Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fear and Loathing in Jerusalem

        "Jordana, I really want to come to visit Jerusalem tomorrow, but is it safe?" If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked some variation of that question in the past four months or so, I'd be a millionaire! Well, not exactly- but I could afford a really nice meal. It is a bizarre question for me at first, because they are essentially asking if the place I live- where I work, shop, socialize and walk around- is dangerous for them to visit. You know, because of the terrorist stabbings that have been happening with nauseating regularity in our holy city. 
         But I get it. If all I kept hearing was "stabbing in central Jerusalem...car ramming in Jerusalem.... thwarted stabbing attempt in Jerusalem..."on the news all day, I'd probably be a bit freaked out too. I mean, how do we even live? The answer is the same well-trod answer Jerusalemites have been giving for the past who-knows-how-many years, "Life goes on." Sure, you pause every time you hear about some new attack, you frantically search the internet for information, you discuss it with your friends and co-workers. But inevitably, you will realize that you're out of milk, that the bank is closing soon or that the light rail train in 3 minutes away, and you will return to your regularly scheduled life, a bit tenser, but in astonishingly short turnaround time.
It does get a little sticky when there is nowhere in your daily routine that hasn't been targeted. The shuk, where I have spent countless daytime hours picking out fruits and vegetables and evening hours having drinks with friends? Yep, two women with scissors started stabbing people there. The Central bus station, my main hub for getting out of or back into the city, several times weekly? It's been targeted a number of times. Countless bus stops, bustling city corners and road junctions that I would recognize anywhere- suddenly flashed across TV screens as the site of the most recent attack against my Jewish brothers and sisters, my brave and beloved policemen and soldiers. And while the armed populace has become more vigilant, more adept at neutralizing and killing the terrorists quicker, it bizarrely hasn't stopped the attacks from occurring.
         People are most scared of the Old City, and that breaks my heart. The area of Jerusalem where all visitors yearn to come and spend time and pray is now one of the areas they are most scared to visit. For months I would calm friends and say "Take Shaar Yafo/Jaffa Gate.It's all tourists and nothing has happened there." And then something happened there. And now I don't know what to say to friends. Because I am not in their shoes, looking in from the outside. Would I still go to the Old City through Jaffa Gate? Yes, and it's definitely not because I'm so brave. It is because of this.
         As hard as it is, I can not be scared of my city. I can keep my hands on my pepper spray, I can avoid suspicious-looking passersby (yes, through profiling- not sorry!) and I can be aware of my surroundings. But I can not be scared of my city. I can warn others of where to go and where not to go, I can give suggestions of routes or streets to take or avoid. But I can not be scared of my city. I can follow the news one day and shut it all out the next, to stay sane. But I can not be scared of my city.
        My city isn't like Tel Aviv or Haifa, or Beit Shemesh or even Tzfat. My city is the capital of Israel and the eternal capital of the Jewish homeland. It represents so much more to me and the Jewish people than anywhere else. We have cried, prayed for and bled for Jerusalem. I personally moved across the world, all alone, in order to live in Jerusalem. So I can not be scared of my city. And I hope you will come here and join me in my city- in our city- and we will not be afraid.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tales from a Holding Cell

