Burned on the Way Out

IMG_2383.jpg

I was so close to making it home without a sunburn.

All semester, I’ve been pretty careful– slathering sunscreen when at the beach, getting to the shade fairly often, and, of course, making sure to hydrate. I’d gotten a tiny bit pink a couple of times, but I was pretty proud of my non-sacrificial tan.

That is…until today.

Today is my last day in Tel Aviv, and today I rented a bike, and today I pedaled up and down the beach, and today I said goodbye to this city and this country, and today, my upper arms turned red.

And, y’know what? That’s ok. IMG_2376.jpg

A lot of the time, when I travel, there’s something of a disconnect between where I’ve left and where I’ve gotten to. It’s a feeling that makes me think of every Yom Kippur, following the Break Fast, when I catch myself wondering if I have fasted at all. I’m used to eating. For Yom Kippur, I fast. When I’m done with my fast, the first few moments of comfort in returning to food quickly fade in favor of a more normative (privileged) thought process of “what do I feel like eating/not eating now?”

I remember when I returned home from my time in rural China feeling an astonishment at America. Years later, when my youngest sister got home after a semester studying in Ghana, I remember watching her face as we walked the aisles of Trader Joe’s in Berkeley. There’s an awe in home, in the good sort of “default,” when you have been away from it. And there’s a sense, accompanying that awe, of disbelief.

IMG_2381.jpg

I am sitting on my couch in my apartment in Jaffa. I am listening to the meuzzin at the neighborhood mosque chant the prayers that signal the end of the daily fast of Ramadan. In just a moment, those prayers will end and he will chant the adhan. I’ll hear the adhan once more this evening before I order a cab and go to the airport to begin my very long Friday. Tomorrow at this time, I’ll be boarding a plane in Iceland, I hope. This couch, this apartment, this meuzzin, this neighborhood, this time of my existence will feel disconnected from my present, in the same way that in this moment, the idea of taking my suitcase downstairs and getting into a cab and flying away and not coming back feels disconnected from everything I think of as normal here.

IMG_2366.jpg

Like these Ramadan lights

Tomorrow at this time, I will still have a sunburn. It will have faded by then. It probably won’t hurt anymore. But it will be there. It will connect what feels disconnected, connect the “me” of today with the “me” of tomorrow. I am heading into a strange shabbat. It won’t be long before I too walk the aisles of Trader Joe’s and drink my fancy coffee and surround myself with loved ones and feel awe. I am so grateful, and I want to make every effort to link that awe with this reality. I want to be home and know that I have been here.

You’ll hear more from me before I get home. Shabbos Blessing 39 will come from Ben Gurion or from Paris or from Reykjavik. It’ll probably be short, but maybe not, since I’ll have a cumulative 11 hours of layover. In the meantime, I am signing off from this apartment.

Advertisements

Thoughts from the Homestretch

10 days. This should feel like nothing. I have been here for so long. I have experienced so much. I am leaving so soon. I’m down to the amount of time of a Birthright trip. Still, 10 days doesn’t feel like nothing.

Here’s how these 10 days look from here:

  • 10 more days in Israel.
  • 9 more verses from psalms to set to music.
Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 3.36.42 PM.png

The musical “Emily, you like to write stuff, remember?” countdown is on. Will I share all of these someday? Maybe. 

  • 8 more walks to the beach (I try to get there every day, but realistically I’ll miss a day or two)

IMG_2069.jpg

  • 7 more days of counting the omer.
  • 6 more ends of balls of yarn to try and knit something out of since it won’t be worth schlepping them home and I hate wasting yarn.
IMG_2189.jpg

Like this charmingly-useful double pointed needle holder. It rolls right up. 🙂 

  • 5 more showers (I’m an every other dayer unless I get sweaty. What can I say?)
  • 4 more ounces of coffee before I run out and start buying a cup every morning instead of buying a new bag of beans.
  • 3 more ounces of bourbon to find a use for (luckily, mint and lemon are both in ready supply these days).
  • 2 more days of class at BINA
  • 1 more BINA overnight tiyyul (trip)– this time to the dead sea for some hiking and swimming and camping, and then to East Jerusalem for a tour focusing on the conflict.
  • 1 more Tuesday of volunteering at the preschool
  • 1 class to teach to English-speaking Tel Avivians.
  • 1 more load of laundry? Probably?
  • 1 more shabbat in Jaffa.
  • 1 probable day-trip to Acre, a couple hours north from here, just for fun.
  • 1 all-night celebration/study session for Shavuot.
  • Several goodbyes.
  • Many hours of organizing and packing.
  • As much walking about as I can manage.
  • 1 cab ride to the airport (or, if I’m feeling truly ambitious, to the train station, followed by 1 train ride to the airport).

