Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jews and Their Huts

             So the holidays are finally over. From Rosh Hashana into Yom Kipuur with the monster that is Sukkot/Simchat Torah at the end? As they say: The holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. (I will now insert a picture of myself running a half marathon because I did it pre-blog and I want you to all know about my single-largest physical accomplishment to date:)
Back to business. Since this was my first long holiday here, without much family, I was slightly overwhelmed but obviously excited for the challenge. How to fill 2 ulpan- free weeks with what I lovingly refer to as "chavayot" or "experiences?" (Locked out of my room at 2 AM? Chavaya! Stuck in Haifa for the day? Chavaya! Fourteen days of holiday ahead? Chavaya!) Basically, chavaya is the new YOLO. So the tasks were: find kind people to host me for meals, find fun activities for the intermediate days of chag an basically experience as much of a Jerusalem Sukkot as humanly possible. In order to organize my thoughts I will break this down day by day, so bear with me and I will make you giggle. 
             Even before the holiday, Jerusalem was abuzz with excitement. Formula Racing was brought to Jerusalem, and for 2 days, we saw fancy cars, famous race-car drivers and general motor revelry. There were huge crowds which meant major traffic but also a very big cool- boost for the holy city. 

           My home base for the chag was at "the Boys' apartment", as it often is. As you may recall from  my Rosh Hashana post, my bed is the couch, which while comfortable has it's problems. The most major of which is the fact that when the lights are on at night, it is much like sleeping on the sun in July.  This issue was mostly alleviated by shutting most of the lights off. That's basically all that was needed to  make this chag one of improved sleeping for all involved (read: me.)  Kudos to the boys for putting up with me, my incessant talking, my scattered accessories and my eating all available gummies. I can never repay your hospitality!
           A huge difference between holidays in Israel and abroad is that the holiday part (no lights, cellphones, driving, tv, etc) is 2 days everywhere outside of Israel and 1 day within Israel. This may not seem like a huge difference, but when holidays fall out on Thursday and Friday (like they did this year), they then feed into Shabbat. And that makes it what we lovingly refer to as a "3-day yomtov" and that, my friends, is a long time to refrain from interaction with the outside world. Plus, you know, my makeup won't last 3 whole days so there's that. Since Rosh Hashana is 2 days in Israel, this was to be my first 1- day chag ever! I cannot stress how major this event was. I was stoked, and I only had to find 2 meals for chag, so yalla! I had a lovely first days here in Jerusalem. There is nothing like walking around the city and seeing thousands of sukkot (temporary huts where Jews eat and often sleep for all of Sukkot) of every shape and size! Hanging off roofs and balconies, in all the restaurants and hotels, little huts decorated and lovingly built as if to say," Welcome to our Jewish home!" As Jewish as New York City is, the sight of a sukka anywhere besides outside of a private home is cause for celebration amongst the observant and confusion for everyone else. How many times did I have to tell my professors, "Yes, Sukkot is a real holiday. No, I don't know why you've never heard of it. No, I really can't make the test that day." Now I live in a country where most people don't work during the whole week of Sukkot! (To speak not of Israeli productivity, at least it speaks to our Jewishness!) It brought a permanent, week- long smile to my face to see Jerusalem festooned in Sukkot's finest. 
             Before you knew it, it was the intermediate days of chag- yay! All of Jerusalem really got rocking- singing and dancing in the streets and tons and tons of people! And not just any people, lots of American people! Something I knew well as a New Yorker is that Israel is the hot spot during this holiday. It was basically like walking down Central Avenue or Main Street some days, which I loved and hated all at the same time. While I adore my hometown Jews, I have kind have gotten used to being here in Jerusalem with my fellow Jerusalemites. This influx of everyone I grew up with was... overwhelming. I got a lot of questions like "So, how long are you here for?" and comments like "Oh, you made aliyah? That's... nice." I felt like I was explaining to people why I decided to walk barefoot on hot coals, rather than move to the Jewish homeland. But to be fair, I love explaining why I moved here- I like to believe it makes people more open-minded to aliyah and strengthens within myself my own resolve in living here. So I just generally smile and say, "I moved here for 24- hour falafel on- demand!"
          The intermediary days are called Chol Hamoed and there is generally so much to do here, it's nuts. I haven't mentioned it yet, but I have a little side job here whilst in ulpan. I assist the best event planner in Israel. This is not hyperbole- Adena Mark is talented, organized and pretty much the coolest chick I know. She lets me help her plan and execute some of the most gorgeous events I've ever seen- and on chol hamoed we had a big one! A cutie pie from Engelwood, NJ was having a bat mitzvah in Israel, and we planned a shabby- chic garden party for her big day. I was there to assist and honestly, I worked like a (cute and friendly) dog! From 9 AM until past midnight I decorated, set up, and basically schlepped non-stop! By the end of the day, I was so sore but super proud of the magificent event I had helped execute. Can't wait for the next one!

