Thursday, December 25, 2014

The One with the Stairs

           Welcome to part 2 of my post on finding an apartment in Jerusalem! As I mentioned earlier, I finally found a place to live, on my own, in the center of town in Jerusalem. It was at the upper end of my budget, but I was determined to make it work. The only issue that had me concerned was the fact that it was a loft space, with only a rickety ladder connecting the main area to the loft/sleeping area.
            My Persian landlords (pertinent information for the story) assured me they would build me a small staircase to connect the two. They even put "new staircase" in our contract along with "small fridge" (aka mini fridge, as it turned out) and some other goodies to sweeten the deal. As I had never signed my own lease contract (in a foreign language) before, I gave the lease to some very well-meaning, very non- lawyer Israelis I knew. They seemed super concerned about the contents of the contract but I soon found out it was all standard. As in, "I signed my life away" standard. No matter! I had an apartment to move into and my stairs were going to be built and life was sababa!
             The first snag came whenever I would ask the landlords when the stairs were being built. The answer was always either "next week" or "tomorrow" when in actuality they were not being built next week or tomorrow! A month before I had to move out, I was chilled about the situation, but as my eviction- from- ulpan date neared, I started to get a little panicked. The stairs were taking too long, the landlords said they were getting too pricey, there wasn't enough room for them, and on and on the complaints mounted. All I wanted was to head up to bed at night without taking my life in my hands- was that too much to ask?! Add to this my whole "furnishing an empty box" situation- I had my closet and bed being delivered to a loft with only a rickety ladder! Finally one day, I came into the landlords' store, two doors away from my apartment building and Mr. H had a big smile on his face. He told me to "go check upstairs" and I was absolutely gobsmacked! After weeks of waiting, my stairs were built with no fanfare and not even a word to me- a special surprise! I ran up the stairs and peered at the area where they should be but saw no stairs. Weird. Then I noticed something on the exact opposite side of the apartment. My stairs had been built, big and strong, on the wrong side! 
I was a ball of emotions; confused, excited and ultimately horrified. Because, you see, the stairs had been built completely blocking the indentation in the wall meant to house my closet! Which would be delivered in 30 minutes! 
Um, are these stairs blocking anything important?
I ran back down to the landlords and in a rush of Hebrew, English and tears, demanded to know how and why this happened. After no less than ten conversations dedicated to "the stairs situation", why was the concept of putting the stairs on the other side of the room never mentioned? Why were they put up with no consultation with the person who would be using them? The landlords were shocked. They thought I would be happy! In a mixture of Hebrew, Farsi and tongue clicks, they assured me this was the best option. And in the midst of this chaos, my closet arrived! Except now it had no home, so it sat in the center of the apartment, one gigantic testament to the silliness of the stairs current location. The landlords tried valiantly to show me where my closet should now sit, but in such a small space, there is a place for everything and everything had it's place. And the stairs had to be moved. My landlords, being the very sweet and well-meaning people they are, agreed to have the stairs moved, while still warning the construction crew to "never marry an American girl." Touche.
My closet, stranded in the middle of the room

         As you can imagine, the stairs were not changed the next day. Nor the next. And then it was shabbat, so not then either. On Sunday, a regular working day here, I raced from my end- of- ulpan test to supervise the construction of these infernal stairs. I got to the place and the landlords informed me that the builders weren't coming, as one was sick. I inquired "hospital sick?" and he wasn't. I told the landlords "These builders are making a fool of us. I need to move in and they are completely unprofessional. I'm not telling you to fire them, but I would call them and say I'll never use their services again. You guys are way too nice." Now, reader, you may think I'm being too tough in this situation, but I have the dual honor of being a New Yorker and now an Israeli. And my New York-Israeli mentality does not allow for such shenanigans. And you know what? It really lit a fire under my landlord. An hour later he called me and said he convinced the builder to come at 3 that afternoon! And by 3, obviously the builder came at 4. But he came! And built me stairs! In the exact location we discussed! And they are beautiful! 

              And so, dear reader, I now live in the loft of my dreams, with sturdy stairs and a closet in a closet-sized hole in the wall. All is right in the world and I invite any and all of you to come see the stairs for yourselves, should you ever find yourself in downtown Jerusalem!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

House Hunters: Jerusalem

             It's been ages! So much has happened, since I last blogged. So much, in fact, that I am going to make this a 2 (or 3, depending on how long-winded I get) part series entitled: Where is She Now? The Jordana Brown Story. Today's entry is about my search for a place to live after leaving the comfortable, but temporary, environs of Ulpan Etzion.
            Regardless of my opinions of my accommodations in ulpan (okay facilities, lackluster food options, undesirable location) it was a great home for my initial five months after making aliyah. It was always there when I needed it, with my tiny bed and my unreliable 78 bus line, and I will miss it. About a month before the ulpan ended, a frenzy began wherein all ulpan students suddenly realized we needed a place to move! Permanent locations were discussed, many hoping to move to the Tel Aviv area (why?!) with most choosing to stay in the Jerusalem area. Roommates were buddying up, and appointments to see rooms and apartments were being made. I knew for myself I had several requirements; I wanted to live near the center of town and I wanted to live alone. While most single Orthodox Jews my age choose to live in the German Colony/Katamon area (there's even a whole Israeli television show about single life there, called "Srugim") I knew that it wasn't the place for me. Don't get me wrong, I have friends there and hope to spend a lot of wonderful shabbat meals in the area, but for me, I wanted a more central location. I decided to look in the Nachlaot, Rehavia and center of town areas exclusively. Then there was the whole "living alone" situation. This came about because I have never done it and always wanted to. I am a social person (to put it mildly), but I love the idea of having my own space to come home to, after being surrounded by people all day. I love the idea of hosting a million friends and family members from Israel and abroad, being a landing pad for anyone who needs a place to crash. I love the idea of hosting meals and parties, without checking to see if it's okay with my roommates. And I really love the idea of decorating my own place! But this independence comes with a price- namely, taking care of every single bill and the entire rent on my own for a whole year! That's really daunting for a chick who hasn't had a full-time job in six months! (More to come on job shenanigans in a future post!) But I saved up in New York City (throwback to being a rich American!) and knew that I had to at least try to make this "living alone" thing happen.

