Ken (Chanoch) Bloom's Blog

19th October 2008
13th August 2008

Back in Chicago

I'm back in Chicago, and I've finally had the chance to upload a whole bunch of photos from the last two months of my trip. I wasn't out of contact, but the internet connection just couldn't keep up under the load of uploading photos. Most of them have gone into the existing albums, but there are a couple new ones as well:

and the old albums that were updated:

I'll rotate, caption and tag photos as I find the time to waste over the next few weeks. For now, I have an important job this week: being David Dulin's shomer. Mazal tov to him and Sarah Rut on their wedding this upcoming Sunday.

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26th June 2008

The park that makes you want to get married

It's been a few weeks since I posted an update, and I've hardly had the time or presence of mind to write an update since then. There hasn't really been an interesting story line to my visit beyond learning over the past couple weeks. I helped participate in a siyum mishnayot in honor of a shloshim. (I learned Mishnayot Yoma). I don't know if that counts as a siyum of my own, but if it doesn't then I'm on track to make ב״ה a siyum on Chagiga before the end of the summer.

I've been going to R' Yaakov Hillel's shiur on Tefillah on Monday nights, at his yeshiva in Meah She'arim. They're recording the shiur with the intention of eventually transcribing it into a book. This is how Ascending the Path on Mesilat Yesharim was written, and I've actually been thinking that it would be nice to pull together the resources somehow to do this with Rabbi Raccah's shiurim.

To get to the shiur, we walk across Arzei HaBira, along Rechov Yoel, through the Bukkhairian shuk, then down Meah She'arim. David Luna has described Arzei HaBira as "the park that makes you want to get married" when he sees all of the young couples with little kids playing there in the evenings. (Next time I upload photos, there will be some photos of this park at its peak.) Along Rechov Yoel, there's a Sephardic minyan factory that I daven at a few mornings a week, and also on the off chance that I miss mincha at the yeshiva for some reason. I've also gone there a few times to buy seforim from what is literally a hole in the wall bookseller. Seforim are really cheap here. I was able to get Mesilat Yesharim for 15 shekels (about $4.50), and the first volume of the Halacha Berura Kitzur for 35 shekels.

For those keeping score at home (Rabbi Raccah and Rabbi Azose), I've seen two volumes of Chazon Ovadia on Shabbat in stores, as well as the 9th volume of Halacha Berura, but haven't bought them. I may consider a purchase before I return depending on how full my luggage is.

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19th June 2008


I've been told by a number of my Rabbanim that Jerusalem would be a great place to date people who might actually be on target for me, and that there would be a large pool of people for me to date. Well, my first month here has not been evidence of that. Despite calling 5 or 6 different shadchanim, I've only gone on one date in the month I've been here.

The shadchanim I've called and gotten through to either claim not to be shadchanim, or they sound really hard pressed to suggest someone who might match me -- like they've got one person who might possibly match, but they feel it's unlikely. The "real" shadchanim whose numbers I have don't pick up the phone. Or they're otherwise unavailable when I call.

The upshot is that I've been to night seder far too often. I don't want to come back to the US empty handed, having only gone on two or three dates while I'm here. That would just be too disappointing.

What do I have to do to get a date around here?

(June 26: I originally composed this as an email to Rabbi Azose, but then I decided to use it as a tefilla. It seems to have helped. No prayer works better than the one you really feel, that expresses your true frustrations.)

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10th June 2008

Chutznik Yom Tov: The Wierdest Halacha Ever

I've never been a big fan of Israelis in the US who have been there for years and yet only keep one day. I've always kinda assumed that they were pushing the limits of halachic credibility trying to find a leniency to only keep one day of Yom Tov. Here I am now in Israel, and since I'm only here for a few months, Rabbi Raccah told me to keep two days of Shavuot. As has been my habit, I asked to be set up for as many meals out of the Yeshiva as I could, and so me and so I got set up with a chutznik family (along with a few other bachurim from the yeshiva) for second day lunch. This family, as it turns out has been here for 8 years, never really intending to stay this long. They're making plans now to move somewhere in the US to take a kiruv type job, but since they've always intended to leave soon, they've never kept one day Yom Tov. I asked them whether the fact that they've been here 8 years now should factor into the equation. They've asked, and apparently it does not. So I have to revise my perspective on how this works, because apparently there are some legitimate poskim that have some pretty wierd sounding shitas on the issue.

