Sunday, December 12, 2010
Some of you who do not know me may have wondered what happened to my posts. It is now five months since the last time I wrote and much has occurred. This will be the last post for this blog but, even though it will be an ending, there are new beginnings as well. I must thank my sister for suggesting that I bring closure with this final post.
In my last post, I wrote about my excitement over the upcoming visit of Danny Siegel, one of my all-time heroes. He is a tzedakah activist who I have admired for over 30 years. He inspires me to be a better person and to do things that will make a difference in the world. Danny came to school and, even after all these years, he got under my skin and made me question so many things. He told us that he was once in rabbinical school but there came a time when he realized that he didn't need to be a rabbi to do the kind of work he wanted to do. This certainly hit a chord with me and became very important in the weeks that would follow.
I hadn't been feeling well since soon after my arrival in Jerusalem and things got worse towards the end of July. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a parasite and a bleeding ulcer. I was treated for these conditions but I wasn't feeling any better. In fact, my health began to deteriorate and I had trouble getting out of bed. I wasn't able to go to school at all. The heat was still oppressive and, as usual, my refrigerator went on the fritz leaving me with little food and no cold beverages.
I spoke with my husband the first week of August and we decided that I should return home to see my doctors here. I have some medical issues that really necessitated my seeing a doctor who is familiar with my medical history. It was an incredibly hard decision to make because I felt like such a failure. I could take a Leave of Absence and return to HUC next year, but I knew that once I left Israel, I wouldn't return. I didn't want to do it because I felt like I would be letting down all of the people who were supporting me at home but there was no other choice. I was too sick to go to school.
It took almost a month for me to pull myself together to return home. I had a wonderful classmate who would stop by almost daily and bring me things to eat and drink. She also helped me when it came time to get all of my luggage together to go to the airport. Sheldons Jerusalem cousins opened their home to me and made me feel part of their family for my last month in Jerusalem. The airline was wonderful as well and made sure that I had escorts at each airport to help me with my luggage and through customs. All I could think about was being with Sheldon and the kids and how much I had missed them. It was what kept me going until I got home.
I can't say that it has been easy since I got home. I am still unwell and spend much of my time with doctor visits and tests. I had some surgery a couple of weeks ago to, hopefully, fix some problems but things remain the same. I have also been very depressed (what a short sentence to describe the depths of despair I have been feeling). I took such a leap of faith to follow this dream and, suddenly, it came crashing down around me. Now what? What will I do? What will be my purpose? How will I make sense out of this whole experience and figure out meaning for the rest of my life?
The words of Danny Siegel have gone through my mind many times. I want to be a Rabbi so much but do I HAVE to be a Rabbi to do the kind of work I want to do? And what do I want to do? I know that I want to feed people - that is what I have always loved to do. It would be wonderful to be able to bring food to people in their homes or have a small place where people could come to eat without paying - where they could feel good about themselves while enjoying a meal with friends. It won't happen today or tomorrow but it gives me a purpose and I am looking into putting this plan into action.
I also know that I want to go back to school, even if it is not rabbinical school. I am looking into MSW programs close to home and I think some clinical training will help me on the new journey I will be undertaking.
I want to have some fun as well. To that end, Sheldon and I have come up with an idea which will involve the start of a new blog and, what I hope will be many new adventures. Whenever he is off school, Sheldon and I plan to take road trips around the country. We want to ask people why we should get off the interstate and visit their town. Is there a unique store, an unusual festival or market night, a delicious dish at a local restaurant? I will be writing to radio and television stations as well as newspapers, synagogues, churches and other groups to see if I can get input from people. I know that there are lots of incredible people and places in the United States and I plan to look for them and write about it. It is something completely different and new and something that I'm excited about. I hope that those of you who have enjoyed reading this blog will follow me to the new one: www.whymytown.blogspot.com. My first trip will probably be to the Pacific Northwest in April.
So if anyone asks me if anything good has come out of this experience, I would have to answer "yes." I was accepted into rabbinic school at the age of 55 - what a wonderful thing! I spent three months in Israel, starting to learn Hebrew and experience life in Jerusalem. I studied and prayed with very special teachers and met many young men and women who will become the future leaders of Reform Judaism. I wouldn't take back one of these experiences and treasure them. And had I not come home, I would not have been able to see my beloved San Francisco Giants win the World Series. Maybe this is how it was meant to be all along.
