Monday, September 22, 2014

May it be sweet.

Celebrating the holidays in Israel reflects all the reasons why I love living in Israel. Feeling part of the normative rhythm of my surroundings, I smell the change of seasons in the air. The advertisements shift their focus. Everyone on the bus and in the office discuss plans and recipes. It's this cultural atmosphere of Judaism. It's the completeness of traditions feeling current and sincere. The authenticity of the holiday season gives me another layer of gratitude besides the vacation time and spiritual renewal. The calendar in Israel stands as a logical order, not a burden of using sick days of work or school. I am here in Haifa, where I start my second year of Sherut Leumi as a tour guide in schools. I take note on my successes and missteps from my first year in Sherut, thankful for my growing experience in Aleh Negev, the rehabilitation village for adults with severe disabilities. I stand humbled before Hashem, focusing on my trust in his plan for me. I am ready for this new year of challenges because in our land, the challenges are the tools for improvement. The Israeli society of community has welcomed me in with love and support, appreciating my service and cheering me on for the guts to choose the path less traveled.

Rosh Hashana will be three consecutive days this year, just like last year. Yom Kippur will be on Shabbat, following suit to the pattern of our last day of atoning. The difference of this year is that as we step away from chag, we walk straight into a year-long chag with Hashem- Shmita. Personally extremely excited and nervous for the new Halachachic practices and tighter focus on Hashem, I study in anticipation. This year is my first time practicing Shmita, and as a proud Olah Chadasha, I am dumbfounded in the opportunity to connect to this land that I now inhabit. The usual excitement for chagim is now doubled as we greet the sabbatical year, breathing in our role in the partnership with our father. 

As every bus, every pair of lips, every radio station voices "Shana Tova," I consider the greeting/blessing/promise. After the most excruciating summer, we are still cleaning up our battle wounds. After losing so many husbands, fathers, children and fianc├ęs; we are desperate for a sweet release from survival mode. Barely scraping by this summer, my tank is on empty. At certain pitches of noises, my heart jumps, shooting me with anxiety and resounding aches of the remnants of the war. And when I hear that Southern Israel received a few rocket attacks this week, I gasp in frenzy, terrified that the small break in this nightmare is ending. But then I catch my breath and center myself in the collage of the memories and know that despite the war, it was a good year. Despite the pain of the summer, I literally witnessed miracles every day. Despite Racheli Frankle's son being kidnapped and murdered by Hamas, she teaches us that in Hashem's confusingly complex world, there is goodness. Whether we are currently aware of the good, it is here. Despite the 72 Israeli deaths and 1,306 wounded, Israel's population is reaching 9 million, thanks to the 24,000 new immigrants. Despite it all, we are here growing and flourishing.

Racheli Frankle says that we wish a "Shana Tova U'Metuka" because everything from Hashem is good but it's not always with the sweet taste on our lips. We wish each other for honey to pour out of every moment, for us to see the beauty in the goodness and the joy in the future events. We bless each other because Hashem is listening to us and we believe in our influence in the partnership. We promise a good and sweet year because after a summer like the one we just experienced, anything would feel good and sweet.

We are starting a new year, washing off our missteps and regretful actions. We plead for forgiveness from Hashem but more impossibly, from ourselves. I ask friends and family to forgive me for the barriers I have unthoughtfully placed in our relationships. I write a letter to Hashem, addressing the sins that I have committed, apologizing for my selfish acts and my apathetic waves. The list for my goals of self-improvement and organization fill my tank with hope and motivation. Thankful for it all, I play in the sand, meditating on the change in the wind, the opportunity for a new start. The cycle of time is now more relevant than ever and as I start my year of serving Israel, I refocus on the reasons guiding my actions and the sweetness found in the path.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sending myself away.

The thing about a year is that it only gives you one try at every day. It only allows the holidays to be celebrated once and the months to be prized for their unique variance. The knowledge of the year's limitations contrasts the strength in serving as a foundation for another year. There is this sense of purpose for him standing alone, for accomplishing something within that time frame, and for appreciating his existence in the grand scheme of history.

Trying to pay attention to the Hebrew geology lesson, my groggy eyes wander to my watch and notice the date. I'm in the middle of my 3 week extensive course for tour guiding in schools when I realize that today is my Aliyah anniversary. My mind races back to exactly a year ago, landing in Tel Aviv and meeting my friends at the airport for the welcome ceremony. I watch my mental movie play out and it feels like someone else's story. It's just so long ago. It's just so different now. I look at her naivety and her impossible goals and shift in my seat, uncomfortable feeling so distant from who I was before starting this journey. I try to force myself back to absorbing the information for my course, knowing that these three weeks are giving me the basis for my next year of National Service. Unsuccessfully, my English speaking daydream allures my attention.

My first week of National Service at Aleh Negev presents itself on the screen. The silent film plays as I stare at the world I am entering. The world of the disabled. The faces and behavior that raises questions of humanity finds me squeamishly guilty. Determined to stride in optimism, I squeeze my commitment to succeeding in my new life here. I swallow my wish for a challenging year and repeat affirmations of finding beauty in the process. Soon enough a smile from a resident of a very low functioning house grabs hold of my mental games. Maybe I don't love this place now, but I believe that I will in the end.

I am here in this year. I am speaking in Hebrew conversations differently than I did a month ago. I am now understanding jokes on occasion. I form deep friendships with my sisters here. I dance with my sons and daughters. I witness some of their first steps. I listen to first words and improvement in independence. This is the champion of respecting time. This is honoring the moment and cheering on the future.

By joining the world of this veiled population, I now realize that it's me in fact that learns the grand lessons of humanity from these brilliant individuals. I am here because when I hold them tight, I am embracing their love. When I take them for a walk, they take me on a journey to appreciate every step that my blessed legs can tread. In this mutual friendship, I see our places in the spectrum of diversity as a gift and celebrate the growth in abilities that Aleh Negev brings about in us. Everyone in this village improves in one way or another. We invest in attaining movement because we recognize that progress is never easy.

I take a peek at the photos on my phone of my Aleh Negev family. A part of me is forever there; laying out on the lawn, petting the horses, diving into the pool, stretching out in the winds of the Negev. Aleh Negev is eternally with me in whatever steps I take. Elan will be with me, giving me trouble. Being opinionated is the real test of intelligence. I will think of Meny and Rachmah's unstoppable hugs and excitement, their sensitivity to the world, and love that they have blessed me with. Inbal and Shachaff and their glorious smiles are inspiring me to crack a grin. Smile for the sake of the capacity and for the celebration for it's basis of the language of humanity. It's all with me  in my memories, in my life ideology and dangling on my wrist as I jot down notes about the magically complicated system of cells growing from the power of the sun. I am here because I was there. I am a year later even though it feels like a lifetime later. I step forward in merit of the strides behind me, waving hello to the fresh demands waiting to greet me in my second year of national service- Shelach.