Friday, July 29, 2011

Year Two, Day Two

Compared to our house in Baltimore, we live in very small quarters. No closets. No basement. No yard. No attic. No driveway.

Objectively, it's an average Israeli apartment.  Three bedrooms plus a small safe room that we use as a library. Two bathrooms.  Two small mirpesot (outdoor porch areas) - one for the sukkah and one for sitting on, feeling privileged to have a view of Jerusalem and for swooning over the fact that we actually live in Israel.

The most distinctively different feature of our new quarters is that we have no kitchen.  That is, we have no separate room that can be called a kitchen.  What we have is a kitchen wall that leads directly into our dining "room", which, come to think of it, isn't a room either, but just an extension of the kitchen wall. Nevertheless, week after week, we manage to crank out meals from our kitchen wall and serve guests in our dining "room".


This past Wednesday night, we celebrated our first aliyahversary by the Hebrew calendar.  We celebrated with another couple who were on our aliyah flight by inviting Rabbi Nachman Kahana to speak on the topic, "The Connection Between Aliyah and Geula."  We were hoping for 40 people and were overwhelmed that there were close to twice that number in attendance.  Rabbi Kahana spoke for approximately an hour and, thinking about it later, I was blown away by how far we have come in just one year.

There are things that used to baffle us when we came here to visit that we now accomplish with ease.  For example, we were never sure on what temperature to set the air conditioner in the summer, so we used to set it at 19 degrees.  Ha!  Living on shekels, we would never do that now.

We used to be confused about which plastic and glass bottles could be recycled and which couldn't.  In Israel, there are a number of individuals who cash in used bottles and donate the money to tzedaka.  But only some bottles are eligible for redemption.  The rest of the plastic bottles go in the big green recycling cage across the street and most glass jars, regrettably, go in the trash. We're not guessing anymore about what to do with each empty container, but I was thinking about how, a year ago, I was never sure.

It took us some time to find a brand of cream cheese that has a similar consistency to what we were used to.  "Just remember to look for the daisy on the label," my sister-in-law reminded me when I asked to take an empty container with me so I could buy exactly that brand.

The cheese and the deli turkey I most prefer both have cherry tomatoes on the package.  If they change the packaging, I'm in trouble, but for now, I shop by graphics and get what I need.

Kishke is another achievement of our lives in Israel.  Despite this Wikipedia article that claims it's available in most Israeli supermarkets, we haven't been able to find it.  We did buy one product that says kishke in Hebrew letters, but the food inside bears absolutely no resemblance to the food product we call kishke, except for the slight orange coloring.  So, in Israel, I learned to make my own.  It's not that hard, especially after the vegetables are grated.  And the homemade version is probably a lot healthier than the MealMart kishke we used to buy.
Oh MealMart kishke!  I DO miss you!
When we came as tourists, we were baffled by how to pump self-serve gas.  In Israel, in addition to swiping your credit card at the pump, you have to enter your mispar zehut (national identity number).  Although my husband was born in Israel and had a mispar zehut (and a really low number at that), we could never remember where I wrote it down.  In Israel, you need that number for nearly every economic and government transaction.  It's asked for so routinely that most olim memorize their number in the first week. But when we used to come, we had to go to the full-serve pump because we didn't know my husband's number so we couldn't pump our own gas.

These everyday examples don't tell the whole story, but they do tell part of the story of our first year.  Adult olim quickly realize how much of their adult lives in America were managed without requiring too much new thinking.  Here, there's so much to learn every day.  But, a year and two days in to our lives in Israel, I can see how, eventually, many things that were baffling have become routine.

Over the past year, my husband and I made new friends, brought two of my favorite rabbis to our shul to speak, began teaching and learning Torah with a new depth, found work, bought a car and insurance and learned to shop in shekelim.  My husband is often asked to officiate at bnei mitzvot and weddings and to teach Torah in Jerusalem, but he is also developing many non-rabbinic aspects of himself.  I finished ulpan, learned a bunch of new recipes, learned how to cook in celcius and how to use the Egged bus system and ran a successful English book swap and sale that raised money for JobKatif, the organization where our oldest daughter does her national service.

But above all, we start year two with profound gratitude for the privilege it is to live here, relying on and feeling closer than ever to Hashem.  Here, the spiritual aspects of life are continually strengthened and the material aspects of life continually diminish in significance. That's the best part.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What Goes Up, Must Come Down


Often, in the late afternoons outside our apartment, we get heavy winds.  Since there are no buildings behind us or in front of us, leaving our front door at that time of day feels like stepping into a wind tunnel. Sometimes it's good for a laugh.

Over Shabbat, our downstairs neighbors' partially-inflated kiddie pool flew up in the wind and attached itself to our fence.  I tried to dislodge it, but to no avail. The winds were too strong.  I assumed that, when the winds died down, it would detach itself and fall back down.  Instead, it flew even higher, to the poles of our sukkah porch. And there it remains, even after Shabbat ended.

Somehow, this seemed a fitting metaphor for my recent visit to the States.  It was a very difficult trip, logistically certainly, but mostly spiritually.

On the positive side, I had the pleasure of being able to reconnect with old friends, many of whom went out of their way to offer concrete assistance and emotional support.  To realize that, despite the distance, the bonds of friendship still exist, was very comforting.

And there is, unarguably, excellent shopping to be done in the States. After having lived and shopped in Israel for a full year, I was momentarily dazzled by the brightly lit, wide aisles and the incredible variety of relatively inexpensive merchandise available everywhere.

