Embark on an exciting journey into Israel, the homeland of the Jewish People and my home for the next year! I will be adding my new observations and perspective of student life at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Israel. Enjoy the ride!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Israel Seminar 2

Reflection #2
Israel Seminar, Galilee Trip September 23-25, 2007
Overall, the Galil trip was wonderfully interesting, beautiful, and just what I needed for the time. Getting out of Jerusalem is more important to keeping my peace of mind, and something that I do not do nearly enough. The North has always been one of my favorite parts of the country, I think because of its seemingly endless fields and flowers, and the fresh air that I breathe so freely whenever I am there.
I am completely fascinated with the aliyot and the pioneers that came here when there was nothing. I constantly wonder what I would do if I was in a similar situation, living in a hostile environment in Europe knowing that there was a land that I believed held a more positive future for me and my family. I often say that I probably would have just stuck with the status quo, living in Europe, since in a sense I have not made that move in my lifetime now. I think that people still romanticize the idea of aliyah, however I think that it is different today in comparison to how the pioneers envisioned it back then. Today, I think we tend to concentrate on the political situation and the economic situation over the idea of living in the Modern Jewish State. I still toy with the idea of leaving my family behind and starting a life here, but living so far from my family in the US just still seems too much a sacrifice for me to make. I suppose one day that decision will be set in stone, but for now it will remain as a thought that more than occasionally crosses my mind.
Besides this, there were two moments during the tiyul that impacted me greatly. The first moment was in the romantic city of Rosh Pina, where there are still standing buildings and gardens from the time it was rebuilt. I was fascinated by the interplay between the halutzim and the funder, Baron de Rothschild, who basically saved the yishuv from going under. Perhaps this sounds na├»ve, but I didn’t realize how much impact private donors had on the welfare of the State of Israel even before it was declared a state. The stronghold that de Rothschild had on this particular yishuv certainly impacted the people there, in both good and bad ways, since it was run like a business. I was impressed that he was able to help the city develop into such a cornerstone, as it is named, of the settlements of its time. I was also surprised to find out how complicated the situation was between those in his administrative office and the pioneers there. This was just new information to add to my knowledge of the development of the northern part of the country.
Secondly, the briefing that Paul gave at the border of Metulla was both fascinating and depressing. The layers that he revealed about our Lebanese neighbors were at the same time depressing and uplifting. As he shared his personal experience with a Shiite (I think) family while he was based in Lebanon, I realized how complicated this whole mess of a situation is. While I strongly believe that Israel deals with political situations in the best way possible, a solution to the political problem seems almost hopeless because of the deep schism of sects in other countries. The border was also a fascinating place to be at the time we were there, since there happened to be a group of what looked to be military officers receiving an update on the situation. Paul explained the makeup of the officers, noting their age and rank, and explained that the army was taking more time to update their officers because of the possible conflict that will most likely come again.
While I am endlessly fascinated by this information, a part of me becomes more passionate about what we are doing here, and the other part of me is frustrated at the situation we are always facing here. This trip only deepened that yet again, and I am left with a deep love for this country of indescribable importance to the Jewish people and with hopelessness because we may never live in complete peace. My deep desire is that people will surprise me and I will say that I have underestimated them, but that is yet to be seen.

Israel Seminar

I realize that my posts have been lacking this year in Israel. Unfortunately, my schedule keeps me so busy that I barely have time to reflect on my life here or my studies. However, the beauty of school is that they assign you to reflect, and therefore I do! So, I decided that if I can reflect for my teachers, I certainly can include those reflections on my blog and hope that it will satisfy my readers for the time being.

I have to classes that require my reflection time: Israel Seminar and Education Seminar. This happens to work as far as my personal career goals, since those two things are my passions. I will do my best to add little things here and there besides my assigned reflections to keep you in the loop of my life. But, if you are ever wondering what I am doing here, you can safely assume that it is in the realm of reading, writing, or eating (because there is always time for that!).

Until then, forgive me for only providing you with this...