              The first area I searched was the two-headed dragon known as Facebook groups and Janglo. There are several Facebook groups dedicated to people looking for apartments or roommates in Jerusalem (and everywhere else in Israel), as well as Janglo, a website for English-speaking Jerusalemites looking for basically anything. Why is this a two-headed dragon, you might wonder. Because if I went to these sites looking for English-speaking apartment options so did every other English speaker in Jerusalem! We are a simple bunch, we Anglos. We want things in English, we want to read and understand, and we want to communicate with brokers and renters who speak our common language. But this leads to a highly competitive real estate market, where an apartment posted in Nachlaot lasts maybe a half hour before it's rented! And it got frustrating after a while. One funny story: The Facebook ad read: "Adorable apartment in Rehavia, cheap rent, 6 months with option for longer, one bedroom with loft." There were some accompanying pictures of a leafy entryway and the price was right, so I set up a time to see the place. When I got there, it was a) not in Rehavia (it was really in Katamon) b) the renter had disappeared from mobile communication and c) impossible to locate the entrance in the labyrinth of this building. Finally, the renter showed me the place. It was actually too narrow to even stand side by side in the "kitchen", her bed was on a loft over the bathroom, and breathing was getting difficult in such a confined space. Then, she showed me a larger bedroom, certainly suitable for habitation. I asked her why she didn't live there! She responded that her roommate lived in that room! Roommate?! Where was that in the ad? And is this roommate staying? I told her I wasn't interested and frankly, she was being ripped off. She told me she had plenty of interest from her Facebook ad, so she wasn't worried. I screamed in my head "Maybe that's because your entire ad is a misleading lie?!" but with my mouth told her that was great and wished her luck.
                    After that debacle, a Israeli friend suggested trying "Yad2" which is where Israelis tend to rent their places. This opened up a whole new world of possibility- endless apartments for rent in every price range, with pictures and descriptions! Unfortunately, there was no English translation on the site, but it gave me ample opportunity to work on my Hebrew reading skills. The first place I found was a loft space in the center of town. It was a cool studio with a ladder leading up to the "gallery." I hadn't really thought about living in the center, but the place was kind of great and the price wasn't terrible, so I said I'd be in touch and kept looking.
                   When you have parameters such as mine, you go see anything that looks right. It's kinda like dating, though. On paper, it checks all the boxes, but in reality it is just not for you. Like the apartment I went to see near the shuk which was literally in a bomb shelter. The renter was explaining how much room I had and how cool the layout was and all I'm thinking is "G-d forbid there's another war and I am hosting the whole building in my bomb shelter living room!" So, needless to say, that place was a no- go. Another place I saw had neighbor children climbing all over the entrance. Another was a glorified dorm room. Yet another was basically situated on a highway. To top it off, the neighborhood where I wanted to live most, Nachlaot, was really pricing me out. It was as if all the hippies (a large demographic of the area) were contriving to keep me out!  It was all becoming very demoralizing and my time in ulpan was running out. 
                  I kept coming back to the loft apartment I saw in town. I showed it to my cousins, some friends and my visiting aunt and uncle, who all saw the potential I did. I decided to move to the center of town and live in a loft! Easy- peasy right? Wrong! Coming up on Part 2 (because this post is getting super- long): The Saga of my Apartment. There are laughs, there are tears, and as always, the end is happy! Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Deep Breaths

              Let's take a trip back to the heady days of early summer. I had just made aliyah two weeks prior, and I was floating on a cloud of fresh Zionism, blessedly uncomplicated bureaucracy and warm Jerusalem breezes. I had just started ulpan, and sub-par accommodations and undesirable food notwithstanding, life seemed simple and fun. I was at the beginning of five months of Hebrew lessons, dorm living and getting myself situated here in Israel. I initially signed up to do this specific ulpan to give myself a "soft landing." My housing, food, social and scheduling situations would be taken care of until mid-December. I was golden.
            Except now it's December! Five long months have passed in the blink of and eye, and in less than two weeks, my adult life in Israel will truly begin. Sure, I had lots of stuff to take care of these past 5 months. But in short order, I find myself scrambling to find: an apartment, a job, furniture, a driver's license, a social circle, and all the details each of these involve. Let's break them down, shall we?
            On December 15, I will be homeless. I will leave the (not terrible) confines of my dorm room and have to live in a place of my own. Luckily, after much searching (blog post forthcoming), I have found a place to hang my hat, and I think I love it. Problem is, it is currently an empty box. A cute and well-located box, but empty nonetheless. It needs furniture, and furniture costs money. Which I don't really have, because I haven't worked since June (!!!) This results in a battle of wills deep within. On the one side, we have the newly thrifty Jordana, trying to get the best deal and buy the bare minimum of household essentials. On the other, prettier, side, we have the Jordana who loves to decorate and beautify, and wants vases, sconces and chandeliers! I am trying to marry the two sides and decorate my apartment efficiently and adorably. This is much more difficult when the closest Target is 5,000 miles away.
Check out this piece of second-hand beauty!
          You may remember (because I wrote it last paragraph) that I haven't worked since June. After the school year ended, I said goodbye to speech therapy. While it had it's good parts (the pay, the hours), it never fulfilled me and I never planned on pursuing it here in Israel. I have a myriad reasons, but the end result is, I need to find a job in a field that I have I have no official employment history! Now, if I wanted to sell Forex or Binary options (whatever the heck those are), I would be good-to-go here in Anglo- Israel. But unfortunately, I am hoping to enter the very lucrative field of Jewish/Israeli organizations, or possibly the even more lucrative field of full-time writing! While I am aware that neither of those fields pay a whole lot, I'm newly on this whole "enjoy what you do" kick, and hoping that my new life in Israel affords me the ability to truly love what I do! My passions have always been Judaism, Israel, reading and writing (not necessarily in that order) and I hope to make an impact in this country while at the same time utilizing talents that I haven't really been utilizing for the past bunch of years. You would think my passion, strong command of language and sparkling smile would have opened all the doors for me, right? Not so! After revamping my resume (which screamed : SPEECH THERAPIST) and sending it out to various contacts, I am still no closer to impacting Jewish or Israeli society than I was 5 months ago. But I am motivated and confident that it will happen soon (do you know anyone, reader?)
           Another source of stress is converting my license from American to Israeli. Unfortunately, this does not involve learning to honk louder and curse in Hebrew. It is a truly involved process which takes copious amounts of time, energy, and money! I could write a whole blog post on just this topic, but in a nutshell: First you take an eye test (money) where they give you a green paper, which you need to have signed after a doctor's check-up (money). Then you take these papers and your license to the Jerusalem DMV (money) where they hassle you for 3 hours because your NYS license was issued after your aliya and how can this be? Then they reject your valid explanation and make you contact the DMV in Jamaica, Queens in order to sort it all out. Then you need to schedule at least one driving lesson (although the instructor will recommend two- money) and then soon after you will take your test (lots of money) possibly more than once, if the fates are not on your side (even more money!) Then, you can pick up your temporary license (money) before being sent your permanent one (dare I say And that is how you convert an American license. And why must you do this now, when you have your whole life in Israel to drive and no access to a car in the foreseeable future? Because the state of Israel gives you a one- year grace period, and after that time you must begin the entire process as an Israeli, with thirty hours of lessons and a written test! No thanks, man!
Step 3 of 45