And there is so much water!  It rains on the East Coast in the summer.  In fact, in one particularly torrential thunderstorm, I was reminded of the anxiety I used to feel because such storms held great potential for flooding the basement of our old house.

Admittedly, the cheesy magazines in the nail salon and the car repair shop waiting room do not represent the best of America, but the shallowness of what passes for popular culture shocked me. I watched a romantic comedy powered by low-grade, sexually-charged humor.  I watched it, but I felt guilty and disappointed in myself the whole time.

I was disoriented much of the time I was there, the way one feels the first day out after having spent a week in bed on cold medicines. I was driving down familiar streets, stepping into familiar places, but I had changed in some very notable ways.  This was no longer my life.  And I felt the dissonance.

I missed hearing and saying Shabbat Shalom to everyone starting Wednesday evening.  I missed the sense that my life has a higher purpose.  I felt, in some visceral way, the absence of the Shechina.  I had a great deal of difficulty feeling connected to G-d.  I didn't lose intellectual awareness of G-d.  But I could not feel my neshama.

What went up, came down.

Due to multiple delays, flight cancellations, missed connections and a heap of bad advice dispensed by the airline, it took 48 hours to get home.  It was as if the potent pull of the profane was trying to hold me back.  I told my mother, only half in jest, "Don't get remarried, don't get sick and don't die.  Because I'm never leaving Israel again."

We just ended my first Shabbat back.  Over Shabbat, I started a new Torah learning project, one that had been scratching around my head for some time.

And I have begun again to breathe.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Far From Home

I had to leave Israel on very short notice to take care of some pressing business far from home.  At 3:45 AM on a quiet street in Jerusalem, a pierced, Israeli man, wearing a blue polyester track suit, sticks his shaven head into the half-full sherut, looking for travelers to America so he can shout, "I love America!"

I keep silent.

In a transit airport, I feel conspicuously Israeli.  There is Hebrew on my shirt, shkelim in my wallet and an Israeli passport among my documents.  "Travel on your American passport," I was told in one international capitol.

Scrolling through pictures of chayalim on buses on the camera roll of my iPhone reminds me of home.
The contrast between the chayelet in uniform and the poufy straw beach bag amused me.

I cherish this image of a chayal davening on my bus in the morning.
But I am not home.  I'm suddenly in an international airport, with hours to pass before my connecting flight. I wander into the "Multi-faith room" looking for a quiet place to say a few chapters of Tehillim.  At the door, I see a Muslim man in a western suit, bowing on his prayer rug.

In the women's section, separated by a half-wall, are three women of indistinct national origin, asleep on the floor.  I turned away, feeling distinctly unwelcome in the multi-faith room.

The shops are clean, well-lit, creatively organized and filled with over-priced consumer goods that I have zero desire to acquire.  There is a paucity of kosher food options.  The only items I'm sure about are bottled water and shortbread cookies marked with a kosher symbol that I recognize from America.

I am surrounded by naked commercialism, much like any department store in America, every element designed to seduce me into parting from my cash.


I'm tempted twice.  Until I do the currency conversion and gasp. Shopping in most places in Israel just isn't this slick.

There are random Jew sightings:


but mostly it's an international European crowd, heavily accented with Muslims.  Right.  We Jews are a minority population in the bigger world.  I forgot.  Not intellectually.  But experientially.

Walking the streets of Jerusalem, I'm used to hearing many languages, but here, there is so much English around me that I am disoriented.  After a year in Israel, I am still cautious about speaking to strangers in public places for fear that we don't have a common language.  Suddenly, I am nearly universally understood and the awkward, deer-in-the headlights look I perpetually wear in public in Israel is gone.  I understand so much of what's going on around me.  It's very disorienting.

Even with that, I wish I was Homeward Bound.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Guest Post: An Incredible True Story

This story was sent to me by a new immigrant who wishes to remain anonymous.  She is approaching her one year aliyah anniversary and is still looking for work.

I'm reading this Garden of Peace book for women. It says to talk to Hashem at least an hour a day. Tell Him what you want, need, are grateful for, whatever.


I had some questions I needed answers for. Just thinking about what to say didn't seem 'enough' to have a conversation, so I started emailing Hashem. I made a file and email to myself and just file it there. Then all my time being on-line is for a worthy cause. I just keep typing what I would say. So, I asked some questions and prayed for some answers or sources to get the answers.


Now, I have mentioned where we live is not a religious neighborhood. It is quiet. We never get visitors or people knocking on our door. Twice in 10 months we have had kids collect for an organization, and once a friend came by to drop off something just after they had bought a car


So yesterday evening, the doorbell rings. It's a Breslov chasid collecting tzedakah and giving our little Breslov booklets. I am standing there with the book I am reading (Garden of Peace for Women.) I show him the book, of which he knows what it is, and hands me a booklet.

I say I can't read Hebrew so he goes back into his back and pulls out an English booklet (and it's his only English one. He has Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, and this English one). It's called Easy Money which deals with having emuna in Hashem, trusting Him for parnasah, etc. In it are my answers.


If I wasn't so flabbergasted I would have asked him why he came to our neighborhood. Why tonight? Why why why? Of course Hashem sent him is the obvious answer. But talk about "instant messaging from Hashem"! I could barely fall asleep.

Amazing, isn't it??!!