Reflection #1
Israel Seminar, September 19, 2007
The reflection among the group participants today helped me to understand the place that I am in regarding my relationship to Israel. Hearing that others in the group had experienced similar life-changing events here, and then feeling somewhat disillusioned or unattached to the country this time around helped me feel better about the situation I have felt in since returning to live in Jerusalem for another year.
The truth is that I think my lack of attachment to this particular city stems from my ambivalent feelings that developed over the time I lived here two years ago. Granted, I lived in Jerusalem for 2 and a half months, which is really only time enough to develop somewhat of a feel for the city, but I did not develop a particular love for it. I grew to respect the history here, and the recognition that this is the central place of the modern state of Israel, but I would not live in this city in Israel if I had my choice. I feel like most of Israel’s problems are embodied in this city, and the intensity of that is almost too much for me to handle.
Besides this, the whole discussion of the new Jew creates even more feelings of ambivalence towards Jerusalem for me. The pioneers that came to settle the land years ago would cringe at the sight of this city. The idea of the new Jew of the second Aliyah was to create a sort of Jewish nationalism and strength different from that of the first, seemingly the exact opposite to what this city looks like now. The way the rabbinate has taken hold of holy sites, such as the Kotel, draws on the tradition of the old Jew, and separates the modern day from the past. The pioneers of the second aliyah, in my opinion, would be against anything that prevented the modernization of Jewish practice. The idea of the new Jew is embodied in places like the Golan, where the fields are still utilized for making wine and other crops, despite the fact that Jewish farmers are not working sweat to the brow like the Jewish farmers of the Aliyah.
My hope for this seminar, throughout the year, is to grow an appreciation for my multilayered relationship with the land of Israel and the State of Israel and a better understanding of my passion for this country despite my issues with it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sick and Bored

Well, it officially takes a little over 2 days for me to become bored of staying at home and checking the internet, watching movies, and sleeping intermittedly throughout the day. I think it is funny how one romanticized sickness when there are other committments like school or work that are general requirements of life. However, I've decided that I would much rather be sitting in on my 4 hours of Hebrew class and seminars after class than sitting at home, on my bed, itching myself whenever my body demands it.

Today, I finally sucked it up and decided to face the Israeli hospital system, in a desperate measure to get some relief from the awful rash that has overcome my body and tonsils that make food taste weird and undesirable. The good news is that I was pleasantly pleased, much different from when I had to take my Birthright participant (not me, sorry for the confusion) to the emergency room. I held out through the night so I could go into the walk-in clinic of English speaking doctors in Jerusalem in hopes that they could figure out what the heck my body is doing and give me some drugs to get rid of it. I almost succeeded, but as is typical of me, the blood tests and throat culture was inconclusive and I am at least stuck with my new best friend, Calamine lotion, and a new nick-name given to me by my boyfriend, "Petri dish." Cute, huh? So, tomorrow morning I will call the doctor at 9:30AM and hopefully she will tell me then to start taking some drug to get me feeling better.

Other than that, the good news is I have all this time to blog and attempt to bring you up to date on my life. I might have to stop every so often to itch whatever part of my body demands, but hopefully there won't be too much stopping. This would be an accomplishment.

So, first thing is first, I am officially a student with at least four hours of class and 2 hours of homework a night. For about 2 more weeks, I will continue in Ulpan, an intensive Hebrew course for the summer, and then other classes will start as well. I definitely appreciate the concentrated focus on Hebrew, but am disappointed that I really don't use it out of the classroom like I would like to. I thought Otzma was an American bubble, but this experience takes that expression to a whole new level. I really never have to speak Hebrew outside of class unless I am in a grocery store or in a cab. Other than that, all my friends are American and we all socialize together at the same restaurants and bars, so my Hebrew is pushed aside to make room for other deeper conversations.

