Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Too Much Dome, Not Enough Iron

                 Today's blog was supposed to be inspiring. I was going to tell the story of how I gave blood in Jerusalem. I was going to speak of the great joy I had, giving back to the country that has already given me so much, of finally contributing to Israeli society in a meaningful way. I was going to describe how I had sat on a long line, smack in the middle of the day, waiting upwards of 40 minutes, with another 10 Jews hoping to do something good with their day too. It was going to be a beautiful post, down to the picture of me smiling, "caught in the act (wink!)" of donating blood to the people of Israel. Of course, that is not what happened. After waiting upwards of 40 minutes, outside in the 90+ degree August heat (forgive me, Centigrade friends), I was informed that my iron level was .4 under where it must be for the great honor of giving them my blood as a present. Now, I know what you are going to say, it's not healthy for me or the recipient to give/take blood so devoid of precious iron, but I was livid. Really, I had myself to blame. I knew this might happen, that my iron levels might come back to bite me. Since coming to ulpan, I rarely eat meat. And here is why.
              The meat (main) meal in this country is lunch. Lunch is served at 12:45. The line for food is a mile long by 12:46. Imagine, if you will, the best meal in the world. Steak, sushi- what have you. Imagine then, that it is free and plentiful. You would gladly wait on such a line, would you not? Unfortunately, in ulpan, everything in that scenario minus the insane line is the opposite. The food is free, to be sure, but it is also never appetizing (to me) and relatively sparse (no seconds!) On the rare occasion where I eat an ulpan dinner, it is generally two fried eggs, some rice or pasta (plain) and various salads. But for now we will discuss lunch. Allow me to set the scene- so it's 12:45 and my teacher has let the class out a bit early. I am first in line! Let's not celebrate just yet. Suddenly, I become very popular. People I barely know come over to chat with me about nothing. And stay there. And stand there. On the line. Because without my consent, I have just become an accessory to line- cutting! And lest you think this is a "rude American" phenomenon, please be aware that the worst perpetrators of line-cutting are the Russians and the French (in that order.) I don't want you to be concerned that I am segmenting the ulpan by nationality/language spoken- I mean, I am- but it is totally fine and accepted. We all refer to each other this way, makes things so much easier for descriptive purposes. Back to the lunch line. So it's me, my new best friends who've used my kindness to cut in front of 50 fellow students, the French, the Russians/Ukranians and a closed door. At 12:45, the door opens and lunch is served.
             There are many students who enjoy the food at ulpan. I am not one of them. The choices are essentially meat or meat or meat or meat or unidentifiable fish or questionable vegetarian option. Now, I am no vegetarian, but since ulpan began, I have essentially become a pescetarian (fish-eater). This means, I always eschew the meat options, get scared by the veggie options and settle for the fish options. On any given day this means: 1) piece of fish in unidentifiable sauce, 2) fried fish (recipe: 3 pounds batter, 2 ounces fish) or today's option: 3) fish balls. I offered everyone in ulpan 100 shekel to identify the fish in fish balls, to no avail. Then to the side dishes. Can I interest you in some carbs? We have rice, pasta, potatoes, corn or couscous. As a Bostonian might say "cahbs on cahbs on cahbs." Next, you have your salad bar (term used loosely) and of course, your soup of the day. I do believe I am the only student at ulpan to be completely baffled by the need for hot soup on a scorching Jerusalem August day. Depending on the day, dessert will be served, and if you are one of the lucky few who get to the watermelon slices on time, I salute you.
              So here's the main issue. I know that if I just ate the meat at lunch, I'd live a happier life. But in the USA, minus shabbat lunch, I never ate meat in the middle of the day. You see, I wait 6 full hours in between eating meat and dairy, which means if I had that schnitzel I've been eying for the past month, I might not even be able to eat the dairy I'm being served at dinner! It's truly a problem and one I haven't yet worked out. It does, however, explain why my iron is so low, and why I can't give my new country my true, blue- and- white, Zionist blood. Here's the plan: I will spend the next month building up my iron, so that I can regale you with my tale of finally giving back to my Homeland, as well as a full account of how delicious ulpan schnitzel really is. Can't wait!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Aaaaaand...We're Back!

