Thursday, September 18, 2014

Army stuff, accordions, host family & cats

Another week begins…and it looks like I’m waking up in 6 hours.

I don’t sleep much here. 

I roll out of bed every day at 7 am. After reciting “mode ani” (a morning gratitude prayer) I sit back into child’s pose to begin my morning stretches. My roommate, Gil, is now used to my strange habits.

What begins as a calm morning soon turns frenzied. I hurry to scribble my remaining Hebrew homework while chugging coffee with one hand and spooning yogurt-granola mix into my mouth with the other. Then comes the mad rush out the door to make the 15-mintue-morning “wakeup” activity, which is always led by a different Garin member. (I led the very first one – yoga + meditation – all in Hebrew!)

By 8:05 a.m. we’re all sitting in Hebrew class. I tested into kita gimel (level 3), which is the second-highest level. Overall, I am very pleased with Ulpan. It is a nice balance of hilarious and serious. Half of the students are Israelis who never learned reading, writing, or grammar and the other half are like me: Americans who learned all of the above in Jewish day school but never spoke Hebrew at home. This disconnect provides for some good laughs throughout the 4 long hours of class. 

By 12:30 we are released for 4 hours of free time, during which I generally do my homework (when I’m feeling inspired), walk down Ahuza (the main drag in Ra’anana), read, write, relax with friends, or just laze on my bed/ on the wooden patio downstairs.

In the evenings, we have activities that are planned by our counselors. Some of these activities include: krav maga/workouts (2x/ week), discussions on Judaism/Jewish philosophy, army preparation, and fun activities like “dancing with the stars” or fondu night.  

These days we’re all a little relieved that our first encounter with the army—our tzav rishon—is behind us. While most Israelis do this at age 16, two weeks ago dozens of 20-somethings swarmed Tel haShomer, the DMV-esque building in which many Israelis have laughed, cried, and waited on exceptionally long lines. That’s essentially what the “tzav rishon” looked like. I sat for an interview/ Hebrew test, took a computerized IQ test, got a 3-minute physical exam, and met with an army social worker. Those 5 stations took 10 hours…I kid you not.

But instead of complaining, we used the free time to talk, play cards, and support each other throughout the entire balagan (mess)…yet another reason why this program is so important. We received our results last week, and most of our group scored well above average. My physical profile is a 97 (the highest) so I’m fit for a combat position (worry not, parents). I scored a 54 out of 56 on the IQ test, meaning most jobs are accessible to me if I improve my Hebrew in the coming months. I hope that I’ll have better Hebrew for our next encounter with the army, which is an interview this Tuesday. After that interview, we’ll receive a manila with a list of potential jobs.

As of now, I’m keeping an open mind with regard to my army position. I’ve actually been pretty torn about what I want. Originally, I was sure I wanted something in chinuch, the education unit.  Within that unit, there are plenty of job opportunities, such as:
·      Mashakit Chinuch Non-commissioned education officer. They take soldiers (of one unit) on trips and teach them about army values, Israeli history, Zionism, and Jewish holidays. They have a lot of independence, so this job requires initiative and creativity.
·      Hod – this is a track in chinuch that engages soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds. On this track, I could end up educating prisoners (in army jail), people with behavioral issues, or new immigrants. Both of my soldier-counselors were on this track; Avishag taught Judaism to recent converts and Inbal taught soldiers in army jail. This work, from what I’ve heard, is supposed to be extremely challenging and rewarding.
Non-chinuch Jobs I’m considering:  
·      Madas-Nikit – fitness instructor. Responsible for creating and leading workouts for the soldiers and aiding them with nutrition and health issues. It is a physically and mentally challenging course. 
·      Matpash (COGAT) – Coordinates between Israeli and Palestinian governments on humanitarian/civilian issues in the territories.
·      Hadracha – combat support; includes a wide range of jobs that involve guiding combat soldiers on how to operate weapons and tanks.

My big dilemma right now is the following: do I want a position that is more army-esque, or a job that is better suited to my personality right now? Should I choose something totally out of my comfort zone, since the army is a once in a lifetime experience? The choice that is best suited for my personality is probably the hod track of chinuch. Though it is not particularly army-esque, it is important and is still a part of the bigger army system.

As of now, my intuition is telling me that chinuch is the right choice for me.
Last Friday night, while meditating on the beach after Kabbalat Shabbat services, I felt a supportive energy around this choice. I can’t say right now that this is my destiny, but I do trust my intuition, which has gotten stronger and louder in the past month. I’ve been exercising it (like any physical muscle) a lot throughout this momentous life change.

My stronger intuition made it difficult to part with Jerusalem two weeks ago.

As I walked through the windy alleys of the Nachlaot neighborhood, I felt called to the city. I was there to visit a friend from BU who feels the same way.  Together we indulged in all of the pleasures, both spiritual and physical, that the city offers. We sipped coffee at a tucked away used bookstore/cafĂ©, ate fresh rugulach from the shuk, wandered through the old city + Arab market, prayed at the Kotel, and ended the day with wine and friends on the tayelet – an overlook where the mountains meet the city skyline. At dusk, it is breathtaking.

