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Zimbabwe Shabbat

Zimbabwe Friday to Sunday 

So much to tell it is hard to know where to begin.  I will do it chronologically. 

Friday we had class at the place that I am staying in Emerald Hill.  A wonderful BnB that has electricity, hot water and meets all of my needs. 

We began with a review of our last lesson—and so we started with the barechu.  We discussed the meaning of the word baruch whose three letter root, beit reish chaf takes many forms.  Berech, knee;  braycha, pool; Barach, kneel; and b’racha, blessing.  Usually translated “blessed are you, God,”  but how can we, mere mortals bless God? God who has bestowed everything upon us?  Perhaps “Praise you God, source of all blessings.”  When we look at the word braycha, meaning pool, and knowing that water is the absolutely necessary for our existence—at the same time knowing that the Torah is like water—vital to our survival and ever-flowing in its nourishing enrichment of our world. 

I sang for them the Ashkenazic melody—Hamlet the musician understanding the concept of raising the leading tone a half step. I love his musical abilities—he wrote all of the melodies for the Lemba prayer service.  We joked because one of the melodies is actually in a minor key—not commonly found in most African music.  Anyway I also recorded for them one of my melodies with a niggun as part of it—Irene, Brenda’s sister told me that she really loves the idea of the niggun—melodies without words.  Note—I was so pleasantly surprised that every concept that I taught in my first lesson was remembered by the group! 

We then talked about the blessings leading up to the shema. The first for the blessing of creation, how Hashem formed the world and how the world is kept in order.  The second blessing of revelation, God revealing Her Torah.  I sang several versions of Ahavat Olam and at each step BTW I asked what the congregation knows—most were what you would hear in a shul in the US, but that is great.  At each opportunity I ask Hamlet to write a Lemba melody.  He agrees each time, so we will see how much new beautiful music will come out of this project. 

Then of course the Shema—I talked about the large Ayin and Dalet there so that the correct spelling of the words Shema (hear) is not read as “perhaps” and Echad (one) is not read as acheir, “another.”  We discussed the words Eil Melech Ne’eman at the beginning, said if there is not a minyan—it means God is a faithful King. It also is an acronym for AMEN. Aleph, mem and nun. They three words serve the same purpose as the three words at the end, Adonai Eloheichem Emet—the shema has 245 words. If we add three more we come to 248, known to be the total parts of the body in the ancient world—there are also 248 positive commandments, 

We then went to mi chamocha—I spoke about Nachshon ben Aminadav—who when he had the faith in God to take the first steps in to the Sea of Reeds, had water in his mouth and pronounced Mi CHamocha, because his words were garbled. After the waters receded he then was able to say Mi Kamocha with a clear sound. (mi KamoCHa ba’Elim Adonai, Mi Kamocha nedar ba’kodesh).  Also those words are an acronym for MaKaBee. 

We talked about why the amidah for the evening prayer was not said out loud—a compromise since the prayers that replaced the sacrificial service were based on when the sacrifices were done—there was no evening sacrifice, but yet it was felt that there should be an evening service—based on the Avot section of the Amidah—Avraham—morning (When he arose early for the Akeida); Yitzchak (afternoon)—when he saw Rivka and prayed that this is his future wife; and Yaakov (evening) who wrestled with the angel in the evening.   So the compromise was to have the evening service but NOT chant the Amidah out loud. This is like the idea of the mezuzah—one rabbi thought it should point straight up to God, another said it should point forward in the direction of the inside and how the tablets were laid in the ark.  Compromise?—make it slanted! 

We concluded with the ma’ariv service for Shabbat, took a break, and Hamlet and I then did some recording on my MacBook Air.  He is an amazing Mbira player!  He did take after take perfectly.  What a cool guy. 

Then I had a few minutes to shower and get ready for Shabbat which I spent in the synagogue which is also Moderick’s house.  It was very comfortable and I felt very much at home. 

The Lemba in Harere have their erev Shabbat at home—it is too hard and too expensive to get to the synagogue.  And so we lit candles, sang and discussed Torah.  It was absolutely lovely. 

The next morning services began at about 10:30 am.  I met several new people and Moderick led the psukei d’zimra masterfully with a strong, confident voice. The shul is in good hands! 

I was asked to read the Torah and so, with the Tikkun that I brought with me I chanted all of the alliyot and gave a brief explanation of each section that I read.  I realize that there is going to have to be some training in trope—but I have already begun that work in our lessons—the same is true for the congregation in Ol Kalou.  Moderick read the Haftarah in English and I then led the musaf service—teaching some new melodies and giving everyone a “taste” of hazzanut. 

We then had lunch which was delicious and then were plied with mango wine—I took one sip and realized that it was almost 100% alcohol. whew!!!  Took a good nap and we chanted havdallah. Of course there was no electricity so the candle took on a new meaning.  It was beautiful seeing the faces of Moderick’s family lit up by the candlelight.  What a blessing. 

The next day George procured his friend Atwell who is a good driver with a smaller car that is good on fuel and we traveled to the ancient home of the Lemba near Mazvingo, about 310 kms from Harare.  We went from there to the Great Zimbabwe, about 20 kms from there.  The Great Zimbabwe, for which Zimbabwe was named after independence, is a world heritage cultural site.  It was designed and built by the Lemba which is a part of the larger Shona tribe in about the 11th century CE—the Shona culture began about 300 CE. There is much written about it, but not much being able to be confirmed. It is a spectacular structure made of hand hewn granite stones laid one atop the other without mortar and set in spectacular mountain terrain. The technology and the back breaking dangerous labor, makes it a major accomplishment of mankind. It is a proud reminder that great and advanced civilizations in ancient Africa have existed contrary to the claims of Europeans that only others could have built this magnificent structure. 

I did not have a chance to go to Mapakomhere, in Masvingo District where there is one of the Lemba villages.  We had several mishaps along the road, including a flat tire which delayed our progress. But I did have time to have a meeting with a great man, Dr. Rabson Wurigo who works at the Great Zimbabwe University. It was my opportunity to speak with a man who, as a Lemba, has written the story of the Lemba culture and it’s connection to Judaism with an academic slant that is most enjoyable to read.  We discussed where we all stand in terms of Jewish identity, what it means to be Jewish and how we mix ancient tradition with the post biblical changes that identify modern Judaism.  What can be changed, what needs to be changed—for instance, Dr. Wurigo encouraged the Lemba to resume observing the Passover festival—so they did what their ancestors and verbal history demanded—they sacrificed the pascal lamb and sat down to eat as a community.  Rabson had to tell them that the said sacrifice was not being done anymore since the Temple was destroyed.  The Lemba circumcise at 8 years old.  Do we make it happen at 8 days?  One thing we certainly do not do, according to Rabson, is practice ha’tafat ha dam—the drawing of a speck of blood from the penis, which “legitimizes” in the Jewish faith a circumcision that was not kosher.  To do that he says, is to deny the entire foundation of Lemba culture.  It is a legitimate brit milah not in need of perfection—it is perfect already.  We talked about Jewish organizations from religious institutions to NGO’s. I really look forward to further discussions with him and possibly working with him, his community, and the Harare community to bring not only create an understanding with world Jewry, but a united front to have the Lemba embraced by Jews everywhere. 

I returned on Sunday night quite exhausted, but quite thrilled to have had the experience of visiting the Great Zimbabwe and meeting with Rabson.  This is a rest day for me.  My host at the BnB just made a wonderful Indian brunch and tonight I have dinner with a friend of the Harnoy’s in Harare.