            Quick update on "the situation" here as it pertains to my life. In case your home is under a rock, the cease fire has ended and rockets are back to flying over all of Israel. The perpetrators are Hamas. They live in Gaza, and they hate Jews. Not Israelis, not settlers, Jews. Me,  my friends, the old guy collecting money, the children in kindergarten and the dudes learning in yeshiva, you in the USA- all of us. This week, those of us naive enough to have thought "the war is over!" (myself included) were rudely reminded that it wasn't. 
            Tuesday night, after coming home from a fabulous dinner with visiting American friends, I started getting ready for bed at the ulpan. No sooner had I taken off my shoes than I heard the familiar, but recently unheard shrill rocket alarm outside.) My actual internal monologue: "Jords! (I call myself Jords) Is that the siren? No way! What is this, July 15?! Jerusalem hasn't been targeted in weeks! I was just telling my friends today 'see? Good thing you didn't cancel your trip here! look how safe it is! The worst is behind us!' I hope they don't blame me for this! Where are my shoes? Where is the miklat (shelter)?! Let me just follow the stampede downstairs."
              So I raced downstairs with the 160 other internal students in my ulpan, in various stages of undress (towels, robes, pajamas and the like) and waited for the all-clear. There was a lot of nervous tension in that miklat, people making jokes about turning this into a shelter rave, taking #bombshelterselfies and such. There were also those of us trying and struggling to watch the Israeli news (the highest-level class doing what I thought was a pretty solid job of translating for the less advanced students) and all of us comparing how many shelter experiences we had under our collective belts ("This is your first?! I've had 5 already!") It is true that a harrowing experience bonds people; I got to know people in those moments that I hadn't really spoken to until that point.
          We all waited the requisite time and headed back to our rooms, slightly shaken (not stirred) but I did notice something great. None of us said one word about this whole aliyah thing being a mistake, or going back to the safety of our birth countries. We were all truly firm in our resolve that we were now Israelis, this is our country, and we are all in this together. It was really special to be in a room full of people who felt as I do- that regardless of the hard times here (and this summer has truly been tough emotionally), there is no place else we'd rather be. Am Yisrael Chai.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dude, Where's My Wallet?

                Exactly one week ago, I misplaced my wallet whilst returning from Modi'in back to Jerusalem. You know those beautiful and life-affirming stories about people who lose their wallets/phones/marriage licenses/pets in Eilat and suddenly it winds up on their doorstep in Jerusalem? The kind where you wink and say "Only in Israel!"The kind where you just can't believe how crazy- wonderful life in Israel can be?! Well, this is not one of those stories! A full week later and I still have no wallet, nor even the faintest idea of where it might be. The main reason for this is that I don't know whether the wallet was stolen or misplaced, and that distinction has made all the difference. But for purposes of this blog post, I will focus on the funny, the silly, the exasperating parts of losing a wallet, while having only being an Israeli for a month and a half.
               So I'm on the bus and the first thing to note is that this is not an Egged bus. Egged is the largest bus provider in the country and most certainly in the Jerusalem area. Ninety-five percent of the buses I take in this country are Egged. But not this bus! This was a line called Kavim, which caters to the Modi'in area (about 30 minutes outside Jerusalem) and I would soon learn, Kavim is not my friend. This particular Tuesday I was absolutely exhausted. I had woken up at 5 AM to meet the newest olim via charter flight at the airport. What an amazing experience to welcome 330 Jew brothers and sisters in their new life in Israel! It just warmed my cold heart. Then I took the train (another chavaya/experience all on it's own!) to Tel Aviv to meet friends. I know Tel Aviv is, like, the greatest place ever, but I personally don't enjoy being there, going there, or visiting there, so it was a bittersweet excursion. The weather in Tel Aviv in the summer is somewhere between a swamp, a rain forest minus any precipitation, and a crowded sauna. All told, it is a place I visit because some of my favorite people live there and because, quite frankly, Birthrighters won't come visit me in Jerusalem.