             The next day, by the grace of G-d, I woke up, ready to go to the Moshav! What Moshav, you ask? There was a music and arts festival in Mevo Modiin also known as "the Carlebach Moshav." Imagine hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish hippies, congregating in their mutual love for guitar- jamming, tie-dye and hemp. Then imagine me, doing my best impression of a Jewish hippie, essentially just wearing a colorful headband. Hey, I tried. I went with my good friend Daniella, her baby Sarah and my visiting friend, Hindy. Good group of chicks and a fabulous day, even though I never got my face painted like a fairy, as I had planned. Next time. 

              The next day I had a delicious brunch with another visiting firend and got to show him all the cool things Jerusalem has going on these days. I often worry I've really missed my calling as a tour guide, although how many people want tours of restaurants and shopping pavilions, I'm not so sure. 
               Before you knew it, it was the last day(s) of the holiday! Again, it was a major adjustment to go from a lifetime full of 2-day holidays to Simchat Torah being over that quickly, but I made it work! I went to the Western Wall to watch the dancing, and there I met a delightful, non-Jewish Dutch couple who were fascinated by the celebrations at the Wall and wanted to know all about the holiday. Seeing as how I hate talking about Judaism (hahaha!) they let me talk to my heart's content about our rituals and songs. I then headed to a fantastic meal with close friends from my Queens neighborhood, where I shared a meal with children whom I used to babysit and are now young adults! Weird. After that, I went to a party a new friend was throwing- by myself! As ulpan is ending shortly and my "real life" in Jerusalem will ostensibly be starting, I figure I need to man up and start meeting fellow Jerusalemites with whom I might soon socialize regularly. Luckily, I met some really great people at the party and reunited with some people I already knew, until the party was unceremoniously shut down a little past 12 by angry neighbors. Bummer, huh? 
               The next day I had the honor of taking one of my oldest friends, Leora, out for lunch. Leora was visiting for chag and I randomly bumped into her at an earlier lunch. Since she was keeping 2 days of chag, I decided it would be cute to pick her up and then take her to lunch and the shuk. Since she couldn't use money, I treated her ! And since I am an unemployed and poor Israeli, that was a real throwback to my days of being a rich, visiting American! Good times!
               Before you knew it, chag was over, the Americans boarded their overcrowded planes back to JFK and I was back to the magical world of Hebrew- language learning! And while it was wonderful to have that respite from ulpan, I'm pretty excited to be back here and heading into the home stretch of my time at ulpan. Coming up: adventures in job- and apartment- hunting! Help!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Why on EARTH did you Move to Israel?"

              About a week ago I was blessed to enjoy a delicious and luxurious Shabbat lunch at the elegant David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem. It was definitely a treat I don't often experience, and even more appreciated now that I am Israeli and watching my shekels quite closely. A wonderful family from Brooklyn hosted me and several others for the meal and I took full advantage of being in the company of only New Yorkers for a few hours- it's been a while and whatever frustrations I had with my fellow New Yorkers way back in June when I left had melted into a nostalgia for loud, accented New York English.
             At the meal, I met a new friend, also from Brooklyn, Orthodox but cool- you know the type. Anyway, she was absolutely blown away that I was brave enough (read: crazy enough) to move to Israel. Once she understood that I did in fact have a loving and close relationship with the family I left (read: abandoned), she went on to being completely confounded by the fact that I lived in "a Third World country" such as Israel. Mind you, this is an Orthodox woman who cherishes Israel as an ancestral homeland for the nation of Israel. But she, like many others, I'd gather, now see Israel as a backwater country with crazy people, wars and the five- star hotels that border the Western Wall . And I have to wonder why. Why did I spend over an hour defending the Jewish homeland to Jews? Were they anti Israel? Nope- I believe the Zionist education is severely lacking in certain areas of Orthodox society, and so I am here to explain to well-meaning, yet possibly uninformed Jews of all stripes why a seemingly normal person like myself chooses to live in Israel. Consider this my (probably first in a series) Zionist Rant Post.

