Monday, July 8, 2013

"the real israel"

For the past two weeks, I've been living with a farming family on a Moshav outside of Netanya. If you know me, you know I'm not exactly the farming type - which is exactly why I wanted to spend my summer doing this. Not only have I challenged myself in real ways - physical labor, long hours, and a totally unfamiliar environment - but I've also gotten to see a totally different side of Israel. I went to visit their 15 year old son when he was on a leadership program in the wilderness - imagine Visitor's Day at an American Jewish Day Camp, add 1,000 more campers, pushy Israelis, and tons more food, and you get the idea. I went to a "siyyum" - summary/end of year celebration at a "Democratic Style" school with displays of theater, art, and music by the graduating seniors. I've played Israeli hide and seek with village kids (lost every time), and learned how to make authentic 'Temani" (Yemenite) and Israeli dishes - along with various kinds of goat cheeses from the goats I milk 2x a day. I've learned a few words of Thai and brushed up my Arabic to converse with the other workers on the farm, and learned a lot about cultures other than my own. All in all, definitely an experience I'm glad I'm getting even though I was "over it" after a week. The family speaks perfect English so my Hebrew isn't improving as much as I hoped but I'm expanding my vocabulary and reading books with their 7-yr-old, so I guess thats better than nothing! If anything, I have more confidence to speak and learn from mistakes, and I'm challenging myself to conjugate verbs instead of just using the infinitive every time :D

The other plus side is that living in a secular Israeli house, in a fairly homogeneous village, has made me appreciate Jerusalem so much more. I was lucky to have spent Shabbat back in Jerusalem and it re-confirmed for me (not that I was questioning!) how lucky I am to live in this beautiful city where so many people long to be, with the friends and community that have proven time and time again how special they are. I definitely felt bittersweet leaving this morning, even knowing that I will be back in another week, and I just feel so blessed and grateful to spend another year living and learning there.

Right now I'm really looking forward to my grandparents visiting at the end of July, moving into my new apartment, and not being woken up by a rooster at 4am every day!!!! And of course starting my classes again at the magical bubble known as Pardes! להתראות!!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

in a nutshell...

They say to really experience Israel, you have to be here for 3 things: war (unfortunately), elections, and snow... I got all of those in this past year, and so much more! A visit from Obama (Jerusalem basically shut down for 3 days!), praying with Women of the Wall, and so many more unplanned, unexpected moments of amazingness that made up a great year.

More than anything, I think I have a renewed appreciation for Shabbat and the cycle of Jewish holidays. Growing up, Shabbat started with Friday night dinner and ended after shul on Saturday morning. This past year, I have truly experienced how beautiful Shabbat can be. After 5 days in school and spending Friday preparing for Shabbat, it's so nice to have a day to relax, have meals with friends, and take leisurely walks. Experiencing Jewish holidays where their roots are is another thing I am taking away from this year. Seeing sukkot pop up at ever restaurant, and a chanukiah in every window, and going out to eat during Passover - these are things that are unique to Israel, and that are so special and important to appreciate. Watching the country move from the Day of Remembrance to Independence Day - from the price to the prize - has changed the way I view soldiers, Israelis, and the whole country of Israel. Saying "Next Year in Jerusalem" and knowing that you are in the very place where everyone else is praying to one day be - that in itself is an irreplaceable moment.

From start to finish, this year has had several ups and downs, as any year in any city does. I have learned an incredible amount in the past 10 months: about Judaism, about myself, about Israel, and about who I want to be. I am so excited to learn even more this summer - I'll be working on organic farms in Israel (talk about a character-building experience for someone like me!!) before returning to Jerusalem for another incredible year at Pardes.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Sirens Blared

There are certain moments in my life where everything has come to a screeching halt. Most of these have just been moments when my personal world, or maybe my family or community, has stopped. Today (Yom HaShoah), I experienced an entire country ceasing all activity - learning, work, driving, shopping - and pause for two minutes to remember to remember the 11 million who perished in the Holocaust - 6 million of whom were Jews, and 1.5 million of whom were children. Children who hadn't done a single thing wrong except be born into unlucky circumstances.

As the siren blared, everyone who was driving pulled over and stood beside their cars. People who were walking stopped in their tracks and bowed their heads. For two whole minutes, people prayed and questioned and remembered and grappled with the atrocity that humanity allowed to happen. The man who was standing beside his car across the street from me was crying. It was so powerful to stand there in that moment and give witness to the lives and deaths of those who were persecuted.

One of the things that surprised me the most was that a few people did not stop what they were doing and continued driving. This disappointed me at first, then angered me, then I struggled to understand why. Finally, I told myself that I wanted to focus my thoughts on those who died instead of giving those two minutes to those who chose disrespect. I think I struggled to understand their refusal to remember because to me, the Holocaust does not belong to the Jews. Yes, the majority of those who died were Jewish. Yes, the Nazis systematically wiped out most of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. But that doesn't mean that the Catholics, Romanis, communists, homosexuals, etc didn't also suffer. The Holocaust is a burden that all of humanity should bear, and nobody is exempt from the obligation to ensure this never happens again. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Freedom for Girls

I would like to take this opportunity to wish girls and women everywhere a happy Passover - a Passover that is filled with freedom. 