I think this is now the wierdest halacha I've ever seen. Even wierder than the date line issues in Japan (which I've experienced myself).

People keep telling me "Rav Ovadia says that if you'd marry an Israeli girl and stay here, then you can keep one day of Yom Tov." I've examined the issue, and that's only part of the equation. The crux of the issue is what happens if you have an open ended stay. R' Ovadia presents this case specifically geared to young yeshvia bachurim doing their first year away from their parents. It's a test of independance -- is the bachur independant of his parents (in which case he keeps one day) or still heavely dependant on family for decision making (in which case he keeps two). The litmus test is whether he could concievably marry an Israeli girl and stay in Israel. But for everyone else, you have to rely on other factors, like whether you have a return ticket booked, and the length of the intended stay.

Sometimes, on sepharadi halachic issues, people look at me like I have 3 eyes. On Shavuot morning (the 1st day), most of the yeshiva left at 4am to go to the Kotel and daven netz. We went in through Sha'ar Sh'chem (the Damacus Gate), which leads directly through the muslim quarter. Usually, Jews avoid the muslim quarter, but with thousands of Jews pouring through the gate, the Israeli police were heavily patroling the route to the Kotel to avoid problems. Apparently there are many people who don't know that it's also generally safe to leave through Sha'ar Sh'chem after Kabbalat Shabbat, because as we reached the gate there were a large group of people dancing very energetically at the prospect of going through the gate, and singing "Se'u sh'arim rasheichem". As I commented to a friend that the basic halacha is that it's assur to dance on Shabbat and Yom Tov (see Orach Chaim 339:3), he looked at me like "what are you talking about." He did later concede that I was probably right.

I wish I could speak to the experience of saying Musaf ("Umipnei chataeinu galinu me'artzeinu -- Because of our sins, we have been exiled from our land") while davening at the Kotel, but it is hard to have that kind of awareness when you've been up all night.

I will say that the Kotel was packed, all the way back to the entrances, and that after seeing that, and the parade of people into the kotel, I can only imagine the same kind of crowd a thousand times larger when the Beit HaMikdash stood and we were all chayav to bring the korban chagiga and the olat re'iah.

May we be blessed to perform the mitzvah of the pilgramage to the Beit HaMikdash speedily in our days. Amen.

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7th June 2008

Running into people randomly

I was on my way to Kiryat Moshe (near the central bus station) for Shabbat, I had taken a city bus to the station, and needed to walk from there to where I was staying, presumably a few blocks away. But I didn't know exactly where I was going since my map doesn't have all of the street names on it. So I was walking toward Kiryat Moshe, looking for an English speaker who might know the area to ask directions. I spotted a soldier and decided to ask him directions. Lo and behold, it was Guy Berger who I haven't seen in like 5 years. He didn't know the neighborhood, but he gave me his map (which has a lot more street names), and his phone number.

Since arriving, I have also randomly run into:

  • Arik Bchiri at the Kotel last Shabbat. (As it happens I also randomly ran into him when I went to Los Angeles for Sukkot last fall. This guy is everywhere.)
  • Nachman at Meron on Lag LaOmer
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6th June 2008

Amukah and Yom Yerushalyim

Since about six months ago, Rabbi Azose has been telling me (from time to time) that I need to go to Amukah, to pray at the kever of Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel. Since Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel never married (he was married to Torah), yet held that it was a chiyuv from the Torah for a man to marry, davening at his kever is a particular merit for finding one's basheret. It happened that one morning in April when I decided to tell Rabbi Azose I was thinking of going to learn at Ohr Somayach for the summer, that he got to me first to tell me that I should go to Amukah. So davening at Amukah was one of my major goals for this trip.

Tuesday, there was a trip from the neighborhood (not affiliated with the yeshiva) to kivrei tzaddikim in the north. My guess is the main reason for this trip was to visit the kever of the Shelah haKodesh in Tiveryah, since he composed a prayer for parents to say for the education of their children, and it has become a custom to say that prayer on erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The trip visited a number of kevarim, including Amukah, Tzefat (including the ARI z"l, the Ramak, R' Shlomo Alkabetz, and the Beit Yosef), and Tiveryah (including R' Meir ba'al HaNes, and the Rambam and the Shelah).