           My last source of angst in the whole "finding a social circle" issue once I leave ulpan. Much as I like to gripe about this place, there is comfort in knowing that there is always someone downstairs to talk to, always a group to go out with at night, and always a birthday to celebrate. Once we leave the confines of ulpan, we will be scattered to the wind, with many of my favorite people here making the big move to Tel Aviv. I know it's not that far geographically, but logistically, it's a trek. Then there is that dual dilemma of my living alone and also choosing to not live in Katamon. I want to live alone precisely because I like to be with people. Sounds weird? What I mean is, I want to be able to host out- of- town friends, shabbat dinners and small gatherings without worrying about bothering a roommate. I want to be able to be a crash pad for friends and relatives visiting the center of town. Living alone affords me all this, but it also threatens to isolate me. So does living in the center of town. Most young, Orthodox singles in Jerusalem live in the "Katamon" area, which is actually several connected neighborhoods about a twenty minute walk from town. The vast majority of ulpan-ers are choosing to live here, many with other people from ulpan. They are basically transporting a piece of the "ulpan bubble" to their post-ulpan lives. So they will very likely be socializing together and I will very likely need to work harder to maintain connections. This, too, is a stress, even for an uber-social person like myself. 
             So now that I've outlined what I'm stressing about, I actually feel much better. Sometimes it help to talk (type) it out, put it all out there, and tackle it one step at a time. I have an apartment and some stuff with which to fill it. I will find some job at some point I'm sure (maybe Cofix is hiring!) and I will get a license after x number of tries, please G-d. And I already have some great friends, so worse comes to worst, I will just stick with them if I never become the toast of Katamon society. I'll be just fine, don't worry. And while you're at it, tell my mom not to worry either!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

To Fear or Not To Fear

             The statistics are clear. It is much more dangerous to live in New York City, my previous home, than Jerusalem, my current (and hopefully forever) home. And yet, I never woke up to news of a massacre in my synagogue, thank G-d, and I never feared standing at a bus stop, and I never gave passersby the side-eye as I walked the streets of Queens. This is my new reality here in Jerusalem. The macro fears of this past summer, the rockets and the sirens, have been replaced by something far more insidious. The mood that surrounds me is much more reminiscent (and I have been loathe to even think it) of Jerusalem in 2001. In those days, I didn't take buses and I didn't shop at the shuk. I didn't visit the mall and I didn't go out in town. And I gave the side-eye to passersby, because you didn't know where, when or what might happen in the Holy City. 