Freedom from "I'm not good enough" and "why doesn't he* like me." Freedom from wanting your life to be like a T-Swift love song, freedom from not "going for it" because you think you don't deserve him. Freedom from settling for someone who shows a slight interest in you, because you don't think anyone else will. Freedom from "why didn't he text me back?!?!" Freedom from "what am I doing wrong?" and "how can I change myself to get him to like me."

Freedom from comparing ourselves to others and assessing our own value based on what society thinks we should look, act, and think like. Freedom from "why can't I look more like her." Freedom from "I'm not cool if I don't have that bag or those shoes." Freedom from slavery to your makeup case and hair straightener. Freedom from wondering why you can never seem to look like the celebrities on magazine covers.

Freedom from "my thighs are too fat" or "I wish my boobs were bigger." Body issues can be a "mitzraim" - such a narrow, confined place that is almost impossible to break out of. Even girls who are not plagued with eating disorders still look in the mirror every day and find a reason to hate their bodies - and themselves. Freedom from "I'm not beautiful" - because you are, I promise.

Most of all, I wish girls everywhere a "freedom TO" - freedom to be who you want to be, freedom to accept yourself. Freedom to be happy and not let fears, what-ifs, and feelings of inadequacy hold you back from living the life you deserve to live. Even Moses had reservations and thought he wasn't good enough to fulfill his destiny, but he found ways to overcome this and lived up to his fullest potential (flaws and all), and delivered the Israelite people from slavery to freedom.

Happy Passover, Chag Sameach, and may we all be blessed to find freedom this year.

*he or she, "he" used for literary flow.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Beautiful Jerusalem

Since I've mostly been settling into a normal routine of class, class, eat, class, class, eat, shabbat (eat, pray, eat, pray), class... etc, I thought I would do a different kind of post.

By the time I get home at night, I'm usually completely wiped out and ready to relax or go to bed. But I've been wanting to exercise, so I wake up early in the morning and run/jog/walk for a few miles. The first time I did this, I was amazed at how empty the city seemed. The only people around were the ones cleaning the stores and restaurants on Emek Refaim, or a few other joggers and dog-walkers. I got to the end of my route and realized the infamous windmill was just another block or so, and there was a beautiful view from the promenade next to it. I got to the top as the sun was just rising above the Judean hills surrounding Jerusalem. The color of the sunrise itself was beautiful, but the way the sun reflected off of the Jerusalem stone was absolutely breathtaking. I snapped a photo of the sunrise and the windmill. It was really incredible, and I personally believe a Jerusalem sunrise is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

On my way back home, I was thinking how nice it was to be able to jog and not yell "slicha" (excuse me) at the hoardes of slow-moving, fast-talking Israelis, and how grateful I was to be able to appreciate the beauty of Jerusalem at my own pace. Then as I reflected more, I wondered what it is that makes Jerusalem so beautiful and special. Is Jerusalem inherently beautiful on its own with the Jerusalem stone, the pomegranate, olive, and fig trees, the hills and the sunrises/sunsets? Or is it the people that make up this crazy, frustrating, insane, illogical, yet somehow magical city, that makes it something amazing?

I think it's the people. True, they have no concept of waiting in a line or opening a bank at normal hours. But when you say "Shabbat Shalom" to the owner of the makolet (mini-grocery store) and he says "AMEN AMEN u'l'kol am yisrael" (and to all the people of Israel) with a giant grin on his face, as he looks up from the page of Talmud he studies when he has no customers, its hard to see this city, and the people in it, as anything but beautiful. I am so incredibly thankful to be here and having all of these wonderful experiences.

Another brief "Beautiful Jerusalem" experience: on Friday, one of my classes took a walking tour around parts of Jerusalem, and while we were stopped in a courtyard, an elderly man (at least 95!) came up to us and said he would open the Museum of Psalms especially for us for 5 minutes so we could look around. It turns out the man was a Holocaust survivor from Hungary who began painting upon arrival to Israel. He does incredible, vivid paintings of the various Psalms from the Bible - they are really truly amazing to see.

On a final note, since it is Movember (men grow moustaches, raise awareness and funds to fight cancer affecting men), I'm helping to raise money in honor of all the amazing men in my life. If you'd like to donate or learn more, click HERE :-)

Love and miss y'all... if anyone wants to send me a care package full of reduced-fat white cheddar cheez-its, hershey candy cane kisses, blue trident gum, ziplock bags of varying sizes, febreeze, lysol wipes, and a swiffer wet-jet... I wouldn't complain. Just sayin...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Holidays, Vacations, and more!