            I am writing this from Dublin, Ireland, where I am supposed to be. I planned a vacation with my friend Jess months ago. I was coming from Israel via London and she was coming from Madrid. I was going to spend a day in London, doing an abridged sightseeing trip, alone, and I was stoked. One of the great things about living in Israel is that plane rides to Europe are closer and more affordable. An obstacle to this is that now that I live in Israel, I work longer hours and make less money than I did in NYC. So you can imagine how this impacts my grand travel plans. But I finally got myself together and booked a trip: Tel Aviv to London, a day and a half there, London to Dublin Friday morning and a nice Irish mini break until Tuesday. So exciting!
         I wrote my usual checklist, packed up and went to spend the day in Tel Aviv with visiting American friends and to be close to the airport. I got there with plenty of time to spare. If I may just kvetch for a second. I flew an airline called Easyjet. For those familiar, you are cringing right now. For those unfamiliar, think European Spirit Air. Now you're cringing- okay, we're all on the same page. So I'm in the airport and I take out my Teudat Maavar- or temporary Israeli passport, as my permanent one hasn't been issued yet (and this one is valid for 3 years) and my American passport case. Only- there is no American passport in that case. It is empty, save 5 million ticket stubs from various other plane rides. Crap. I ask the security guy if it's okay that all I have is my temporary passport- he says "yep!"and I got through. Sidebar- Easyjet has security in Terminal 1. But you do not leave from Terminal 1. You have to take a shuttle back to main Terminal 3 and leave from there. Why? Why is this normal? Because- Israel. But I digress.
         So I realize I don't have my passport and tell the deal to the waiting ticket agent. He seems to not have a problem with this whatsoever, nor do the 2 other security/border agents I meet after him. I go on through to my flight feeling like my worries are over. After what can only be described as a rough flight over, I head over to UK Customs, get my Teudat Maavar stamped and head to my waiting friend in Golder's Green. Then, a border policeman comes running after me and tells me to come with him. A wave of dread washes over me. He tells me that my Teudat Maavar is not a passport and requires a visa in addition. I tell him it says right on the cover "In lieu of a passport"and that he can call the US embassy or Israel or whomever to clear this all up. He makes me wait for about an hour while he confers with his boss "Google"over who is correct. At some point, it dawns on me that the next course of action is deportation and I start to cry. Well, more like convulsively heave-cry for an hour and a half. The agent who initially stamped me through is playing defense attorney and a burly, surly woman is clearly playing prosecution. I start thinking about my weekend coming to an abrupt (and expensive) end. How will I eat the cost of flights, hotels and entertainment? How can I mess up Jess'plans? What about this vacation I have been planning for months? Gone in an instant- just because of negligence/stupidity/a distrust of Israeli documentation?! 
My Nemesis
                So the verdict comes down and I am to be sent on the first flight out the next morning. Immediately, the wheels start turning. I am thinking about how long it will take me to get back, if I can get another flight to London in time to make my flight to Dublin, what the costs will be, if my passport is still in my possession. I'm texting Jess, trying not to freak her out, wondering if she can tell how out of my mind with stress I am. I am taken by the border police into a back area, fingerprinted and my photo is taken. I am interviewed, offered food and water and interviewed again. I am given forms explaining why I'm being detained and all my money is counted and my baggage searched. I am given a room to sleep in, but my possession are taken away for the night. I wish I could say I am exaggerating any of this, but this is what happens when you forget your American passport in London. Oh, and my bed/futon? There is a camera trained on it, so Robert, my friend and warden gets to watch me as I sleep. Let me be fair. Everyone was very nice. They just saw a small, red-eyed, shaking quiet (just kidding- it was me) little girl and they definitely felt for me. But- well- it sucked. It was demoralizing and I truly felt it was over-the-top. The only saving grace was that apparently this happens to 5-6 people per day. So there are other morons out there, and that made me happy. 
I illegally took this photo- how good do I look for an illegal alien, though?
              Another thing that calmed me was the fact that had this happened on the way to Dublin as opposed to London, I could have been detained over shabbat. And that would have been a disaster. Okay, so I'm on the first flight back to Israel at 7 am and am escorted by my guards directly to the plane door. I asked if I was going to be handcuffed and the guy laughed and said normally yes but he wouldn't. I turned white(r). I got on to my next luxurious Easyjet flight and takeoff was scheduled for 7. Except a woman refused to fly and the entire plane had to be stopped, rechecked and get back on the departure line. It might have had to do with our co-passengers.
Hey, Ladies!
             Oh, stop it- I'm not a racist, I'm a realist-get over yourselves. Then, the Israeli couple with the baby behind me started getting squeamish and tried to delay the plane yet again. At this point, decorum was out the window and I said "Äre you even serious right now?"They decided to stay and off we went. After the uneventful flight, I was welcomed back to Israel and thought how to best get back to Jerusalem. I tried the bus route, which is super- annoying, requires 2 buses and a light-rail and found myself racing up my stairs to see my passport sitting calmly and blithely in my dresser drawer, Grrr. I got online, fired up good old easyjet,com and booked the same exact flight I had taken the day before, albeit about 150 bucks more expensive. I raced outside and hailed the first cab I saw, he quoted me some astronomical price and off we went to Ben Gurion.
              Back to Terminal 1. Back through security.Back on the shuttle to Terminal 3. Back onto another low-rent Easyjet flight. Back to good ol' Luton Airport. Back to Border Patrol. And back to my former nemesis, and now best friend forever, Border Policeman, who stamped my passport, gave me a hug, and wished me a good trip. I asked him if he expected to see me back and he said you seemed quite determined. I'm not all that surprised."And we laughed together like best friends do.
              You might think that's all. All that's left is to get from Luton to London City Airport, and to my 7 AM flight to Dublin. And I had 7 hours to make that happen. So I take my bag out to the transportation kiosk, planning the best route, when a bearded Jew stops and asks if I need a ride to Golder's Green or Hendon (2 religious areas). I told him my plans and that I would just probably sleep on the floor for a bit before my flight at London City. He asked if it was even open. I didn't 
understand the question. As a frequent flyer in JFK and Ben Gurion, I was unaware that some airports closed. But he was right! Apparently London City is closed from 10pm-5am! Luckily, this man offered to take me to his house, let me sleep a bit and call me a cab to take me to the airport at 5am. Would you like to guess what kind of man he was- aside from angel? He was Lubavich! Oh savior of many a lost and stranded Jew, this Rabbi Junik and his amazing wife Goldie, took me in, gave me food, packed me lunch, gave me a warm bed and called my cab for me. And the craziest part was that had Rabbi Junik not been delayed for the first time in 20 years, he wouldn't have even seen me stranded! In Jewish terms, we call this"hashgacha pratit"or "Divine Intervention"- although you might see it as an excellent coincidence!

            My cabdriver to the airport and I had a lovely chat (if you know me, no surprise) and after a 30 minute political discussion about what to do with the situation in Israel, I come to find out that he's Jewish too! So I gave him my number and begged him to come see me if he ever made his way "home."Then I took one last quick and uneventful flight to Dublin and here I am, waiting for shabbat in this tiny but welcoming community. This was certainly a trip I will never forget, and it hasn't even quite started! But all's well that ends well, and it was great for the blog- so thanks for reading and I'll see you when I get back to the Holy Land!


Regards from Dublin!
        