              From Tel Aviv, I get a ride to Modi'in, which is essentially a large new neighborhood of apartment buildings with a huge shopping center in the middle. I don't mean to slight Modi'in- if you live there and I'm missing something cool, please let me know! Anyway, I mostly took the ride there because now that I have no car, riding in a car that I don't have to pay for is the greatest thing ever. Ask any American (or person!) who moves here and has to give up the comfort and mobility that comes with one's own car- getting a ride is just the biggest treat in life! I shopped for a bit in Modi'in and then boarded the bus back to Jerusalem. And conked out. The bus pulls into the Central Bus Station, I put on my pink headphones and head back to town. While walking back, I look into my bag for gum and notice that there is a suspiciously large amount of room in the bag. I have a small bag and an even smaller wallet, so there is an alarming lack of heft on my shoulder. I look in my shopping bags- and....nothing. I run back to the bus stop, all the way back sniffing the ground like a bloodhound, eyes peeled to the pavement, looking for my tiny, puffy wallet. It is not on the ground. Then I go into 2014-mode, googling names and numbers of the bus company on my phone. After an annoying debacle of finally locating the number for Superbus, I remember that my bus line was Kavim! 
                 So I finally locate Kavim's number, which sends me to an automated system. Lest any of you readers forget, I am Class B2 in ulpan. Today I learned a story from a children's TV show. I most certainly am not at the level of responding to an automated phone system! Apparently in this country, pressing zero does not take you to the operator- it takes you to the beginning of the automated system! Tears in my eyes, I frantically dialed the second number given on the website and blessedly got the voice of a live representative! After establishing he spoke English ("ehhhhhm a leeetle...") he understood my dilemma. 
"So, can you help me? I'm freaking out!"
"Oh, I understand. Eet must be so hard. So what bus was this?"
"The 110. From Modi'im"
"Oh, then you must call Kavim. This is Egged. I cannot help you."      
                  Can you imagine? Finally a live, English-speaking bus rep and he doesn't work for Kavim! Only in Israel! Anyway, let me skip ahead. Ultimately, thanks to my cousin, I made contact with a human Kavim rep. He left my message for the  bus drivers. So did the next rep I spoke to later that evening. And the one the next morning. And the one that afternoon. By the 4th time, my online file was jam-packed full of fruitless requests to the lost and found and I realized that maybe the glorious, miraculous stories we hear about finding what was lost was not in the cards. At that point, it was about rebuilding my life, via my wallet.
                Remember my blog post about the tedium of running errands here in Jerusalem? Imagine doing it all over again one month later. The bank, the health insurance, the bus card, the Jerusalem card, the student ID- all replaced in record time. Then came the American side of things. I had been checking my American bank to ensure nothing had been charged (blessedly) and reordered my credit cards, driver's license and Starbucks card (priorities- I'm working on a gold card!) Now all I have to do is wait until my visiting friends transport these cards over to me so I can resume life as normal. 
               All told, I lost a little bit of money (thankfully I rarely use cash. I'm as Ashkenazi as they come) and gained a whole lot of aggravation. I tell myself that things could have been much worse, that now I'm on a much-needed budget (blech) and that I'll know to be more careful in the future. Really, the hardest part is over- I told my mom I lost my wallet and she had a way smaller heart attack than I expected! And the best part is- I had a great story to tell all of you! Onwards and upwards!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Floating Head at the Engagement Party

               Yesterday I attended my sister's engagement party. "How did you do this?" you ask. It's a valid question. My family lives in Queens, NY, some 6,000 miles away from my dorm room in Jerusalem. Through the wonders of modern technology, I was able to "attend" the party in a few different ways. First, I was sent numerous pictures of all the various decorations and party treats via Whatsapp and iMessage. Then, I was "tagged" in photos by actual, physical attendees, so I was able to see who was there and what they wore. Last, my father graciously "Skyped" with me at different junctures (before the party, during and wrapping up), so I was able to interact with guests and get a feel for the vibe and the action. This is how I came to be a "floating head" being passed around my sister's engagement party. I can only imagine what it was like in my grandfather's time, how absurd the idea of participating in a party happening on another continent would seem. I can imagine him in his tenement house, shaving ice off a block and into a class of cola, seeing only who was in his line of vision. Here I am, 70 years later, a yelping presence in a tiny box on an iPhone screen yelling "Grandpa! I like your haircut!" Unreal.