Shalom friends and family! From Rosh Hashanah until Sukkot we were without internet at the house, hence the lapse in blog posts. Anyways, it's back now (after a long and frustrating process) so I'll try to summarize everything that's been happening in my life in the past few weeks.

1) Yom Kippur in Israel... quite the experience. Almost everyone was wearing white, and people walk everywhere in the streets because there are no cars at all on the roads in Jerusalem. Kids were also riding bicycles and scooters... right after Kol Nidre it was absolute insanity and made for some awesome people watching!! One of the highlights of Yom Kippur for me was at the very end of Neilah, after fasting for 25 hours, when we began to sing "L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yirushalaim" (Next Year in Jerusaelm) and realizing that, after 25 years of longing to live in Jerusalem, I was finally here and doing it. Everyone in the room was filled with so much energy and enthusiasm to be there, even after a long day of fasting and praying. It was a wonderful experience. My roommates and I then hosted a break the fast potluck in our backyard and had a great time with our Pardes friends.

2) Tiberius... Since my friends and I couldn't find cheap travel deals outside of Israel, 5 of us found a relatively inexpensive weekend at a spa in Tiberius (along the Sea of Galilee/Kinneret) and decided to go for a girls' weekend. It's about 3 hours away from Jerusalem and is kind of like the Jersey Shore, complete with a boardwalk and disco cruise. It was so interesting... there wasn't a lot to do there but we explored a local nightclub, drank wine on the beach with Israelis, and generally relaxed and enjoyed the pool for a few days. Here's a picture of some of us in front of the Kinneret after a long day at the pool!!

3) Sukkot... Sukkot in Israel is really amazing, all over the place little temporary booths pop up - almost every apartment with a porch, balcony, or yard has one, and restaurants build them on the streets for people to eat in for the week. Everyone gets invited to friends' houses for meals and parties, and it's a really social holiday. I also got to visit my family in Beitar Illit for a few days while the whole family was in town, so it was really nice. (For my non-Jewish friends: Sukkot is a harvest festival where we construct temporary shelters like the Israelites did in the desert and "live" in them for 7 days.) At the end of Sukkot is Simchat Torah, where we celebrate the end of Deuteronomy and start again at Genesis. There was a lot of revelry and fun to be had by all.

I've also discovered the Malkha Mall which is about 10 minutes away by bus... possibly the best/worst thing that could have happened to me this year. Anyways, hopefully my precious Seminoles will recover from our devastating loss and be back on top in no time, and I look forward to making a new blog post in the next few weeks!!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Being Cool and Staying in School!

Hello friends and family!! I've finally started school, and it's been keeping me so busy I haven't had time to update my blog. So, here's the past two weeks in a nutshell: 1)SO MUCH LEARNING 2)SO MANY NEW FRIENDS!

School: It's been a combination of challenging and rewarding so far. I finally switched my classes around so that I'm happy with my schedule. I'm taking a class on Genesis, the "Megillot" (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther), one morning of Mishna (Jewish Oral Law), Turning Points in Modern Jewish History, a "Parshat HaShavua" (Torah portion of the week) class which is ALL IN HEBREW, AHHHH!, a Rabbinic Thought class, and a Teaching Prayer class. I'm also taking a class on Trope (how to chant the Torah), a Chasidut class, and a class about "Neviim Rishonim" (First Prophets - Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings). Needless to say, I am busy and exhausted and my brain hurts after a long day (sometimes 8:30am-9pm) but it's been lots of fun so far. As everyone keeps saying, "all beginnings are hard," but I'm really enjoying myself so far.

Friends and other adventures: We had a Shabbaton (weekend-long retreat) for the whole school and I really bonded with a lot of people over the weekend. Everyone is so nice and so welcoming, and I'm having so much fun. I've really been enjoying getting to explore Jerusalem the past few weeks. The Ben Yehuda Street area has TONS to do - bars, shops, frozen yogurt... the essentials. It's about a 15-minute bus ride from where I live and there's always a new friend who wants to go hang out down there. There's also a great street close to where I live, about a 5-10 minute walk, which is a fun place to go and obviously much closer to home. For Shabbat and holidays I've been getting to go to lots of different friends' houses for meals and go to lots of different styles of services, which has been fun.

Sukkot is coming up, which means a nice long break from school. Originally, I was planning on traveling with a few other girls and hoping to get a last-minute deal to Turkey, Spain, Italy, or Greece, but we can't seem to find anything cheap enough :( so I think I may end up going to this festival in the desert for a few days just to get out of Jerusalem for a bit. I'm sure whatever I end up doing, I'll have a good time :)

Miss y'all so so much, and I'm really wishing I could be with everyone at Doak this weekend to watch the Noles dominate Clemson... but I do know that this is right where I'm supposed to be for the next year!! Wishing everyone a Happy New Year, and GO FSU!!!!