Thursday, November 9, 2017

Eyes on the Names.

It was the day after the German elections that I saw a swastika spray-painted near my home. The alt-right political party gained more votes than were expected and the air around me felt heavier. The German political debates on TV shared similar vocabulary to the ethic cleansing this country once declared. But tonight in Hamburg, Germany, I am walking around the streets of Grindel, eyes on the ground.


Tonight 79 years ago, the largest synagogue in Northern Germany with its remarkable dome and its even more spectacular Modern Orthodox convictions was burnt to the ground. Rabbi Joseph Carlebach established this synagogue just 30 years prior with a speech about the new age of Judaism in Hamburg, delighted about the religious tolerance and modern progress enabling them to open a synagogue in the middle of a city. Finally, we can be Jews in public. It’s too painfully ironic to note that he was the last rabbi in Germany at the end of the Holocaust before being murdered by the Nazis in Jungfernhof.


To my right lays flowers and candles. It’s a circle of where the dome used to shield. I hear names, dates, deportations and death camps. To my left there is a girl and her mom lighting a candle and a policeman reading the information boards created by the Jewish students.


When I was in Berlin, I was slapped by the presence of the Holocaust. The massive impact of history hurled at me and my stomach bowed at the impact. In Budapest, the knowledge of the growing Anti-Semitism wacked me over the shoulder. The Hungarians were eager to push us into the ghetto and didn’t need Nazi support to walk us to the river, shooting some and mentally torturing the rest. Eyes on the ground. Eyes on the bronze shoes on the Danube. Eyes on the description forgetting to mention that they were Jewish. Eyes on the ground holding back tears, holding back the waves of pain as the punches keep coming. It was late at night in Vienna when a conversation turned to politics. It was over that beer that he mentioned that the alt-right in Austria is more center than people think. I inquire more, glancing at my mom, dad and Rachel and her Star of David around her neck. Unashamed, he says that they aren’t really Neo Nazis because they neglect to differentiate on an ethnic Austrian basis, only talk about getting rid of the minorities, but not because of the intrinsic difference. Eyes on the ground. Eyes on him. “So what about Jews? Historically they were in Austria before so would they be considered true Austrian?” He shakes his head, “No. A Jew cant be a pure Austrian. They might be different than other minorities but they wouldn’t be considered ethnically Austrian.”


To my left is the Jewish School Talmud Torah. Regarded for its excellent education, 40% of the students are not Jewish. I smile knowing that people are not afraid to send their children to be taught be Jews, to learn Jewish texts and prayers. In Prague, my dad looks at me and vocalizes that our identity is the tourist attraction. It’s a bizarre mix of feelings when our landmarks, traditions and proof of persecution garners the eyes of so many outsiders. It’s a slap of frustration that my whole world is narrowed down to a summary. It’s an award of recognition of survival from the many generations of pogroms. It’s an awkward obsession almost viewing us as zoo monkeys. It’s the thickness in the way the tour guide in Budapest explained what Jews wear in contrast to the potency of what Amos says in the café tonight. As a photographer, he wanted to make the stumbling stones of the Jewish names come to live. As a non Jew, he wanted to create a practical tradition to turn Kristallnacht into another teaching opportunity. He speaks about the fine line between guilt and responsibility. Eyes on him.