Speaking of which, these deeper conversations are part of what has made this experience so much different than my Otzma one. Not saying that during Otzma deep conversations were not held, but the topics certainly were not what they are now. I cannot tell you how many first interactions with other students in my program that have been about the role of Reform Judaism, or the direction the movement is going, or the unique place of the rabbi, cantor, or educator in each different community. Everyone comes from a different community in the US, and in some cases parts of Europe, with a different perspective on these issues. A part of me was overwhelmed and annoyed at these initial conversations, especially with those that I would consider having "something to prove." I was frustrated that people would not generally show their personality before their perspective, and when someone does that it is sometimes hard to then look at them for their personality first. However, taken in context, everyone here intends to be a Jewish professional in either the capacity of a rabbi, cantor, or educator, and that definitely adds a sense of entitlement to express one's opinion's regarding issues such as this. Unlike in past group situations, however, I haven't felt the need to reach out and get to know everyone, because I know that is something that evolves with time. However, in my sickness, I have come to realize that I have met some amazing people that I do just click with. That is comforting.

Some things I have done in the past few weeks... Two weekends ago, I spent the Shabbat in Kibbutz Yagur, a secular kibbutz about 20 minutes east of Haifa. The invite came from an Israeli rabbinical student also studying at Hebrew Union College, in the Israeli program which is separate from mine. He came to speak about his path to the rabbinate from his secular kibbutz upbringing to my classmates and invited a group of us to come stay for a Shabbat and see what he has been doing at his kibbutz. Kibbutz Yagur is the third largest kibbutz in Israel, and that being said, is secular. And, the truth is, when I say secular for an Israeli it is virtually the same thing as being secular in the States, except worse in some respects. Keeping kosher, Shabbat, or anything considered "religious" is frowned upon in the community, because in Israel being religious is only reserved for those who the government supports and the society hates. Therefore, the stigma attached to anything connected to that community is nothing to shrug off. So, for Gadi (that is the rabbinical student's name), his challenge was to bring a different kind of practice to his kibbutz that wouldn't turn people off but would still seem authentic to them. That is the other problem; any other "type" of Judaism isn't automatically considered authentic, so most Israelis also frown upon alternative styles of worship as well. So, Gadi started slowly, to build upon the Jewish year and began with Tu B'shevat in his kibbutz, the "tree-planting holiday" which Israelis might appreciate a little more than us in the States because of the vitality of trees to this country. He gradually moved forward and introduced other festivals to the kibbutz that people enjoyed, and now has a weekly Shabbat service. However, when I say Shabbat service, I certainly don't mean Shabbat like we are used to. They don't read from the Torah, although it is mentioned, and many secular Israeli songs are mixed into the other liturgical songs of a regular Friday night service. When several of my classmates and I were hosted by kibbutz families, some of the families joined for the services and others did not. The mom in my host family happened to be the secretary of the kibbutz, which is the same thing as the president, and she couldn't be more of a kibbutznik. Her hair was tied to the side in a long braid, she was wearing a straw hat and no make up, and her sandals just put the entire look of a kibbutznik together. She was late arriving home, so I actually didn't even meet her until after I had come and gone from the Shabbat service that Gadi led. I spoke with the "host dad" of the family, and his remarks about what Gadi was doing was that it was cute, but boring to him so he wouldn't bother going. I guess Judaism has to be "entertaining" to some, even in Israel. However, the interesting thing about this host family was that besides their frowning upon traditions, they still did a mini Friday night Shabbat service at their home prior to eating. The reason it was interesting was two-fold: first because it was at a Kibbutz, and they bothered to recognize Shabbat, and second because the service was led by the mother and daughter of the family, something definitely not traditional. The story of this family is that the "host mom," Ilana, came from a religious family and although she is not religious in that way anymore, she said that she wouldn't just throw it all away. It is fascinating to think that the one thing she preserved is Shabbat, among all the other choices of practice to keep.
The rest of the weekend at the Kibbutz was quite beautiful. My host family was more of like a hotel, not much interaction with the family or effort into getting to know me. But, I had a bed and a shower, and some food which ended up to be a great situation. I went to the pool all day on Shabbat, which was amazing, and ended up being adopted for Shabbat lunch twice by my classmate Aimee's family and my boyfriend Greg's family. I was stuffed, but the conversation was great and the people were wonderful. I definitely had warm fuzzies after leaving those two families, and feel like I would go back to that kibbutz for another Shabbat to be hosted by them again. Good times...
Speaking of Shabbat culture, it is something you really feel in this country, but especially in this city. Since I am in a Reform seminary of people who want to be Jewish professionals, each week there is a plethora of invitations to people's homes for Shabbat and different services to try out. And, considering how my weeks go, I start anticipating Shabbat on Sunday when the work week starts here. The set up of the week here truly makes you value your day "off" and find ways to make it both meaningful and relaxing at the same time. So, last weekend we had a required service by my school to go see Harel, and Reform shul in Jerusalem with a woman rabbi. I had been there before, I think with Rabbi Einstein on a tour, and it was very reminiscent of home. They offered us opportunities to be involved in their community, whether it be reading Torah or helping in the preschool or whatever. It was nice, and I may take them up on their offer. However, the best part of this night was hosting Shabbat dinner at my house after services! I volunteered to be the chef of the main course, chicken (traditional for the Friday night Shabbat meal), and my roommates and I ended up hosting around 20 people for dinner. While I was quite intimidated by this number of people, I chose an easy recipe to cook for everyone and prepared it before Shabbat so I would just have to heat it up when I got home. Well, I can say, it was great! The chicken was a balsamic vinagrette, olive oil, and honey recipe and turned out so tasty! I was so happy to see everyone enjoying the meal and complimenting me on a job well done. It was just nice to do Shabbat the right way and have contributed a significant part of it. I am happy to pass along the recipe if you are curious...