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Jew Stands Alone

           All we can think about these days is the terror.The terror we thought had abated, but in reality, took a nap and then hit us in a truly intense and personal way. A beautiful boy, Ezra Schwartz,  just 18 and spending his "year in Israel" as me and all my friends had done, was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist with an Uzi, while on his way back from giving food to lone soldiers. You really couldn't have scripted a more tragic end to such a special life. Even in a country and a time where these attacks have become somewhat expected and eerily commonplace, this loss hit me hard. I couldn't sleep or eat, and I found myself voraciously looking for information and photos and video of this kid I never knew, but felt like I personally lost. And I think we all did here in Israel, most especially the American-olim community. I thought of how I myself was "an American tourist in Israel" maybe 50 times on various Birthright and vacation trips. I spent the year here in seminary. When I was that age, I had no doubt whatsoever that once my year was up, I'd move back to New York and live a safe and happy Jewish life in America. Things change and I thank G-d I was bitten by the aliyah bug eventually, but my life mirrored Ezra's really closely at that point in my life. I was exactly what he was- an "American Jewish tourist in Israel." I thought of his friends and the other kids in his gap year, who must all be understandably afraid. About his parents and family, who did the most normal thing Orthodox American parents can do- send their kid to Israel for the year. I thought about his community, who could never fathom that tragedy would hit them from so far away.
           In the flood of articles to come out in the aftermath, one stood out to me as a new immigrant. It's common knowledge that this murder has been widely publicized in Israeli and Jewish media, but almost not at all in European and American media. As with many Jewish murders by terrorism in Israel, the world yawns. But the author of this article was truly disheartened by the fact that this American Jew, without the stain of Israeli citizenship, much less a (cringe) "settler" was being ignored by most of the American media and the president of the United States. She didn't understand how American citizens killed in recent terror attacks in France and Mali received so much more media attention. She lamented the idea that, G-d forbid, if it was her or her family member who suffered the same fate, she would be equally abandoned by the country she loved and lived in for so many years. She rightly understood that as an American Jew who left to live in Israel, any tragedy that befell her here in Israel would be even less worthy of mention in the country where she is still a citizen.
             To say nothing of my disdain for the current American president (and trust me, after over 7 years, I have what to say), it struck me how my personal viewpoint differed so greatly from the writer of this article. First, the lack of media attention didn't surprise me, nor did the near-radio silence and lack of condemnation from the State Department. I have come to expect exactly this from the world we live in, and much more tragically, from the country where I grew up and still appreciate tremendously. I chose to focus on the local papers in Boston who wrote beautiful tributes, and the senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle who remembered Ezra publicly. I had gratitude to the select (and to be fair, mostly conservative) national media who did mention Ezra's loss and the Jewish community's outpouring of support. But call me jaded, I'm just not surprised anymore, nor am I particularly upset.
            When articles about murdered Jews come with rationalizations and equivocations, it's a real blow. When the State Department or president mentions a Jewish death in Israel and follows it with calls for "restraint on all sides," it negates all that came before it. When anti-Semites on social media use your tragedy as fodder for their own agenda, you can't help but wish they didn't know about it at all. And when you have to doubt the country that you pledged allegiance to for twelve years, doubt their allegiance to you, it's really an awful feeling.
            I don't know when it happened, and it definitely hasn't always been this way, but I have come to the realization that at the end of the day, the Israeli and world Jewish communities are the only ones who will love, honor and respect me no matter what. As we have seen with Ezra, all victims of Palestinian terror, and Jewish victims of terror around the world, we are our own champions. We are the ones who will remember us, the ones who will memorialize us. We are the ones who will pray for us and the ones who will let the world know what we lost. We are the only ones who will fight for our rights and our homeland. And while I am forever grateful to our allies in the world- the Christians and the Muslims and the atheists and the Buddhists who care about us and our safety- we, the Jewish nation, are our one steadfast support system. Throughout our history, we have had countless enemies, with no one to turn to, no one to defend us. We have had ourselves and only ourselves through the millenia, and now is no different. I know a lot of you will read this and think "What a stupid girl. I am a proud American/Parisian/Brit/Aussie Jew. I have plenty of friends who would stand for me, defend me." And I have no doubt that they would. I, too, have friends who love me, love the Jewish people, even love Israel. But you know what? The only support I need in this world is that of my fellow Jews. I know that if I have that then the fickle affections of Europe or the United States won't affect me. That if, G-d forbid, anything happens to me, or someone I love, I won't have to live with the anguish of feeling deserted by the country where I was born. I know that this country, my country, my government and my people will embrace me, support me and love me like I love them. Because we are one family and that is what family does.
               I know I say this a lot, but I always mean it- The Nation of Israel Lives- with each other and for each other. Am Yisrael Chai.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Calling a Spade a Spade

       I haven't written in a while, mostly because I haven't had that much to say and I don't like to post just for posting's sake. Then, furiously and all at once, things happen and I have to choose what to write about, and how to organize my disparate and racing thoughts into one coherent, and hopefully interesting, blog post.
      Three things I want to weave together to hopefully make some sense of this crazy, scary, beautiful, infuriating world in which we live. The first is the EU boycott and labeling of products made in "disputed areas" of Israel. Needless to say, it sickens me to my very core, it is clearly and without question (very) thinly veiled anti Semitism, it is eerily reminiscent of the darkest era of human history, and it sets a hideous precedent of blaming the victim. Second, the attacks in Paris are truly heartbreaking. I know that people are valid in their anger towards this world that chooses to demonize Israel, while Israelis and Jews would never brutally murder over 150 Frenchmen in the name of Judaism or Israel. I know there is justifiable disgust in a world that excuses violence against innocent Jewish Israelis, but denounces it against innocent French. I get all that. But that's not my bag. I can only think that as tolerant as the liberal French are (too tolerant maybe for a crazy right-winger like myself), it is much more out of trying to see the good in humanity, and less due to willfully ignoring the bad. In trying to see the good, one often has to ignore the obvious bad, but I don't think anyone "deserved" this or "got what was coming to them." No one deserves to be murdered at a rock show by a merciless jihadist on a religious crusade. The third, and most personal thread is something that happened to me this past shabbat.
          I was having a nice lunch with new friends, when talk turned to a mutual acquaintance who I like very much but have clashed with ideologically on political issues in the past. I therefore try as hard as possible to keep the peace when I see her and stay on neutral topics (weather, movies, Israeli bureaucracy, etc) She often steers the conversation back to controversial topics, and, let's be honest, I don't back down. Still, I would tell anyone who asked that I like her and we get along just fine. My friend then tells me that she mentioned to a group of people that she has unfollowed me on Facebook. For those of you who don't know, that means she and I are still friends on Facebook, but she isn't alerted to anything I post or comment. While this fact irritated me, as she is someone who always crows about "hearing both sides" and "loving thoughtful debate", I had to be fair- I had unfollowed her myself many months ago. But what came next really shocked me: "Yeah, she said she can't follow you because of all the racist things you post." I was absolutely floored. Shocked. Disgusted.
             For those of you who aren't my Facebook friends, I post pretty regularly. Usually it's photos of me and my friends and family, scenic shots of the gorgeous landscape of Israel, and sometimes funny or heartwarming videos. On the rare occasion when I post something political, I try and keep it neutral/skewing pro-Israel. I have many liberal/Left friends on Facebook who I a) don't want to fight with b) don't want to aggravate (although why my different views bother the open-minded community so much is, again, curious) and c) don't want to alienate. So instead of posting something anti-anyone, I try and post things that are pro-Jewish/Israel. That way, I bring light onto my Facebook world instead of darkness. Or at least that's what I believed. But here I am, being called a "racist", a term I don't take lightly or shrug off, because I choose to defend Jews and Israel above anyone else. And you know what? I don't even feel a little bit bad about it. But I am horrified that my open-minded, peace-loving and coexistence-spouting friends see my Jewish pride as an excuse to label me a racist. I personally don't think it's brave or noble to throw your own people under the bus to make an ill-informed political statement, but if you want to do that, it's your right.  I take offense to being called a racist for rightly calling Islamists, who kill in the name of Islam, terrorists. I am not calling all Muslims terrorists. But I am also not under the delusion that a terrorist's faith plays no role in the actions they take. I take offense to being shamed for defending Jews who live in Judea and Samaria and not bowing to the insane belief that they are the cause of Palestinian aggression. And I will not be silenced and denounced as a "racist" for telling the anti-Zionists of the world, whether in real life or on social media, that their hatred of Israel is modern-day- anti-Semitism and I will not tolerate it.
              So let's tie these three seemingly disparate pieces together to try and make sense of a world gone mad- literally. When the world turns a blind eye to terrorism in their midst and then trains that blind eye on punishing the one free democracy in the Middle East with a boycott focused on destroying their economy- there is a problem. When defense of your own people at the expense of a different culture bent on destroying them is seen as "racist"- there is a problem. When you can not label the terror organizations that stare at you in the face, daring you to call them by name, screaming their desired goals as they go- when you have to instead blame poverty, and lack of education, and climate change, and settlements, and Islamophobia and everything except what the terrorists are actually telling you is the reason- there is a problem. And if you purport to be the one who believes that "everyone's opinion matters" and "everyone is entitled to their views" and you then silence the views that conflict with your own- there is a problem.
               Everything is interconnected, and I'm not saying my views are the only valid ones (although they are unapologetically valid to me), but we need to connect the dots. We can't live in a vacuum or with our heads in the sand (2 cliches in one sentence- oy!) We need to be real, and we need to be kind. Even me, in my crazy- Zionist- right-wing-extremist mindset knows that these 2 characteristics are in no way in conflict. Be kind, look for the good, help others and don't judge. But be real, too. When people say things, believe them. And when they do things, don't spend your whole day justifying and equivocating. Be aware, and be safe. My heart is with the victims of terror in Paris, and everywhere in this world terror spreads. And of course, first and always, with Israel. Am Yisrael Chai.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