It’s really hard to be a German and learn about the Holocaust. The educational system here layers on the Holocaust education year after year. I can understand how some students grow to become annoyed by the topic and some to obsess. I can empathize with the desire to move on as well to hold on. The country has been through so much and I don’t think I could have ever understood Germany how I do now if I didn’t spend this time here. The wounds from bombings of the wars did not heal completely. The war is not over for the memories on this land. In my ignorant mind, we survived the Holocaust, so clearly Hitler didn’t win. But he did capture more than I was willing to recognize. Most young Jews in Germany are Russians that moved here. Because even though my people aren’t solely a museum exhibit, I feel like we did get extinct. The once vibrant Jewish community is now a somber Kabbalat Shabbat, barely a minyan. The old age home is now dorms for students. The yeshiva is now housing other residents and the names get walked on every day. The country has tremendous strength to commemorate each location, each family, each event but my eyes can’t read each sign and name and remember it all and feel it all and absorb the hit and continue to walk. Tonight 79 years ago was a nightmare coming true. But the news from this year in other parts of the world share similar headlines. My mind plays through the conversations with the 20-year-old who calls for ethnic purity, the German who truly recognizes why I moved to Israel, the strangers asking me about my very personal relationship with my people and the gut feeling that this is never going to change. I am walking down the street near a movie theater that screens movies in English. I watch people stopping to note the candles, read the names and I smile with hope, desperate hope that I can make sense of these thoughts and discover a way to put it all to action.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The song of an alien.

Sitting in the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg and listening -scratch that- feeling the dynamics of the pianist playing Bach’s Art of the Fugue, waves of emotion wash through me. The wooden walls bubble out a rhythm that bend with the breaths of the dynamic melody. I feel everything. I feel it intensely and unevenly. The music demands and directs it all. She plays her own version of the unfinished final fugue. I exhale.

Writer's block. Insecurities that my words are just regurgitating the same themes. Lack of inspiration as my world focuses on being a therapist to my friends' dramas instead of a mother to my own heart. I miss writing. I miss it when the words spill out better than I could have planned. I even miss it when I struggle to sort through the choppy thoughts buzzing around in the corner of my eye. I read back a few of my old blog posts. Yes, the message of "The Step Waits" mirrors how I felt awaiting the flight to Hamburg. Yes, the connections and frustrations in my fragmented autobiography answers truths relevant to the pages in my mind today. But somehow my half written ideas have gone stale, abandoned by my growing indignation for postponing the writing process yet again and conquered by a self consciousness I never knew existed within me. My unfinished pieces linger. No exhale. I learned to ignore the music since it was too painful not to participate, expecting that the day will come when the words will pour out effortlessly. 
I'm studying abroad in Germany. Yes. That ultimate Zionist that dreams of the Negev and wraps her heart in the flag of her home. That brave, naive and passionate woman that moved to Israel in what seems like a lifetime ago in search for adventure. But the mundane routine left me fruitless. I needed fresh inspiration to bite into. I craved comparison and new experiences. I wanted to lick my lips tasting history and cultural diversity, kissing the wide views and only asking myself what's next to devour- because I realized that this brave woman needed some one-on-one time with her voice. This version of Talya needed a change, a different rhythm to reconnect to the earlier version that welcomed challenges eagerly. And what better place for such an experiment than the country that has the fastest growing Jewish community in the world, yet proved that we have no other home than Israel. 

And now here for over a month, I can feel that it's working. I feel magnetized to every bite of life. My eyes gaze at the world like my five month old niece. Everything historic, everywhere picturesque. The intensity swings both ways as I cross the tightrope of comparing life to the one I know in Israel, balancing between the two worlds of religion and being a 23 year old exchange student, and all set in the landscape of a painful memory. Being part of a challah bake in Hamburg, where next door the original shul was destroyed, dancing in Austria with an Israeli, standing in Otto Weidt's factory for the blind and deaf, the location that hide his Jewish employees.. the sukkah in Berlin gets tossed around from the wind, but doesn’t fall.

Itai and Noa tell me about the Jewish history of Hamburg, about Rabbi Carlebach's hold of both Jewish and secular knowledge. Noa shows me around the supermarket, explaining the German terms and brands that will work for Kashrut. Over a glass of beer some students ask me why I'm not eating. I decide to give in and finally tell them that I have some rules I follow as a Jew. And they inquire and then giggle. I'm not invited out for the next beer. Finally Deborah comes to visit and the beer tastes richer. Noa tells me that she thinks there should be a reverse birthright, for Israelis to travel abroad where Judaism is a challenge, to learn and appreciate the endeavor. I wholeheartedly agree, treasuring my tiny triumphs and agonizing over if and how I will prevail. 