Painted concrete barrier at Jerusalem light rail station

             And I am afraid. My family is calling me, panic in their voices, because the news is biased and the news is scary and the news is sparse and it doesn't come fast enough. And we want to see the pictures but the pictures are terrifying so we don't want to see them. And our friends are worried- our friends in Los Angeles and Detroit, Chicago and New York. Friends from cities with crazy crime rates are asking us to stay safe and be alert. People are questioning if I regret my move here, wondering whether I'll "come back home" to the US where it's safe and warm.
              But I am not afraid. I live in a country with a strong army, willing to lay down their lives for me, sacrificing their own lives for my safety. And even though the situation keeps getting worse I know  that most of the government is tearing out their collective hair, trying to protect us. And it cannot be easy. There are lefties who want to appease our enemies and those on the other side who want it ended by any means necessary, and those from every side who just want it to stop. There is no easy solution, and I do not envy those decision- makers for whom there is no right answer.
             And yet I am afraid. The news doesn't stop. There is always a new terrorist, a new murderer and more information about those who don't deserve our time or our ink. But we are voracious in our desire for news; we have to know where they came from (Israelis, with ID cards and the right to vote and working in our businesses) and what is being done (Heaven forbid they weren't killed on sight and we have to treat them in our hospitals). The only thing we don't have to wonder about is why. It is because we are Jews. It is not because we are Zionists or settlers. It is not because we are policemen or soldiers. It is only because we are Jews and that is enough for them.
             But I am not afraid. I know that this land is the Jewish land, not because the UN recognized us or because we have foreign governments who tell us we can exist. It is not our land as an apology for the Holocaust or because we had nowhere else to go. This land is not Uganda, just a place for Jews to gather in safety. It is our home because it has always been our home. I'm not being hokey when I say that Israel has been home to Jews for thousands of years; I'm speaking about reality. You know what is not our home? Syria is not our home, nor is Libya, Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia. Lebanon is not our home, nor is Oman, Liberia, Morocco or Egypt. Afghanistan is not our home, nor is Jordan, Tunisia or Algeria. These are legitimate homes for the world's billion Muslims, but Heaven forbid we Jews be honest about the fact that Israel is our ancestral Homeland and will forever be.
           And still I am afraid. I lived through the second intifada and this summer's war. Moving to Israel is a risk. You risk being away from your loved ones and missing out. You risk not finding a job as good as the one you left. And you also risk being here when our "neighbors" get angry, when our neighbors are incited to kill without pattern or warning. You risk the land you live in being derided in the media, and the brave members of the IDF being demonized. You wonder what risks you should take. Do I really need to go in to town today? Do I really need to visit that friend in that area tomorrow? And even though we are a resilient country, you wonder "Is this all worth the risk?"
          But I am not afraid. I am not afraid because my faith in G-d is strong. And I know that this is not the case for everyone. There are plenty of Israelis who feel differently, who draw strength from other places. But for me, there is a large sense of calm and peace that comes with the belief in a Divine Plan. And does this mean that nothing could ever happen to or around me (G-d forbid)? No, not at all. But there is a strength in knowing that we are not all-knowing and that we are part of a larger reality. This doesn't make the pain hurt any less and it doesn't make the fear disappear, but it does infuse it all with a sense of purpose. And that honestly helps.
          And even so, I am afraid. I want this to end. I want to go back to worrying about finding an apartment and a job. I want to start my search for the perfect sufganiya (donut) and to celebrate Hanukkah as an Israeli for the first time. I want to welcome my family here on their visit and show them all the amazing things I get to experience by living here. I want life, as they say, to go on. And I know it will. This, too, shall pass and all that good stuff, because the Nation of Israel will live on. It's not just a catchy saying, "Am Yisrael Chai." We will survive, we will thrive and we will live here in Israel, because it is our one true home, because it is ours.
           So I am not afraid.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Just Right of Center

                I thought this blog post would be about looking for an apartment. I had planned to write this whole post about my madcap search for the perfect home with roughly ten dollars to my name. But at this point, what is going on in my city is so much bigger than what is going on in my life and I am compelled to write about it. Here is the usual preamble: these thoughts are my own, you may not agree with them but they are based on my upbringing and my experiences, yadda yadda. Truth is, notwithstanding a blurb about supporting Jews living in "the Settlements" and attending a pro-police rally last week, I keep this blog pretty "Center- Right." If you actually know me, though, you will note that I am actually much more "Right-Right" and that will be reflected in what I am about to say.
             I experienced the "Second Intifada." I was a naive 17-year old, spending my seminary year in Jerusalem when bombs started exploding in crowded areas and buses were being blown up. I remember the mood of that year with perfect clarity. I remember not taking one bus from October on. I remember being forbidden to enter the mall, the Machane Yehuda market, and most especially the center of town. I remember the group text messages from my school inquiring about where we were during attacks, I remember calling any and all friends to make sure we were all safe. I remember spending exorbitant amounts of time just roaming my own tiny neighborhood, because most other places became out of bounds. And mostly, I remember the fear that lived inside me imperceptibly, always just a tiny bit anxious and unsure. See, that is the whole point of an Intifada. It is meant to disrupt your life, to keep you indoors, to make you suspicious of everyone, all the time. Now I'm not saying that is the current mood here in Jerusalem, thank G-d. But I am saying there are rumblings. There are conversations in Whatsapp groups that look like this:

X: Guys, we were just in town and heard a boom. Don't come in to town if you can help it.
Y: Oh my gosh! Are you okay?
X: Yeah, I just ran away and I'm heading back now.
Z: Shoot, I needed to go into town to pick something up! Should I not go?

       Obviously, there is nothing intrinsically terrifying about going into town or taking a bus right now. But over the past few weeks, Israel has seen a considerable amount of terror by so- called "lone wolf terrorists" which is most certainly taking it's toll on the Jewish population here. There have been several terror attacks committed by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians who have rammed their cars into innocent civilians getting off the train near Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. One of those murdered was a precious 3 month old baby, on her way back from her first visit to the Western Wall. Other attacks more recently have included stabbings and shootings, and the targets have no discerning connections. Border police have been targeted and yeshiva students. Babies and the elderly. Residents of "the Settlements" and denizens of Tel Aviv. The only responsibility target is "Jew", even if the victim eventually turns out to be Druze. And it is no longer "the Palestinians" who are claiming responsibility for the terror. It is more often than not Israeli Arabs, who live in Arab towns alongside Jewish ones, with the full rights of Israeli citizens. They are being inundated with the directives to "rise up" and "kill the Occupiers" with billboards and television commercials, radio addresses and Mosque sermons. They are being encouraged to stoke the flames that the Israeli government (in my view) seems unwilling to properly subdue.
         Ahhh the government. For the most part, I support what the government has to say. The rhetoric matches mine to the letter: "We will not tolerate this terror. We will catch and prosecute the terrorists. We should take stronger steps to punish those responsible. We will not allow this to continue." And yet, continue it does. We build concrete blocks at train stations, we chase stone throwers, we apprehend the terrorist. But we also treat said apprehended terrorist at our incredible hospitals. I know what you may be thinking "What kind of monster won't treat someone who is injured?" Well, I guess I am the kind of monster who is picturing my family member who was just hurt or murdered by that terrorists, not really concerned with  his physical well-being. But that's me. I guess I'm the kind of person who is more concerned about the safety of myself and my friends and family than the rights and feelings of the community stoking the flames of aggression and terror against the Jewish people. 
Cracked window on Jerusalem Lightrail

