. (It would still be some time before I saw anyone wheeling a bag along.)
I remember the salt of sweat in my eyes and how my muscles were growing more and more tired. Shuffle along in the summer sun and rest. Shuffle along and rest. I don’t remember any more of that day.
We began the summer ulpan * the next day. The university placed me in the most advanced level of the ulpan because I had studied enough Hebrew, actually from fourth grade on. All students from abroad would receive instruction in Hebrew to help us begin the academic year.
I recall studying a modern Hebrew poem about teh v’sympatia – “tea and sympathy.” I lost interest in the course since we were learning Hebraicized Greek words that had also found their way into English. What is the Hebrew word for ‘sympathy’?
Our dormitories were surrounded by a lush lawn. We could have been in any university surroundings. The path to the university’s front gate and bus stop was wooded, and it skirted the botanic garden. I regret not having visited the garden, but thirty-two years later I would visit the university’s botanic garden on Mount Scopus.
I attended services on Shabbat – Friday night and Saturday – in the campus synagogue. They called me up to the Torah * on a regular basis. I don’t remember the Shabbat meals except for the light Shabbat third meal. We all sat in the synagogue to eat and sing. Where did we eat on Friday night or on Saturday noon?
My cup of tea has run dry as have my reminisces. I’m looking forward to another cup later on.
* Bubbe – grandma; Bubbe Fischer was my mother’s mother.
* three weeks later – June/July
* ulpan – study of the Hebrew language
* called me up to the Torah – to say the blessings before and after the weekly Torah reading.