As I look back on my year, I acknowledge that I am no longer the person I was when I arrived. My relationship with Israel is deeper and much more complex than it was before, but I also acknowledge that I have been scarred by my time in Israel. Being a Zionist requires me to not blindly accept Israel but to question and to fight for my rights as a Jew in this State. Not only for myself but for all those who come after me.
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I was an anomaly
I stepped off the plane talking
Months go by before my parents mention this fact
They were prepared for silence
But I have never been the silent type
I sit laughing at the television
And then I’m crying
I make no noise as the tears fall
My sister hits pause
And my dad starts complaining
Until he sees the tears falling fast
The theater is crowded
I sit and watch as the story
Begins to develop on the big screen
And then I am crying
Crying too hard to stay
So we leave
Aleinu is said
And a poem is read
Then names are mentioned
As people sit or stand
According to their custom
I have a new custom now
Even in communities that do not understand
When Kaddish is said
I see piles of ashes in my head
For all those who died
And left no one to mourn them
I remember them
So, I know I promised updates ages ago - I once again must apologize. Things are crazy busy and I don’t always have interesting things to say - mostly it is “wake up, eat, school, eat, school, eat, homework…” with lots of praying in the middle :)
I write today from my friend Lily’s apartment because my apartment has been without power since Thursday night. Thursday morning we all woke to snow falling from the sky and it slowly built up. Friday we woke to even more snow, and terrible winds while this morning there was more snow but it now appears to be raining. Jerusalem is not build for snow. Many trees have fallen down (on top of cars quite often) and the drainage in this city is also terrible. The buildings are not insulated the way I’ve come to expect and even before losing power my apartment was very cold - I think I’m going to have to buy a second heater and perhaps an electric blanket (if they sell those here).
In other news this coming week is the last week of class, and the following week (the week of Christmas) we have finals. I then get to see my brother and sister for the weekend before having two weeks of vacation. I think I will do quite a bit of writing then, maybe back up and actually do some short blog posts on various things, along with reposting my poems and d’var Torahs that I have written this semester.
So, now for an actual update. I have the pleasure of working with Rabbi Susan Silverman (yes, her sister is Sarah Silverman the comedian) on my official D’var Torah (which I will give at HUC on January 19th). I met with her two weeks ago to talk about it but instead had the joy of just chatting with her about various things (who I am, what I want to do, what she has done) and it was fantastic. Entering a profession where people want to help you, and offer to connect you to people who might be able to help you advance, is a wonderful thing. She then invited me along with her family to their friend’s house for Shabbat lunch (this was last week) and I was so honored to be surrounded by such creative people. Most of them are writers of one kind or another and they were all such nice people. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with Susan and learning all that I can from her.
This past Sunday I had the privilege of hearing the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra perform in Jerusalem. HUC students and faculty were offered free tickets so of course I had to go. It was beautiful, and they even started the evening with a piece in honor of Nelson Mandela. The violin soloist was incredibly talented and the whole evening set a lovely tone to my week.
The Friday before that I was lucky enough to go to Nava Tihila (a minyan here in Jerusalem) for their special Joseph Kabbalat Shabbat - they do all the psalms and prayers to tunes from Joseph and the Technicolored Dreamcoat - SO MUCH FUN! We were all squeezed into someone’s living room and it was a really fun and interactive experience. It is things like this that remind me how lucky I am to be in Jerusalem for an entire year. Yes, there are things that are hard (this snowstorm being one) but there are also experiences that I will treasure my entire life.
I also had the fun experience this morning of watching the Shabbat song session at the URJ Biennial in San Diego via lifestream! And see Rabbi Annie dancing and singing on stage! Along with Loui Dobin, singing and playing guitar! So cool to see not only my congregation but Texas as a whole representing!
Shabbat shalom! And Shavua tov!
Today I had a not fun experience on the street and this is what came out - I know that I haven’t updated in a long time (my apologies) but I promise an update after our tiyul (tomorrow through Shabbat).
Love your neighbor as yourself, You said
As You told us the laws by which we should live
Young boys are taught
That they have the right
That they are commanded
To taunt me on the street
When I wear my faith for you
On my head
With no sacred meaning
Except the one that Your people gave to it
My star around my neck gets no response
And my male friends
Who wear a covering but no tzitzit
Are not chastised for being reformi
But if I was to dare
In this city
To wear my love for you daily
One my head
Or on my body
I would be pushed and shoved
Not only at the Kotel
But on the street
For how dare I
Show my dedication to You
My Rock and my Redeemer
Yom Kippur starts this evening and I’m in a weird place emotionally. On one hand my intellect recognizes that whether I’m ready or not Yom Kippur will start. While my more emotional side is screaming, “wait! I’m not there yet!” While Rosh Hashanah was nice, it was not very different and came and went with a few days off and some nice meals with friends. This year is the second year I am celebrating the High Holy Days in Israel – and this time I am blessed to be celebrating them in Jerusalem. I’m incredibly blessed. Yet, there is a large part of me that is sad. I am sad because I am no longer going to go home to Temple Sinai for the High Holy Days. I have set out on this path that requires me to make a home wherever I am – which is a beautiful thing. It is also a scary thing. To realize that I am really growing up and that I am stepping out onto a new path that I will walk alone, for a time, is scary as well as exhilarating.