IMG_2128.jpg

 

Shabbos Blessing- Week 37

In 2 weeks at this time, barring delays or whatnot, I’ll be on a plane from Paris to Iceland, a little less than halfway through my very long journey from Tel Aviv to San Francisco.

I wish I could say that the proximity of that departure date, that very, very long Friday in 4 countries, has brought me to a place of pre-emptive nostalgia– of urgency to do all the things I haven’t yet done here or to repeat the experiences that I’ve most enjoyed. That’s kinda what I anticipated when I imagined hitting the 2-week mark a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I’m not there yet. I wish my departure was 1 week away. I wish it was 3 days. I have had a multitude of experiences this year, and I am ready for it to end, and it keeps going.

To be fair, I know that much of the academic world is in its “Oh God, why isn’t it over yet?” state of being. That’s what May brings. I’m used to it. And this is such an incredibly chill May compared to most that I can remember. There are no finals. There is no crazy summer job to prep for. I’m teaching a class on Tuesday evening that I need to put more time into, but generally speaking I have more spaciousness in the next few weeks than I’m likely to have at any point… maybe ever… once I get back to school next fall.

This week was significant, as I said goodbye to a number of my classmates from other institutions whom I’ve studied with this year. We had our final Rabbinical School Consortium gathering yesterday. Many students will leave before next shabbat, and I don’t anticipate making it back down to Jerusalem again before they go. It felt very strange to give hugs and talk of future potential visits to Philly and LA and NYC. And, unlike with many other sorts of goodbyes, none of these felt permanent. We’re all going to be rabbinic colleagues one day, and even if we don’t see one another often, the connections will remain. It felt different than graduation from high school or college, when lives can diverge into such vastly different directions. There’s a comfort there, even as it’s sad to say goodbye for now.

IMG_2038.jpg

I also bade farewell to my kittens-who-are-no-longer-kittens

Spaciousness for me means time for creative projects. I decided when I hit the 18-days-left-in-Israel mark that it would be a great idea to set one verse from a psalm (using psalms 18-1, just for fun) to music every day. This was pretty easy for psalms 18, 17, and 16. Then, yesterday, I gave the guitar I’ve been using all year back to RRC. I feel confident that I can write without a guitar, but it does complicate things slightly.

I’m also going to be working on a creative midrash project. Some folks think that you can’t write new midrash today, and maybe they’re correct. But reading last week’s Torah portion, and then discussing it with my spiritual director, brought me to a place of realization: I gotta talk to some folks in these texts, and, as a writer, I wanna do it through writing. So, aptly or not, I’m gonna call it midrash and see what I get.

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.26.13 PM.png

Finally, I’m going to begin preparations for the project I’ll be embarking upon this summer. I got lucky enough to be given a micro-grant for a podcast focusing upon the positive influences of non-Jewish family members and loved ones in Jews’ lives. I’ll be crafting 4 episodes as a pilot and I really can’t wait. While I’m eager to have this summer as a time to relax and process this year, it’s, well, me. I’m not very good at doing nothing.

IMG_2050.jpg

At least now when I’m bad at doing nothing I make things like double-knit potholders to use up leftover yarn.

This week’s blessing comes from a Jesuit mentor. He saw my post expressing similar wistfulness for home a couple of weeks ago and sent along this poem, along with an explanation of its author:

“Chardin was a Jesuit paleontologist, philosopher and theologian. His thinking got him in trouble. But now he is revered.”

IMG_2042.jpg

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I need those words this week. It does feel as though there’s something of a new spirit forming within me. I feel ready to begin my final year of rabbinical school. I feel ready to put myself into the world more fully than I ever have since childhood. For now, I am impatient of being on the way to something. This shabbat, I wish patience for myself and, really, considering the week the world has had, for us all.

IMG_1854.jpg

 

 

 

40 Days

I still remember, so clearly, the moment that I first thought up this blog. I was in my parents’ apartment, thinking of packing in the weeks ahead, trying to brainstorm anything to get myself excited about the year to come. At the time, I largely dreaded coming here. I was afraid. I was leaving so much behind. Oh sure, I’d learn some Hebrew and explore some new spots, but would I have a community? Would I come to feel at home? Would I learn enough to make it worth being away for so long?

The year isn’t over yet, and I don’t think I’ll really have clear answers to all of these questions until I’ve had some time in the States to process the whole experience. What I know right now, though, is that the States aren’t that far away anymore. I started this year counting 40 weeks. (As it turns out, it’ll be 40-less-1, but I didn’t know that at the time. No false advertising intended.) From 40 (ok, ok, 39) weeks I’ve come down to 40 days. In 40 days at this time, I’ll be on a plane from Paris to Reykjavik, somewhere in the middle of my middle leg of what will be a 27 hour journey from Tel Aviv to San Francisco.