One last thing that I have learned through this entire experience. I love my family and my friends and I don't want to be far away from any of them ever again. I didn't need to feel embarrassment over this experience because everyone has been incredibly supportive through it all. I am lucky to have them and I am thankful every single day for their encouragement and love.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I learned that I have the potential to learn modern Hebrew. Our regular Ulpan started last Sunday and I was pleased to see that I was able to keep up with the class. Perhaps all we learned in the pre-Ulpan finally clicked, or perhaps it was because some of the information was already covered in a previous class, but I wasn't lost. This first class gave me the confidence I needed to speak out in class, ask questions and interact with the other students. I am hoping that this continues and that I am able to get this "Hebrew thing" after all.
I learned that I shouldn't eat any more chicken from SuperSol. SuperSol is the largest supermarket chain in the area. The first week I was here, I purchased some already cooked chicken thighs which made me violently ill. I attributed it to the fact that I had just arrived in the country so I bought some uncooked chicken and roasted another chicken thigh for my dinner on Tuesday. BIG MISTAKE. I was sick again and had to miss classes on Wednesday. So, there will be no more chicken from SuperSol for me. I am finding it difficult to get my protein here but I will keep searching. Any suggestions would be more than welcome.
I learned that there are two sides to every story. On Thursday, for our Israel Seminar, we split into groups to look at different areas around Jerusalem. I participated in a tour arranged by Rabbis for Human Rights which took us into East Jerusalem. We met with some Palestinians then went and looked at the wall which was erected to separate the municipality of Jerusalem and East Jerusalem neighborhoods. I could go on and on about what we saw and heard, but, for now, let it suffice to say that the trip was disturbing on many different levels. I do not consider myself to be a political person but I had heard just one side of this debate for many years. Now I was able to hear the other side. I am sure that both sides slant the information in their favor but, this time, I was looking these people in the face. The women were offering me a chair and some tea and the children were playing at our feet. They weren't militants in the streets or suicide bombers. It was difficult and heart-wrenching and something I will be thinking about for a long time.
I learned that a little bit of socializing time is a good thing. I finally went out with some people on Thursday evening and had a terrific time (even though Dave found some glass in his food!). I have been hiding in my apartment and studying all the time and that hasn't been too good for my morale. An occasional evening out with friends is a good thing. Next week I hope to go to an evening art festival in Emek Refaim and out to dinner at Burgers Bar (non-kosher burgers!).
I learned that the mall still makes me happy. Even though money is tight, I found out that I still love to wander through a mall. On Friday, I took the bus to the Malcha Mall which is the largest in Jerusalem, with 250 stores on three levels. It was just like an American mall - many shoe stores and a nice food court. I wandered around for a couple of hours and even found a People magazine to buy. It was nice to do something I consider so "American" in my new, temporary, home.
It was a week of learning...some formal and some pretty informal...but it was a good week. Coming up: my first Hebrew exam, picking our Truma (community outreach) projects for the year, a lecture by Danny Siegel (one of my all-time heroes). It should be another interesting week in Jerusalem.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
My mind is reeling from all we were exposed to during Orientation week.
First of all, the rest of the students arrived. Now we are almost 70 - rabbinical students, cantorial students and education students. We will be studying in New York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles as well as the Leo Baeck School in London and the Geiger School in Berlin. We are from all over the United States, Canada, England, Argentina, Brazil and more. We are single and engaged and married. One of our spouses had a baby just last week. We are so different but have so much in common.
A good portion of the week was spent getting to know each other and getting to know ourselves. We are going to be involved in a journaling project and we began that during this week. The Dean of the Jerusalem Campus spoke to us about her amazing heritage (generations of rabbis on both sides of her family). The Israeli author, Yossi Klein Halevi spoke about his journey and his deep feelings about Israel. Various professors presented lectures on different aspects of Israeli society.
We also left HUC and traveled around Jerusalem to be exposed to history on the spot where it happened. And we even spent some time with the poetry of Yehuda Amichai (my favorite Israeli poet). It was intense and exhausting but I loved every minute of it.
For me, the most exciting part of the week was finding out that we will have the chance to spend Pesach in the former Soviet Union, leading seders for Jews there. I can't believe that I will be walking in the steps of my grandparents and making that connection to my family.