And other than that, I am still in bed, trying to get healthy so I can keep up the good work. I've been posting photos, so if you don't see a blog from me, you can at least see what I have been up to from my pics. More later... (and I will try to be better at updating...)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Birthright, Settling In, and Settling Down...

I have been here for almost a month, but it truly feels as if I never left. Except for a few things, not much has changed besides a few new restaurants opening, new stores, and some other barely noticeable things. What I have noticed that has changed, however, is me.

During Birthright, it was an amazing opportunity to be on the staff end of a trip of peers. Although I was frustrated a few times with a few participants, overall the trip was amazing and a great way to start my stay here in Israel again. This time, however, I felt as if I was playing the role of teacher. For each place that we went, I learned something new and remembered a lot of what I had been taught my first time there. The new, kind of wonderment that I used to feel for each place I went was gone, but replaced by an intense connection and knowledge of where I stood. Because of this, I had an ability to teach and answer questions from the participants on the side. While I encouraged them to listen to our tour guide, Marty, who was amazing, sometimes they required a shorter, more to the point explanation of a site we were visiting. Most of the time, I could give them an answer. I was pretty impressed with myself and proud that the time spent here last year was not lost or forgotten. By the end of the trip, one of the participants who had confided in me that she just simply did not understand the importance of Israel and didn't think she could ever feel connected to another land told the group that she understood afterwards. She couldn't say the prayer over the Shabbat candles, but I think she began to understand her connection to Judaism in Israel. I was amazed to see this happen to several of the participants. Literally, these were kids with barely any connection to Judaism and especially not Israel, but their experience on Birthright changed them. The discussions about Jewish identity and connection to the Land required their thoughts and contemplations, and I cannot even tell you what a relief I felt to hear their validations of what we had been showing them during the trip. So, although I lost a lot of sleep during the trip, and had my first visit to an Israeli emergency room, the trip was amazing and the group even more amazing. I felt so lucky to be a part of them and will continue to stay in touch and help them connect to their communities at home. To me, that is what this is all about.