I have started and re-started writing this blog post every day since the current wave of terror started about 2 weeks ago. And, sadly, each post would have been incomplete without including the latest news, the newest angle or the most recent heroic story. I gave an hour-long tour at my job yesterday, only to come back and find that I missed two attacks in different areas of Israel. In one hour. So I will do my best to organize my frenzied, terrified and confusing thoughts into one (hopefully) readable post.

Wouldn't it be nice?


Wouldn't it be nice if I could board a bus, shop in a supermarket or walk to my friend's house without my heart beating out of my chest? Without my eyes darting, my neck craning, constantly trying to turn myself into a moving target instead of a stationary one? I try to be vigilant, to profile (luckily, I'm not a liberal, so I don't even feel bad) but the terrorists are as young as 13 and women have gotten in on the action, so it gets tougher. I clutch my pepper spray and turn off my headphones as I watch the list of terrorized areas grow- Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Petach Tikva, Maaleh Adumim. The Old City and the light rail stations, the main streets and the side streets. And now the buses. The buses, which for years I avoided because of their prominence for terror during the Second Intifada, suddenly again a target, a nightmare realized. X-Ray- vision would be nice.
Meet my new constant companion- pepper spray.

Wouldn't it be nice if a mainstream media outlet reported truthfully, without anti-Israel bias? If the headlines read "Palestinians terrorist stabs Jew" instead of "Israel shoots Palestinian"? Sure, the Palestinian was shot- that's pretty much the only way to win a knife fight! If you find another way, please tell me! I'm pretty defenseless over here with my little pepper spray. And the media volume is too much to bear, the rhetoric too high. I vacillate between wanting Israeli news reported worldwide and knowing that once it is, Israel will look like the aggressor and instead of the world ignoring us, they will demonize us. I wish I could find an article to share with my friends on Facebook that tells the truth and also isn't from an Israeli/Jewish publication. An unbiased Washington Post piece would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if rational people in the world rallied around us, vocally and unequivocally? Didn't refer to this as a "cycle of violence," as if shooting terrorists isn't warranted? Can't they just refrain from telling "both sides to settle down" as if we're two equally impertinent seven year olds in a fight? There is a Left-wing writer who, instead of using this time to advocate for Israelis and our unquestioned safety, is shaming Jews into placating Arabs. Her microphone is huge, mine is tiny. So any American Jews reading her words are going to be misled into thinking this conflict is about anything but what it is. It's not about bubbling frustration over the Temple Mount, or the "occupation." It's not about Duma or Gaza or the checkpoints or the security wall or the blockade. It is about murdering Jews; frequently, randomly and brutally. Not "settlers," policemen or soldiers. Sure, them too, But in reality, according to a large majority of Palestinian and Israeli Arabs, all Jews in Israel are guilty and all worthy of the same fate. A little more moral clarity would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone had a solution? Because as "radical" as my ideas might be, I can't think of that many that would work right now. If I thought house demolitions, kill- shots to terrorists and curfews would stop this, I'd be the biggest cheerleader. But our largest obstacle right now is incitement and indoctrination- and no checkpoints or metal detectors can stop that. And so we choose to blame the government for not doing more- and even I vent my frustration- but what is it they should be doing? What's the answer? It would be nice if someone came up with something good and soon.

And wouldn't it be so nice if Israel could just live in peace? Not the peace that comes from capitulating, or cutting off one arm to keep the other- but real peace? Who honestly believes that any right-winger wants war, wants this? Who doesn't realize that we all just want the right to live as Jews in the Jewish homeland, without apologizing? We all want a safe place to live, for our kids to grow up. We all want our biggest gripe to be the rising price of hummus or the spottiness of Egged buses. No one wants to live in constant fear, constant anger and constant dread. No one wants to choose between pepper spray and a taser, or sign up for a "stabbing self-defense class." No one wants to feel petrified to leave the house, to attend a wedding, to lay on the beach. No one, not the Left and not the Right wants war. It would be nice to live in safety.