Kabbalat Shabbat was spent at HUC with our classmates - studying Torah, participating in Services, eating a delicious dinner and enjoying an old-fashioned "camp-like" song session. By the time I walked home on a beautiful Shabbat evening, I was ready for our classes to begin.
We start Hebrew and Cantillation on Sunday. I am in Kitah Aleph and I just hope that I will not be as lost as I was during pre-Ulpan. There are others who appear to be in the same boat as me so we are planning to getting a tutor and devoting ourselves to mastering the Hebrew. The school is behind us 100% and wants us to succeed so I am sure we will. One of the things that kept being said this week was that each of us was chosen to be here. It is where we are meant to be and I believe that - I just have to keep it in mind as the difficulties arise!
I also am buying a guitar. It has been a long time since my songleading days but I want to play again and there will be many opportunities here for music. It will be fun to reconnect with the songleader hidden inside of me!
This afternoon I am hosting my first Shabbat lunch and tonight there will be an opportunity for us to observe Havdalah as a group. Monday brings Tisha B'Av and it is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to commemorate this day at the Kotel.
I'm sure I will have lots to write about next week!
Saturday, July 10, 2010
I have some random thoughts and questions (not meant to be answered!) this week. But first, a short song parody with apologies to Meredith Wilson and Robert Preston:
"Well we've got trouble, right here in Jerusalem
With a capital T and that rhymes with B
And that stands for BAKERIES!"
All the walking that is done here is great for the body and the wonderful fruits and vegetables are terrific for the diet but a huge bump in the road are the many bakeries that line the streets of Jerusalem. On almost any street, you will see and smell fabulous breads and sweets that are practically irresistible. There are lots of bite-size treats so one can convince oneself that they won't do much harm...but that is pretty dangerous. As of this week, I am cutting out the goodies, 100%. I won't allow all of this walking to be in vain!
Now, for some things in Jerusalem that make me go "hmmm:"
Are there more stray cats or more pregnant Orthodox women in Jerusalem? If one were counting, I think it might be a close one. I have already told you about the huge number of cats on the streets but each day as I walk to and from school, I see dozens of pregnant women, many with three or four other children who look to be younger than 5. There is definitely a population explosion going on here but it appears to only be among the ultra-religious population.
Has pushing become an art form here? If you wait patiently to get on or off the bus, you will inevitably be shoved by someone who feels it is necessary to get in front of you. And that someone is usually an elderly woman so you don't push back. One of the first words I learned in Hebrew as a child was "b'vacasha" - please. I just don't hear that often enough here.
Is underwear in short demand here? Whenever Israeli men (and many women) bend down, there is the ever-present butt crack. Not a pretty site. Some women have such low-rise jeans or shorts, that the butt crack is present at all times with not even a thong in site).
I am thirsty 24 hours a day and in constant search of the one drink that will quench that thirst. I do water, sparkling water, iced tea, iced coffee, diet grapefruit and orange drinks, diet coke and all they do is leave me wanting something else to take care of my ever-present thirst. I think it might be the heat mixed with the humidity but, if I don't find the magic drink soon, I may float away without the benefit of a boat.
Pre-Ulpan ended on Thursday. We have a week of orientation with all of the new students who just arrived and then we start the regular Ulpan as well as cantillation class and an Israel seminar. So now the real "fun" begins.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Lost in Jerusalem...not necessarily a bad thing, but first, let me explain about the picture that accompanies this post.
Those of you who know me well, know how much I love my iced coffee. It is my biggest pleasure to get a large one with just a splash of cream and some Splenda. I had heard that they don't have Splenda in Israel so I brought a pretty hefty supply with me. What I didn't know is that the iced coffee leaves a lot to be desired. Asking for iced coffee here will get you a sugary concoction that resembles a frapuccino. When I ask for coffee with ice, I get a shot of hot coffee with two ice cubes and the rest of the cup filled with milk. The cost for a small one (the only size they have) is more than a large at Starbucks! During my wanderings this week, I found the only Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Israel and, great news, they make iced coffee my way! I won't be able to go there often but it's nice to know that it's here if I need it.
I have now been in Jerusalem for a month. While I still don't feel like it's home, I am much more comfortable, both at school and navigating around the City. But I had a whopper of an experience this week.