Seth says that I only have limited time to fit in all these experiences. It's true. But Shabbat and Chag magically strengthen the quality of those minutes. Discussing community and political issues with humans with shared values or even arriving to the Shul after wandering around lost in the rain tastes like the sweetest fruit. Singing the same melodies in Zurich for Rosh Hashana, I am overwhelmed by the tunes of tradition and feeling so part of it, so honored to have something to be a part of. Each meal I sit with a different family, adopted into their home, singing the same life story questions I ask them in return. I return back to Hamburg and it feels like a different universe. The way the students in my program react to hearing that I live in Israel and the questions about religion are exhausting. Maybe my taste buds are too sensitive, maybe they don't mean anything bad by it. 

But I feel like an alien. That's the best way I can describe it. I can try my hardest to fit in, to be normal, to explain my traditions in the most chill way, to show that I'm not suffering by these archaic limitations. But in the end, I'm just an alien from the past that's not convincing in deceiving everyone that I'm just like them. And I'm happy to be an alien. There's no one else I would rather be than this adventure seeking, constantly overwhelmed by the complexities of life, totally failing at time management, bike-ride loving, shul going alien... tuning into her music. Traveling by myself allows me to stop and analyze the movements of a bee on a flower, take as many photos as my camera will let me, and gives that Talya the space to challenge herself, to be herself. Being the alien might be tiresome, but the attention it burdens me with reminds me why I appreciate the country of aliens and living in a time when I won't be picked up and taken because I'm an alien. The contrasting looks from the clumsy song of an alien is a totally fine exchange for the other historically relevant options for this identity. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The tension of terrorism.

The modern age has enhanced another dichotomy between living your life and living in the world. I can’t be totally aware of the news and be totally mindful of my surroundings. I can choose to be informed or I can prefer a narrower consciousness of my actions and environment. The polarity between global awareness and self-awareness leads to a messy dance between two important values. Both emotional, intense, and true… how can I choose between my studies and my society? How can the contrast between the news and the reality that reflects in my vision feel so clashing? I take a breath and try to lock out current events from my mind. I need to be in my world right now. I need to get through this class and go to my friend’s wedding.

I’m sitting in the middle row, translating legal terms and attempting to catch the explanations of contractual law. Twelve miles away from me, in Tel Aviv, a Palestinian man murders two Jewish men on their way to pray in the synagogue. The killer, Mahmoud, was employed by a Tel Aviv restaurant and now hears the pride of his community in his act of honor. I force my attention back to my professor. Wait, one of the victims was a Rabbi. I close my eyes and pray that this is all not happening. I try to zoom my awareness back to my classroom. My heavy heart doesn’t allow my internal processing to focus. I look over at other students, witnessing half the class distracted by their phones, checking the news. Then I hear about the 18-year-old gap-year student from Sharon, MA that was murdered while delivering snacks to soldiers, on the way with his friends to visit the park made in the memory of the three Israeli teens kidnapped and killed last summer. The battle between my realm of senses and the realm of news is over. I’m always overwhelmed that the best are killed. It’s always people that are living to the fullest that be get their lives cut short. The students are standing and I catch on that the class is over. I run to get ready for the wedding.

The joy of weddings is the ultimate joy. It’s the love between two; but even more so, the love of their community and the love for the future. It’s close connections celebrating the promise for the future. The anticipation for the moment for when they are married, that’s the tingles and smiles. The hugs and blessings, the singing and dancing, our attention is on the couple. But then we hear that another victim was identified as Rabbi Yaakov Don, a father of four and teacher of thousands. He lived so honestly, inspiring others to appreciate the challenges of living in Israel and become part of the solution. The wedding chuppah is starting. Joking, smiling, laughing, crying. My senses are returning to the moment here. They are a beautiful couple, glowing in excitement. He sings to her as she walks down the isle. The people of Israel are continuing to live fervently. 