               Most of why I'm here stems from my Zionist ideology. I don't have family here, go to school or yeshiva here or have a job that's based here. I am here totally because I believe that it is the ultimate place for a Jew to live. Note I didn't delineate what "type" of Jew. I believe it is the best place for all Jews, regardless of background, religious affiliation or age bracket. I believe that it is an absolute miracle and blessing to have a Jewish Homeland after 3,000 years of exile, and I in turn am blessed to live at a time where living here freely is possible. Tell "shtetl Jordana", or "Middle Ages British Jordana" or "Persian Empire Jordana" that there will one day be a Jewish Homeland in Israel in which to live? "Unbelievable!", she'd exclaim. And yet here I am, living in a Jewish state with a Jewish army and buses that wish me a chag sameach and a kosher food court in the mall and a Prime Minister who starts speeches invoking the name of G-d! It is a land that bursts with life and love and family and joy. Spontaneous dancing in the streets, invitations to your cab driver's daughter's wedding, festivals year-round. It's such an incredible miracle to have this country, it's crazy to me that every Jew isn't clamoring to live here!
               But I digress. To address the "backwater" and "Third World" claims; I am simply baffled. Certainly there are differences in quality of life between the US and Israel (we use more public transportation, less water and have a different infrastructure) but there is almost nothing you can't get in this country! From electronics to American food products, clothing to cars- you may pay a premium but this country has it all. We are also foremost in the fields of hi-tech, medicine, agriculture, international law, technological innovation, and the list goes on. I don't know that many backwater, Third- World countries that produce the kind of phenomenal, life-changing advancements that Israel does. But don't take my word for it- google "Israeli Innovation" and prepare to have your mind blown. Life is definitely harder here from a material-comfort level, and you won't have as fancy a house or car (generally) but I am proud to have become the type of person who would trade quantity in life for  quality of life. Do I miss my Altima and Target and J. Crew? Of course I do! I dream about the dollar aisle at Target on a bi-weekly basis! But quality of Jewish life I'm living here, that's priceless.
                Let's get to the root of the issue with many Orthodox American Jews. I will be as delicate as I can here, but this is where my rant may get a little rant-y. There is a permeating perspective that "I appreciate Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel) but not Medinat Yisroel (The State of Israel.)" This stems from a belief from some here in Israel and abroad that the state is a creation of a secular body, which has produced a secular state, veering away from the values of an observant Jews. I hear that argument. I think it's wrong. Allow me to explain. This country has a lot of problems, a major one of which is the distrust/disconnect between secular and observant Jews. While that is a whole blog post in and of itself, I will say this- I am an observant Jew and a die-hard Zionist and I don't feel one bit of conflict (most of the time). I can appreciate the beauty of a life filled with only Torah and religious observance and I can also understand a Jew without religious observance living in his traditional Jewish homeland. I also know that as important as Torah learning is, I don't quite see how the Torah- community could function without secular and non- Hareidi Israeli society. Who would drive their buses? Who would provide them with electricity, water, money for education, road infrastructure, garbage disposal, and the list goes on? It is easy to say "We don't support the State" but I still have difficulty understanding why. All types of Jews have representation in the government, offices are closed on shabbat, kosher food is served at every official event, religious holidays are national holidays! Are we really going to disapprove of the State of Israel because those who helped create it didn't keep shabbat? Call me crazy, but I think as an observant Jew, educated in the laws of hakarat hatov (gratitude) we should all be extremely grateful for what this state has given us. Our prime minister may not wear a kippa or black hat, but he represents all Jews of Israel, both here and abroad, and makes sure the world knows that Israel is the Jewish Homeland.
                  I will end my rant now- I apologize if it got heated back there for a second, I just really love this place and I want everyone else to love it too. Not because we have to as Jews but because we want to as Jews! Not because we can come here and buy inexpensive challah covers and yummy kosher pizza in town; but because this is our home, not mine but ours, and we should all have sincere love and pride in our home. I look forward to the day when all my brothers and sisters from New York come to visit and exclaim "You live in Israel! You are so lucky!" And I in turn will smile and say, "You bet I am, come join me!"