IMG_0743.jpg

This is from my flight back to TLV from Rome back in February

I can’t help but think about the 40-days-in mark. It was October 15– the day before the start of sukkot. Everything still felt so new then. I had had only a few weeks of classes at the Conservative Yeshiva, the rabbinical student consortium had yet to begin, I was months away from any of this years’ visitors arriving in Jerusalem, and the now oh-so-grownup kittens looked like this:

IMG_7957.jpg

Now, my Conservative Yeshiva semester is long over and my BINA semester will end in 5 weeks, the rabbinical student consortium has only 4 more sessions, all of my wonderful visitors have come and gone, and instead of seeing my kittens every day at school, I see these chickens:

IMG_1391.jpg

And how much has happened in the days between the first 40 and these last. Wonderful things like forming the friendships that have sustained me here. Terrible things like the loss of my Grandfather. Opportunities for learning– a few in the classroom, certainly, but many beyond it. Room for experimentation with my own religious practices. Travel within Israel. Travel to Europe not once but three times. Visits from my family and other dear ones. A move from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Many visits to the beach.

IMG_1547.jpg

My time here is definitely not done. I have over a month of class left. I’m hardly in the “get packed up and ready to go” stage. And, it’s a relief to have gotten this far. There have been a few moments over the course of my time here when I’ve wondered if I would still be in Israel in June. Times when I was so homesick or so worried about my health or so tired of Israel’s difficulties (the few that I experience as a woman of Ashkenazi descent, that is) that I didn’t know if I would manage to complete my studies here. I thought I might decide I had to go home early.

Life happens, and it’s not impossible that something could cause me to leave between now and June, but I feel confident in my own commitment. I have lasted this long. I can last another 40 days.

IMG_1748.JPG

especially with my handy-dandy crazy calendar

(On another note, here are some pictures from the last few weeks.)

Showing Fear the Door

One of the most incredible gifts RRC offers its students is “Spiritual Direction.” It’s a little difficult to describe. It’s therapy-like, in the sense that you meet one-on-one with a “spiritual director” (someone, often a rabbi, who went through a specific training program to be certified as a director), and the conversation is focused around your needs and experiences. The sessions can be more emotion-based or more steeped in Jewish text and practice. They can focus on pieces of religious and spiritual life (“I want to deepen my prayer practice”) or on non-explicitly religious and spiritual elements of life meeting spiritual existence (“I’m so busy with school/work/family that it’s hard for me to feel centered in anything God-like”). Some students choose to switch directors during their time in school, and others continue with the same person throughout their time at RRC (and sometimes even arrange to continue privately once they graduate). RRC covers 10 sessions a year for each student. I gobble them up.

I got really lucky my first year, in that the director I tried out ended up being a great fit for me. It’s amazing to have worked with someone for going on five years now. She met me when I was barely a month into rabbinical school and has been accompanying my journey ever since, including during my time here in Israel. During my phone session with her today, our long history made itself known.

I had a sort of plan for our session. We were going to continue a conversation around a particular issue that impacts my religious and spiritual life a lot. But I barely got into our call before my director figured out that something was up. I ended up telling her what was going on. And so, instead of talking about what I thought we were going to talk about, we talked about anxiety and uncertainty.

Spiritual Direction can be a little like yoga, in that sometimes learning and growth set in immediately, and other times the poses have to percolate a little before you know what to do with them. Today, maybe because I followed up my session with yoga, things set pretty quickly.

All this to say, I think that my emotions are really basically a cat.

IMG_4521.jpg

Everyone, meet Pico. Pico is my cat. He’s living in Philly this year with a lovely classmate while I do this Israel thing. I miss him something fierce.

So here’s the thing about Pico: he’s kinda, well, wacky.

IMG_4157.jpg

Pico and a buddy of mine having a ball.

I love the little guy so much. I love watching him chase toys all over, bound down the stairs like a dog to greet me at the door, and hide out in Trader Joe’s bags.

IMG_5369.jpg

I love watching him sleep.

IMG_4539.jpg

And sleepIMG_5396.jpg

And sleep (he is a cat, after all).

IMG_4630.jpg

I love carrying him around and dressing him up.

IMG_5804.jpg

One of these things is not like the other.

I love it when he makes me laugh.

IMG_3132.jpg

And I love it when he wants to hide out in bed as much as I do. IMG_3401.jpg

But here’s the thing about Pico: Sometimes, he can get really annoying. Those are the things I don’t have many adorable pictures of. I don’t have pictures of him tracking litter out of his box or spilling his food because he never learned to be particularly dainty. I don’t have pictures of him nipping at my roommates’ feet and ankles because she was wearing brightly colored socks. I don’t have pictures of him scratching and biting my arms, or my friends’ arms. I don’t have pictures of him standing in front of any door he wants to enter or leave meowing and scratching pitifully for what feels like hours on end. I certainly don’t have a picture of the time when I was doing yoga and he (accidentally– he really was trying to play) cut my eyelid badly enough that I had to go to urgent care and almost needed stitches.