However, the trip leads me to my next revelation... culture shock. I think it is possible that I am experiencing a bit of reverse culture shock! I came here feeling like I would know full well what to expect... and I still feel that way! But, for me, that is where the problem lies... I expect the cabbies to drive terribly and try to rip me off. I expect to push my way onto the bus and wait for another one to come when I get pushed out of the way. I am used to the way people argue with each other and talk over one another. I'm used to coming home from bars and having to wash the smoke smell out of everything. And, the truth is, it's hard to readjust back into this because in some respects it has lost the "fun." I hate smoke! Really, I do, and you just can't get away from it here. I get annoyed that I have to ask the cabs to turn on the meter when I get in because they don't do it automatically. And, I get more annoyed at myself when I don't speak up and let these annoying drivers take advantage of me. I hate that I think about my "safety" when I get on a bus but am sometimes more afraid of the cab drivers talking on the phone and driving like maniacs on the road. Life here is an adjustment and it isn't "easy." And, I know that, and that makes it more of something that I acknowledge unlike the last time I arrived in Israel.

But, on the flip side, I have had my moments these past few weeks. After settling into my apartment, I bought a new bed from Shlomo in Jerusalem. He sold me a cheap bed and it arrived on time to my place. Amazing. They came in and set it up and I now feel like a real person with a real room in my apartment. I LOVE that the name of the guy who sold me my bed is Shlomo. And then, on the way back from buying my bed, there was a cab driver who stopped, and another who backed up to pick me and my roommate off the road with all our stuff. We were in a predicament.... Which cab do we choose? So, we went with the one who didn't back up, but who stopped in front of us. While the two cabbies were yelling at each other over us, they recognized each other, realized they were friends, and started laughing about the situation. I think the economy here is what makes it the hardest to just be normal.

Besides this moment, I had to rush off to Tel Aviv to catch Maor in his play. But... Maor failed to tell me that there would be 4 other little plays before his... On the way to Tel Aviv, I had to hop on a bus I had never taken before. I didn't know exactly where I was going, so I asked the bus driver to tell me where to get off. Seriously, he was the nicest bus driver ever. He kept smiling at me, saying he hadn't forgotten about me, and that I shouldn't worry. Then he started telling all the other passengers about the cute girl from America. A woman then started pointing out where I was going as we were approaching it so I would find my way... I did and departed from my new friends, feeling like I had experienced what I had been missing thus far... Maor's play was brilliant, of course, and he was amazing in it. But, the cooler part for me were two of the dramas before his. My Hebrew is still not fluent, but I picked up from one of the dramas that they were doing an adaptation of Joseph's dream coat from the Torah. Another play was a satire dealing with the kidnapped soldiers. EVERYTHING is intertwined here, and it never ceases to amaze me how it all comes together. The Joseph play was deep, questioning, curious about the relationship between Joseph and God and his brothers. The play about the kidnapped soldiers was dark, cynical, and critical of the government's failing to succeed in bringing them home. The disappointment was palpable in this play and indicative of the feelings of many people in the country on this topic. To me, however, I just saw this collection of plays as an example of the modern state of Israel, struggling with the issues head on and using art as a form of release. I am lucky to have Maor bring me into this world of his, because I feel like I am experiencing it more like an insider. I love that there is a country that has Judaism so deeply entrenched in its psyche, and this coming from the "secular" city of Tel Aviv.

My life in Jerusalem is settling... I am just finishing setting up the apartment. We almost have working Internet and a stocked kitchen. My room is adorable, and I love it. I love my new bed and I think my roommates and I will get along great. They are both rabbinical students from all over the States, but both going to Cincinnati after this year. David is from St. Louis and was in finance for a while. He has a hilariously dry sense of humor, plays guitar, has a gf at home, and is a calm person in general. He and I get along great. PJ is from South Carolina, just graduated from college, is a huge social butterfly, and also has a gf at home. The more I get to know him, the more I like him. And, I can't forget to mention another character in our lives, our landlord Felix. I think he is about 85. He doesn't like contracts, but is totally trustworthy and a sweet man. He already replaced our semi-broken toilet, thank goodness. When explaining how things worked in the apartment, he was sure to make the boys tell me how to fix the stove, water the plants, and do the laundry. Thank goodness too, because I am the woman of this house! Anyway, that is the ongoing joke of the house, but I think it is funny and I don't expect it to be very serious at least among the boys. So, we are all settling and life at Hebrew Union College is moving along. We have had several pre-Orientation gatherings, and I have met some great people thus far. I've had interesting conversations already about Jewish life in the States and the state of the Reform Jewish community. These conversations have left me happy, frustrated, tired, overwhelmed, and all sorts of emotions, all in an informal setting! Class can only be that much more interesting...