The stories I hear about Ezra Schwartz z”l, the 18-year-old yeshiva student, describe him as a caring, inspiring and silly. He was a wonderful camp counselor, relating to shy campers and helping them conquer their fears. He improved the world by being himself, by believing in his role in the world. He was passionate about Israel and excited to be here for a year. Delivering food packages to soldiers was just one example of how he thought about others and turned it into actions. 

I’m dancing at the wedding with a full heart. The pain outside of this hall is still part of me but my senses are my therapy. My joy is the answer I have to the heartache of terrorism. Every terror attack plays a mean game of “why do bad things happen to good people?” and I hate that it’s always the best of my nation that doesn’t get enough time to finish their role. I guess its just what Jews are doing in their lives. There is no way that terrorists are only going after just the people doing acts of kindness. It is probably random. Which means that a random sample survey is proving that there’s a lot more goodness than what I initially expect. 

Just like dancing at a wedding, our roles aren’t just in the smiles, but welcoming the couple to their marriage. The nation of Israel is in a marriage together, with our land. We dance and sing and cry, sometimes all at the same time. Friday I wake up to the news that Jonathan Pollard is finally released. Saturday, four Israelis are stabbed in Kiryat Gat. Saturday night, walking to the Western Wall, I join an enormous group of gap-year students singing in a circle and sharing stories about Ezra. Our marriage, whether in front of my eyes or on the screen of my phone, is part of my existence. I read on the news that Mahmoud Abbas admits that he rejected an Israeli offer for a Palestinian state of 99.55 of the West Bank. I exhale the frustration of two nations with so much in common but no way to communicate past our differences.


Then 21-year-old Hadar Buchris on her way to studying stabbed to death at a bus stop and  20-year Ziv Mizrahi at a gas station. I shut my eyes and allow myself a minute before getting back to my writing assignment. I allow myself this and then tear myself away from emotions to continue the tasks for the day. Last night I had another friend’s wedding. Tonight is Sara and Ariel’s wedding. Her father and brother were killed by terrorists two weeks ago. Regardless of events that will unfold today, I will be there dancing along with thousands of others. I hear that my family friends have made it to Israel and I smile, knowing that coming to Israel exactly at this moment is the perfect thing to do. Visiting Israel is dancing at our national wedding. They are rearranging the dichotomy for the interest of honesty, bringing their environment to their national environment, just like Ezra did. They are taking ownership of the contrast and transforming it into joy. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Huts can be durable.


It's confusing to love something dangerous. It's overwhelming to be so certain that as a Jew, Israel is my home and yet so pained by the wars that arrive to my doorstep every season. The hostilities between neighboring nations rip apart worlds in the tradition of hatred. The distance wedged in between us, ancient cousins instead of reaching out across this little strip of land perpetuates the accessibility to animosity. The damage is our reality. 

Two weeks ago, shopping with a friend in Jerusalem, my phone buzzes. I read the news that two parents were murdered with their children in the backseat and I wince from the ache in my chest. Later my phone relays the message from my school that this is the son and daughter-in-law of our beloved Rabbi and Rabbanit Henkin and the ache in my heart erupts in pain. My mind instantly races between imagining them receiving the news, about the four children witnessing the indescribable trauma and the warped theological crisis that I'm holding in my hands. My brain just can't wrap around the hypocrisy that these spiritual leaders now exist only in memories. It's a cry of frustration, of sadness, of torture. It's feeling helpless and embarrassed that this is the world that we live in. It's the paradox of all this happening during the holiday of Sukkot, when it's commanded to be happy. 
Sukkot, my favorite Jewish holiday, celebrates our love of G-d. After the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, we leave our homes for a week to just be in His presence, to just sit under the palm frond roof and elevate time with the holiness of family. The huts we Jews sit in remind us of the 40 years lead by G-d in the desert on the way to the Land of Israel. We were dependent on Him to show us the way to walk. Perfectly planned for harvest season, this holiday shakes its head to pride of material belongings and hugs us into an understanding of our humanness, of our lack of control in this world. 

