Friday, July 30, 2010

Holy Jews

My husband is truly the most flexible person I know. He rarely asks for anything specific for himself.  I, on the other hand, am known to have very specific preferences, to which he almost always acquiesces.

It makes for a great marriage.

So when my husband mentioned that he wanted to go see the Shwekey concert at the outdoor amphitheater in Caesarea, and it was on his Hebrew birthday and he mentioned it several times, it was impossible to say no.


The truth is, I didn't love the music.  I'm more the acoustic music with strong, sweet vocals type, and this was a huge production with a choir, complex lighting, several stages, video and more.  I don't know Shwekey's music. None of it was familiar and I had a very hard time understanding the actual words he was singing.  And, although Shwekey appears to have his share of female fans, there was an overwhelming, inescapable masculine energy in the place.  Even the videos, which were screened during virtually every song, did not include a single image of a Jewish woman.

At the same time, years ago, my husband taught me to always try to find something to appreciate in everything.  So I actively looked for what, besides the music and light show, I could appreciate about the evening.

I used to think it was a little corny when I would hear others referring to our people as holy Jews.  Yet, all around me, were thousands of, I have to agree, holy Jews, sitting outside on stone steps, breathing in the air that the Talmud says makes us all wise.

The evening weather was beautiful - breezy and comfortable.  There were waves crashing in the surf behind the stage which we could see but, regrettably, could not hear.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the salty smell of the sea.



Nearby, there were a couple of young mothers cradling their sleeping children and there was a religious teenage boy sitting right in front of me who impressed me somehow. Silently, I prayed that my daughter should eventually choose someone like him to marry. Just a few minutes later, the boy's father came to sit with him and the father turned out to be someone we know from Baltimore.

 I was thinking, here are thousands of Jews singing about Hashem, singing about peace, arms waving in the air, crowds swaying (and occasionally swooning) with the music. It was all kosher and wholesome and, in its way, really lovely.  My holy Jewish brothers and sisters love life. In contrast, the hate-filled enemy, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the PA, was recently quoted as saying, "I will never agree that there will be a single Israeli among us on Palestinian soil."  Last night, I felt the contrast sharply.

Since it was my husband's Hebrew birthday, I extracted a couple of important brachot from him.  And in the end, the music itself notwithstanding, I was glad I went.

There is something so complete about the joy I feel in Israel.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Pinch Me

So, last night we were eating dinner with an acquaintance from Baltimore who has been in Jerusalem for a month, learning Torah at one of the many fine women's learning institutions here.  The restaurant was a modest but charming dairy restaurant on Emek Refaim in the German Colony.  As our meandering dinner conversation was winding down, the radio, which had been playing unobtrusively in the background started getting louder.  And louder.  To the point where we wondered if the music was coming from the radio at all.

We paid our check and stepped back onto the street, fairly certain now that something was going on out there.

Indeed.  We watched a truck, brightly covered with neon lights shaped like Torah crowns, followed by some dancing chassidim carrying sifrei Torah under a chuppah, they themselves followed by 100 or more happy Jews of many stripes and flavors, including, joy of joys, Jewish women.




It was dusk, and the pictures don't really capture fullness of the moment - the speakers blaring out a joyful Avinu Shebashamayim and the sense of simcha in the crowd.  But it was a quintessentially Israeli moment.  The type of moment friends have been telling me about (and blogging about) for years.  The type of experience that always made me a little sad to miss out on.  I floated down the street with the crowd, jumping up and down, my heart full of the kind of happiness that makes a person's eyes well up.

Pinch me.  I can't believe I'm really here to stay.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Getting the Aliyah Call

I just finished reading another new book about the aliyah process.  It's called You Come for One Reason But Stay for Another: Making the Odyssey to Israel by Rabbi Mordechai Weiss.  Rabbi Weiss moved to Mitzpeh Yericho, which is quite close to where we are in Ma'ale Adumim, and Ma'ale Adumim gets mentioned quite a few times in the story.

But it is a quote from the very end that most resonated for me.  "To tell you the truth, I moved to Mitzpeh Yericho because I received an invitation to do so.  Not everyone receives this invitation, but I was fortunate enough to receive one.  And I was fortunate enough to accept.  The invitation came from God."

That's how I feel about being here.  As I have said on many previous occasions, on September 11, 2001, Hashem called me to come live in Israel.  It was a personal call.

My husband didn't get the call, but I didn't stop talking about it for years, so he came to believe that it was increasingly urgent for us to respond to the call.