Anyway, that is it for now! I'll be updating soon...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Home

Life can seem surreal at times. Today is Sunday, June 3rd and I have just gotten home from a wedding at my synagogue of two members. As I looked around the room, I realized that half of the place were other members of my synagogue, people who have watched me grow up and whom I have known for years. Everyone was asking about my upcoming adventure to Israel... How long will you be there? What are you going to do? When do you leave? Even the bride and groom, on what is their day, were thoughtful enough to inquire. I have been on a whirlwind trip around California, and have really started to explore the idea of what home is. How do you define what your true home is? Is it where you grew up? Is it where your family is? Is it where your friends are? Is it where you found yourself? Is it where you are when you are there? What makes a home, your home? Is home truly where the heart is?

These questions have been crossing my mind as of late as I have ventured to many of my past homes and have started to really think about this new journey in my life. I will attempt again to create a new home far away from the majority of my family and where I grew up with a group of new and old friends, family, and colleagues in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was my home for part of my Otzma year, but I never really took a liking to it. Yes, it is true, Jerusalem can leave a bad taste in your mouth and it certainly did with me when I lived there. For many reasons that I will put aside for a moment, this "bad taste" has left me with the challenge of discovering how to make Jerusalem my home.

What I take from where I grew up and have lived for the last year of my life, Fountain Valley, is a strong network of support from friends and family who have watched me grow and evolve. FV has always been a "nice place to live" (the motto of the town) for me since my entire family and best friends are here (or not too far). Since college, FV has served as a quiet respite from life whether I was in Santa Barbara for college or in LA working at AIPAC. I always felt at home here, cozy and calm under the protection of my parents, and that has even extended into this year. I know I will miss my parents' and brother's presence when I am in Israel, but I will carry their warmth and love with me wherever I go. But, especially after returning here, I have wondered if this is truly my home.

UCSB in Santa Barbara pushed me to grow into who I am today. In this home, I became comfortable enough in who I am to take risks and challenge myself to do things I never thought possible. I honed my passion for Judaism and learning, and really created my own community of friends and family at UCSB. I was involved in the greater community, and really felt like I was beginning to know Santa Barbara beyond the walls of my university. I really learned to pray in Santa Barbara. I am not sure if it was a combination of the gorgeous landscape, or the breathtaking sunsets, or the haunting melodies, but I really felt like Santa Barbara was my spiritual home, and the place where I could truly let Shabbat in my life. But, after I finished my Bachelor's degree there, I felt like I had to leave. So, I had created a home, and almost overnight it was gone. Was that my home or just the place that shaped me?

In LA I learned a lot, especially about the stress of working life. Is home where my job is? I began to feel like the work at AIPAC was my mission, my duty really to wake up each day to do something to protect Israel. But, one can hardly find peace and solace with the traffic and parking in LA. The excitement of a big city, and one with Jewish life, was exhilarating yet exhausting. Through AIPAC, I learned about the pro-Israel community, and what it means to truly dedicate yourself for the well being of the country. I know my experience in LA at AIPAC taught me a lot, and despite the fact that my grandparents lived there, I'm not sure I would ever truly call it home.

So, again, I am left with the same question... What defines home? I suppose as I embark on another journey to Israel, the home of my people and my history, I will uncover more of what home means to me. I found home several times when I volunteered and worked in Israel the last time, and created a strong family among my fellow Otzmaniks. But, I always wonder if it is possible to be so strongly connected to two places. My fear is that I will never feel completely whole in one place, that I will always feel something missing when I eventually settle down.

I suppose only time will tell, but at least for the upcoming school year, Jerusalem is my home.