With all these thoughts of where am I and where I will I be, I realize as I am typing this that while I may not be where I want to be, both mentally and physically, at this moment, when I hear Kol Nidre tonight I will fall head over heels into Yom Kippur. While for many people Yom Kippur is to be dreaded, I really love it. I love the liturgy, I love the wholeness I feel. I think about the joy of seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time at Temple Sinai (www.temple-sinai.org) or about the feeling of a burden being lifted off my shoulders after being to the healing service at Temple Emanu El (www.ourtemple.org) in Birmingham, Alabama. I think about how it is to live and work in a pluralistic Jewish environment during these weeks (www.americanhebrewacademy.org) and I think about my unhappiness with the holidays last year while living on the Kibbutz. Then I am here. In my apartment. Dinner cooking in the oven. Hebrew homework saying “you need to study!” And I realize that I wish I could celebrate these holidays with my parents and siblings at home and I know that I can only be there in spirit. And this is how I find myself getting into the mood for Yom Kippur, by thinking.
A classmate of mine posted this link on Facebook, entitled “The Inclusion Confession” http://zehlezeh.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/the-inclusion-confession/
I hope that you will click on it and read it – for it brought me close to tears. It reminded me that while the world turns on regardless of what day it is, we must all remember to acknowledge our shortcomings and work on doing and being better. Yom Kippur is about confession. About acknowledging that I, as an individual, and us, as a community, have done wrong. Sometimes we did it knowingly and sometimes unknowingly but we did it. I would like to take this chance to say that I am sorry if I have hurt you. I hope that you will approach me about it and allow me to apologize. If not, I also understand. I would also like to take this chance to say that I release all those who have hurt me from any obligation. Let no one be punished on my account.
May you all be written in the Book of Life for a year of blessing, a year of peace and a year of growth.
I know it has been much too long since I updated but I have felt that there hasn’t been much that is substantial to say. This has now changed since my class went on an overnight study tiyul to the North. And yes, we do know that things are brewing internationally with Syria – we were all fine (and actually the Israeli army let the soldiers leave the bases for Shabbat, so they are not worried either). The purpose of the tiyul was to add dimension to our class “History of Zionism” that we are taking during the fall semester (which technically started on Tuesday but really starts tomorrow). We went to the Kinnert Cemetery where the poet Rachel is buried, among other Zionist leaders. We went to a few other sites as well, including Tel Hai (which is a site where some Zionist pioneers were killed in 1920 up in the Galilee). If you have never heard the story of Tel Hai you can read a, very short, description here: http://www.goisrael.com/Tourism_Eng/Tourist%20Information/Discover%20Israel/Cities/Pages/Tel-Hai.aspx
Or, you can keep reading about my interpretation and disgust with the museum. I should mention here that I appreciate that my teachers and my classmates all saw through the presentation we were given at Tel Hai – and that the only reason we went on the tour is because you are not allowed to see the site unless you take the official tour.