On Sunday night, I walked to Rechavia (about 120 degrees rotation around the old city from where I am, a good 45 minute walk away) to meet a shadchan there, and got my first taste of a section of the city colloquially called "town" by the people here. Ohr Somayach is located in a very religious section of the city, and that character persists until you get close to Rechov Yafo (90 degrees away). "Town" is the more secular part of the city, where all the big hotels are, Ben Yehudah street, and nightlife in general. I didn't stay to explore the night life.

After meeting with the shadchan, she reminded me that it was Yom Yerushalayim, so after finishing with her, since I still hadn't davened Avrit yet, I went to the Kotel. I joined a minyan there. Shortly we finished, a group of a few hundred people came in to the Kotel singing and dancing to celebrate. So I joined them dancing for a half an hour or so before returning to the yeshiva. Ohr Somayach isn't a terribly zionistic place, so they made little mention of Yom Yerushalayim.

I've found a volunteer activity to do Erev Shabbat, going to an apartment complex behind the yeshiva to help pack Shabbat food for about 30 needy families. I went last week, and b"h I'll be doing it again this week.

Last week, one of the other volunteers there was asking me about where I am in my PhD program, and as I explained that when I return to Chicago, I have to do my thesis proposal, then do another couple years of research before I do my dissertation. As I explained, I let out a sigh, thinking of what awaits me when I return. I'm feel much happier here than I was in the PhD program.

The rabbis from Ohr Somayach who were in Chicago for a memorial day event there have now returned to the yeshiva, and I've been promoted to a more advanced morning Gemara shiur (Rabbi Shachar's shiur). The afternoon bekiut shiur has also gotten more manageable with the return of Rabbi Rockmill. We're learning Masechet Chagiga, and right now we're in perek Ein Dorshin (which includes all kinds of aggadot about creation and ma'aseh merkavah). Rabbi Rockmill is quite a character. He has already nicknamed me HAL, since he knows I work with artificial intelligence. There's a Sephardic rabbi here, Rabbi Peretz who does a Sephardic halacha shiur right before lunch which gets about 10 guys in attendance.

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4th June 2008

Photos of my trip so far

For today, I've culled from the over 200 ohotos that I've already taken. I'll try to post some more stories and updates tomorrow.

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27th May 2008

A note on my name

Since I arrived in Yerushalyim, I have been using my Hebrew name, Chanoch, exclusively. My theory is that if nobody in the country calls me "Ken", then I won't have to perk up when someone says "Yes" in Hebrew. We'll see whether that can override 25 years of reflex.

And as for Rav Yaakov Hillel shlit"a, why wait until shabbat when I can just as easily go to his Monday night shiur (on tefillah) at Yeshivat Hevrat Ahavat Shalom, a 10 minute walk away.

My plans for Amukah are to go next Tuesday on an erev Rosh-Chodesh tour of kivrei tzadikkim in the north. The trip is not affiliated with Ohr Somayach in any way, but there are filers advertising it all over the neighborhood, so someone spotted it and told me about it.

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24th May 2008

Meron and the Kotel

I'm still settling in here, and trying to get into the swing of things with chevrutot. I've been to morning gemara shiur 3 days so far, and the attendees have been slightly different each time, so I haven't settled down with a chevruta yet. I'm also looking to find a chevruta to learn Chumash with Ramban. Someone photocopied me a bookmark with a short English-Aramaic dictionary on it, so that I can learn the most common gemara words quickly, and that seems to help a bit because most of my shiur can handle the structure of the gemara quite well, but several people need a lot of help with translation. Hopefully that just comes with practice and a little bit of a cheat sheet.

I went on a trip with the yeshiva to Meron for Lag LaOmer evening. We went to Tsefat first, then Meron. The kever of RaShB"I was packed to the point that it was constant pushing, and there were additionally thousands of people on their way up and down. I was disappointed to see so much activity from the Na-Nach Breslov segment and the Yechi Chabad segment, and felt that it was really inappropriate for them to be piggy backing off a holiday that really had nothing to do with them.