        It is hard for me to remain neutral in this situation, it brings out the radical in me, the Kahane-loving, orange bracelet- wearing, Temple Mount- reclaiming, Blue and White- bleeding, crazy Right Wing-er in me. Does this mean that I would, G-d forbid, be involved in some counter- extremist measures? Never. Does this mean I will start throwing rocks, or yelling at random Muslim passersby, or comporting myself as anything other than the model Jewish Israeli? Absolutely not. But it has most certainly shown me that the government needs to take stronger and more forceful steps to avoid further aggression. We can't keep putting Band-Aids on bullet wounds and we can't keep putting up barriers to protect ourselves after we've already been attacked. We can't blame this on "the Settlements" because the attacks are in Tel Aviv too, and we can't blame this on the IDF, because they are attacking babies and the elderly. We have to be honest with what we are facing, as uncomfortable as it makes those liberals among us and realize that as much as we want this not to be happening, it is happening, and we need to remain unified if we want to stop the terror now.
           You know I can't leave a blog post without optimism so allow me to tell you a little story. I was having a talk with a fellow recent new immigrant to Israel. Like me, her birth country is friendly to Jews and relatively safe (ie- not France). She said to me "Jords, I'm scared and sometimes I feel like I wanna go home. Do you ever feel that way?" Mind you, this girl is a real- deal Zionist and left a super- easy life to come to Israel and start her family here. And I looked at her and said, "Sometimes I do feel like I want to go back to America, but only really to see family and friends. And go to Target. Because America really isn't my home anymore. This is my home." Am I the best Zionist in the world? (yes) No. I am just someone who moved here, knowing that life would get rough and that we had some very angry neighbors and that life might get kinda scary sometimes. But I also know that this is where I'm meant to be, that the struggles in Israel are my struggles too and that that this is my home, and I'm staying.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Jerusalem of Cold

              I've always loved language. As you can probably tell, I love to write, but unless you know me, you might not know that I also adore reading and probably love speaking most of all. (There is no use pretending I don't talk a lot. This is an honest blog.) I've always been infatuated with words. It was this love of language that convinced me that I would be happy as a speech therapist, enabling others to communicate effectively. Of course, I was never truly content as a speech therapist (a blog for another time), but I did always love the magic that came with connecting a child with language (cue after-school special music.) One of the things I love about language is that the same word can have several meanings. In Hebrew, we are told "yesh shtei mashma'uyot"- there are 2 meanings. This can be slightly frustrating for a new language-learner, but also endlessly fascinating to a lover of words. The multi-meaning word I wanted to focus on in this post is "cold."
          Our first translation refers to the current weather pattern here in Jerusalem. While surely not as cold as my hometown of Queens, or other northern areas of the United States and Canada right now, Jerusalem is certainly no longer the balmy, sunny and breezy oasis it had been since I made aliyah. Now, upon waking up, I actually have to check the weather in order to dress for the day. I've had to unpack my sweaters. I've had to buy tights and leggings. While none of these is all that terrible, I do long for the days when I didn't have to bring a jacket and scarf, in anticipation of a chilly Jerusalem evening, or plan ahead by shlepping an umbrella on my errands. And I know in Israel you have to be psyched when it rains, but I'm not there yet, and my rain boots are sitting safe and sound in my bedroom in Queens! It's not my fault though- how was I to fit all my winter stuff into my 4 oversized duffles when I made aliyah? This all makes me sound pretty jappy- moving on!

          The second translation for "cold" refers to the irritating illness that befell me this past week. I'm sure you were wondering where I was and why I wasn't blogging. Well, I'll tell you! I was dealing with a huge, intense, hideous cold. I used to get sick all the time in the States. It's probably my fault- I incubate myself tremendously and am terrified of germs, so at the slightest exposure- boom- bad cold. I've been getting flu shots to lessen the possibility for the past few years (as Chanuka presents- do I have the best parents, or what?) but it totally slipped my mind to get one here. Last week, I felt that foreboding tickle in my throat and I knew it was coming. In the spirit of honestly, I will tell you how I dealt with a cold back in New York. I went to my parents house, and they took care of me for those few days. It was one of the very few perks of still being single, and I took total advantage. My mom would buy me Puffs Plus (ohhhh I miss you, Puffs Plus...) and bring me medicine (I'm a medicine gal- not remedies, not Vitamin C, not saline solutions- medicine. So sue me) and I would ride out the illness on a cloud of Nyquil and Saved By The Bell marathons. This time around it was me, my tiny room, a roll of toilet paper (no Puffs, remember?) and whatever shows I downloaded free on iTunes back in 2010. After 40 hours, I emerged from bed, mostly healed, and praying for continued good health this winter. Amen.
             The third "cold" I will discuss is cold in the emotional sense. Apparently, Jerusalem is going through quite a bit right now. We have what is being referred to as "the Silent Intifada," where Muslims are targeting Jewish people, sites and police in a series of violent activities which individually are troubling and collectively are completely unnerving. In just the last few weeks, we've seen rioting, destruction of municipal property, a murder of a 3 month old baby, an attempted assassination of a Jewish Temple Mount advocate and untold numbers of rock and molotov cocktail- throwing. Last week I attended a rally at police headquarters, showing both our support for the police and our desire for them to actually have freedom to ensure our safety. It appears (although I am not totally privy to all information) that they have the unenviable task of keeping the peace while being unable to use any true measure of force when dealing with the violent element. All this leads to a small but tangible chill of unease walking around Jerusalem, this city that I love with all my heart. Compounded with this is the news out of the US last week where senior members of the administration chose to call out their staunchest ally in the Middle East, if not the world, as a coward. How frosty is that? Considering the source and the target, the assessment is almost laughable, if it wasn't so damaging to our two countries' relationship and the way our detractors view us. One only needed to read the New York Times or Ha'aretz or some other such anti-Zionist publication to see how much enjoyment enemies of our State gleaned from this snub. There is indeed a tinge of cold here in Jerusalem of Gold.