He didn't get the aliyah call right away, but today, he got a text message from IKEA, letting us know that our bookshelves will be delivered on Sunday and wishing us a Shabbat Shalom.   This same IKEA has a mezuzah attached to the kitchen display room.  And a kosher cafeteria where religious Jews sit at tables near Arabs, who are all there to buy the same kinds of mass-produced consumer goods.

We are 17 days into this new chapter of our lives.  In 17 days, I have experienced approximately 2.5 minutes of bureaucratic frustration and endless joy at being here.  A major reason I am so happy here is the novel sense that I am understood.  I am living among people who have gotten the aliyah call themselves, so they all know what it means.

A few days ago, we broke the Tisha B'Av fast with, among others, a friendly couple, already here 6 months.  The husband was an incredibly affable guy, a born Israeli who moved to America as a young man and came back for the sake of his American-born, Zionist wife.  I sat next to him when the discussion turned political.  "Oh my!" I realized to myself as the conversation played out, "This man is a true-blue leftist who still believes in land for peace."  What a novel experience!  I never get to meet leftists.

To my worldview, he's both naive and completely wrong about the nature of our enemies. Nonetheless, I enjoyed meeting both him and his wife, who also got her aliyah call and brought her husband Home.

On another note, I'm looking forward to our lift arriving and the pleasures of more of our own things around, even as I dread the unpacking a little. If only I could remember who offered to help us sort and shelve our books...

Yesterday, our old house got new owners, thus well and truly ending our physical connection to Baltimore.  With Gd's help, we've answered the aliyah call and we are here to stay.

I am feeling very blessed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Live Here Now

I have been an Israeli citizen for a full week, but I still can't wrap my brain around the idea that I live here now.  Ten times a day, I think, "I live here now," but it isn't quite real.  I know we took apart our lives in Baltimore, deliberately, piece-by-piece, but I can't quite wrap my brain around the idea that I live here now.  Forever.

It's like the feeling you have right after the wedding.  You know you're married now, but it doesn't yet seem real.  Or the similar feeling after you've had your first child and refer to the baby as "my daughter" or "my son".  It takes awhile for the reality of that change in status to sink in.

It hasn't sunk in yet.

We spent much of the past week in various government offices, trying to get all our official business done in as short a time as possible.  This often means visiting three or four offices a day, schlepping mounds of official paperwork and, often, returning to the office a second or third time because a) we weren't in "the system" yet or b) we didn't have the right stamp on the right form or c) the person we were speaking with couldn't help us so we had to come back when someone else was available.

It's all a matter of attitude.

I can see where some people in our situation would get stressed and short-tempered.  Some of the rules seem arbitrary.  But, we are so happy to be here that nothing seems to get us down.

Photo credit: Ruti Mizrachi

We know how lucky we are - to be here at all, but also:

to have things like utilities, a bank account, basic appliances and beds already in place
to have a car at our disposal
to have a reasonable command of Hebrew (ahem... that would be my husband, not me)
to have found so many people willing to help
to know our way around a bit
to have friends we can call on for advice
to not have to schlep small children wherever we go

One of the ubiquitous government clerks we met with commented that we are the calmest olim he has ever seen.  Which I took as a particularly high compliment because, when we first met him, he was pretty gruff.  But I was determined to sweet-talk him, not for any ulterior motive, just because I didn't want to walk away with any bad feelings.

Here's a line that's worked for me all week - "So, just how many languages do you speak?"  It's a matter of endless fascination to me since I am such a uni-lingual creature.  But it also makes for warm feelings and great conversation. 

We are also enjoying our share of "Only in Israel" stories:

At the entrance to the mall erev Shabbat, the security guard handed me a small packet with two tea lights and a sheet of paper with the week's candle lighting time handwritten.  She asked me how many daughters we have and gave me a pack of tea candles for each of them as well.

The other day, I was rushing around trying to find a particular office to rent something we needed for Shabbat.  I finally found the office two minutes before it closed, leaving me no time to return to the car and get ID and money to complete the transaction.  I opened the door and walked in anyway, and my eyes immediately fell upon one of the handful of people I know in the city. She lent me the money and I left with what I needed.

In the local grocery, I brought three sleeves of plastic cups to the register.  They were on sale for a very attractive price.  At the register, I noticed that they were made in Turkey, so I put them back and got a more expensive Israeli brand.  In recounting the story to a friend, she told us that the store announced that they were selling off whatever stock they already had from factories in Turkey and would not be doing business with the now-hostile country anymore.  How the political becomes personal in this small but complicated country.

One of the most defining moments of the week happened in a friend's kitchen late Sunday night.  These dear friends made a welcome barbecue for 35 or 40 of our mutual friends, mostly former Baltimore neighbors who live here now.  After almost everyone had gone home, there were four couples left standing around in the kitchen.  We have all known one another for a decade or two.  We were just yammering about life and it suddenly occurred to me that I am now one of them.