It would be nice to live in peace.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Jew in a Box


      I had planned to write about the High Holy Days. That was the plan- a straightforward, and hopefully humorous, account of my second Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as an Israeli. But honestly, Rosh Hashana was lovely and uneventful and Yom Kippur I was battling what can only be described as the plague, so I don't have that much to report. Then, two things happened that gave me the urge, the need, the desire- to blog. And I live for that.
     The first was a life- changing book I just finished and the second was an unpleasant Facebook exchange (although these days, aren't most of them unpleasant?) The book I read was called "Catch the Jew" by Tuvia Tenenbom and it is his account of trying to get the gist of this whole "Israeli- Palestinian" issue by speaking to a representative of basically every faction in Israel. He talks to Arabs and Jews, Europeans and Africans. He talks to the Right and the Left, Hareidim and "settlers", Bedouins and MKs- he really gets around. It's fascinating, but what stuck out to me is his accounts of discussing the divides specifically within the Jewish community. He pokes fun at everyone, basically, but reserves most of his wonder (and, honestly, ire) for Israeli Jews who hate their fellow Jew. Some of it is really hard to read, and even harder to digest. Here he is, in the one Jewish country in the world, meeting Jew after Jew who hates Jews, hates Israel, and dedicates their lives to destroying both from the inside.
      Act Two. In a Facebook group this evening (mostly dedicated to promoting democracy in the Middle East), someone posted (and to be more accurate, posted during Shabbat) "How much of a internal threat are Orthodox jews (sic) to the state of Israel? In what ways and why? I'm guessing not all orthodox jews (sic) fit in this description but the ones that do." And then in the comments, people were discussing it.
         Now, after scraping my jaw off the floor, I responded to the nature of "Sorry this Orthodox Jew couldn't respond, as it was Shabbat, but this post is rude, divisive and unnecessary." But I was still stewing. I will say this; I think the guy who wrote this meant Hareidi/Ultra- Orthodox Jews. And I will further say this- I don't care. Because for whatever problems I may personally have with specific political issues, I love Jews and will always try to defend them. And it makes me nuts that I live in a religion where I have to spend so much time defending and rationalizing and debating and arguing with and disagreeing with and analyzing my fellow Jews. It got me wondering how much time a devout Christian or Muslim or Buddhist spends defending his fellow coreligionists. 
      It says in the Torah "Love your neighbor as yourself" and yet we Jews have built within our tiny community even tinier factions still. And it has become all the more apparent now that I'm Israeli. Sure, in the States we had different groups, but we were all still American Jews, bound together by the fact that we were the "other", this tiny (but well-known) minority within a huge American population. Here in Israel, the Jewish state, we are blessedly not the "other." And this is great, and this is bad. Here, being around other Jews is no great shakes. And because they're everywhere, factions form quickly, so people know where in this sea of Jews they belong. Sure there are times when we can all come together, like when we're huddled in bomb shelters or competing at the Olympics, but generally- there are schisms. Left vs. Right. Secular vs. religious. Vs. Hareidi vs. Hasidic vs. "settlers" vs. Ashkenazim vs. Sephardim vs. Ethiopians vs. Russians vs. Bibi vs Buji vs. Sabras vs. Olim vs. me vs. you and so it goes. 
         And dear reader, I am ashamed to admit, of course I engage in it too. Of course I classify myself and people I meet. Sometimes I wrinkle my nose, sometimes I like someone instantaneously, knowing nothing much about them. Sometimes I clap for statements I agree with and sometimes I "boo" politicians with whom I disagree. Sometimes I judge and sometimes I'm harsh. I forget that they're also Jewish, but that they grew up differently than me, with a different family and different life experiences. There's a guy who tells everyone he dislikes me and the only reason I can think of is because we disagree politically. I've always been nice to him, we have similar social circles and we're both Anglo olim. But politically, we diverge and so he dislikes me, and I in turn him. But I get to thinking about this and become uneasy. I say that I "love Jews," but isn't he Jewish? Aren't Jews who live outside my box Jewish? Aren't they also my family? Shouldn't I defend them the way I did "the Orthodox" in that guy's Facebook post, or in any instance of anti-Semitism where I would go to bat for any of my Jewish brothers and sisters, regardless of the "box" in which they live?
       I was hanging out with my friend Eli, talking about this dilemma, and it struck me that Eli is a guy who cares nothing about boxes. I asked him how he is the way he is and he said "I just hate everyone regardless." He is an extremely friendly guy and he was joking. The subtext was that he just loves everyone regardless. He basically just sees humans as humans and it got me thinking. I need to start seeing Jews as Jews, now living in Israel more than ever. In America, it was easier- it was our little subculture in a vast non-Jewish country, but here I need to be careful. I need to mean what I say and say what I mean. I don't have to agree with the people who think differently than me, but I have to hear them. I don't have to join people who live differently than me, but I have to defend them when I can. And I don't have to give up my ideals, but I have to understand that they may not be everyone's ideals (although they should be- they're really good ideals. Kidding!) And this year, in Israel in 5776, when I say that I love all Jews and I want to actually LOVE ALL JEWS. I think I can do it- wish me luck!
Pretty deep Jerusalem graffiti

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Get On The Bus, Gus



As an underqualified but highly motivated Aliyah tour guide, I thought I’d give my perspective on the transportation system here in Israel. Please read on for the good, the bad, the ridiculous and the insane of Egged, Dan, Kavim and more- AKA- The Israeli Bus System.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that I am something of a bus novice here in Israel. In my early days of visiting Israel, buses did not have a good reputation. And by that I mean that they were terrorist targets and gave me and my mother feelings of panic just walking near one. Was this a fair assessment? Kind of. There were definitely attacks during those years of the Second Intifada where just the sight of a bus would have me crossing the street, but the vast majority of buses rolled on, safely and soundly. This fear, however, led to strict instructions by my mother to never, under any circumstances, take a bus. It also compelled her to pay for the taxis that would inevitably become my preferred mode of transportation. As the years passed and my trips to Israel became more frequent and longer, my mom was kinda like “This is getting expensive.” And once the money train stopped, wouldn’t ya know it? I started taking the bus again! I remember my triumphant return to a public Jerusalem bus, marked with only two short prayers to G-d for my safety and 10 friends taking photos of the auspicious occasion. From then on, it just wasn’t that bad.

In New York, I had a car. I wasn’t one of those cool New Yorkers who lived on the subway, or the less- cool ones who rode the LIRR (kidding!) I lived in the outer boroughs and worked in several different schools as a speech pathologist, so as the saying goes “I lived in my car.” I remember when I told my mother I wanted to make Aliyah, she said “How could you leave your niece and nephews? Daddy? Your car?!” She, and I, if I’m honest, knew how attached I was to having my own vehicle. I’m a goer and a doer and being on someone else’s schedule, in this case, the Egged Bus Company, was going to be a challenge.