Prior to arriving at Tel Hai my teacher did mention that he was sorry we were only arriving on time and not early but that we should understand that in order to see the site we had to take the official tour. Then he also gave a general overview of why we were there: this was the site where a total of 8 Zionist Pioneers were killed while defending their settlement in 1920. Which I didn’t think much of in the moment because we had been to a few other places where my teachers had been the tour guides and that had been fine. A few other tourists, including children, joined our group of over 40 and we headed up the stairs to the location of the settlement (which was burned, but considering they were stone buildings they have since been reconstructed into a museum). Reconstruction is nothing new but the minute the tour guide started talking I got uncomfortable and upset. He started with a general description of the place but quickly started with jokes. Jokes about women doing agricultural labor and then jokes about women giving birth in wagons. From there he started giving a description of life at the settlement that was out of context and often just plain historically inaccurate for the time. After that he started to describe what is believed to have happened at Tel Hai and how the pioneers were killed in a skirmish with their neighbors. This was all described in a “us vs. them” discussion and he even went as far to say that it was the beginning of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. He literally said that. And he was talking about 1920. Completely in his own world he gave no historical context as to why there was fighting in the area in 1920 – the reason there was fighting had nothing to do with Israelis since there was no Israel. It had no religious overtones because it was not a religious fight. The fight was the Arabs of the region, the French and the English because of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The men who came to Tel Hai were looking for Frenchmen – not for the Zionists who were farming the land. The Zionists were one group of four in the region who were trying to be neutral in the fighting and two of the groups had already left the region by the time this tragedy occurred. No one came looking for a fight from what our historical sources can tell us but rather that things went south because of language barriers most likely. Did the tour guide say any of this? No, and neither really did the film that we watched. The entire experience was bursting the propaganda and while I understood this, as did my teachers and classmates, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who go there and do not know the real story. Because the story being told there is not the whole story. Historical context is so incredibly important and it is disappointing to know that Tel Hai is not the only place that this occurs but rather that it happens everywhere. I by no means know everything about Tel Hai, that is something that I want to look into, but I do know that what I was being told was not historically accurate because the bias was so incredibly blatant to me. I am grateful to have been exposed to the story and the museum because it makes me realize how much work I have to do – one of the reasons we were taken on this trip was to consider how we would lead a trip to Israel because many of us will in the future. What story will we tell? Which biases do we have? Is it our place to only give one side of a story – and what story is it?
I am officially coming out. I am coming out as a Reform Jew who believes in the messianic age. This isn’t an easy statement to write because I know what you are thinking – you are thinking that these two things cannot go together. How can a Reform Jew believe in a messianic age when a major divide between Orthodox and Progressive Judaism is the way each views the Tanakh (Bible) and especially the divinity of the Torah. I know, I know that is what you are thinking. And I am here to tell you that I believe. I believe that every good thing that I do, whether officially a mitzvah or not (and the actual translation of mitzvah is “commandment” not “good deed”) is helping tip the scale in favor of the messiah coming.
At the same time, I feel like I should clarify what I understand to be the messianic age, because it is not the same view that other people have. My belief is that the messiah will bring an everlasting era of peace, no death, and true understanding between people. I know that people question the issue of where the Third Temple would be built, since the Dome of the Rock is currently sitting on the Temple Mount. And they question how the “bad people” will be reprimanded. I don’t worry about these things because they are not under my control. In my messianic age, everyone will be welcome because everyone is made in the image of Hashem. When I pray for the messiah I am praying for peace and understanding. At the same time I also know that I wouldn’t know what to do if the messianic age arrived – would it mean that I wouldn’t have children? Would it mean that I would be out of a job? These are all things I have thought about at one time or another. And yet I pray for it. I pray because I believe that things can be better. That there can be true and everlasting peace and understanding between people.
A good story is what happened yesterday during services. My dear friend and her parents were visiting Jerusalem and I took them to Shirah Hadashah, an Orthodox Feminist Congregation. I love praying there. My friend is what I call an academic Jew. She is incredibly smart and has her masters in Bible from JTS. With this in mind realize that she is not a service-going Jew. She was reading the footnotes of the prayer book and commentated about it being for people who believe in the messiah. And I awkwardly told her that I do. Her response was to ask me if I say “all life” or “who raises the dead” in the Amidah – and actually I say both. I’ve been known to pick one first and then the other or to just add “and” between. Which is hard when praying with people because I have to say it in a rush to stay on track with the rest of the prayer. She lovingly didn’t tell me that I’m crazy.
My belief in the messianic age is reflected in how I express my faith. I love the tradition, I believe that there is real truth in the Bible and I also believe that human folly also entered the Bible. The Bible, for me, is not a divine document but rather divinely inspired with plenty of human error. The Bible needs to be read with an understanding of the political and religious reality of its historical context. The Bible was not written in a vacuum and my ancestors were not living alone. Every person we meet in our lives has an impact of some sort on our lives – the same is with the authors of the Bible. There are brilliant lessons to be learned from the Bible – and there are just as many things that need to be understood in their context. I have no desire to go back to a sacrificial system but I embrace the lessons of social justice and welcoming the stranger. I believe that we are all human, regardless of gender identify or sexual preference. I also believe that incest is wrong. I am a kosher vegetarian because I believe that being conscience of what I eat is important - I also buy free range eggs and milk from free range cows because it is not only about what I eat but how it was raised or grown. All of this I learn from the Bible. I am not perfect and nor is anyone else. At the end of the day we need to embrace that which encourages us to live fulfilled lives – lives in which we try to reach our greatest potential. This is why I believe in a messianic age. For it will only come when we are all the best that we can be – it is a reward for realizing that we are all made in the image of Hashem.