December 08, 2006

With my first havruta, still learning after all these years

From Shimon, a handmade card and an aloe-vera-olive-oil-infused gift set
Today, I rode Bus 70 from Tel Aviv to Givat Shmuel where my friend Shimon crams eating and sleeping into his life; he is a doctoral student in psychology at Bar Ilan University. "I am fulfilling all the requirements of my department while adding my own curriculum in my major and beyond," explains my havruta, learning partner since 1999 when we met in the Atlanta Torah MiTzion program.

Visiting with Shimon is a gift of precious time with inestimable value. Though we are separated in age by decades, have widely different life experiences, and usually hold opposing religious beliefs and practices, our friendship celebrates the differences. We laugh much while trading ideas and references, from book titles to podcast subscriptions, and from updates on mutual friends and the upsides and downsides of living in two nations, Israel and the USA.

"Read Saʻarat nefesh [Burning Soul] by Yoram Yovel, one of my professors," Shimon replies to a question on mental illness and therapies in Israel. "Download a podcast of Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg from the Speaking of Faith and Values" podcast channel, I instruct him as our free-wheeling discussion veers toward narratives, storytelling, and blogs. Before I catch the last bus to Tel Aviv (today is Friday, and Shabbat begins at sunset), we cram in a session on his laptop where I subscribe him to this podcast channel for a free downloadable weekly radio program featuring conversations with theologians, scientists, ethicists, and other thoughtful voices on religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.

Imagine my astonished delight while snacking on Shimon's treat — a chocolate-chip sweet, herbal tea (for him), and cappuccino (for me) in the lobby cafe of a residential skyscraper, when he drew from his briefcase two surprises — a handmade card and an aloe-vera-olive-oil-infused gift set! The card, a photo taken four years ago when we toured Nobel Prize winner Shmuel Yosef Agnon's Jerusalem home, shows Shimon and me gazing at the glass-encased 1966 Prize in Literature gold medal and diploma. The back of the photo reads, as follows:

בס"ד [Aramaic abbreviation for "with Heaven's help"]

It has been almost 7 years since I first met you. Oh, and
it's also your birthday...
I guess we both deserve congratulations...
Happy birthday!

Thank you, dear Shimon: havruta, guide, humorist, role model, friend, teacher, comforter. May you continue going from strength to strength.

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