And a challenge it has been! I would like to take you on a sample bus ride to work so you can understand the little difficulties that add up to a total bus headache. What you want to do first is download the Moovit app for your phone. Created by Israelis (of course) this app uses GPS to create a bus/train/walking route for you, tell you how long the trip should take and estimate how soon your bus will arrive. I would like to emphasize should because being wrong is not unheard of. So you choose the route that looks easiest. Sometimes that route will take 2 buses- don’t do it. Do the “more walking” option because honestly, the only thing worse than waiting for one bus is waiting for back to back buses. So you get your bus and you’re the third person to board. Except because it’s Israel, people cut in line and you become the 6th person to board. Except because I’m from NYC, I get back to being 4th. Okay. Unfortunately, the first person is paying with cash (a 100 shekel bill on a fare of 6.90) and the third person’s bus card is malfunctioning but feels that a 5 minute argument with the bus driver would be the best course of action (pro tip- you will never win with the bus driver- the house always wins.) Finally, you swipe your card. When I first moved here, I would buy rides in increments of 20 until I discovered the “monthly unlimited” option (cue the angels and harps.) I have to tell you, as a former shopaholic- this card is my one monthly splurge. For about 65 dollars, I can ride as many buses and light rails as I want for the entire month! It’s amazing! And I know you’re thinking- okay, Jords, relax- but it is basically the biggest purchase of my month nowadays, and I look forward to the 1st of every month now for just that reason. A whole month of unlimited bus rides, far as the eye can see!

Did I actually take a selfie with my Rav Kav? Yes. Because it's love.
So I’m on the bus, right? Great. There are only 2 types of buses generally. Completely empty and bursting at the seams full. So your ride will go one of 2 ways- seated or smushed up against the handrail, praying for the next stop to be the one the entire bus is waiting for. Let’s say it’s empty, as most of my morning ones are. I get my seat and it is glorious. I put on my headphones and start reading one of the 50 articles I have “saved for later” on my phone. Inevitably, the bus will stop and more people will get on. And inevitably, regardless of how many empty seats are around me, their seat of choice will be next to me. Often I have wondered “why?” Why sit next to me and invade my space when there are so many other’s spaces that can be equally invaded? I believe it comes down to these elements: 1) I am clean/smell good (cannot be overstated on a Jerusalem bus) 2) I look safe- say what you want about political correctness, but the young American (because apparently it’s obvious) woman of ambiguous religious level is always a safe bet. I won’t be fervently praying next to you, reeking of smoke next to you or loudly gabbing on the phone next to you and 3) I look like I want nothing to do with you. Why is this a plus, you may wonder? Because I will not speak to you, not breathe on you and not cough on you unless my life depends on it. And when you are on your way from or to work, that’s a real blessing. This is all well and good, unless you’re me and you would kill for an empty seat next to you once in a while. Or would it be possible that the person next to me is a cute, religious young man once in a while? Nope. I attract every other type of person though- men and women, children and the elderly, Hasidic and Arab, French and Israeli- I am an equal opportunity seatmate.

Once on the bus, the driving style of the bus driver is really anyone’s guess. The majority of my rides are smooth and easy, but I have definitely had more than my share of rides that ended with my kissing the sweet, sweet pavement upon reaching my destination.

You have buses that come super late and buses that show up early, so you can wave goodbye to them with tears in your eyes as you hunker down to wait for the next. You have buses with open windows in the rain and no A/C in the summer. Some of the hottest days of August are not complete without a sweltering standing-room-only ride chugging up the hill from the Old City, smelling the smells and feeling the feels of your fellow man as you blast your music, think of puppies and pray that the lights all turn green. You have the people who will talk on the phone as if they are on their own patios, sharing all their private information with everyone around them, and the old ladies who will shush you when you quietly chat with your friend. You will have the tourists who will inevitably miss their stop and then get detailed directions to get back on track and the old timers with their carts full of produce, who have been taking that bus and that route since its inception.

You will see the hills of Jerusalem and the Judean desert and the highrises of Tel Aviv, and the passing trains, the fallow fields and a herd of cows and then an hour later, a line of camels. You will see heart-stopping drops and your ears will pop as altitudes change. You will traverse the entire country in less than a day and experience the wonder and the miracle of this land on every trip. And you will miss your car, and pray that one day you will be able to afford one here. But in the meantime, you will make the best of this time on the bus, when you can turn on your headphones, stare out the window and enjoy the beauty of your new home.
All day. Every day. Hi Israel.


