Twelve is an important number for me when it comes to rabbinical school, because if all goes well I’ll have 12 semesters total of it. During my first semester at RRC, I decided that each of the 12 should correspond to one of Jacob’s (and Leah’s and Rachel’s and Zilpah’s and Billha’s) 12 sons. So far I’ve been through Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Napthali, Gad, and Asher. This semester is Issachar. Next semester will be Zebulon. Then it’ll be onto the babies: Joseph and Benjamin. Dinah, as the only daughter, will accompany me post-ordination. Anyway, twelve. Twelve tribes of Israel, twelve weeks in Israel. I’m well over the quarter-mark now, for which I’m grateful.
And gratefulness seems appropriate, considering the season. Last night, I had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with a number of other American rabbinical-student-orphans (and a few British and Israeli tagalongs). It felt very homey, from the stuffing to the pumpkin pie to the football game on in the living room. At the request of one of our British guests, we even did the “go around the table and share what you’re thankful for” game. I also managed to trick my computer into thinking that it was in America so that I could stream part of the parade.
The funniest thing about Thanksgiving for me was that my brain didn’t seem to understand what to do with it. I kept mentally batting it around, trying to impose all manner of inapplicable norms. Thanksgiving, you may be astonished to learn, is neither an Israeli holiday nor a Jewish holiday. Yesterday, around noon, I had yet to buy the ingredients for the stuffing I would be bringing to dinner. My brain leapt around in panic: Would any stores still be open? Would they still have mushrooms? Would it take me over an hour to navigate the crazy busy aisles and check out?
My brain checked itself: “Wait, Emily. This is Israel. This is a normal Thursday. There are a lot of American ex-pats here, yes, but the stores are open and they will not be crazy crowded. You’re good.” I bought the things I needed easily and headed home.
In my kitchen, I set to preparing the stuffing. It’s not an old family recipe, per se, but it is the recipe that we use every year. It’s the best. Don’t argue. The last time I was abroad for Thanksgiving, I made it in a wok. It’s supposed to be baked. Here in Jerusalem, not only could I get all of the ingredients (including sourdough!), but I had an oven to bake it in. As I chopped celery and pre-heated the oven, my brain leapt around in panic: How soon was sunset? Would the stuffing be done in time to be kosher?
My brain checked itself: “Wait, Emily. This is Thanksgiving. This is a secular holiday, not shabbat or chag. You can bring things cooked after dark to dinner. You’re good.”
My Thanksgiving experience fits rather beautifully into this week’s blessing, which comes from one of my rabbi teachers at RRC. I think that this is the first clergy blessing I’ve shared so far, but don’t worry–there are more coming (and if you’re still considering sending one along, please do! I’m not at 40 yet!). She wrote:
I definitely have a blessing for you dear Ereleh: May you experience many moments of belonging and feel what it feels like to be an insider, and may you have many insights available to you as an outsider.
A lot of people here think I’m Israeli until I open my mouth. I don’t know if it’s my looks or how I dress or if it’s just the culture or what, but I get asked for directions a lot. At first glance, people think that I belong here and know what’s up.
I don’t. I am still an outsider here and expect to remain so throughout my 40 weeks. I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. I’m an American. My future is bound up in that land much more than in this one, particularly in wake of the elections. I want to have a good, growthful experience here. I want to develop a deeper cultural and historical understanding of this place. After I’m home, I want to continue to engage in activism related to this place, because this place claims to speak for American Jews as well as Israeli Jews and I therefore feel at least some measure of responsibility to be engaged. But I have no intention of making aliyah. This is not home. I am an outsider.
Yet, I have had many moments of belonging and feeling like an insider. When we shared what we were grateful for last night, I said that I was grateful to have seen that the future of liberal Judaism was so much bigger than just RRC. I have no regrets about choosing Reconstructionism, but being in Philly– even though it’s actually less than 2 hours from NYC– has kept me from feeling tied into the rabbinical school worlds of NYC (and LA on the West Coast). Here, I study regularly with colleagues from JTS, Hebrew College, and Ziegler, and I’ve gotten to know HUC students as well. People have really welcomed me in. Before September, I only knew one of the perhaps 20 people (mostly rabbinical students) I celebrated Thanksgiving with last night. Almost every Friday night or Saturday afternoon (or both!) I am invited to a shabbat meal. I am so grateful to be forming connections with people whom I may one day share close professional ties. I’m eager, when we all return to the States, to stay in contact. We’re going to have so much work to do together.