Tuesday, December 4, 2012

There are disagreements.

A few days ago, I called my 92 year old grandpa for his birthday. Contained within this phone conversation, was the disbelief that my body stands in Eretz Yisroel, on the other side of the world, when my voice sounded like I was in the next room. Grandpa's pride rang through explaining to me that I am part of history. I will be sharing with my "children and grandchildren what Israel was like during this time; look through history books on Israel and share personal stories..." 

Yesterday, along with my David Project class, I ventured into two viewpoints on the very clear cut, factually driven conflict of the Middle East.... Jokes.

Step one: tour Har Hazaitim/Mount of Olivies and learn about Jerusalem history from an Israeli settler strengthening the Jewish land by backing up a presence. Step two: listen to a Palestinian man living in Ir David/Silwan explain the hardships of living amongst the settlers. 

I think it would be impossible to find someone in Israel who doesn't have an opinion on the truth (or a loud mouth seminary girl who doesn't have a problem yelling her opinion). This is because when looking at a slice of land with two distinctly different prescription strengths, the image becomes blurry. I listen to the two voices of defining the boundaries of Jerusalem, trying to silence my own biases, my desire for equal human rights, my previous knowledge of Israeli history. It's impossible. I come out exhausted and confused. Not confused on the details of the arguments, but the crazy distance between the two. Modern day Jerusalem following western philosophy and democracy can't relate to the small village ideology. Individual events of violence and hatred speak louder than the majority. Staged media events and out of proportion claims water down the pool of knowledge. Listening in order to rebut overtakes listening to understand and activism is seen as a threat. 

The process of dialogue doesn't happen overnight or within a view hours. The magic isn't found in the propaganda and anger, it's found in compassion and representing your voice. Seeing Yishai's home and hearing Achmud's stories, walking around a Jewish cemetery listening to the call to prayer from the minarets, and walking into another world just steps from the Old City; I feel the tension and the lack of context, but also the unifying characteristics of humanity and desiring peace. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

We are strong.

I am standing at Har Menuchot, a cemetery in Jerusalem. 

For the past week more than a thousand rockets and missiles have left Gaza and miraculous landed in unpopulated fields or have caused minor injuries and few casualties. 

To me, it doesn't make sense. I can't comprehend how Israel's air raids have been so effective and humane, not killing Palestinian civilians. I boggles my mind that in defense, Israel used its newest technology the Iron Dome to send mini tracking rockets to blow up the Hamas rockets mid air. Although each use of the Iron Dome costs upwards of $50,000, it's made all the difference protecting Israeli and Palestinian lives. In fact, the ratio of the 4 deaths over the past week speaks volumes about the miracle of this war. 

The discussion of the war has flowed into all my conversations, all my classes, all my prayers to God, and all of my actions to help my fellow sisters and brothers here in Israel. My school cried and sang together, rocking back in forth murmuring psalms and words of strength. 

The idea of Jewish strength is a bit misconceived. Because when I think of someone strong, the stereotype of a body builder clouds the true image of Jacob or King David. Rav Shvat points out to me that the ideal Jew is a healthy soul in a healthy body; a person who works hard keeping her feet on her land but her head toward the sky. It's only when we are distanced from Israel that we lose sight of our goal to gain not only spiritual muscle, but physical muscle. In Mishmar about Chanukah, Rav Teller examines the strength of the Maccabees to see past the obstacles in order to overcome them. Sometimes I feel so blind. Sometimes I feel weakened by boundaries, that my goals outweigh my might, that my day is too short and that my to do list is too long. 

Then I think. I think about where my feet are standing. I think about what other generation had this opportunity. I think about the women and men who paved the way by telling their fears to stand aside. I think about Danielle Van Dam, or Chelsea King, who never breathed as many breaths as me. 

I look down and see the graves. Yosef Partuk. 18 years old and accomplished life as the ideal Jew. I look to the right and left and cry with my friends, with Israelies, Jews, and Japanese journalists. 

This past week was a test, a wake up call, a nudge to push us closer to the ideal. To strength, together. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

There is adventure.

Looking through some TED videos, I discovered Matt Cutts. An engineer at Google, Matt decides to take upon 30 day challenges to add mindfulness to his routine. And so he goes: a photo a day for 30 days, biking to work, writing a novel... The themes deepen and expand. Inspired by this cute idea to incorporate into my days of learning, I challenged myself to go on an adventure a day for 30 days. 

Compelled to clarify my expectations of what an adventure entails for me, I chose to define adventure as choosing to explore an aspect of myself by stretching past my comfort zone. 