Monday, August 24, 2015

My Declaration of Independence

         One of the most obvious drawbacks of making aliyah is that you will leave your family and friends, many of the people you love most in this world. But not only do these people give you the most emotional support in your life, they often provide the physical support you don't even realize you need. This post is dedicated to the most independent person I have come to know these past thirteen months- myself. Now before you go thinking, "This narcissistic brat. Who does she think she is, calling herself the most independent?" I implore you to read on and let me explain.
        I did not move to Israel after high school. I did not move after college, nor even after grad school. I did not move after my first time leaving home. I left as a full-fledged adulting adult. So when I moved, I never thought of myself as anything other than a mature, together, self-sufficient woman. Boy, was I wrong. My first few months here I couldn't have really even known. I was living in ulpan, with all my basic needs and schedule taken care of, going about my business with my errands and tasks keeping me busy. It wasn't until I moved out and on my own that I realized how essentially alone I was out here. I never realized how much I actually depended on people back in NYC to help me in tiny little ways.
      If I needed furniture moved or fixed, my dad was always right there. If I needed to pick up a notebook or cardigan, my mom would gladly get it for me on her next Target run. If I needed a ride to the airport at 3AM, my little sister would do it with a yawn and a smile. And if I needed anything else, I knew there was an assortment of lifelong friends, willing and able to help out. This is not the case here in Israel. When I needed my disaster of a couch fixed for the umpteenth time, and the guy who said he'd help me stopped answering my texts, I starting eating cereal on a folding chair. When I need a notebook or cardigan, I schlep my weary body to Max Stock or Castro after work and I get it myself. When I need a ride to the airport, I undergo the brutal abuse that is calling Nesher (cab-share service) and allow them to berate me in aggressive Hebrew and then drop me off 4 hours before my flight. And for anything else, I weigh how much I really need it versus the discomfort of asking a new friend for help if I don't really, truly need it.
          Let me give you an example of my new- found independence that just occurred this week. I have been in the market for a small cabinet for months. I have been following all the buying, swapping and selling in various Facebook groups to find the right size at the right price. Finally, a friend was giving one away! But how to transport it? I called a few friends who reminded me "hi, we don't have cars either!" Then I called someone I'm quite close with who didn't have the time/didn't want to (we're still close, but it was touch and go) I called and called various friends until I had to let her give the cabinet to someone else. I realized in that moment that in America: my dad could have helped me move it, my mom could have bought me one from IKEA, and I myself could have heaved it into my own car. Here in Israel- nothing. You may ask- why didn't you take a cab? Excellent question! Fact is, I couldn't stomach getting ripped off and paying more for the 3 minute ride than the cabinet was worth. So sue me. Finally, yesterday, I found a cabinet! It's made of plastic (meh) and the size and price were right. I decided to do this alone.
          Do you know what a Bubby Cart is? Maybe you know it as a "grocery cart" but I call it a Bubby Cart because it's what all the little Jerusalem Bubbies (grandmas) use to schlep their groceries around the shuk/market. So I recently bought a rather fancy one (thanks, mom!) and I took off the bag to fashion myself a bit of a dolly. I took the bus to the seller's apartment and boom- first hurdle- no elevator. It's cool, she helps me bring it down the 3 flights and I put it on the "dolly." No ropes? No problem- I'll just hold on to it for dear life. Made it to the bus stop with little trouble and only mildly horrified stares greet me. What- haven't you ever seen people move medium/large furniture on a public bus? I get on the bus and I am chilling. I mean, I'm winning at life! Spoke too soon. See, school hasn't started yet for the children of Israel, so at a stop between there and home, not one, not two, but three moms with carriages and 2 spare kids each load the bus. And not just the bus. The exact area where me and cabinet are. How big is this bus, you wonder? It's a double bus with nothing but empty space for the kids to frolic if they so chose. Which they did not. They chose to stand directly on my toes. Live, love Israel, amiright? So one mom gets off, then the next and finally I'm thinking I hit the trifecta, but no, Mom #3 decides to try and let me out. But in the process, she blocks the door and knocks off 2 of my cabinet's plastic feet. Whoops. Finally I get out of the bus and decide to take the light rail down the home stretch. And good news! It's only 3 minutes away! And it stays 3 minutes away for the next 10 minutes. Ultimately, the sign switched to "train stopped" and I realize it's me and my cabinet, bumping down Jaffa Street at rush hour, with the judging eyes of all Jerusalem upon me.
Me, my cabinet, and the #74 Bus


          One things that's really fun (read: infuriating) about people in Jerusalem is that they stop for no reason, for any length of time, in the middle of the street, whenever. It is the most bizarre phenomenon. So there I go, bobbing and weaving around the human statues, trying to will the street shorter or the cabinet lighter or the weather cooler (it goes without saying that I was not enjoying the August Jerusalem heat at the moment.) I'm almost there, I can see my block, and the cabinet slips off the dolly with a thud. After some colorful language and a quick "why me?" a sweet girl offers to help me. I first say no, my independence speaking for me, but then allow her to help me so I can make the last few feet on my own. I schlep the cabinet up my stairs, alone, clean and stock the shelves and drink about 2 liters of water, unbelievably (maybe too?) proud of my accomplishment.
         Are all my tasks this huge and difficult? No way. Doesn't anyone ever help me? I would be remiss to not mention the amazing people in this country who help me in countless ways every day- the people who let me use their laundry machines and the kind souls who have me for meals. The generous people who give me rides when they can and the incredible friends who offer me support when I'm sick or sad. Israel is full of beautiful, kind-hearted people who I know I will grow to need and count on just as much as they people I left.
    But for right now, I am still new here. I haven't yet built my family and my friendships are still young. You can't make an old friend in less than a year. So I will continue to fix my own appliances and move my own furniture. I will pick up my own necessities and find my own way to the party. I will even figure out a way to fix my good-for-nothing couch somehow. Because I have decided to move away from my safety net and totally on my own- and I wouldn't change that decision for anything. And if you need me, I'll be eating cereal on my folding chair.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A No Good, Very Bad Deal

I have been hesitant to write about the Iran deal for a while now, for a few reasons. One is that this blog is about my life as an olah, and I wasn't sure a political opinion piece had its place here. The other was that I have so much to say on the subject, and I haven't been able to adequately gather all my disparate thoughts into one cohesive post. The third reason is that, generally, I want this blog to be light and silly. All these fears have been put to bed. First, this deal affects every one of us in Israel and the US, most especially those of us who moved here to Israel from elsewhere and plan to stay. That makes it truly a vital part of my experience as an olah. Second, I've decided that this probably won't be the only post I write about this deal, so I may as well start somewhere. The third is that while light and fluffy may be my mood most of the time, serious times call for serious words. The world we live in is not always going to be funny cab drivers and Hebrew gaffes. Sometimes it's going to be crazy mullahs and their nuclear ambitions.

Today I was corresponding with one of my former Birthright participants about the Iran deal. This was interesting for a few reasons. One, this was not a participant I often chat with, about geopolitical issues or otherwise. Second, this was not someone I knew to be overly concerned with Israel specifically. Like many of my former Birthright friends, they are peripherally aware of what's happening here, generally positively inclined toward Israel and overall not too involved with Israeli politics. This time, though, I think even non-involved Jewish Americans are taking note of how bad this deal is for Israel as a country in general, and me in Israel on a personal level. 

If this were two years ago and I was sitting in NYC, following the intricacies of this deal, I have no doubt I'd be equally furious. I'd be calling my senators and attending rallies. I'd be posting on Facebook and engaging in constant debates with friends and coworkers. It would be a huge issue for me, just like it is now. But there would be a difference. I would be worried-- on behalf of my Israeli friends. I would be concerned-- for my family in Israel. I would be anxious-- for the foreign country I held so dear. All that is completely different from my current emotional state. I feel a numbing fear for the future of my friends, family and myself here in the Jewish state.