               While this was a major event for my family, for me it was even more huge. It was the "first family event I missed due to aliyah." The first in a seemingly endless stretch of engagement parties, bridal showers, wedding and bar mitzvahs to which I will have to respond "no", not because I'm busy, or because I'm not interested in going, but because there is this huge ocean in between myself and those I love most. While I definitely have a nice number of friends and family here in the Holy Land, I would guess that 95% of my social and familial worlds live in the US. That, my friends, is a lot of missed happy occasions. Last week I got a shower invitation for a girl whom I absolutely adore. She and I have been friends, and what's more single friends, for ages. Her simcha truly makes me ecstatic. And yet I will have to miss her special day (and undoubtedly a fabulous party) because I chose to "live the dream." It definitely stings. 
               This isn't to say that I regret my decision to be here, even for a second. I always knew that one of the toughest parts about living over here is that time "back home" would not freeze for me. No one would hold off getting engaged or having babies until my yearly trips back to the States. But knowing and experiencing are two very different things, I have learned. And so I will continue to be that floating head at parties, shouting "mazel tovs" and blowing kisses to the people at parties on the other side of the ocean. Until the day I can attend those parties as a hologram.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

It's Been 9 Years

                I think I mentioned before that I am not middle of the road. I veer right, on almost every issue, including the one in this post. I hope it doesn't offend those of you who differ in opinion, and that even if you don't agree with me, you can still see where I'm coming from. Nine years ago this week, the Israeli government (under the auspices of Ariel Sharon) made 8,000 Jewish residents of Gaza (or "Gush Katif") leave their homes and businesses, in a unilateral withdrawal from that area. "Unilateral" refers to the fact that the Palestinians made no such counteroffer, and the only concession Israel hoped to receive in return was a peaceful existence. The name of this operation was "The Disengagement", or as we extreme right wingers refer to it "The Expulsion." Never in history had Jews been forced by other Jews to leave their homes (in some cases for 40+ years). Here we are 9 years post, and a lot of questions have been answered. 
               I can still remember the Expulsion and the year leading to it. I remember reading an article about it in the New York Sun, (remember that fabulous beacon of journalism? A NY paper that actually liked Israel? Miss it) waiting for a friend outside Hunter College on the Upper East Side, crying in the middle of afternoon traffic. The people must have thought me slightly insane, reading my paper, tears streaming down my face, sniffling- truly, I am not the most delicate crier. I remember being in Israel a few months prior, tying an orange ribbon onto my bag, orange being the color of the anti-Disengagement movement. I remember leaving my safe orange cocoon of Jerusalem and venturing into Tel Aviv, where orange ribbons were engulfed by the blue and white ribbons, signifying various degrees of agreement with the Disengagement Plan. I remember the teenagers of Gush Katif; the boys with huge knitted kippot and the girls with flowy skirts and Naot- giving out fliers to cull support for their towns and communities. I remember the human chain- Jews holding hands from Kush Katif to Jerusalem- in solidarity with the cause. And I remember after, images of Jews being wrenched from their homes, their synagogues, their communities. Images of youths spray-painting heartbreaking messages on their homes' walls: "A Jew does not expel another Jew." And the crying, so much crying. The children, the parents, the rabbis, the soldiers- pain you can't imagine, etched on the faces of those who genuinely could not believe this was even happening. Even those who agreed with the disengagement had to feel pain, only it was buoyed by the belief that this, finally, would bring peace with our neighbors. That only by leaving the Gaza strip completely Judenrein, would our Palestinian neighbors be appeased, and we could live in harmony.
              I am not saying this to be facetious or callous. I know truly that those who supported the disengagement had every faith that finally the aggressions would cease. Obviously, that is not what came to pass. Nine years of increased aggression later (including thousands of missiles and several ground operations into Gaza) and we have essentially given the Gaza strip to a militant terror group. Democratically elected, Hamas now has a larger and closer launching pad with which to terrorize their Jewish neighbors. Many people now see that it was never about Gaza. It was about shrinking the geographic size of Jewish Israel and ultimately turning Jew against Jew.
