Sep 14 2008
I decided, particularly after my summer of research in Belgium, that the Jewish diaspora is wonderful for Jewish travelers. The Jewish network has seen me far more comfortably through a summer in Belgium and moving to Switzerland than I would have been on my own. It’s an instant community, welcoming to Americans such as us, and immediately more familiar than anything else in this country. So, Seth and I have tried our hardest in the last couple of weeks, to find out what the Jews of Geneva (there aren’t so many in the Lausanne area) are like. We are still missing most of the nuance, such as which synagogues have grudges against others and why, Israeli integration (we’ve heard there are many Israelis here but so far have found them only as security guards for synagogues), and what Ashkenazi-Sephardi relations are like. However, after a kabbalat “chabbat” service, a celebration of Jewish music, and a choir rehearsal, our major impression is that this Jewish community is much like our own, but smaller, less influential on the outside culture, and Francophone.
We went to services at the liberal synagogue here, GIL. It was strange to be in a synagogue that seemed to resemble ours so closely and not recognize a single person. Services, or “offices” in French, were short and to the point; the whole thing was an hour. The Rabbi was great, and he even did all the cantorial work with an accompanying pianist. The congregational readings went by like lightning (this was not the belabored congregational reading of every American Reform service I’ve been to), and Seth and I found it rather difficult to keep up. Plus we kept laughing at how strange these familiar readings were to say in French and at how hard it is to read transliteration made for French speakers. The d’var was also a bit difficult to understand, but Seth was trying so hard to comprehend that he actually stayed awake! He NEVER stays awake during d’vars. Afterwards, we were approached by a woman who looked about our age asking if we were students and we wanted to join the Swiss organization for Jewish students. We happily said we’d love to find out more, but speaking of that…we haven’t heard anything more. Hmm.
Jewish Music Day
The Sunday after we went to offices (a week ago today), we went back to Geneva for its celebration of the European day of Jewish culture, which took the form of music. Seth and I went to a class on Yiddish dance, and Seth did marvelously. We met a professor from UMich Law who is on Sabbatical in Geneva and his family there. We also met a French Klezmer accordianist and the guy who seems to be in know of all things Klezmer in this part of Switzerland (I’m starting to picture him as the Hankus Netsky of Suisse Romande) and plays saxophone for Hotegezugt. We emailed him since and he has been informing us of everything going on in the next couple months in Geneva, including places where I might be able to practice Yiddish! Then, the community had rented a mini train thing that was actually an automobile (the kind you might ride as a kid at a zoo or amusement park), and we took it to the next stop for the day, which was a lecture on Jewish music and a concert performed by a local cantor. We didn’t actually attempt to understand the lecture and we left at the beginning of the concert, but the way over was great. But the way over on the train was great–Seth and I had a somewhat-out-of-tune jam session with the accordianist, and other people on the train joined in, too!
|From Switzerland videos|
GIL has a volunteer choir. It reminds me of the volunteer choir I was in when I was in middle school at my synagogue, when I was 12 and everyone else was at least 30 years my senior. They freely admitted that they aren’t the best choir out there, but that they really enjoyed it. Rehearsal was pretty fun, and I felt pretty useful, too. The other sopranos quickly figured out that I was a really good person to follow. I’m not sure I’ll stay in past high holidays, because there are definitely other choirs around here that will help me grow more, but this is a great way to meet some people so that next time we go to offices, there are some familiar faces! In fact, many of them had been to music day and already seemed familiar to me.
So that’s that. It’s a little disappointing that we have to go to Geneva every time we want to see a Klezmer concert or go to services, but so far, the trips we’ve made have been worth it.