           But I hate to ever leave a post on a sad note so let's spread a little warmth, eh? My close visiting friend visiting from the States brought me my jacket, so already I'm feeling less cold physically. Because of the kindness of friends and family, and untold hours of sleep, my head cold is clearing up. And I have all the faith in the world that whatever hardships this city (and this country) go through, we will always be okay, as long as we Jews who love it continue to defend it with all we have. For now, I will be here in Jerusalem, and I invite you to join me here maybe with a nice, hot cup of caffe hafuch!

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!"

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Wandering Jew(ess)

             Generally, I'd wait til the next chag (Yom Kippur) to post something, as not to inundate you with the minutiae of my life, but I gotta tell ya, this past Rosh Hashana was chock full of tears, laughs and chavayot (experiences). If I had to sum in up in one phrase: I walked, I prayed, I ate. But since this is my blog, allow me to expound. This year, the 2 days of Rosh Hashana fed into shabbat, leaving observant Jews with essentially a "3-day chag." This means that we kept the general laws of shabbat (no electricity, no transportation) for 3 full days. This also meant that I had to find 6 kind souls to feed me six festive meals over the next 3 days and walk to each location, as buses weren't an option. I spent the weeks before the holiday asking (read: begging) for my supper, and made a schedule of all my meals. I knew the addresses, times to be there and what I was bringing for each meal. I was a lean, mean meal-mooching machine.
            My first cousins (henceforth referred to as "the boys") have an apartment in the center of town. The importance of this apartment and the hospitality of the boys can not be stressed enough. There are 2 bedrooms, a living area (separated into dining/kitchen/living room) and a bathroom. My 3 cousins live in the bedrooms, leaving me a very comfortable couch to sleep on. Let's keep that in mind as we proceed. The first night, I ate a quiet meal with the boys. Nice and uneventful, we retired to the couches to eat candy (what else do young cousins do when no grown ups are around?) and I realized we were sitting on my bed. I also realized that while the lights were creating a lovely ambiance in the room, there were three lights on in the main room alone. And they would stay on through Saturday night! Which meant that I would be sleeping in a virtual state of midday light for 3 straight nights! No problem, I thought, I'm so tired I'll conk right out. Not so! Between my eyeball suffocation from the eye mask my cousin lent me to the non-existence of any breeze in a usually very breezy autumn Jerusalem, sleep was not my companion on night #1.
               I woke up a bit tired, but mentally preparing myself for the long News Year's prayer service. Since I live in ulpan and don't have much family here, I attended services at the only synagogue I really knew of nearby. I worried that since I hadn't bought a seat, I'd be standing for a very, very long time. Not to worry! There were rows set up with no designated names on them so I chose a seat between 2 ladies who you could identify as Israeli even if you had never met an Israeli in your life. They oozed blue and white, if you will. Lots of bright nail polish, a hair coloring which was essentially a dark black with vibrant purple highlights and jewelry to match their hats and sandals. You know the type. One shot me a look whenever I shifted in my seat and the other offered me a hard candy during shofar, so it pretty much evened out.
            Now to the services. You know those people who adore cantorial music? Can't get enough of an older man, resplendent in his white turban, belting out every word of every prayer? I am NOT one of those people. It's definitely a flaw, but give me a cantor who zips through the prayers at a respectable pace and I am a happy camper! This cantor may have been the best cantor in the whole world, but I was having none of it. I felt annoyed that what I thought was Rosh Hashana prayer services turned out to be a 5 hour cantorial concert. I will say, however, that Mrs. Hard Candy next to me was loving it. By contrast, the shofar blower was magnificent. Like, if that man has another job besides shofar blowing, he needs to quit, because he truly has a gift. Never have I heard such loud and sustained tekiot- his tekiah gedolah literally clocked in at 25 seconds! It's like Kenny G decided to convert to Judasim, move to Jerusalem and grace us with his skills. Magical.
             Okay, now to lunch. This was the only meal where I was asked to contribute food so I made (read: my cousin made for me) rice and salad for the meal. This meant I had to carry this bounty from the center of town to Katamon- not far, but not optimal shlepping distance. I left shul a few minutes early to make sure to meet my friend on Jabotinsky and Balfour so we could walk to lunch together. I finally got there and he wasn't there! Oh wait- maybe it's because I walked to Tchernokovsky and Herzog! Grrrr. So there I was, making a U-turn, huffing and puffing up a huge hill in the beautiful (read: swealtering) Jerusalem sunshine, rice and salad bags making my biceps burn. Finally, I find the meeting point and my friend is nowhere to be found! You might remember, there is no technology during the holiday, so I couldn't exactly call him! So I sit, a pathetic-looking immigrant girl, until fellow Anglos see me, give me exact directions to my lunch location, and I find the apartment. My friend wanders in minutes later, explaining that he left the meeting point just moments before I got there. I failed to see any humor because I was sweating and starving so then I had some white wine and the misunderstanding magically became much, much funnier!
              Dinner that night was so lovely and at a very close friend just a stone's throw from the apartment where I was staying. It also marked the first of the 4 meals I had lined up at chareidi (ultra Orthodox) families. I will say this, regardless of your opinion on the hareidi community, the food is delicious and super-duper kosher! Unfortunately, after 2 huge meals, I wasn't that hungry and couldn't eat all the food I wanted to. First world problems, am I right? After another fitful night in the brightest room in Jerusalem, and a repeat concert by the cantor par excellance and his amazing shofar blowing accompanist, I took the long walk to Ma'alot Dafna. 
               To get to that area (where I had set up my dinner meal too- pretty smart, huh?) you have to pass through Meah Shearim (ultra-ultra Orthodox) and similar areas, so by the time I had reached my destination, I passed more streimels, black stockings and payot than you can possibly imagine. After another fantastic meal, I took a nap in my friend's spare room and made the short walk to dinner. Once there, I told my hostess about my whole "sleeping on a lightbulb" issue. She suggested I stay at her place. "Do you mind sleeping in my boys room?" Not at all! "Then it's settled." Five minutes later "oh, it's cool that you're on the top bunk right?" Couldn't be more excited to literally bunk up with these little boys. After possibly the best night of sleep ever, I made my way to my last meal- shabbat lunch.
              I was eating at my cousins in Mattersdorf. If you have never been there, allow me to paint you a picture. There are a bunch of neighborhoods close to the central bus station that are super- ultra- Orthodox/Hasidic. They have different names, but the basic rules apply throughout. It's the type of place where 5 year olds take care of their 3 year old siblings, gates keep out cars on shabbat, Yiddish is spoken as frequently as Hebrew and clothing in the color baby blue is considered provocative. Walking there, I read the posted signs (one of my faves: "Daddy, save me from the Internet and iPhones"- emblazoned above a crying baby.) Let it be known, I am cool with these residents putting whatever signs they want in their neighborhoods. I may not agree with them, but if that's what they believe- power to them. My cousins are this kind of religious, but so warm and accepting and, well, cool, that I never feel the least bit weird in their home. I did get lost on the way over, when my shortcut turned into an impromptu hike up a trash-filled dirt path with the icing on the cake being hopping over a low fence, but it was worth it. I had a delicious meal with my cousins and their nine (k"h) children, and took my final long walk back home with a belly full of chulent and a smile on my face.
                 I waited for the end of chag at the apartment with the boys and congratulated myself on my first holiday in Israel as an Israeli. It may not have been relaxed or simple, but it was exciting and special, and that's kind of the perfect memory for my first one here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

