Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jordana in Jamaica Estates (Part 2)

       Welcome back to NYC- or rather, my reflections of my time in NYC coming at you from a booth at a coffee shop in the Moscow airport. 

I call this look "Blending In"

Where were we? Ah, yes- after a week of preparation for Passover and seeing some great friends, my family packed up to leave for our Pesach program, which was to be held in a mansion/hotel on Long Island. The program will henceforth be known as “Pesach-For-Less,” as it is both the actual name of the program, as well as the essence of the program. My whole life my family went to a hotel in the Catskills called the Granit (and then the Hudson Valley Resort.) This was Pesach for me- I didn’t even know Pesach could exist outside Kerhonkson, New York. Then a few years ago, we began to stay home. To say I hated this new arrangement is an understatement. So much so that I would find a way to spend a few days at the Granit by myself, and hang out with friends I knew who still went. Turns out, the only person who hated staying home more than me is my mom. So she found this program, and we hoped for the best. I mean, how bad could it be, right? We’d all be together and someone else would clean our rooms for Pesach and cook our food- seems awesome. Turns out Pesach For Less (PFL) isn’t just a name, it’s a lifestyle. While the location was lovely, the crowd was, shall we say, different from my family. We are a proudly Orthodox, American family, but we lean modern. My mom doesn’t cover her hair and my dad doesn’t wear a black hat. I might wear a knee-grazing skirt and flip-flops to the pool. This crowd did none of these things. They hailed from Brooklyn, Monsey and Lakewood- all lovely places, but certainly not my target demographic. Everyone was very nice, but I wasn’t motivated to socialize, which worked out great, since I was there to be with my family. My Bubby and Grandpa also joined us for the holiday, and my aunt, uncle and cousins came for the last 2 days.
        It was kind of weird to be away from Israel for such a special holiday. To this day, even with all the time I’ve spent in Israel, I’ve still never spent Pesach there! I got a lot of grief from a friend about leaving for the chag, “So will you actually have the nerve to sing ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ at your seder?” he taunted. When I reminded him that I live there full-time and he lives there never and still sings the same song, he did not back down and although I know he’s wrong, I am a bit irked. It actually has me thinking that I may have to spend next Pesach in Israel and find another time to visit the family in NYC. We’ll see. Holidays in Israel are one-day/one-Seder affairs, while outside Israel they are 2 days. This made my second day of the holiday confusing and weird. My rabbi told me I could do melacha (work/electricity stuff/what have you) only in private, with no one at all around. This was fun but awkward as I shared a room with my sister, and she is a napper. With her in the room, I basically just read, which is what I’d have done on the chag, so being Israeli wasn’t the perk I’d anticipated.
      Chol Hamoed at PFL was not all that exciting. Sure they had a pool and a tennis court, but the weather was atrocious and really, how many times can you swim in a 4-foot indoor pool? I spent most of my time outside the confines of the mansion, visiting friends and obviously, shopping (at this point, the addiction is kickin’.) The exception was Sunday, when my entire family spent the day together celebrating my grandfather’s Ninetieth Birthday! Since myself and 3 of my cousins live in Israel now, it was the first time the entire family was together in years! We all had lunch and cake together and then took a big family photo, which will no doubt be reused in perpetuity for years to come, as we are all featured. Two days later, I took my niece and nephews on a little trip to “Bounce!”, a play area essentially covered in trampolines and foam. Sounds super- fun, right? We made our reservation and headed over. To our shock and mostly dismay, every other Orthodox family in the tri-state area had the very same brilliant idea! The place was hopping (literally) with little kippa-topped kiddies as far as the eye could see. It made my little cuties extremely shy and apprehensive at first, staring at interminable lines of big kids waiting to jump. Luckily, the children have infinitely more tolerance for lines than their aunt, and as we left the day was deemed a huge success by the kiddos. And quite frankly, as long as they’re happy, I need to get over my own limited bouncing time!
         Pesach came and went without much more fanfare and I prepared for my last week in NYC, with no religious demands on my time, but tons of social demands. I know, good problems right? Basically, I would wake up and be out the door by nine every morning, only to return by eleven that night, exhausted and ready to do it all again the next day. As I used to do when I lived in the States, I lived in my car, catching up on my American radio (for those of you in Israel, it’s just “Uptown Funk”, the world’s most irritation song, on loop.) This would be my last hurrah with my car- as I’m not shipping it to Israel, and don’t want to make my family responsible for its upkeep for the once I year I use it. It’s now for sale (if you know anyone who wants a reliable Nissan Altima!) and that signifies just a bit more of my separation from America and ingratiation into Israel. I just got real deep describing selling my car, but I think you get it.
         After a week of seeing close friends, eating my favorite foods (I miss you already, Tuesday night sushi!) , taking in a Yankee game (and Yankee win!) with my dad, hitting a "friends of the IDF" event, and buying everything on sale in a twenty- mile radius, it was time for my last shabbat with my family. If you are my friend on Facebook, you know I love shabbat in Israel. Whether in Jerusalem or some other new and special Jewish neighborhood, I am blessed to experience shabbat in the Holy Land with holy people who also love and appreciate shabbat the way I do. All that said, there is nothing I connect with quite like hearing my father’s kiddush and havdalah, eating my mother’s chulent and chatting with my little sister at the shabbat table. My parents even made a kiddush with all their close friends who treat me like family. It was the perfect way to spend my last shabbat in America- in the incredible neighborhood where I grew up with the people I love most.
        One last- stop trip to Target (I had to!) and I was back in the airport, experiencing the utter joy that is international flying at JFK (insert extreme sarcasm emoji here). My flight here to Moscow actually featured 2 older Russian ladies who were probably the rudest humans I’ve ever had the displeasure to meet. They scream-spoke the entire flight (minus the hour they blessedly slept) and when I had the nerve to ask them to quiet down, not only didn’t they, but they yelled at me! I’m not ashamed to say I hope their ride home was bumpy, their borscht was spoiled and their fur hats were stolen! Anyway, next post will be back from Jerusalem, so until then- dasvedanya and paka!