The striking details of the month that follows highlight the greater truth that Matt examines. By focusing on my goal of adventure each day, I distanced myself from distractions and therefore was able to make the most out of each 24 hours. 

I also find it easier to recall exact details of my days of adventure as well as my feelings intertwined with each mindful decision to accept an invitation for a day exploring Jerusalem with Danielle, running from my school in Beit Vagan to the Old City one Saturday night to feel the wind tickle my face and blast Eric Hutchinson from my headphones and to arrive at the Kotel an hour later with more love and inspiration than any previous visits. 

Timing also worked in my favor. Sukkot break welcomed me to use my days of freedom for adventure. Chana and I tackled Ein Gedi's sweatiest hike with a pep in our step by greeting Israelis and discussing our relationships to Judaism and to the individuals that inspire us. The next day, I took on the social adventure of joining a group of seminary girls of which I knew no one to go zip lining, rock climbing and crawling through damp, narrow caves... No biggie. I remind myself that the night before, social anxiety swarmed around my self assurance but a guiding force looked out for my karma because that spectacular day defied limits of what it means to get to know people and bond with close friends that I met hours before. 

My 30 days were merely a kick start, a raw appetizer to tease me into craving the rest of my year. The camping, hiking, poetry writing, rain dancing, friendship making, praying... It all just enhanced me. I love this land and love myself more now because of my internal arguments, because of my sight seeing and tense discussions, because of my steps in growing in observance, because of the expansion of my understanding of diversity, and because of the individuals that transformed my adventure. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It all connects.

"It will feel like your bed." My brother's last minute words of wisdom and tidbits of Israel advise guide me as I wander through the airport during my Newark layover three weeks ago. "Israel is the only place besides your bed where you feel completely at home and comfortable being yourself." My recognition of Seth's aphorisms catch me ever so often. I smile and let this idea soak in. I follow the stream of skirts and black hats, Naots and guitars to my gate and find myself smiling uncontrollably. 

My joy is ridiculous and completely unashamed of this, I think of my homeland. I think of my parents' stories about their year after high school  living on a kibbutz, my siblings studies and travels, breaking in this country like a pair of shoes. 

A week later in classes, one of my teachers mentions that coming from Jewish educations, we should all be literate Jews, a tagline I hear my dad ofter claim about the growing separation between secular education and Jewish understanding. That night, the Mishmar speaker retells a  lesson from the Jews hiding in the forest during the Holocaust and I remember hearing it a few hours prior. I make eye contact with a few other students who recognize this and it hits me that there are way too many times, things just connect here. 

Maybe my bed of comfort is one of recognizing the commonalities weaved between everything here. A story from class is bound to relate to the moral of another. The skills learned in my morning classes are remembered in the afternoon. 

The shivers of excitement from the flight to Israel follow me on the light rail train to market of Machanay Yehudah to buy goods for Shabbat, on the bus to the Israel Museum to meet up with Ari and Vanessa, walking on the pier with Tal, sitting with Chelsea on the train to Sabrina's for Rosh Hashana. The Tel Aviv beach glistens in the dance of the sunset and Bat Yam reminds me of Rachel. 

In my class on philosophical issues, we overview how Rambam had the ability to view Judaism through a lense of  philosophy while Rashi in France was living through much persecution. Dejavu to the day earlier in my Shemot class mentioning this as we delve into the commentaries. The Zionism teacher shares about his parents influence on his Jewish education when he was younger and I feel like the words could be my own. Because my struggles match the girl beside me and my insecurities are shared by the Rabbi I look up to, because Sabrina's mom makes chicken with dried apricots like my mom does and because the one of my teachers reminds me of Ilana, because the new year allows me to refocus on my goals for this year and because we are singing at the Kotel at 1am, I miss home, but feel at home. 

The comfort of being here is overwhelming. My day is fulfilled by my walks through the Old City as much as the talks inside the walls of my seminary. I am enjoying the chagim as much as I am saddened to not have my classes. My bed is starting to feel like my own and I can't believe how lucky I am to be here. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bags are packed.

I am writing this blog with the foremost goal of keeping in touch with you. If you are reading this, you must be someone who I want to read this. You are someone who has helped make me the person I am today, and I thank you for that and your support. This blog is an outlet for my spiritual growth to expand past the confines of my expanding mind. This blog is a personal email to you, a handwritten letter delivered to your doorstep, a call home. This blog is my soapbox, my journal, my snuggles with you. This blog is a bridge between you in America and me in Israel and if you are less familiar with the complete awesomeness and complexity of the very modern and amazing country I will be spending the next 9 months in, this blog completes another goal of sharing Israel with you.