Things that Stay and Things that Go- Jerusalem Edition

In honor of my move from Jerusalem to Jaffa, my almost-5-months-in-Israel mark (that’s tomorrow), the new semester (starting in 45 minutes) and harkening back to my packing list from early September, I give you an edited, updated, and probably incomplete list:

Things Packed:

  • Clothes for summer
  • Clothes for winter
  • Floppy hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Hiking boots
  • Sneakers
  • Chacos
  • sorta smushed Flats
  • Blundstones (aka Israel’s official unofficial shoe)
  • Raincoat
  • Umbrella
  • Hammock
  • Water bottle covered in stickers
  • 3-liter camelback not covered in stickers
  • Sleeping bag
  • Big purse
  • Little purse
  • 2 4 reusable grocery bags
  • 1 bag of assorted toiletries
  • 2 1 toothbrush
  • 1 half barely-used tube of organic toothpaste
  • 1 half-used travel-sized tube of organic toothpaste
  • Many A couple half-used tubes of burt’s bees lip balm
  • 2 epi-pens
  • Many A few hairbands
  • 3 1 ziplock bag full of ziplock bags
  • 1 box of assorted jewelry
  • 1 2 boxes of vanilla sleepytime assorted Israeli herbal teas
  • 32 40 oz of ground (groan) coffee (yay!)
  • Aeropress to brew said coffee
  • Jedi mug borrowed from best friend out of which to drink said coffee
  • Partially-used containers of red miso paste, soy sauce, and sriracha
  • 1 barely-used bag of flaxseed meal
  • Various chocolate delights
  • bags of cumin, curry powder, cayenne, and za’atar 
  • Envelope of Very Important Papers/Documents
  • 2 siddurim (Koren and Kol Haneshama)
  • 1 guitar
  • Alanna: The First Adventure
  • The Blue Day Book
  • The Lonely Planet: Israel and the Palestinian Territories 
  • Many Jewish texts
  • Cards and letters from folks back home
  • Notebook
  • Journal
  • Far too many  Not enough writing implements
  • Kindle
  • Laptop
  • Headphones
  • Phone
  • Many chargers and adaptors
  • 1 small stuffed moose and 1 eucalyptus pod
  • 2 tallitot, 3 kippot, and 2 sets of tzitzit


Things passed off to Parents to take home a month ago:  

  • 1 questionably-useful completely useless pair of slacks with 1 questionably-useful completely useless pair of pumps
  • Ender’s Game
  • Many, many Jewish texts




Shabbos Blessing- Week 22

I’m back! Sorta. In fact, I’m about 10 minutes from flinging myself out the door and throwing myself towards Jerusalem for shabbat. I’m writing this from my desk in Jaffa in my new apartment, which I absolutely LOVE. Here’s a picture from my balcony!


I cannot wait to write all about it and all about my travels and all about many things. But, right now, that will have to wait, because tomorrow morning is the monthly RRC Shabbat Service and that means being in Jerusalem instead of here. Next week, I am excited to have a much more relaxed Friday. For now, I leave you with this week’s blessing, which comes from a friend and classmate and soon-to-be rabbi at RRC! It’s fitting that this shows up when I’m about to head down to Jerusalem, since it’s a lot more Jerusalem than Tel Aviv-centric! And, just generally speaking, it’s awesome and I love it. She wrote:

A blessing in the form of an Italian sonnet!

The German Colony… almost like home?
Gathering besamim for havdalah
Hiking up hills close by and very far
Study in chevrutah; also alone
Cafe americano and a scone
The child-filled tachanat rishonah
Sing “Min hametzar karati Yah”
Facing whichever way is the dome
I hope that you can find a way to feel
Yourself and safe and held and always free
I know it can be hard sometimes to deal
With all the ways people want you to be
The only thing that matters and that’s real
Is doing this with love/integrity!

How can I help but adore this? I too hope that I can find…

A way to feel myself and safe and held and always free, and I think that for that Yafo is the place to be. And I am excited to see the ways there will be to be free in this city by the sea that for the next four months will be home for me.

I wish I had time for more but I must fly, for the sun is creeping to the west of the sky, and the sunlight will die, and candle-lighting is nigh, and for now I must bid each of you swift goodbye.



Hakol B’seder(?)

I know these streets so well now.