I usually walk to and from school. There is a long hill on the way that causes a lot of havoc with my back so I have started taking the bus up the hill and then walking the rest of the way. The incline on the way home isn't as bad so I walk the entire way back. One day this week I decided to take the bus all the way to Machane Yehuda (the large outdoor market selling fruits, vegetables and tons of other things). There is a coffee shop there that opens early so I got coffee and a roll and then took a second bus to school. It didn't take long and I enjoyed the experience.
The next day I decided to do it again. This time I wasn't paying attention and got onto the 22 bus instead of the 32. BIG MISTAKE. The 22 doesn't go to Machane Yehuda and I didn't notice until we were well into one of the ultra-religious parts of town. I got off the bus and began to walk. I had no idea where I was going so I approached two young boys who couldn't have been more than 11 or 12. One boy actually turned away from me and the other refused to speak to me. I had forgotten that religious boys/men will not associate with me! I kept walking and walking and everyone I asked gave me different directions. I finally was directed to a bus whose driver told me he would come near HUC. He told me to sit behind him and he would let me know where to get off. Well, we kept going and going and going. We passed the area I felt was near HUC but the driver didn't say anything so I figured that he would eventually turn around and I would get to the right place. As we were leaving the city of Jerusalem (!), the driver turned to me and said, "where did you want to get off?" When I told him, he said "oy" and apologized for forgetting me. He gave me a transfer and told me to go to the other side of the street and get on the bus there. When I asked him if that bus would get me to school, he said it wouldn't but would get me close. The place he said it would take me was around the corner from my house! I had spent two hours in one huge circle. By this time, I was almost late for school so I just flagged down a taxi. Usually, this would be a fine solution but this driver decided to take three other passengers. The last one who got in wanted to go to the Knesset which is at the other end of town and he took her there first! Finally, I made it to school and was only 15 minutes late - I felt that I had been wandering for days.
And the best part of this event? Well, there are a couple of good outcomes. The first is that I did not cry or lose my composure. I just took it as an adventure. The second is that I was able to relate most of this story to my teacher IN HEBREW! It may not have been grammatically correct but she got the gist of what I was saying. Hooray for me!
The next day, I was determined to get back on the bus just to prove that I could do it. I correctly got onto the 32 but, after several blocks, our bus driver hit a man on a bicycle. The way that people drive here, I'm surprised that it doesn't happen more often!
Another week awaits. This will be the last week of our pre-Ulpan and the rest of the students are beginning to arrive. We will have several days off (when I will try and speed read my way back through the Hebrew we have learned during the past month) and then the year in Israel program officially begins. In addition to Hebrew, I will be taking Torah Trope for the rest of the summer and I'm really excited about that.
On Sunday, we are all getting together to celebrate July 4th with a bbq at Liberty Bell Park. It will be fun to do something "American" for awhile.
Shabbat Shalom and Shavua Tov to all!
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Even though I have been living in Jerusalem for the past few weeks, I could really be anywhere. I go to school, sometimes go to the market or the corner coffee house and then I come home. Not too terribly exciting. I often think that HUC could have put us on a Kibbutz or even at a stateside URJ Camp and give us the same educational experience without our having to pack up and move halfway around the world.
But this week I finally got out of my daily rut. A group from Temple Emanu El in Redlands has come to Israel and they invited me to spend some time with them this week. On Monday evening, soon after they arrived, I met them at their hotel and went to dinner with them. It was wonderful on so many levels. First: it was fantastic to finally have a delicious meal. The restaurant was called Olive and Fish and the fish I ordered was perfect. Second: I loved talking with my friends, feeling like a peer and not like someone's mother (or grandmother!). Rabbi Kohn very kindly treated me to dinner which I appreciated since my financial aid package STILL hadn't come through.
I struggled through the rest of the week with my Hebrew. Each day is more of a challenge but I am plugging away.
On Friday morning, bright and early, I met up with the Emanu El group again. Our bus first took us to the Knesset where we took pictures in front of the famous menorah which is known as the symbol of the state of Israel. We then traveled to Yad VaShem, the holocaust memorial. I had been there several times before but it was totally renovated a couple of years ago so I was interested in going again. We spent about three hours there with Shimon, the fantastic guide, giving us so much information. Of course, it was a very sobering experience. As I went through the rooms that chronicled Hitler's rise to power and the systematic extermination of the Jews of Europe, I couldn't help but wonder if some of those faces that looked out at me from photographs and newspapers and film could have been my relatives. I remember my parents telling me that, when their parents left Russia for England, many of their other relatives went to Poland. After WWII, they never heard from those relatives again. At the end of the tour, we were taken to a room where binders circled the walls from floor to ceiling with names of some of the 6,000,000 Jews that perished during the Holocaust. Only 4,000,000 names have been recorded so there are still 2,000,000 names that are not known. That is why I stand for Kaddish even if it is not a Shabbat when I am commemorating a death in my family. I stand for those who have no family left - whose entire family was wiped out during the Holocaust.