My mind flashed to dozens of similar gatherings over the past number of years, each tinged with indescribable sadness, because everyone else got to stay here. And, in a finite and painfully small number of days, I had to leave.

Not anymore.

I live here now.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Deconstructing a Life. Reconstructing a Life.


Since last September when we came to the decision to make aliyah, I have been busy deconstructing our lives.  It's not an easy thing, to deconstruct many decades of life in one country.  Tens of thousands of decisions, emails, phone calls, errands, lists and goodbyes must be attended to. As our aliyah date approached, the pace of deconstruction quickened, until, in the last few weeks, it seems that I did nothing else but end, terminate, close down, cancel and kiss goodbye.

Photo credit: David Buchalter

Until today.  Today, we arrived in Israel.  Today, I started building something new.

It is 4:30 in the morning in Israel and I, who have not had a decent night's sleep in a month or more, cannot sleep.  I keep replaying the feelings of the day.

Photo credit: Shayna Friedenberg

Photo credit: Shayna Friedenberg

Photo credit: Laura Ben-David

Stepping off the plane as an Israeli citizen. 



Being reunited with our oldest daughter.

Photo credit: Ariella LC

Oh my gosh!  Being moved beyond words by the sheer number of people who got up at 5 4 in the morning to greet us. The dozens of loving hugs from family and friends and the deeply expressive eye contact from the men I could not hug at the Welcome Ceremony.

Photo credit: Ariella LC
Photo credit: Bryna Lee Jacobson

The feeling of being reincorporated into the existing organism of our lives in Israel which, until today, we could live just a few weeks at a time.  

My profoundly grateful tears upon singing Hatikva which is now my national anthem.  

The ride from the airport to our ancient and brand new home.  

A welcome home brunch with friends from the neighborhood, coordinated by my brother.  

Photo credit: Ariella LC

The 100+ Facebook messages blessing us in our new life.  

The partial unpacking of our 8 huge duffels and 7 carry-ons and finding just the right places for the things we brought.  

The evening spent with both our girls in the same small apartment.  

The feeling of being HOME.

 

Thanks to those whose photos of our landing I snatched, for the most part, off of Facebook.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Surreality

We find ourselves in a most peculiar state of existence, just five days away from our aliyah flight.  Our household goods have been sent off in a ZIM container, on their way to a port city in Israel.  We are living with a borrowed table, borrowed chairs and cots.  I can’t cook anything because our pots are in transit.  We’ve sold off nearly everything down to the bare walls.  We’re spending several nights in hotels or with friends, trying to avoid the weirdness of being in our home that doesn’t really feel like home anymore.

In the past few months, and most especially the past few weeks, I have made so many decisions about whether to sell, keep, toss or give something away that I am paralyzed by the thought of having to make one more decision.

Now, we're saying goodbye to friends and family.  Even though the decision to make aliyah was much anticipated and totally volitional, the tears are just as salty as if the parting was imposed upon us by disaster or death, Gd-forbid.

Some goodbyes are more difficult than I would have expected.  Some less so.  We have literally been showered with blessings for all good things in life by dozens and dozens and dozens of people from all corners of our lives.  Emails, cards, phone calls, hugs.  It’s a bit overwhelming.  Often, I can’t finish reading the sentiment in a card or listening to a friend speak of love without welling up.  Blubbering even.

And I’ve seen more grown men crying this past week than I’ve ever seen before, including at funerals.

Sometimes, I find the most surprising things hard.  Sunday night, I sold my car.  When I was driving it for the last time, I got all choked up, remembering that I have had my own car since I was 16 and acknowledging that I probably won’t ever have my own car again.  It’s not the car; it’s the freedom and the independence. 

In some senses, making aliyah means regressing to the dependencies of childhood.  A close friend describes living in Israel as being forever considered, “the stupid immigrant mother” who feels like a completely competent adult only when she visits the US.  That, almost certainly, will be me.

The transition is in process but is not yet completed.  These last days, I am still more in this American life than in my future life in Israel.  At the same time, I’m not really fully present here anymore either.  

Occasionally, I flash forward to the scheduled moment for saying goodbye to those who have come to see us off, but I can’t really go there yet.  I imagine the flight itself, stepping off the plane, the Welcome Ceremony, the rush of emotions upon actually arriving in Israel, but it’s too amorphous and overwhelming to capture and hold.

Mostly, I feel astonishingly blessed that my nine year-old dream, my single-minded passion, my desperate need to live in Israel is mere days away from being realized.

It is truly surreal.