As I join my nation tormented and grieving, my shambled pain transforms into the conviction that Rabbi Eitam and Na’ama Henkin were murdered during this holiday that embodies how they lived. They were brilliant thinkers. EItam was expected to become a leader in Jewish law as well as historical matters, bringing together religious educators with academia. Na’ama was an incredibly talented artist and poet, a creative graphic design entrepreneur as well as leader in their community and teacher of Torah. They harvested stalks and fields of accomplishments, miles and miles of expertise and inventive vision. They produced radiant children and gathered remarkable joy in their relationship with the world. And with all this success, they teach us that although our physical time in this world is temporary, the heaps of powerful living continues to bring forth fruit.
Just like the Sukkah, the temporary hut, our lives are about integrity. Vulnerable, yet built mindfully, our bodies and our Sukkot have the opportunity to create worlds of elevated time. Eitam and Na’ama will continue to live on through their children and through their accomplishments. If the terrorists were planning on shaking our identity, they were doomed to start. Eitan and Na’ama are going to continue living through stories and memories. Sitting at Shiva, the weeklong intense start of the mourning process, people from all walks of life come to grieve with Rabbi and Rabbanit Henkin. Jews, non-Jews, religious, non-religious… the room is packed in with voices and tributes and tears and so, so much strength. The weak walls of the Sukkah aren’t as fragile as expected. 

The smile on Rabbanit Henkin is a constant. Her eyes twinkle with every expression and every word is formed in between an ever-expanding grin. Sitting where no parent should ever sit, she asks directly compelling questions to visitors, welcoming stories and remarks, supplying fortitude to all that came to give strength. Other parents of terror attacks contribute words of support. “It gets better.” The crying baby in my arms will never know her uncle and aunt and the four children confused by the sudden pizza and sweets will be the proof that actions of terror simply don’t work on us. 

Claiming that the Oslo Accords are not applicable anymore won’t change reality, and to affirm to violence is childish. To profess nobility in knife attacks, stone throwing and shooting does not prove that one’s case is right. It proves the case to be lacking in humanity. As I look around the room to see how my nation mourns, I am filled with the honor of being a member of this family, that these are our traditions. I do not hate Palestinians. I feel sympathy for their political and humanitarian plight. I feel contempt for some of their actions that end up speaking for the masses. I feel hurt by our lack of coexistence and the fact that one of us is always pinning the other as inhuman. I sign in heartache. 

We can’t even take a breath of response to one act of terrorism before the next one hits the news. The pattern of horrible news every few hours is throbbing with bitterness. I sigh in relief reading the news that it was "just" an attempted suicide bombing. We can breathe out only when the stabbings are “just wounds” and not fatal. Every step in a public area has to be of caution. The sunny days tease us from the heavy atmosphere of carrying on with life. The nation of Israel is answering back with self-defense classes and pepper spray clenched in preparation. We are waving Israeli flags and baking cakes for policemen. We are going to weddings and bars, going shopping and volunteering. Life continues. Harvesting my resolution to find comfort in a world out of my control, I am blessed for the non-material and material fortune surrounding me. That I am still and always will be in a temporary hut that is fortified by traditions of warmth. Together, focusing on the lives of the individuals in our family, we will strike back with persistence to live. We will continue to believe in the fruition of the temporary.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

It was just a blink.

My 93-year-old neighbor kisses me on the cheek and blesses me to take care of myself. His faded blue eyes lock into mine. His voice softened by surviving the Holocaust, sweating in the factories, establishing a family and handing out smiles to everyone he meets...his words tug at my heart. He reminds me once more to put on socks because my feet will get cold only wearing sandals. Words such as appreciate and love and take care tumble out of my mouth, attempting an appropriate goodbye. I blink back tears and giggle uncomfortably, knowing how much I'm going to miss moments like this in Haifa. 