It's Springtime in Moscow!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Jordana in Jamaica Estates (Part 1)

Privet from Moscow! I am currently sitting in a booth in a Russian airport, in the midst of an 8- hour layover from NYC to Tel Aviv. And why, you might ask, did I choose to take this very scenic and unbelievably circuitous route back home, after spending 3 delightful weeks with my family in New York? Because the fare was so low, you actually feel like this airline is doing you a favor. Yet once you actually take the flights, you realize the trek is so long, and flying so thoroughly uncomfortable, that you seriously reconsider ever doing it again.
           Since the whole experience of going back to America for the first time since aliyah is so intense, and since I did and saw so many things in my 3 weeks back Stateside, this post may actually turn into a 2- parter. But let me start at the very beginning, which I’m told is a very good place to start, and we’ll see how it goes.
          It was the week before Pesach/Passover, and I was finally taking that “trip back to the States” that I had booked way back in November and at the time seemed eons away. I chose this super-cheap flight via Aeroflot, and prepared for the worst. After all, online reviews had me thinking this was a pre-war era plane manned by KGB members with no indoor heating or cooling. And I was fine with all that, because the price was right. And who didn’t want to see the highly regarded Moscow airport (one of three in this city, I’m told) ? No one likes culture more than me, and I have a lot of great Russian friends, so what better way to connect to them than through spending 4 hours in their 3rd largest airport? Thankfully, the flights were totally fine- personal screens and all! And the airport even officially had wi-fi! Not wi-fi that actually connected you to the internet, more the kind that showed up on your phone as full service, but kept your screen loading indefinitely, you know the type. One of the fabulous things about traveling internationally as an Orthodox person is the wealth of kosher food options available to you worldwide. And by that I mean, there is nothing and you starve. It’s the main reason I am so well-traveled throughout the US, and so poorly traveled everywhere else. I refuse to stuff my suitcases with granola bars and microwave meals. I have way too many pairs of shoes for that nonsense. So I prepared in advance, and stocked up on Bissli, Bamba and Pesek Zman chocolate in Ben Gurion Airport in anticipation for the fast. I didn’t just want to be Israeli in that Moscow airport- I wanted to shout it out through my snack choices.
          I’ll fast-forward through the travel, because I could probably explicate on that for ages. One exciting element of traveling is that it was my first time ever doing so as a dual-citizen. This meant that I showed the Israeli agents my Teudat Ma’avar (temporary travel visa- you get a passport a full year after aliyah) as well as my American passport. Although, if I’m being honest, I’ve been using my American passport almost everywhere else. It’s just so much faster and I got things to do!
So excited to be a dual- citizen!