On the way back from Meron, we stopped at the Kotel for shacharit slightly after hanetz. Since I had not yet been to the kotel, I had to perform k'riyah (and I was wearing an old shirt specifically for that purpose). I was exicted to visit the kotel, and excited to perform this halacha, so I couldn't really understand how I could be feeling mourning that would motivate tearing the shirt. Then I did it, and realized that the k'riyah and the paseukim help to spark the feeling of mourning. There's always some amazing feeling every time I visit the Kotel (and it's always a different one).

For shabbat mincha and arvit of motzia'e shabbat, I was back at the kotel again. (After searching the old city for another yeshiva that I couldn't seem to find.) I had seudah sh'lishit at the kotel and joined a couple of different groups that were singing zemirot. I guess I was in a musical mood because I was somewhere in the middle of the lachash of arvit (with a really slow shat"z who spent 3 minutes on the first paseuk of she'ma) when I started singing the shemona esreh to myself softly (in an improvised melody). It took me about 20 minutes to finish shemonah esreh, but when you can get yourself to go that slow, you can start to have kavanot about the words you're saying.

I went to the kotel for kabbalat shabbat, and afterwards Jeff Seidel (who arranges meals for students at the kotel) sent me with a large group of other people to "Hippie Joe" for dinner. Someone mentioned that he was very kabbalistically inclined, so I was a bit worried. In my world, that screams "Kabbalah Center." Why is he called "Hippie Joe?" It turns out that this is because he follows the Ben Ish Chai to the letter, but also has a kiruvy approach of explaining precisely what's going on to his guests who may not always be frum yet. (The combination translates into an appearance of a deep interest in kabbalah.) And he has a preference for organic products, so it could come off as hippie, but he's certainly among the yirei shamayim. Certainly somebody worth meeting again.

Most of the meal was spent introducing the people there and getting each to give a short d'var torah. I shared as a d'var torah my experience at the Kotel that morning, and all the girls were impressed. (I chose that over sharing something that I had heard about Rabbi Akiva's death that would have been on the same theme that several other people had talked about, and very technical.)

Mashiach (another bachur in one of my shiurim) finally clued me in to the location of the sepharadi yeshiva that's "across the street". It turns out that it's across the street, through an apartment complex, and then at the on the other side of the park (Arzei Birah). Navigation in Jerusalem is confusing with a few main streets and lots of little cul-de-sacs that don't show up on maps. But I found the place, and apparently it's a kollel affiliated with Yeshivat Chevrat Ahavat Shalom, and Rav Yaakov Hillel davens there on shabbat. Mashiach told me that the shul starts shacharit at 7:30 on shabbat, so I went at 7:30, only to find that they hadn't started yet. So I went elsewhere and on my way back I found that they actually start at 8am. I shall have to make it back there some time.

Next weekend I'm going to plan to go to Amukah and that will probably involve spending Shabbat in Tsefat. Hopefully my chevrutot will get more settled and more focused this week.

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21st May 2008

Ohr Somayach

I'm safely at Ohr Somayach, where I'll be spending the summer learning. It was a bit interesting getting settled, because I was originally supposed to get into contact with Rabbi Salinger (about dorms) and Rabbi Rockmill (about learning), but both have gone to Chicago to prepare for an Ohr Somayach event at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Thankfully, Rabbi Salinger told me in advance who to go to in his absence. After going to the administration to find out what to do about Rabbi Rockmill's absence, one of the rabbis tested me and placed me in the intermediate program, in Rabbi Sinclair's gemara shiur. I still haven't gotten used to the idea that I'm spending 3 months just learning. (I'm also not sure if I could stand a dorm for more than 3 months.)

My goals while I'm here are: to develop gemara skill so that I can learn gemara when I return to Chicago, and to develop the ability to follow a long Ramban (or other long commentary) on Chumash. I also plan to date, but I'm not sure where to start to find shadchanim.

I haven't found time to venture far from the yeshiva yet. Given the balance between time spent learning, and time spent exploring, so far I've tipped heavily toward learning. I'm going to try to make it to Amukah next week, probably by going to Tsefat for next shabbat, and will probably work out this shabbat by going to the kotel.

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