Monday, May 7, 2012

Tales of Green Cholent

 This past Shabbat, I was invited by a friend to spend shabbat in Bat Ayin, a small, religious-zionist yeshuv located about 45 minutes outside of Jerusalem. It has a diverse blend of communities—Carlbach, Chabad, and Breslav just to name a few. It is known for being a very spiritual, holistic, “crunchy” place, which indeed it was. There were dirt paths galore and I saw a donkey tied up next to a house.

Welcome Sign to the Midrasha
The truth is, I had wanted to visit Bat Ayin for a while because I was interested in its midrasha (a place for women to study Judaism). My friend had actually studied there for a year and arranged for us to spend the weekend in the midrasha dorms.

And so, Friday morning the journey to Bat Ayin began. And yes, even though Bat Ayin is not so far away from Jerusalem, it is still a journey. Just as I believe in “Israel Time” (explained in the previous blog entry), I am also a proponent of “Israel Space.” How else could you explain the vast difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a one-hour bus ride? Or even, between Mea Sharim and Nahlaot within the capitol city itself?

To get to Bat Ayin is quite a trek if one takes a bus. Luckily, there is another option: tremping, or hitchhiking. Miraculously, the first driver we asked was able to take us all the way to the gates of Bat Ayin. From there we walked to the grocery store to pick up breakfast and snack food, and then tremped once again to the midrisha. Bat Ayin residents are astonishingly friendly, kind and giving; on the short tremp from the store to our sleeping accommodations, my friend secured a potential Shabbat meal invitation for the future. In fact, we had more meal invitations from local families than we could eat.
Food was healthy, like green drink healthy. And holistic, like homemade green drink holistic. A nice change from the standard Shabbat food (a lot of meat and dessert) and definitely from ulpan grub. The food highlight for me was cholent on Saturday lunch. Any cholent is a good cholent as far as I'm concerned but this one was special. Normally cholent comes with beef chunks, barley, beans, potatoes and maybe some other legume or vegetable. It is a heavy, brown dish and not for everyone. However, cholent Bat Ayin style involves black beans, barley (well, it is cholent but I am sure that it was somehow extra-healthy whole-wheat organic free-range barley), asparagus and turkey neck. It was delicious! And seeing a green vegetable in cholent was a unique, oddly inspiring experience.
For reasons other than just “Israel Space” Bat Ayin feels quite removed from life in Jerusalem or really anywhere else in the country. It is located on the Judean hills between Jerusalem and Hevron. It is part of a string of small yeshuvs, but Bat Ayin is unique because of its lack of fence. For some people, this is frightening, even a reason not to visit the community, as there is no protection from outside the village (in fact, there was a Palestinian militant axe attack on a group of children in 2009; one child was killed). But as my friend explained, for others the lack of fence is a religious and political statement—the land was given to Jews and the land is settled, not in a defensive, closed position but rather in a natural, secure, thriving, even G-d given way. 

Hills surround the city, which is so small that basically everywhere you look you have a breathtaking view. It is fun to explore these hills, which I did a little on Shabbat in between my numerous Shabbat naps, meals and study sessions. On my short trek, I passed a mikva from the second temple period and an ancient building that was presently being used as a small yeshiva. Incredible.

Nearby are several Jewish Yeshuvs and Arab villages and one can even see Ashdod (which once again made me realize how small Israel is). At night, the cities light up and it’s beautiful and during the day the hills are all ocher and forest green, dotted with little trees and farm animals. Bat Ayin is truly a special place.

House in Bat Ayin Overlooking the Judean Hills

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