So tonight was an experience I doubt I would have gotten to have through any ordered series of events. It all started when the two Rachels and I were on our way to the Ethiopian service. We had received the instructions that the service was in the bottom of the school…but we got lost. First thing that happened was that we made a wrong turn and went in a long circle, so we asked a passerby how to get to the bet kinesset in the bet hasepher. “Ahh, Ohel Shalom! That’s easy, you go…” Then come the directions. Okay, we have our way!
We get there and the first thing we are all thinking as we walk in is “…This isn’t the Ethiopian congregation.” There were European descendants, Yemenites, but no Ethiopians. We’re greeted by a man with a smile, who shakes our hands and seems just so excited that we showed up.
“Now that you’re here we have a minyan! You were sent from heaven.”
We didn’t start right away, as the others trickled in, but we talked with Eti (Pronounced Ee-tie) and he was telling us a little about the community and the holiday. The service wasn’t long, girls and boys separate in the bottom of the school, and then at the end, he invited us to his house for dinner in the sukkah. This is where we came up with the slogan for the night: Lamah loh? Just say yes to whatever life is offering.
We went back with Eti and his wife to their house, where we met their kids and his wife’s parents. They were a Yemenite Jewish family, living in a nice neighborhood within Gedera and without any planning or even knowing that they would have guests, we were brought into their sukkah and served a delicious meal. We said the prayers for Sukkot, we drank wine, we talked and laughed, and their wit was fantastic. I had fish and ate it all because it was delicious. And that was the FIRST course. We still had a second plate underneath it! I learned that you cannot eat fish on the same plates you eat meat. Who knew?
The dinner itself was a rice and chicken dish with Yemenite seasoning, some shnitzel, and then some beef kebabs. Everything was delicious but I was so full from the fish and the challah that I could only get one helping, in spite of them telling us to eat more and fill up and have more wine and just so much food. As we were eating, their neighbor comes home and it turns out that their neighbor is associated with Yahel! She is the one who runs the seminars on teaching English as a Second Language, and we had heard stories about her from previous Yahel people. She insisted we come to her sukkah before we left.
We talk about the Yemenite Israeli community, hear about where the family has traveled, talked about our program…and just socialized as it got darker. We say the Birkat in the Yemenite language, then we headed over to Elise’s sukkah, all of us including our hosts! We talk some more before finally at 11, we start walking home, full of food and good cheer. Our hosts tell us that we helped them fulfill the mitzvah of having guests in your sukkah.
Overall it was probably an experience I could only have here in Israel.