So I finally get out at JFK, locate my bags (which I have an irrational certainty will be lost or stolen off the carousel every single time I fly) and reunite with my all-time best friend- my dad. He takes me to my family home where I hug my mom, my sister and my car- in that exact order. We then go to dinner with my other sister and her family, which include my 2 nephews and my niece. It is at this dinner, where I am sitting with the people that I love most on earth, some of whom don’t ever and will never be able to visit Israel, that I get super-emotional. I am lucky that I have a real sense of certainty in my decision to make aliyah. While I’m in Israel, I never question if my move was the right one- I know it is. I walk around smiling all day, and feel unendingly blessed to “live the dream” as they say. But at that table, with my niece and nephew on my lap, joking around with my immediate family just like it’s any other time, it is at the same time totally normal and completely surreal. And I allow myself a millisecond to think- how can I be without these people every day? How can I have made the decision to move across the globe alone, while my heart and soul are here? I will have this feeling a few more times over the next 3 weeks, but these are fleeting thoughts, and they do not last long.
                The next day I make my long-awaited return to the mall. I have mentioned in other posts that back in the States, I was an avid and skilled shopper. Since moving to Israel, my interest in shopping has waned, both due to the lack of stores and styles I like as well as the exorbitant prices for clothes here. I may pick something up once in a while, but my “shopping addiction” has definitely been cured by the Holy Land. Add that to the theory that I began developing this past trip- Americans are much more attached to buying. Now, before you Americans get all indignant, hear me out. You live in a place where malls are huge and everywhere, every third week is a blowout sale, and every item imaginable is available, both in- store or at your doorstep via the internet. In Israel, the most popular mall in the country, Malcha Mall in Jerusalem (you can look it up, Israelis, it’s true) would fit in my mall’s east wing. In the States you have the affordable shipping (or free shipping!) available online, the clearance sales and the outlet malls. You have a Target and an Amazing Savings for crazy value. And you have a car to shlep it all home with. It makes for a very comfortable shopping experience. In Israel, I have to agonize over buying one item, already marked down, and carve out a time to go pick it up and get it back home. It’s a production, so I don’t do it all that often. In case you were wondering, a shopping addiction can be cured, but it never goes away. Just going back into that mall with my mom was crazy- so many stores and everything on sale (obviously, because it was pre-Easter, post winter-whatever.) I rationalized everything by saying I was getting ready for Pesach and stocking up for Israel, but in reality, I was probably just relapsing hard core, and there was no stopping me. How is everything so cheap?
              Later that evening, I headed to Manhattan. I know that people who don’t live in New York (and many who do) are dazzled by Manhattan, but I’m over it. It’s fast and loud and crowded and (in my opinion) overrated. The subways are a hassle and driving is a nightmare and parking is impossible. All that said, I went in for a special reason- I had organized happy-hour drinks for some friends at a great bar where my friend works. He set aside a section and even made a special menu of drinks for my guests.

Interestingly, the Bar-Lev is a drink that has nothing to do with me being Israeli
It was the perfect way to see a whole bunch of friends I adore in one place at the same time. As friends walked in throughout the evening, one face after another made me light up. I realized again how much I love the people I had to leave.
            Coming back is a lot of the same conversation, many times a day, for 3 weeks. Where do I live, what do I do, who do I hang out with and how is it all (it seems as if people are not keeping up with Jordana in Jerusalem as diligently as I hoped)? I must have answered those questions a hundred or more times over these past 3 weeks, but I didn’t mind (that much) because those would be the same questions I’d ask them if the roles were reversed. And it’s always a beautiful thing to be able to talk about how much I love Israel and the new life I’m building there. I think if I didn’t feel so secure in my decision to make aliyah, these questions would stress me out, but it’s awesome and empowering to get to say “I love it every day,” and mean it. Oy, this is getting long. Okay, more to come in Part 2- see you then! Dasvedanya!