IMG_3712.jpg

I do have a picture of him mutilating this would-be knitting project.

Pico is a cat. He’s a great cat. Sometimes, he and my life don’t mesh perfectly and he’s more annoying than lovable.  I don’t have to love every impact Pico has on my existence to love him. I just have to know that they’re all a part of the package. Usually, he’s welcome. Now, when I do yoga, I have to close the door and keep him out to keep myself safe, even if he scratches and meows pitifully.

Emotions are tough. They contain the best and worst of human experiences. They are this totally chill and wonderful cat:

IMG_6221.jpg

And this slightly perturbed cat: IMG_5233.jpg

And this “nothing is safe so long as I can get it between my teeth” cat.

IMG_2771.jpg

That cat is the closest to what my emotional state has been for the last few days. It’s been chaotic. It’s been meowing outside my door and messing with my concentration on everything else I’m working on. I’ve felt compelled to open the door and let it take over my space.

But here’s the thing: I shut the cat out while I do yoga for a reason. I know it’s safer for me to limit his access when his style of play makes it impossible for me to hang out in pyramid or cobra. It’s not that I’m never willing to play with him, or even that I’m not willing to get a little scratched up from time to time. But having him with me when he could really hurt me isn’t good for either of us.

So it is with my fear. It’s not that there’s no reason for fear. It’s a piece of the emotional bundle just as much as Pico’s occasionally overzealous play is a part of his personality. I love my emotions. I love my cat. They both add value to my life. Sometimes I even cuddle them. And sometimes, my cat and my fear have to go hang out by themselves so I can live normally. My work is to get better at acknowledging the meows without always opening the door.

IMG_5576.jpg

Presidents’ Day

We sat on blankets in a park, the remains of shabbos lunch spread out amongst us. A lonely piece of sweet potato quiche, part of a pot of quinoa, endless containers of hummus and vegetable dips, a crust of challah, half a loaf of chocolate babka, a couple of cookies, the last few sips of a glass bottle of red wine and plastic bottles of tea and juice. We had eaten very well. Most of us had given up on sitting up and had flopped forward on bellies or back on backs to stare at the still-blue sky. We came from four American rabbinical schools. We were of different generations and aimed for different futures. Some of us had known each other for years. Others of us met in recent weeks. All of us carried privilege in our white faces and high education levels. All of us lacked it in being non-male and non-Christian. All of us were afraid.

IMG_8382.jpg

A shadowed rose- photographed November 9, 2016

It was the week after the election. Our lunch had been planned as much out of necessity as out of desire. We needed a space to process, to air our concerns, to celebrate whatever we could find to celebrate, and to hear the divrei torah (sermons) of rabbis in the states who would be speaking about the election results that shabbat. Israelis we knew, would have more distance from the election than we did. We needed to be as tucked into our American communities as we possibly could be. We passed around words of comfort, reading a few paragraphs each, some of us fighting tears, others letting them come. We had ideas of what the future might hold, but we couldn’t know.

IMG_8899.jpg

“I think we’re going to have to be more forward with our politics,” I told my classmate as we walked to class a few days later. “I feel like a lot of people while they’re in rabbinical school try to keep things quieter. I mean, you have people like Jill Jacobs but a lot of us try not to burn bridges. But with this, I don’t know, I think we’re all just going to have to be more forward.”

If all goes according to plan, I will become a rabbi in June of 2018. It will be 5 months before mid-term elections. I will be spending the year prior looking for work. I will want to appeal to synagogues and campuses and anywhere else that might seem like a good fit. My instinct, one that aligns with what I’ve been told by my teachers and mentors, is to be careful. Don’t post things that could be interpreted as inflammatory. Don’t get too political. Don’t put anything on Facebook or on Twitter that you wouldn’t write on a postcard. Get to know your communities before you push them. Listen and do not speak boldly until you have some notion of how people will respond.

All of that makes sense. It’s advice that I’ve generally tried to follow over the years, getting publicly political only when it’s necessary because what’s happening is so right or so wrong. But right now so much is so wrong, and I am not silent, and I am grateful that so many others are vocal and are taking action alongside me.

It’s February 21st. Inauguration was one month and one day ago. Yesterday was Presidents’ Day, and I finished this:

IMG_0943.jpg

I knitted it with yarn that I originally purchased to make hats for my sister’s boyfriend’s niece and nephew. I also ended up making two pairs of baby booties, another baby hat, and a hat for a toddler. I couldn’t help smiling when I thought of little children wearing the same yarn that’s now shouting out this message. They will grow up in a world where they will have to be taught to persist. Luckily, my people know how to persist. We teach our children words like these, diligently, passing them from generation to generation. We won’t stop now.

