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!

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...