I think I understand the meaning of “Jerusalem syndrome” now. Though I don’t (yet) believe I am the messiah, I can’t ignore the intense energy of the city and the effect it has on me. I know I have to spend some time learning/ working there after my army service, though I’m not yet sure in what format.  

Another city I’ve grown to appreciate is Yafo. Last weekend (the day after the Kabbalat Shabbat on beach) I rented a bike in Tel Aviv and rode it alongside the beach to the ancient port city of Yafo. I spent the day (Saturday) biking alone and exploring. Without a plan and without company, I felt utterly free. This state of mind usually invites surprisingly wonderful encounters, which this time included an elderly man and an accordion. In short, I ended up singing with Eduardo (the accordion street performer) for over an hour. We sang Edith Piaf, My Fair Lady, and French/ jazz songs for the people of Yafo. At the end of the conversation, we hugged and he insisted that I find a good husband soon. (No, Dad, he didn't propose himself).

It’s strange. Sometimes, I feel more connected to my grandparent’s generation of Israelis than my own. They are the generation of people who so appreciate Israel. They came from war-torn Europe or were expelled from Arab states. They overcame Pogroms. They were pioneers. They dreamt and fought and established their homes in the newly created Jewish homeland.

I am always so enthralled with their stories. Luckily, I get to hear them every week at volunteering, which began two weeks ago. Every Wednesday, some of us volunteer at Beit Avot, an upscale old age home in Ra’anana. Yesterday at volunteering we danced to 1950’s Israeli music, received Rosh Hashana blessings from a rabbi, and were personally thanked by the mayor of Ra’anana. (Who gave us all his cell phone number.) Only after volunteering did I find out that the woman I danced with--for  hours--was 94 years old. 

In other news, I must digress. I have four important updates to share:

1)   I have a host family! I met them two days ago and they are wonderful. Our first encounter wasn’t even that awkward. (Even though I ran to them and said “THANKS FOR ADOPTING MEEEEEE”). The mother made Aliyah in ’89 and the father is Israeli. They have four kids, aged 10, 14, 19, and 21. The two oldest are in the army, so it’ll be great to befriend them and talk to them about all things army related. They invited me to Shabbat dinner tomorrow night, and I am drooling with excitement for a real home-cooked meal. 
2)   Most importantly, the family has two cats and two guinea pigs.
3)   Jewish holiday season is coming up. Time to start repenting.
4)   I have an interview with an army officer on Tuesday. Wish me luck!

That’s all for now. I promise my future posts will be shorter and more frequent.

Missing you all in the land of Costo and diners!


P.S - some things I’m starting to miss about America: 
  • family and friends (obviously) 
  • fall weather
  • wearing scarves
  • trader joes 
  • efficiency
Enjoying the Mediterranean breeze in Yafo 

Jerusalem Tayelet

Goofing around in Ulpan

The friendliest TLV Kitty

Selfie with Eduardo
Abu Hassan: The best Hummus in Israel (and thus in the world)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Leaving Jerusalem

I leave a part of me
In Jerusalem stone
In the crevice and cracks
Where old fades to new
And quiet alleyways
Into buzzing market song

I leave a part of me
carved out
Thirsty for water that quenches
a deeper thirst

I tasted
but one drop
Here, it lingers
on the tip of my tongue
Reminding me
that a well of knowledge
Awaits me

Where the cool evening air
warms something inside

Where dusk disappears mountains
Unveiling layers and rows
of man-made lights
With natural glows

Where tucked away homes
alive with maariv chants
Become whispers
Drowned out
by the blaring
Call to Prayer

I almost don’t mind

The bitter herb of culture clash
The Arab boy sprinting by
His shirt that reads: “Free Palestine”

The Kotel woman who shouts
Your skirt is too short

I see
My legs offend the walls

But the m16
Rests gracefully
against the resilient

Jerusalem stone

Taken in the Nachlaot residential neighborhood in Jerusalem

Desert Goddess

Desert Goddess
Curves and contours
Where sand meets blue

A vast expanse
Of rocks and stones
Renewed by those who explore her
Water her
And let her bloom

Her breath: an echo
A vibration of ancient wisdom
Humming through space and time

Her secrets—
Safe with sly snakes

Her temptations—
Awaken blinding storms

Her poison—
Used playfully

But the scorpions do come
The scorpions do come

So be cautious inside her
Be still; be at ease
In her darkness you can seek
Whatever you please

Find shapes in her stars
Drink from her well
Unearth hidden treasures
Until your hands swell

Dance to her pulse
The rhythm
The fire
Climb up the dunes
Hear the drumbeat inside her

Breathe again
Surrender your power
Bathe in the light of the moon

Honor the infinite Desert Goddess
She’ll honor the infinite
In You