Until we have a new president, we will persist. Until we have a better justice system, we will persist. Until we all learn to look one another in the eye and see the image of God, we will persist. Each of us is a loop that matters for our collective future, and without a single one of us the resistance would be incomplete. We persisted. We persist. We will persist.

Shabbos Blessing- Week 20

I am halfway to 40. I am halfway to 40 and the primordial waters are swirling around us. I am halfway to 40 and today, of all days, I am no longer certain that the ark can float. I am halfway to 40 and I have no home in Jerusalem anymore and I have no home in Jaffa yet and I worry about everyone who has a home in the United States and about everyone whose home is impacted by the United States and that means that I worry about everyone. It is the stroke of midnight on the 20th week and it is January 20th and this week my blessing isn’t for me. It goes out to him.

dscf1608

Dear President Obama,

I, like many Americans, first met you in the summer of 2004 on CSPAN. I was about to begin my senior year of high school. It was August. My parents, staunch democrats, were watching coverage of the DNC Convention, and I remember my Mom calling me downstairs to the TV. She sounded so excited. “You have to hear this guy,” she said.

I went downstairs, looked at the TV, and saw you. Barack Obama. State senator from Illinois. Talking about America.

“He’s gonna be president one day,” I thought. I was thinking of 2016, 2020 maybe. You were still just starting out, really. You weren’t known.

November 2004 came along, and on the day of the election I went to school wearing a tie-dye shirt plastered with “Kerry/Edwards” and “Anybody But Bush” stickers. It was so hard to be 17. I understood, at least as much as my 18-year-old classmates, the ramifications of the day. I wanted to take part, but I was 7 months and 18 days short of that magic number.

You know what happened next. The last four Bush years were rough for America. They weren’t so bad for me. I started college, got involved with local politics in St. Paul, and studied history. I pulled for you from the beginning of the 2008 electoral process. In June of 2008, I turned 21, and you were in the Twin Cities on the night that you got enough primary votes to declare yourself the presumed Democratic candidate. I stood in line for hours waiting for you and Michelle and stood on the floor of the Xcel Center, mere feet from you both, cheering myself hoarse.

dscf1661

November 2008 came along, and on the day of the election I voted in a presidential race for the first time. I remember feeling lucky to be in a state with paper ballots. It was powerful to fill in the bubble next to your name instead of just pressing a button. My first presidential vote was for a black man. I felt like there was a possibility of progress.

That night, friends and I gathered. Stereotypical millennials that we were, we had the TV tuned to Jon Stewart, and it was from his mouth, quirked into a suppressed expression of glee, that we heard “And Barack Obama is going to be the next President of the United States.” California’s polls had just closed. It was settled. Still, we couldn’t believe it. We flipped channels frantically (this was before everyone had an iPhone), settling onto a more reputable news source. It was true. You had won.

We screamed and hugged and cried and laughed. It was cold in Minnesota (shocker), but we burst out of the house, shouting our delight, listening to others yelling back their own. People driving by honked and flashed their lights. We ran the few blocks back to campus, which was in a completely ecstatic state. Students swarmed the quad and held raves in laundry rooms.

The next day was Wednesday, which meant the possibility of class. I sat in the music building, staring at the front page of the local paper, which of course featured you and your family walking out to offer an acceptance speech. My classmates sat around me. Our middle-aged teacher showed up. He looked at the paper and then at us. “We’re not going to learn about Beethoven today.” His next words were couched in reverent, hopeful disbelief. “I still can’t believe it. These are the people who are going to the White House.”

You went to the White House. Congress fought you. State governments fought you. You got so much less done than you had imagined. Your hair went grey. Your daughters grew up. You never quit trying. You created jobs. You boosted fuel efficiency standards. You acknowledged institutionalized racism. You brought the vast majority of our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. You repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell.” You nominated Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, only the 3rd and 4th women ever to serve, for the Supreme Court. You passed the ACA. 

I was lucky. I turned 26 in 2013. I found temporary insurance for six months and was one of the millions of Americans to enroll through the Marketplace as soon as it was available. The website was awful, as you just might remember, but my eventual coverage was good. I am afraid that, very soon, insurance companies will be able to deny me coverage because I have seen a therapist. I am afraid that, even if I do acquire insurance, my premiums will be high because I am a woman of childbearing age. I am afraid that the disappearance of subsidies may mean that I cannot afford to be insured. I am afraid that my body, that vessel created בצלם אלהים– in God’s own image– may be placed under the jurisdiction of others. 