I haven’t been here that long, really. I’ve lived in many places for longer. But in Jerusalem, my feet are my primary form of transportation. In fact, with the exception of school-sponsored trips that require getting on a bus with my classmates, and very, very occasional cab rides, my feet are my only form of transportation.

My “commute” all semester was short but slow. The few blocks between my home and the Conservative Yeshiva where I studied became a nearly daily part of my life. I came to know each cafe, each corner store (most of them, it turns out, not on corners), each apartment building, each piece of graffiti, and, yes, each cat.

A lot has happened in four and a half months. The kittens in the Yeshiva Courtyard have grown from this:


To this:


I’ve learned some Hebrew– not nearly as much as I would have liked, but enough to at least be able to do more than point and grunt at the different salatim (toppings) when I order a falafel. My written Hebrew is ok. My spoken is pretty bad. It’s a work in progress.


I’ve grown from barely being able to keep up with a traditional morning prayer service to leading one at the Egalitarian Kotel last week.


I came here knowing almost no one, and I’ve made friends. Earlier today, I got lunch with a buddy to celebrate her move across town and my submission of my last paper of the semester. I texted another friend to ask if he and his family could store a suitcase for me for a couple of weeks, and when I went over to drop it off I ended up chatting with him and his family (and giving them a small gift to pass along to a classmate). This evening, I texted another friend to ask if I could sleep on her couch for a night, just before I move to Tel Aviv, when I get back from Europe.

I am so grateful for the people I have come to know, for the organic connections that I have formed with them as classmates and as friends who, one day, God willing, will be colleagues of mine.

Some of the people whom I have come to know have gone home. It feels very strange. I knew, entering into this year, that a number of students were only staying for a semester (or even part of a semester). I also knew that life happens, and that there could be other students whose plans changed and who left sooner than they anticipated, or who ended up not coming at all. Still, it’s strange to walk on the streets that I know so well and to remember that the places where I am used to finding some people no longer host them.

Soon, the apartment in which I am sitting will no longer host me. This is my last night as a resident of Jerusalem. I am mostly packed. This room, which has been mine for the better part of four months, is feeling less and less so as more and more of my things find their way into suitcases. Tomorrow, I’ll go to Tel Aviv and stay overnight at a random AirBnb near the train. On Friday, I’ll fly to Spain. When I return to Israel on February 1st, I’ll spend a night in Jerusalem (on my friend’s couch, as you now all know), and then I’ll move into my new apartment in Jaffa the next day. Jerusalem won’t be far away, and I’ll be down here a lot, but it will no longer be my base. It feels very strange.

One of the local graffiti tags in Jerusalem is a simple Hebrew phrase: “הכל בסדר- hakol b’seder” It means: “Everything’s ok.” I’ve seen the words stenciled onto construction walls, stones, and all other manner of surfaces. On my walk to and from school, on one of the blocks I know so well, there are two versions of this tag, both, in Israeli style, commented upon. The first says: “הכל לא בסדר” (Everything is not ok). img_9729

The second says: “הכל בסדר? טוב,תודה” (Is everything ok? Yes, thank you.) img_9722

At this moment, both of these speak to me. I am in a place of feeling that everything is not ok and at the same time of assuring myself that they are and being grateful for that. It has been a semester, and the semester is over. I have settled into something of a routine on the ark, but now it must shift. The lions are bored with their food. The squirrels have decided to become nocturnal. The corgis want to frolic more than their allotted recreation time allows. The wind has shifted and the ark is floating off in a different direction and I have to adjust to it.

Change does not come easy for me. It never has. I have gotten better, as is the nature (one would hope) of facing the same sorts of struggles again and again, but change remains hard. I made a good choice to go to Tel Aviv but I am still nervous about it, worried about what I am leaving behind knowingly and what struggles, both known and unknown, will come up in my new home.

And I am also excited, eager to experience a new city, to live in my own apartment, to buy a membership to the Tel Aviv-Yafo bike share program and enjoy a slightly longer (and faster) commute to class. I am excited to come to know other streets and to know the people who walk them.







Zany 5777

It’s late afternoon here. Most of the sunlight has already left my new apartment for the day, although it’s still plenty bright outside. Bugs are buzzing, birds are cawing, cats are screaming at each other, cars are passing by, at least one baby is crying, and Hebrew-speaking voices are echoing in the stairwell, frequently with calls of חג שמה! (Chag Sameach–Happy Holiday!) and שנה טובה! (Shana Tova–Happy New Year!)