Shelach (של״ח) stands as an acronym for שדה, לאום, חברה (field, nation, society) but many teachers in Shelach frequently divide it into שיעור לחיים (lesson for life). Working with teachers and students in special education schools, religious, secular, and boarding schools for youth at risk, I learned much more that I ever taught. I took groups all around the country teaching them about history, geography, and the importance of caring for the environment, with the intention of cultivating their appreciation for living here in Israel. They took me to views of fascinating questions, pop music, hilarious stories and pride in being Israeli, teaching me about patience, diversity and tenacity. I took them to see water in the middle of the desert and they took me to see selfhood in the middle of peer-pressure. I took them to historic places, playing out the stories from the Tanach to help them relate. They took me to their favorite hummus restaurant, playing cards on the table while we wait. I led leadership seminars and weekly outdoor training programs. They led dance parties and group cheers. Forming bonds with these students developed my understanding of the variance of diversity in Israel. Forming bonds with them developed me as part of the diversity. 

I grab a few boxes outside of Rambam, the center for religious life in Neve Shaanan, Haifa. On Thursdays, the high school students distribute food to families facing hunger throughout Haifa. I stop by my adopted family to steal a few hugs and an apple. I hand them a thank you letter and gift for all the lessons and Shabbatot they have provided and apologize for any errors in my Hebrew. Twelve eyes on me as the acknowledgment is read. Hedva shakes her head. Not one error. I blink and giggle. She tells me how much I have given to them, inspired them and transformed them as a family, that this family and this home will always be open to me. A pause. A blink. "So when are you coming to visit us again already?" 

I blink and giggle saying bye to some of the Shelach teachers. I blink and giggle because it's impossible to share my appreciation for the pearls and gems they have filled my pockets with. I blink and giggle because it's unfeasible to look them in the eye and say that they have shaped me, that they have deeply impacted me. I blink and giggle because they joke about how Talya could sell her soul to study law and then with a smile tell me how proud they are that I exist and if only there were more of me in the world. I blink and giggle saying that I wouldn't have been able to do anything this year without their help and deeply appreciate their assistance writing up my touring material. I blink and giggle quickly saying "tov, yallah, todah." 

Haifa has stolen my heart. Haifa snatched my heart up when I was checking out at the supermarket and the Arab cashier prohibited me from buying the more expensive yogurt when there was a sale on the other brand. Haifa took my heart during one of her sunsets on the Mediterranean talking with Limor. Haifa swiped it when tutoring Nina in English and hearing her stories from the Soviet Union. Listening to her fire blaze as her smiling eyes relive her childhood memories and frown into darkness describing the circumstances under communism. One day she blinks and tells me that she's "getting used to me." Another time she mentions that she's never heard anyone speak about Judaism the way I do. So by the time I have to wave goodbye to Haifa and my weekly lessons with Nina, I just can't stop blinking. 

My roommate Chen and I discuss an alternate universe where we don't meet or we don't share the same room. The sand falling through my fingers and the waves tickling my toes find this hard to believe. It's just all too whole, too pure and too lovely to feel random. It's just too stubbornly passionate to fall into a folder of one of the many options. I blink telling Chen how this is just the beginning of our friendship but I blink again grinding my teeth that this is the end of an era. The grand finale of my two years of Sherut Leumi. The closing scene of the beautiful novel I just don't want to put down. My free bus pass is about to expire. My bags are packed. These two years were my whole life and in a blink, they take a bow. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

There needs to be more color.