And that’s just for me. I am so scared for so many others for so many reasons. I am scared for people of color who are struggling against a system that is stacked against them in practice and in law and that may be strengthened in the four years to come.I am scared for LGBTQ people and their families and their ability to stay legally and safely as such. I am scared for children who will continue to grow in the next four years in a nation that may not prioritize educating them. I am scared for Jews and Muslims whose places of worship and community centers are being threatened with bombs and fires. I am scared for every one of us walking down our own streets in our own cities who will be at the mercy of anybody able to purchase a gun under laws that are already too lax and are likely to become more so. I am scared for our nation’s allies and neighbors. I am scared for our future.

I imagine that you’re scared too. I imagine that you’re afraid of what your successor will do to the America you have been working to make greater for your entire adult life.

And I imagine that you’re relieved to be stepping back a little, to let your grey hairs rest, to watch your children finish becoming adults without having to look away from your family and to the world every time anything comes up. I imagine that you’re eager to be able to speak your mind a little more. I imagine that on January 21st you will want to sleep in and will instead snap awake terribly early, only to remember that you aren’t president any longer. I imagine that you will watch the steam rise from your coffee and try to think of the good. And I imagine, seeing as we’ve never met, that I am wrong about some of these imaginings.

Today, I saw a video of you and Michelle at the shelter where you donated Malia and Sasha’s old swing set. I saw you do the presidential wave and smile, but I also saw you lean down to speak with a small child and to push her on the swings. There was press filming you, sure, but this wasn’t about re-election anymore. This was just you being a good guy, sending your legacy forward.

You’re a good guy, President Obama. You aren’t perfect. There were things that I wanted from you that you didn’t offer. There were things that I expected from you that you didn’t deliver. But I am still proud to call you my president. I am proud of what you did for America and of what you tried to do. I was a high school and college student under your predecessor, but you are the only president I have known as an adult. I will become a rabbi under your successor and instead of seeing a role model in the White House I will see an adversary, but I will hold up my community and it will hold me and we will continue to push for change we can believe in. 

I am grateful to you, Mr. President– grateful for your words and for your acts and, yes, for your hope. “Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope.” We need that audacity today, and we will need it for the next four years. Thank you for teaching us how to find it.

Blessings, Peace, and Love,

Emily

dscf1671

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:

img_7773

To this:

img_9159

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.

img_8345

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.

img_9708

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.

img_9310

 

 

 

 

 

O Little Town of Bethlehem

On the side of the road, painted onto a crumbling cement wall, were three well-known images. A star with six points, a Magen David, was rendered in sloppy black spray point next to an equals sign. On the other side of that sign were two interconnected lines, a hooked cross, ripped from peaceful sanskrit origins to become a symbol of hate. Our bus passed by too quickly for me to pull my phone out and snap a picture, but in my mind I can still see the symbols quite clearly. Star of David=Swastika. Israel=Nazi Germany.

This idea was not entirely new to me. I’ve heard people compare Israel to the Nazi regime. I’ve heard people compare Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank to South African Apartheid. But it’s one thing to hear about it and another to see such symbols splashed before my eyes. My heart tightened. My eyes froze open. We kept driving.

Soon, we passed by a huge red sign with a message rendered in three languages. I couldn’t understand all of the Hebrew, and I couldn’t even read the Arabic, so I was grateful for the English. IMG_9045.jpg

This Road leads to Area “A” under the Palestinian Authority. The Entrance for Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against The Israeli Law.

As part of the Oslo Accords in 1995, The West Bank was divided into three official zones. In the simplest of terms, Area “A” was given directly to Palestinian control, Area “B” was designated for shared control between Israeli and Palestinian powers, and Area “C” retained Israeli control.

In 1995, I was just a kid. I knew that Israel was a country because people at my synagogue told me about it. I knew that it was a young country, which seemed strange to me because the Torah was so old and it talked about Israel all the time. I knew that there were people called Palestinians who had something to do with Israel, but I didn’t know anything about them except that sometimes they hurt Israel.

img_9024

The first Palestinian I remember meeting was during my sophomore year of high school. I had just moved from Virginia to New Jersey, and my new school was much larger and much more diverse than any I had attended in Richmond. Many of my classmates were either immigrants or the children of immigrants from all over the world. Sometime during that year, there was a “UN Day,” and students were encouraged to pin a map of their home country up in one of the main hallways.

I saw a girl I didn’t know hanging up a map of what looked like Israel, only, where I expected it to say “Israel,” it said “Palestine.” I looked at it and then at her, puzzled.

“Palestine isn’t a country,” I said.