My new room has its own baby balcony and I’m rather partial to it. 

In just a few hours, the sun will set and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5777, will begin.

I’ve always liked having a new year in the fall. Probably that’s because I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in school. I started preschool at 2 and a half, and since then I’ve spent all of one year not in a classroom, on one side of the desk or the other. The idea of the fall as a new beginning makes sense to me because it’s usually a time of transition, more-so in a lot of ways than January 1st. It marks the start of something new.

This year, the really new something is my new place! I officially moved in yesterday and I think I’m going to like it here. The room that I’ve taken over is very much the room of the person I’m subletting from, but I think I’ll be able to make it feel like my space too.


No I did not pick out the bright pink sheets, but I’m grateful for the person I’m subletting from for leaving sheets and towels for me so I didn’t have to buy them, so pink sheets it is. 

Tonight I’ll be going for services to Kol HaNeshama, a Reform synagogue perhaps 20 minutes walk from here. I’m pretty excited. This is my first Rosh Hashanah as a “Jew in the pew” since starting rabbinical school, and my guess is that it will be the last for some time. I’m hoping to cherish it. It is sweet to be able to choose where to attend services and to go in without anybody expecting anything in particular of me. It’s been sweet this last month not to join my marvelous rabbinic colleagues on the oh-dear-oh-dear-high-holidays-are-coming-and-I-have-so-much-to-do-and-how-oh-how-will-it-ever-get-done-why-is-Elul-almost-over-is-it-Cheshvan-yet? train. It will be sweet to break bread with some new and old classmates over the coming days and to be in a city that will feel like it is experiencing a holiday rather than one in which only a small subset of the population is celebrating. The stores today were packed with people doing last-minute shopping, grabbing up challot and apples and honey like nobody’s business. I can smell a couple of meals being cooked nearby. Rosh Hashanah seems to be on everyone’s minds. I feel like this might be what Christmas (minus the crazy consumerism) feels like for Christians in America? Maybe? Or maybe I’m being super presumptuous in equating the two? Christian friends, you tell me.


Look at this cool community garden around the corner from my apartment! I’m excited to sit out there and read sometime. 

In thinking about the year to come, I can’t help but note the 3 sevens of 5777. The Hebrew letter that corresponds to 7 is zayin (ז). Last year, celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Philadelphia, I heard an amazing d’var (sermon) from Rabbi Yael Levy in which she spoke of the year 5776 corresponding to vav (ו), which means “and” in Hebrew. She spoke of the year being a time of connection, of living into the “ands” that life presents to us, of saying yes and entering into the world.

Zayin isn’t quite as easy for me to equate to a Hebrew word. I don’t know it as a prefix, and if it’s an abbreviation it’s usually either short for the Hebrew word for “male” or the first word of “may his memory be for a blessing.” So, I’m going for English.

My hope for this Z-influenced year is that it will be zany— according to the OED “amusingly unconventional and idiosyncratic.” Yeah, its synonyms are things like “kooky” and “mad,” but, you know what, I’ll still take it. There’s a fun onomatopoetic sense to the word. It sounds amusingly edgy.

For me, an amusingly edgy year would be pretty great. After all, here’s the ark. Here’s the cloud atop Mt. Sinai. I’m not in a normal place for me.  It’s not going to feel like a totally normal year, and it shouldn’t. It can be terrifying or awkward or depressing, or it can be zany, and that doesn’t sound so bad.

For example, I just bought this challah to bring to lunch at a professor’s tomorrow:


Now you might think that this looks like a round challah, and you would be right. You might also think, if you were buying it at the natural foods store (that I’m sure is going to soak up quite a lot of my budget), that it is 100% whole wheat. And you would be wrong. As I learned when I plugged some of the words into my dictionary, it’s 100% spelt flour. I’m bringing it to lunch anyway. Zany.

For those who are looking towards more “typical” years, I still think zany is a good goal. The difference might be that zaniness gets more-or-less thrust upon me as an ideal framework, whereas for folks in the normal sleeve of life it might be a framework that requires some additional mindfulness. How can you take your normal and make it amusingly unconventional? How can you find amusement in the tough, justice-pursuing work that the world so needs? How can you push against conventionalism when everything just seems blah? How can you break your routines when they’re no longer serving you, and how can you crack a smile when life is throwing so much at you that the idea of a routine seems impossible?