              Last week, not realizing that it was about to be the anniversary of the Disengagement, I went to the Gush Katif Museum (conveniently located in central Jerusalem, right by the shuk.) There, I relieved that painful period, led by the docent, a former Gush Katif resident. She told me how the greenhouses and agricultural sector of Gush Katif brought in 60 million dollars a year. These greenhouses were left for the Palestinians as an act of goodwill, so that they too could make the desert bloom. Then she told me how every greenhouse was destroyed beyond recognition by those who moved in. She told me how most of the towns the Jews left in perfect condition, remain untouched (saved for the synagogues, which have been desecrated and turned into pig pens). How there is plenty of room for the citizens of dense and overcrowded Gaza City to spread out and live comfortably, but which none of them choose to do. She told me how the citizens of Gush Katif have been scattered to different communities, to varying levels of permanent housing. Many moved to Ashkelon, and I shivered at the thought of them living through the Expulsion and then this past war just a few years later. Needless to say, it was a heavy visit.
              So why am I even mentioning all this in a blog post? Well, for one, it is a significant part of my aliyah process, learning the complicated political history of this land. Also, it is almost exactly the anniversary of the Disengagement, so it is on the minds of many Israelis. But probably, it's because of all this talk of "the settlements." Many people, good people, kind people, believe that the major roadblock to peace is the "settlements in the West Bank." That if only we would stop building there, leave, move elsewhere, peace would finally be achieved and our 2 states could flourish into eternity. What is that expression about the definition of insanity? Doing the same exact thing over and over and expecting a different result? Yes, to me that is what blaming "the settlements" is. It is believing that our brothers and sisters, living in Judea and Samaria, are the reason that we don't have everlasting peace, and that if they just left, all would be well. The 9 years since Gush Katif proves that as tempting as that premise might be, the reality is most likely the opposite. Please take a moment to remember the communities of Gush Katif, and hope that never again shall a Jew be forced to hurt another Jew. Am Yisroel Chai.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Girl with Two Homes

             Today is a month since I made aliyah! Was it only one month ago that I landed in Ben Gurion, clutching my teudat zehut, excited and apprehensive about what this new chapter would bring? It has been both the longest and quickest month of my life. The beginning saw a whirlwind of activity- setting up a bank, a health care plan, and all that super-fun stuff. My entry also marked the beginning of the current "situation," with Hamas. I am often praised for being brave for making aliyah during a truly tumultuous time in Israel. The truth is, while I was in JFK, this situation hadn't yet come to a boil, much less when I started planning my aliyah a half-year ago. This is not to say that my decision to move here would have been altered even a bit, had I known what this country would be going through. I feel so blessed to be able to stand with Israel in Israel in its time of need. I honestly think if I was in NYC right now, with all this going on over here, I'd be climbing the walls with fear, with worry (kind of like my entire family is now!) There is a pang when I see my friends and family rallying for Israel in NYC, like I used to, but also a new level of appreciation for those Israel supporters abroad- you are rallying for us! You are supporting us- the Israelis! To be counted in number alongside Israelis who have been defending our homeland for decades is truly humbling.
          I go about my life here in Jerusalem like it is totally normal. I know where I'm going, which buses to take, where to get the best waffles (it's Babette btw). I feel as comfortable here after a month as I ever have walking Main Street or Union Turnpike or Central Avenue back in the Old Country. Granted, I have spent a huge amount of time in Jerusalem these past 10 years, but the "home" I used to feel when visiting can't compare to the "home" I feel at this point in time. But it does come at a price. In my old home, I am missing engagement parties and bridal showers and weddings and happy hours. Life is moving on without me. Friends seem so far away (even with FaceTime) and conversations don't flow as easily as they do when you're having them over Facebook messenger, as opposed to over Buffalo fingers at Carlos and Gabby's. My niece and nephews delicious faces and voices over Skype tug at my heart, making our interactions as bitter once they're over as they were sweet while we were chatting. I long to squeeze them, and my parents, and my sisters, all the time. I was told the separation would be difficult, but as is life, seeing is believing. 

          And so here I sit, preparing for another beautiful shabbat in the holy city of Jerusalem, a girl with 2 homes. One where I grew up, was so good to me for so many years, and where most of the people I love most reside, and the other where I pray for a beautiful future for myself and my family. I am so grateful for my home in NYC and so blessed to be in my new home of Jerusalem. One month down, many many more good ones to come! Shabbat shalom!