As One Year Closes...

                I remember sitting in shul with my mom last year in Jamaica Estates, whispering "I feel like it was just Rosh Hashana!" She whispered back "Time only goes faster as you get older. Years go by in a blink." At the time, I had decided that I wanted to make aliyah sometime in the new year, an idea I hadn't yet broached with my family. I knew in my heart that this was possibly the last time I'd be sitting next to my mother and sisters in my childhood synagogue, praying where I had since I was eleven. I looked around my congregation at the faces of those I had memorized after so many years praying together, steeped in nostalgia for the High Holidays I had always known, while still anticipating the High Holidays to come.
               And here we are, one "blink" later, standing on the eve of the Jewish New Year, 5775. Except this year didn't fly by for me. I think when your year is filled with so many events, so many changes, the days don't blend into one another and the year stretches a bit. When I think back to one year ago, it actually feels like a lifetime ago. I was truly another person. I was solely an American citizen, I was a speech therapist in a NYC public school, and I was just starting to attend "pre-Aliyah" meetings, sticking my toe in the water. Over the course of the year I: applied for aliyah, sent in 9,000 forms, racked up many hours of speech therapy, spent as much time as I could with friends and family, celebrated a bunch of holidays, packed up all my belongings and made my way over to the Holy Land to start a new life. In that time I saw friends get married, babies come into the world, my grandmother leave this world, and countless other changes and momentous occasions that have shaped my worldview forever. When you see each year not as just another year, but a capsule of important events that change who you are and what you have always believed, the world tends to slow down a bit. This year of huge changes taught me to focus on the days, the weeks and the months, rather than the year as a whole.
               To think of where I'll be this Rosh Hashana, in the holy city of Jerusalem, as an Israeli citizen, is kind of mind-boggling. No longer will I look to my right and see my mom, devour my sister's delicious salads, gobble kisses from my niece and nephews or walk with my dad to tashlich. All those sentimental moments are now part of my rose-colored past. But I look forward to meals with good friends and family, finding the perfect synagogue for me in Jerusalem, and spending the holiday in a Jewish country where we are all lucky enough to be celebrating the New Year, together. Wishing you all a happy, healthy and sweet new year!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

               Last night I had the great honor of attending a good friend's birthday party. Normally, this would not be impetus enough for a full blog post, but the important detail here is that this party took place in Tel Aviv. I am wary to even write this post, as I worry that it will be my most controversial posting to date. Few things arouse the passions of Tel Avivians and those who love Tel Aviv like someone not loving Tel Aviv. And kids, I do not love Tel Aviv.
              Allow me to amend that. I love all of Israel. From North to South, East to West, disputed and recognized, I am fully in love with this land of ours. I could wax poetic about Hebron, yammer on about the Golan Heights, even muster some nice sentiments about Haifa. But when it comes to Tel Aviv, I am not sold. Normally I just shrug it off as something I'm just not that into, like brussels sprouts and the New York Mets. But last night, when I mentioned it in conversation (with an entirely Tel Aviv-ian group of people) I was forced to explicate what I did and didn't like about Tel Aviv in bullet-point format. I kid you not. For every point I made, my inquisitors made a counterpoint explaining why I was wrong and how Tel Aviv is actually so awesome. And while I admired their tenacity and obvious pride for their city, you can't force me to like brussels sprouts or the Mets! I don't like them! Don't sell me on their nutritional value or David Wright- I am aware, and I am not impressed! So what exactly are my gripes with this perfect specimen of a modern Israeli city, you ask. Here they are, in no particular order.
           A lot of who I am, both as a person and now as an Israeli, is national religious. It is difficult (but surely not impossible) to live the life I want to in Tel Aviv. I dress the wrong way ("Sleeves in the summer? Gross!"), I eat the wrong foods ("We sell Bacon!"), I have the wrong political outlook ("You like Naftali Bennett? Are you insane?"), in short, I am the Tel Aviv nightmare. Add to this the swamp-like quality of the weather ("but only March-November!") and the questionable aesthetic/architecture, and it's a tough sell for me. Even the process of getting there from ulpan (bus from ulpan-->Jerusalem central bus station (beautiful and well-kept)--> TLV Central bus station (horrific and terrifying)-->bus or sherut to wherever I'm headed) is a huge undertaking, and therefore only done sparingly. To be fair, it's pretty awesome that the trip from the 2 biggest cities in Israel is under an hour; can you imagine getting from NYC to LA in that length of time? But it is still time, and money, and so going to Tel Aviv is always an experience. 
(Kosher restaurant that isn't falafel? Had to document it!)