She whipped around and looked right at me. “Palestine is a country,” she said. She turned back to the map, finished pinning it up, and walked on down the hallway. I noticed the Palestinian flag emblem pinned to her backpack. I didn’t follow. I didn’t ask any questions.

img_8997

The barrier wall between Area C (Rachel’s Tomb) and Area A (Bethlehem)

My first trip into the West Bank was to Susya back in September. I’ve crossed over the Green Line a few times since. Sometimes I couldn’t tell that I had crossed over anything of the sort. Sometimes the checkpoints, when our yellow-plated buses drove through them, felt like little more than toll plazas for a car with an EZPass.

img_9004

Earlier this month, in the city of Bethlehem, I got into a car with white plates and green writing for the first time. This car would not be permitted through the checkpoint we had breezed through earlier in the day. The Palestinian woman who owned it wasn’t allowed to pass through checkpoints in a car at all. She drove me and another rabbinical student to her home just outside of Bethlehem, where we would stay the night. Her apartment looked out over the Shepherd’s Field where, supposedly, shepherds watched their flocks by night and the angel Gabriel from heaven came (you see what I did there?).

img_9043

The Shepherd’s Field

Our Palestinian host was a Christian. In the early morning, the sounds of Eastern Orthodox priests chanting benedictions sounded from her TV. She laid out a breakfast for us of pita, hummus, a thick yogurt dip, olive oil, za’atar, jam, chopped tomatoes, and cheese. I’ve eaten the same in Jerusalem on countless mornings. It felt very normal. It felt safe.

img_9041

Two embroideries by our host. The Arabic one is The Lord’s Prayer.

The night before, sitting with my fellow rabbinical student and our 60-year-old host, I had a moment of feeling unsafe. She asked us about Trump. When we told her about some of the specific groups we were concerned for back home, she made a homophobic comment. Instantly, I was reminded of how much of a bubble I exist in much of the time. My classmate and I gently but firmly spoke with her about it, sharing experiences of our dear ones and their partners as a counter to her narrative of suspicion, hoping to open her up to understanding, knowing that it would likely not be possible to fully shift her views in the course of a single conversation. I asked her questions about her experiences with people who were not heterosexual. She didn’t have many. She asked us questions. She seemed curious. Perhaps she believed what we had to say, even if she couldn’t believe it about everyone who fit a particular label. It was a start. It wasn’t enough.

img_9010

“You see the wall under the road there?” our guide asked, pointing beneath what we had just learned to be a road for Israeli vehicles, mostly headed to the settlements in the hills around Bethlehem. “There’s a house there, and when they built the wall it cut through the property. The people that live there have their own gate so they can get to the Bethlehem side.”

On one side of the wall was downtown Bethlehem, the Palestinian City– Area “A”. On the other side were partially developed hills, olive trees dotting each ridge, settlements looking down from above. The trees, our guides said, had been cultivated by Palestinian farmers for generations, but Palestinians were no longer allowed to go there. Some of the trees had been chopped down. Others remained, surviving either from luck without tending or through the illegal efforts of their caretakers. img_9020

In the Palestinian village of Batir, a short drive from Bethlehem, farming is still a primary way of life. Eight families tend land with terraces that date back to Canaanite times. Generations are buried in caves.img_9023 Many young people leave Batir these days. They cannot legally build new homes without permits, which Israel will not grant. When they marry they either build illegally, risking demolition, or they move to Bethlehem. The family members who remain in Batir take turns watering their lands, each family getting one of eight days in the winter and sharing half a portion every four days in the summer, when fields are parched and water hard to come by.

img_9021

On our walking tour of the village, our facilitators reminded us that we were in public space. It would be unwise to show outward expressions of Judaism. Tzitzit and Star of David necklaces were tucked, kippot hidden beneath baseball caps, Hebrew writing on T-shirts and water bottles covered. We were welcome as Jews to those who knew who we were. We were not welcome as Jews by everyone in the city and villages. I thought about my curly hair. Should I have braided it so that it wasn’t as obvious? Did I look too Jewish? Was I safe?

img_9029-1

In a Bethlehem hotel, the curtains of our meeting room drawn so that those who wanted to wear a kippa or tzitzit could do so without concern, we listened to a panel of Palestinians discussing their lives and their takes on the conflict. One woman said that she wished an earthquake would come and destroy all of the holy sites in Israel. Then, she said, “we can rebuild together.” Then, she said, “nobody will care about Palestine anymore.”