I'm in Liberty Park, Jerusalem. I'm feeling embarrassed to be a religious Jew. It's an uneasy feeling to exist in the most spiritual city in the world, the most Jewish place in the world, and feel so pained, so heartbroken by the identity I hold. The full moon reminds me that tomorrow is Tu’ B Av, the holiday of love and rebirth. A few hours ago, six marchers in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade were stabbed by a fellow brother, an ultra-religious Jew protesting the celebration of gay love. No more than four days after we mourn the destruction of our Temple, the destruction of our unity, we prove that we are stubbornly opposed to learning our lesson. We go out of our way to hate instead of love as we are commanded to do. And then we take this hatred and pierce in violence. And then we displace the blame and continue the cycle. And then we sit at a family reunion and refuse to speak to each other. And our children won't even look each other in the eyes, let alone attend the reunion. 

The Hebrew word "Ravgoni" perfectly means colorful as well as varied. The rainbow flags frame the streets of Keren Hayesod. The painting itself is of young individuals in relatively modest attire. Colorful stickers of "Love others as yourself" and "ahavah" strut around while rainbow flags wave back and forth. Very, very colorful indeed. I look around in search of the varied and dumbfounded, I can only count four kippot and three skirts. I scan the political signs only finding Meretz and Joint Arab List. I watch the teens of Lehava, the extreme anti-Jewish connections with non-Jews group, protesting the march and whimper, discouraged by the lessons we are teaching our children. Who decided that homosexual sex is the main sin in the Torah and merits a death-match? 

I browse through the narrow range of ages and even slimmer variation of nationalities. The beat of the drums carry me along as I pray that it's not just the classic flamboyant person cheering on friends. Where's the variation to this rainbow? Where's the Likud and Beyit Hayehudi kippot srugot next to the elderly same-sex couple? Where's the random observer on the street corner joining in? Where are the Christians and Muslims and Druzim? Where are the Sfardim and Ethopians and Yeminites? Where's the diversity of our family celebrating the idea that we are all created in His image?

The parade feeds into a rally of spoken word poetry and demands to be accepted.... The only problem is that the audience already agrees. The leaders of the secular youth group share their coming out stories and receive applause from others who have done the same. But wouldn't it be interesting to share those stories to others who haven’t experienced it? Wouldn't it be nice for Bnei Akiva leaders to wave rainbow Israeli flags and hear these siblings that never were introduced at the family reunion? I imagine the dream of variation in the colorful assembly. 

I sigh in relief when Rav Benny Lau is called to the microphone. Whispers beside me mention that this is the first time that they have even seen a Rabbi at a Pride Parade. His speech is one of apology. He apologizes on behalf of the people of the Torah for the hideous attack. He expresses his regret for the repulsive actions. He shares his appreciation of the togetherness and ceaseless strength of the Pride community and cheers on their unrelenting love for one another. Next on the stage is Yesh Atid member, Zehorit Sorek, a religious lesbian who tells everyone how proud she is to be here. Only later after googling her, do I learn of her amazing strides in advancement of the Orthodox-gay community. Why isn’t the secular crowd told of Havruta, an organization for Orthodox gay men and Bar Kol, for religious lesbians? Why don’t I see JGY signs, and international organization for supporting LGBT Jews? How beautiful would it be for The Pride Minyan to share a Teffiah or the Orthodox LGBT youth groups to share their existence? 

I check the news to see is there is any news about the victim’s status post surgery. My heart drops reading that the 17-year-old girl is in critical condition and I see photos of the suspected perpetrator, matching the looks of the man who stabbed three marchers in 2005.  He was just released from jail three weeks ago and after declaring his obligation to stop this march just days ago, I can’t believe the police didn’t stop him from running into the parade. He was able to stab six people, one at a time before being tackled to the ground. Why couldn’t we stop him sooner? Why is everyone now condemning this action like that’s enough?