                  So let's get to the benefits, shall we? After all, this is Israel, the Jewish Homeland, right? There must be some things I like about Tel Aviv. Well, yes there are! First, I like the place it holds in Israeli history- what only about one hundred years ago began as sand dunes near the ancient Jaffa port has become one of the major cities in the entire Middle East! That's super- duper impressive! I also like the people- some of my favorite people in Israel live in Tel Aviv, (including my soul sister Natalie, who is the mirror Tel Aviv image to my Jerusalem one) and some of the most interesting people-watching you can imagine. And of course, I enjoy the beach. As much as I can sell you Jerusalem, I can not create the Mediterranean Seashore in central Jerusalem. And that, Tel Aviv, is a big ol' point in the plus column. No question. 

            Something I did notice while this ridiculous party conversation was taking place, was that we were a group of young adults who felt passionatley about our cities, cities that we had all chosen to live in, cities to which we moved from various other countries. We had all made aliyah, and while I chose to start my journey in Jerusalem and they in Tel Aviv, we all chose to leave the comfort and ease of America or England and take the road less traveled. To move away from our friends and families and make new friends, start new families, in the Jewish Homeland. In those silly moments of "hometown pride" banter, we were a group of Zionists who love this new home of ours! So be it Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (yay!), we are so lucky to live here and I hope you all come visit me here in Jerusalem soon. Who knows? Maybe we can even take a day trip over to Tel Aviv!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Let's Go To the Mall!

                   When I lived in America, I enjoyed shopping. Perhaps enjoyed is the wrong word. Loved, adored, and maybe even delighted in the activity of shopping. According to many well-meaning friends and family, maybe too much. I can own that about myself. And so when I told people I was making aliyah, the questions "Where will you live?" and "How will you shop?" were posed with equal frequency. As I packed to leave, many wondered how I would fit my enormous, yet carefully curated wardrobe into just a few bags. Especially as that wardrobe was enhanced by pre-aliyah shopping trips. Whenever I asked people, "What should I bring when I move?" the answer was inevitably "Clothes!" (also Ziploc bags, which I still don't quite understand.) So I bought and packed, and decided to hold off shopping until I made a return trip to America, land of outlet malls and clearance sales. 
                  And I was doing great! I had gotten extremely good at mixing and matching my pre-aliyah wardrobe, utilizing accessories to keep things fresh; I was in the budget-concious zone! And then I realized that Rosh Hashana and the rest of the Jewish holidays were just a month away, and I felt conflicted. On the one hand, I am a full-time ulpan student. That pays me exactly zero dollars (/shekels) a month, for 5 months. This is the longest stretch of non-earning I've had in my entire adult life, and I am essentially living off my aliyah stipend and savings. The responsible thing to do would be to wait to shop, right? But on the other hand...there is no shopping as fun as pre-holiday shopping, right? So today I took the bus over to Kenyon Malcha, the big mall in Jerusalem to get a couple new things to bring in the new year.
             Clothes in Israel come in 2 basic categories- sold in the shuk (market) and marked up to 4 times the price. Stores such as the Gap and H&M are pricey in this country! Up is down! Left is right! So I decided if I was going to shop here, I should stick to what I know- international stores. I know, I know, I should be embracing Israeli culture, and that includes Israeli fashions and styles. But realistically, that is not my vibe. So I went to my happy place first- Forever 21. In America, one can got to "Forever," try on 10 things, buy 5 and not even think about it. For me, in Israel, it was much more involved. Prices are higher and instead of just shopping to shop I was shopping for survival (sorry, maybe that's a bit much.) But I made a strict budget and stuck to it. Whilst shopping, I noted the major differences between shopping in America and here in Israel.
            First and foremost is the child and baby aspect. Israelis, and chareidi Israelis in specific, are accustomed to bringing their children and babies everywhere. I don't mean parks and restaurants. I mean weddings and wine festivals. Therefore, malls are essentially just huge play areas for humans 3 feet and under. This translates into free, fun kids activities, stroller parking areas, carousels and rides for the little ones. It also means crying babies on store lines, in dressing rooms and bathrooms. Ask anyone, I am a real baby-lover. But stand on a fifteen minute line with a wailing bundle of joy and you're gonna ask yourself "do I really want this sweater that bad?" 
            Next is sales. I was well known in my circles for being a great shopper. Like 90% -off-great. I even had a short-lived blog dedicated to my awesome bargains, called "Dana's Deals"- true story. But in this country, a "sale" is quite a misnomer. It is not uncommon to see a sign offering "Spend 500 shekel, take 100 shekel off!" (Who has 500 shekel?!) or "Buy 3 get 1 free!" (But I only want one!) This doublespeak makes me long for the "Take 40% off Sale" deals I took for granted at my beloved Roosevelt Field. 
           But now to some mall upgrades. I would always walk around the mall in New York, starving, only to have a frozen yogurt for lunch. I would stare longingly at the food court, wishing I could try whatever greasy junk food samples I was offered. Now I live in a country where every shop in the food court is kosher! I can have anything I want! In the mood for sushi? I can have it. Craving pizza- I can have that too! As any kosher observant Jew will tell you, it's a huge deal! Another great thing about  Jerusalem mall is that they celebrate the Jewish holidays along with you! Today they were selling special wines and delicacies for Rosh Hashana and they are always decorated to reflect the Jewish time of year- how special is that? Sure beats a tiny menorah next to a gigantic tree during holiday season! 
             You take the good with the bad. I am much more okay with overpriced tee shirts from Zara when I think about the kosher Chinese food waiting for me right next to the kippa and shofar stand on the second floor. I am learning that just like everything else in this country, each grain of salt comes with a heaping teaspoon of sugar to make it better. And besides, I can always shop online!