Next to her, a man, shocking the facilitators of our visit, declared that he saw no difference between violent resistance and non-violent resistance. He spoke about the Holocaust, his conversational but far from perfect English carrying an unclear message that caused my eyes to prick with upset. What did he mean, we tried to ask. Was he really saying what it sounded like he was saying? When the panel ended, we still didn’t know.

img_9003

At our final session, just before our short bus ride back to Jerusalem, we listened to the narrative of a Palestinian-American man who moved from the midwest to Ramallah in the 1990s. At first, he was treated by Israel as an American, his passport allowing him an Israeli car and free access to Jerusalem and Ben Gurion airport. When he received a Palestinian identity card, that ended. To get to Bethlehem, instead of driving straight up from Ramallah, he had to take the circuitous route in areas that, as a Palestinian, he is permitted to. Outside of Israel, he is treated as an American, with all of the privileges and limitations that come with such a status. Within Israel and the West Bank, he is not.

Towards the end of his talk, a participant asked him what he thought American Jews could do about the conflict. He looked around the room and said: “What I’m asking for from Jews in the diaspora and Jews in general is just to be Jewish. What I understand is that social justice is a core pillar of your religion. I have to question that when those credentials are checked when you arrive at Ben Gurion. All I’m asking is that you apply the same frame of social justice to what is happening here.”

img_9046

A school/municipal building in a Palestinian village outside Bethlehem surrounded by settlements on all sides. The building has had a demolition order since its construction.

We got back onto the bus. We drove home, breezing through a checkpoint with our yellow plates. It was Friday afternoon, shabbat only an hour or so away. At services, I sang my heart out. I joined friends for dinner, sipping wine late into the evening. I walked home, to the apartment in Jerusalem that I was entitled to by virtue of being a student from America. I thought about my passport. I thought about my lineage and faith and their ability to get me citizenship to this country, if I want it. I thought about a life spent singing in choirs and the words of a song of this season:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Bethlehem every day. They are met in Jerusalem every day. Hope and fear are in every brick of this land, on both sides of the wall. Would that fear could crumble while hope holds us up for all the years to come.

img_9001

Shabbos Blessing- Week 15

(New to Shabbos Blessings? Learn more here. ALSO, Hanukkah update/request: I’m still operating with a blessing deficit to get me through all 40 weeks. There are 8 nights of Hanukkah, and it would be super cool if I could get 8 blessings before it’s over– which is New Years Eve, for those playing along at home. So, if you’re so inclined, send me a blessing in the next couple of weeks! Thanks!)

img_7489

10 years ago at this time I was coming out of a terrible sophomore slump at Macalester College. The beginning of my second year there was awful. I felt disconnected socially and confused academically. My family was going through a difficult stretch, and being in Minnesota while they were in New Jersey was tough to say the least. To be honest, I don’t remember many specifics about that time. What I do remember is that, during Thanksgiving break, which I spent with dear friends in Minnesota rather than flying home, I suddenly realized that everything was ok. I remembered that I was cared for. I remembered that I had value. That was when Mac, and the Twin Cities, became a second home.

On the whole, I loved my experience at Macalester, and I think it’s safe to say that I would not have decided to become a rabbi without the influence of the chaplains I worked with there. My four years there opened me up to so many possibilities of what it could mean to be spiritual and religious and liberal and social justice-oriented. I worked for the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life for two years. I served on the Multifaith Council for three. I was involved in the pluralistic Macalester Jewish Organization for all four. Today, my dream job would be to be a Jewish Chaplain or Hillel Rabbi at a small liberal arts school like Mac. I think I would never leave.

dscf0699

The Chapel/Center for Religious and Spiritual Life at Macalester, appropriately blocked by snowy trees. 

Why am I thinking about Mac today? Because, incredibly, the chaplains who worked there when I was a student are still in my life. I’m so grateful for that. The rabbi there, the one I call “my rabbi” to this day, has been a source of support for me since I was 20. He’s even helped me begin to build a rabbinic bookshelf with volumes from his own collection. The minister who was dean of religious and spiritual life when I was a student has since moved on to another university, but we’ve stayed in touch and I continue to look to her as a model of how to be a pastoral presence to people from many faiths. I also still connect with the Jesuit Priest who served at Macalester while I was there, and I have him to thank for today’s blessing:

“Knowing more surely who you are in God’s eyes and ever growing in gratitude, may you continue to trust God’s invitation to give of yourself in ways that bring healing and hope to all of creation.” God bless you Emily.

It seems fitting that this blessing comes up now, just after my health scare, when gratitude is flowing more than ever. In a lot of ways, this week has felt like a border between one chapter of my time here and another. Although fear is no longer pinning me down, I’ve had to actively remind myself of my health, to reset my mind, to remember that everything is ok. I’m glad to be going into shabbat tonight, and next week I intend to resettle fully into my normal self, with creative projects and academic motivation galore.

For now, I leave you with a picture of this donut. It’s sufganiyot season in Israel now, and while any old jelly donut will technically do, most bakeries here take the charge of donut crafting very seriously (think of it as the closest we get to Christmas cookies). This one has its own jelly syringe so as not to mess with the integrity of the pastry before consumption.

img_9082