Whether you’re Jewish or not, whether you are celebrating a New Year tonight or just sighing your way into bed before a typical Monday morning, let me invite you into zaniness with me. And I also definitely, for sure, recommend eating some apples dipped in honey. Shana Tova to all. See you in the new year.



Shabbos Blessing- Week 4

(New to weekly blessings? Here’s more about them.)

Week 4? I’m not sure exactly what happened, but somehow I’m about to experience my fourth shabbat on the ark. This one also happens to be the last shabbat of 5776. Rosh Hashanah falls on Sunday night, and the Jewish new year will commence. You could say that there’s a holiday every week here in Jerusalem with shabbat, but Rosh Hashanah is the first “big one,” the beginning of a year cycle that I will spend largely in this place. I have a lot more to say about that and look forward to sharing about the holidays as they come, but for now it’s blessing time.

(As a side note, I think this week’s blessing might be able to nudge some of y’all who thought about writing me a blessing but decided not to because you were intimidated by the word “blessing” to follow up. With deep gratitude for those who’ve contributed and have told me that they will later in the year, I’m not at 40 yet and am looking for more! So if you think you shouldn’t write one because it needs to be religious or long or anything to be worth it, just keep reading.)

Right before I got on the plane to come to Jerusalem, I got on a plane to Minneapolis to visit some dear friends from college, because two of them, after nearly a decade together, were embarking upon a new shared adventure. Her name’s Matilda. She doesn’t do much at the moment except eat and poop and sleep, but I still think she’s pretty great.


This is not Matilda. This is a purple waffle in honor of Prince, eaten for brunch in Minneapolis the day I met Matilda. You can imagine that it is Matilda, but I will not put up a picture of Matilda, because that might not make her parents particularly happy with me. 

As we visited the 2-week-old babe and her parents, her Dad (How? How is that possible? How is my first-year roommate a Mom? Why is time such a crazy thing?! Ahem–pardon the existential crisisetta) grabbed a sharpie and piece of paper and wrote me this:


This blessing is perfect especially for today. Today I’m beginning a 2-day moving process. I got to Israel with an AirBNB studio for the first few weeks. Today I’m walking most of my things about 10 minutes from here to an apartment I’ll share with an Israeli roommate. I’ll bring the rest of my stuff over tomorrow. When I got here, I really thought that I wanted to find a studio, but when I visited the apartment I’m moving into, I got a good feeling about it. I surprised myself by feeling kind of excited at the idea of having an Israeli roommate. I hope to learn a lot, even if we don’t end up being particularly close, and I hope very much to work on my Hebrew with her (even though if we’re aiming for clear communication I’m sure her English is leagues upon leagues better than my Hebrew). More than anything, I’m eager to settle into the place where I’ll be until late January, when I’ll pop over to Europe for a week or two and then move on to Tel Aviv.

This blessing is also perfect for scooting me into the near year. I need to have the attitude of “GO!” I mean, I’m here. I need to take care of myself, and sometimes that will mean saying no to things and tucking into myself, but more often I’m going to need to push myself to be in the world. And, with apologies to the definitely-not-religious new papa, I’m going to turn to Torah now. (Just think of it as literary analysis, English major.)


The world– like this lovely park that I walk through on the way to school every morning. 

I think about the message in Torah of לך לך- the literal message to GO! that God gives to Abram before he’s ready to receive the holy ה that will complete his name. I think of Nachshon going into the Red Sea all the way up to his neck before the waters part. I think of Eve going for the fruit in the garden (yes yes, controversial I’m sure, but I’m convinced that this was a very good thing).

When it comes to this week’s parsha of Nitzavim , I think of the “GO” juice within each of us. Towards the end of the parsha, after going over some lovely and some not-so-lovely parts of the covenant, God says to the people:

“For this mitzvah that I command you today is not too extraordinary for you or far away. It is not in the Heavens that one should say: ‘Who can go up to the Heavens for us and take it and make us listen to it and do it?’ And it is not across the sea that one should say: ‘Who can cross the sea for us and take it and make us listen to it and do it?’ For this thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” (Deuteronomy 6:11-14, my translation)

In short, the energy to go where we have to go, whether that’s to shabbat services somewhere new or to a screaming baby’s changing table at 3 AM., can be found in us.