As a total change of pace, we left Yad VaShem and traveled to Machane Yehudah, the busy market in the center of town. At any time, on any day of the week, the market resembles the day after Thanksgiving at the mall but on Friday afternoon, as people are rushing to prepare for Shabbat, it is like the most crowded mall you can think of...times 10! People are wall-to-wall and it is hard to buy anything as the lines are long and people are pushing. We did manage to get to the end where Shimon bought us the most delicious rugela we had ever eaten.
After this incredibly long day, the bus dropped me off at the top of my hill and I walked home...too tired to go to services...to tired to make Shabbat dinner...but so happy that I had such a wonderful time. The rest of Shabbat I studied...and studied...and studied!
This week will mark one month that I have been in Israel. Was it just a few weeks ago that I was home with Sheldon and Lucy? I'm still settling in and feeling things out but it is becoming more comfortable. What will July bring? First of all, about 50 more students will join us for the regular summer session. That will certainly change the dynamics of our classes. I will also begin a cantillation class in addition to Hebrew. I have been looking forward to learning Torah trope so this is very exciting for me. I also hope for that little light to go on over my head which will signify that the Hebrew is becoming easier for me. We'll see.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Jerusalem of Gold...how often have I heard that phrase, sung that song? But I haven't yet seen any of the Jerusalem of Gold on this trip. I have seen the Jerusalem of massive construction projects all through the center of town. I have seen the Jerusalem of noise with honking horns and neighbors loudly speaking outside at all hours of the day and night. And I have seen the Jerusalem of cats. Stray cats wander throughout the streets of the city and I wonder where they all came from. It has been a pretty insular couple of weeks for me - I haven't ventured much farther than my own neighborhood and HUC but I am beginning to know the local shop owners and others who I see every day on my way to and/or from school and they are beginning to know me.
It was such a difficult first week of Ulpan for me. The Hebrew was much more advanced than I had anticipated and the other students were far beyond my rudimentary understanding of the language. Thank goodness for Rivki, our teacher, and her unending patience and for the other members of my kitah who have been incredibly supportive. After several major meltdowns, I ended the week feeling cautiously optimistic that I might eventually "get it." I read in class this morning and realized that I was reading at a normal speed (not sounding out every word). It's not much but it's a start. And we had our first exam today. I'm not sure if I answered even one question correctly but I was able to understand the directions and come up with some sort of answer for everything. For me, it was a triumph!
Did you know that root canals here are a better experience than root canals at home? I would have been happy to go the entire year without finding that out but I broke a tooth this morning and had to go to the dentist. She was absolutely fabulous - an Australian dentist who has lived here for many years. She was gentle and kind and did the work quickly with very little pain for me. Of course, the novocaine and nitrous oxide is just wearing off and I have already taken a pain pill so I can't be 100% sure about the painless part but it was not a horrible experience. And the cost for this, while still high, was lower than in the United States. They were also willing to spread out the payments over three months which never would have happened with my dentist at home. Let's hope that I don't have to spend much more time with Dr. Jacobvitz this year - but it's good knowing that, if I do, it won't be a horrific experience.
So I come to my third Shabbat in Jerusalem. I won't be going anywhere this week as I will be recovering from the oral surgery but I am looking forward to the group from Temple Emanu El arriving on Monday and spending some time with them as they explore Jerusalem. Rabbi Kohn will be bringing my good camera and lenses so I also hope to start taking pictures around the city. There are many sites here to be documented on film.
And what do I know for sure right now? I know that I miss my husband with an intensity that I didn't think was possible. It almost feels like a piece of me has been taken away and, sometimes, the pain is unbearable. But I am thankful for Skype and the fact that we can look at each other when we speak.
Dan Nichols sings about his heart being in the east. My body is in the east but, for now, my heart is still home.