There’s so much blame to place and faults to recognize. Jerusalem Municipality should have granted a larger budget for the mostly privately-funded parade. The police should have prevented or at least halted this incursion. Lehava, the extreme anti-Jewish connections with non-Jews group needs to focus on loving all Jews. The Religious should have showed more support. The secular should have been more inclusive. The Right-wing parties should have made an appearance. The list of condemnations on this pre-Tu B’ Av parade beckons me to reassess my goals in blaming. “Ravgoni” is kind of like a kaleidoscope. Twisting around the polychromatic cylinder, I watch the light come through. Every movement of my touch changes the arrangement completely. Same colors, different depiction. Same colors, new outlook. Swiveling the kaleidoscope, I can see the need for improvements while still appreciating steps it will take to arrive. I turn my perspective from embarrassment to involvement. I rotate my view from pain to planning, pledging that next year’s Pride Parade will look a little more varied, a little more Jewishly diverse, and a lot more honorable of representing the beautifully strong community of Pride.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tents are mounted.

I can complain a lot about Israeli teens. Annoying. Self centered. Materialistic. Obnoxious. They thread a yarn of frustrating moments and exhaustion into every hike, forcing my voice to rise above my cheerful volume. They pull the yarn tighter, making fun of my accent and complaining about the heat. They talk back most of the time, believing fully that they always know what's right. They are the youth of Israel. 

They do all this but also string on some golden beads of character. They kiss the mezuzah, talk about Shabbat plans, and ask me when I'm going to get married already. They always help unpacking the bus and offer their hand to one another on challenging uphills. They sing and dance and make up cheers. They ask deep questions and might even get goosebumps singing Hatikvah. They take kosher bites of food and discuss after-school clubs and minimum-wage jobs. They are the future of Israel. 

Then there are the M'shatzim (Madrich Shelach Tzaer), the high school leaders connecting schools to trails, connecting adolescence to responsibility. Tour guiding, leading courses and teaching outdoors skills, these 9th-12th graders bring tears to my eyes with their love for one another and the world. They give and give and give until their voice sounds hoarse and their hands are covered in bandages. They plan and execute activities, focusing on the path of improvement. They are the leaders of Israel.

Within these clusters of teens, there are always the voices of individuals who speak up. A 10th grader organizing a fundraiser for at-risk teens, entering an international start-up competition, organizing a group of friends to hike a section of the Israel Trail...these are the regular sparks beaming off from the tradition of initiative. I walk away from leading the two-week outdoors course for M'shatzim exhausted but deeply inspired. I call upon these teens to climb up even higher, demand them to arrive at specific times, to trust me when I do this all for their benefit... all while they sleep in their fragile, handmade tents. Being responsible for kids five years younger than me, I make a strong stance that I am representing the authority of the head of the course and everything I say is with his agreement. It's all from the breathtaking teachers, mostly secular, giving thanks to Hashem and honoring the chain of our nation. It's with love and belief that the teens are capable. That's what fires the growth in this journey. 

I am standing with the 750 M'shatzim of the Haifa Region at the Kotel, in rows of three with hands behind our back. The yarn is now glistening. The 16-year-old leader screams "2,3" and the voices around me answer back "Hakshev" (aka attention). Shivers rise on everyone's arms. "2,3", "Hakshev," and the Kotel echoes back to us. More shivers. The Kotel begins this dialogue with us. We answer back a pledge of commitment to all that Shelach stands for. We sing Hatikvah and the tourists surrounding us join in. Someone taps me on the shoulder and in his heavy American accent asks me if I speak English. I smile and ask how he could tell. He introduces himself and his wife, visiting from Washington DC and asks me what's going on here. I tell them that this is a course for Israeli teens to become tour guides in their schools. He shakes his head in amazement, "I was just saying, I hope we see Israeli ruach when we go to the Kotel. Like this wouldn't happen in America. This is just so Israeli, so much ruach." 

Being part of something bigger inspires the individual to keep expanding past original limitations. Being part of something bigger taps me on the should and whispers into my ear that I am making my hours count. Being part of something bigger allows my dreams to become plans and my wishes to become the future. Being part of this means I care about it more. It's part of me more. It's building me just as I'm building it. A few students tell me how much I have changed them. I think about the big speeches and the small moments, the frustrating lacks of judgment and the hilarious jokes... All this now part of me. I hug each one of them tightly and say, "No, you've changed me."