I am a realist to the end. Not a pessimist, not an optimist, just a realist. When a country bent on the destruction of Israel screams from the rafters "Death to Israel! Death to America!" I believe them. When the Iranian negotiators celebrate the amazing deal they made with the world powers, giving them the money, time and ingredients to realize all their nuclear ambitions, I take notice. The deal completely baffles me. From my understanding (and exhaustive research) I have concluded that: The Iranians now have tons of money and freedom to develop "nuclear capability", no oversight from the USA (as we are not an ally nation and therefore do not have the right of oversight), sanctions lifted and the stamp of approval from world powers to let a totalitarian Islamist regime join the community of democratic nations. Am I missing anything? Probably, but let's see what we in the free world get in return! Oversight of nuclear facilities (although not by the USA, and not for about a month from our request, and not for several years from now), and the assurance of a murderous regime that they will try not to destroy the world when they have the chance. Sounds like a bargain to me!

But why would America agree to this? What do they actually gain? Why the desire for this clearly lopsided agreement? From what I gleaned, the USA gets 1) probably a Nobel Peace Prize for John Kerry (score!) 2) a signature from an extremely hostile country (knew we could do it!) 3) a legacy for Obama (I got Iran to sign an agreement! So what if it's only good for them- they signed!) and... that's about it. "But Jordana," you protest, "we had to sign this agreement for the peace of the world! There would have been war!" Well, friend, now I'm confused. Where was I during this impending war declaration? I keep myself quite well up to date with current events- I'm a total news junkie. I hadn't heard a word about Iran gearing up to take on the strongest country in the world. I did hear about the sanctions strangling them and keeping them from furthering their nuclear development. I did hear that even with these sanctions, they were the leading funder of terror in the world, via their proxies in Hezbollah and Hamas, among many others. But I did not hear about this phantom war that was thankfully averted by this dismal agreement. "Well, Jordana", you continue, "none of you war-mongering, right-wing Neocons (as many are wont to call anyone who opposes this deal) had any better ideas for how to deal with Iran." Well, that's not at all true. How about tougher sanctions? How about no agreement without Iran promising not to annihilate Israel? How about Iran releasing the 4 American prisoners they currently hold? How about more oversight into their current facilities? How about anything at all to reign this regime in, just a little? Was securing the signature of a violent Islamist regime (committed to world domination) so important that you don't care at all that Israel will be collateral damage? For many American Jews, the answer is of course no. Millions of dollars are being spent to damage Israel's credibility and push forward this terrifying deal, by my fellow American Jews. And to me, that is a tragedy.

Because I know that if I was still in America, I would do everything in my power to protect my Israeli brothers and sisters. Even the spectre, the possibility, that this deal could bring the Iranians closer to a nuclear bomb would chill my bones. The remotest possible prospect that in 10 years time, a country entirely bent on Israel's destruction could have the capability to do it, would compel me to try and stop this travesty by any means. When a radical regime says they want to destroy Israel, American Jews, why don't you believe them? When they scream in front of tens of thousands of their citizens "Death to America! Death to Israel!," why don't you listen? When the overwhelming majority of Israelis, Left and Right-Wing alike, fear and oppose this deal- why don't you at least question it? When the possibility of Jewish life in Israel is in danger of being destroyed by those who currently fund world terror is rapidly becoming a probability, why don't you stand with your Jewish brothers and sisters? And why do I need to even write this, to implore you to stand with us? Why don't you care enough about our well-being that you want to keep us safe without question? Why do you feel it necessary to not only not stand with us, but actively stand against us? That is what breaks my heart. You have the ability to fight on the front lines for us- in New York and LA, Washington, DC and wherever else you are. You have the power to stand up for your friends and family in Israel like American Jews haven't had to in 70 years, why won't you do it?

Wow. I just got emotional, I know. I'd imagine if you're not in agreement with me on this issue, you're seeing me as overly paranoid, too pessimistic and basically an all-around doomsday alarmist. And it's possible you're right. But the realist in me believes Khameini when he shouts for my destruction. The realist in me sees the terror wrought by Hamas and Hezbollah now and imagines a world where their funders have 150 billion more dollars with which to target my fellow Israelis. The realist in me sees no benefit from this current agreement, both as an Israeli and an American. And the realist in me sees the possibility that in 10 years, the family I hope to have in Israel and raise in Israel could be gravely threatened by this terrifying deal. And what use will this blog post be then? I don't want to ever say "I told you so." I want to say "Thank G-d we were saved. That was close."

May G-d bless Israel and America, and keep His nation safe.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

In Tribute to a Friend


       About a year ago, I wrote a blog post about how one of the toughest parts of making Aliyah alone, away from most of your family and friends, is not being present for the happy occasions. The weddings and bar mitzvahs, milestone birthdays and births. There will of course be the ones where you absolutely have to fly in and be there, but by and large you will miss some of the happiest days in your loved ones' lives. And that's a pain that exists separate from the happiness and contentment you have from living life in Israel. But those are the happy times. This is a world away from the deeper, more intense pain an Oleh will feel missing the sad stuff. Because life goes on back where you left it, and there's little you can do when you're six thousand miles away.
       Why am I bringing this up now anyway? Last night a very close family friend lost her valiant battle against illness. Michelle was just 31 years old, a mother of two and pregnant with her third. She felt ill and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. As her friends and family waited for further news, we all held our collective breaths. Not Michelle, this light in our lives who had already lost her father and brother in her short time here on Earth. Not Michelle, who was a living embodiment of goodness and kindness, beloved by everyone she ever met. And then came the verdict- a malignant brain tumor, the worst possible outcome. Michelle was put under and gave birth to a premature but healthy baby girl. 
        And the inhabitants of our world were galvanized- prayers and charity, hospital visits and more prayers. A miracle was needed, we all knew, and if anyone in the world deserved it, it was Michelle. But the miracle never came, and 3 beautiful little girls lost their mother. It is a sickening feeling to wake up to the news of someone so unbelievably good passing away so young and so unfairly. It is awful knowing that I can't be there at her funeral, can't pay a shiva call personally to her family and can't sit with my sister, one of Michelle's best friends for fifteen years, as she cries and mourns. These are things you can not do when you live so far away, and losses will invariably continue to happen in my life here. All I can do is be there for whomever, pay a shiva call by phone, and use this blog to pay tribute to one of the most special people I've ever known.
       In tribute to Michelle, who cared about everyone she ever met more than she ever did herself. Who would do whatever she could to make you smile, make you happy, make you feel good. To Michelle who was loyal and fun, committed to her family, friends and G-d, and never judged anyone. To Michelle, who this world was blessed to have and will be forever dimmed by her loss. And to Michelle, who was a true gift to anyone lucky enough to know her, to be in her presence and to have known her goodness for the short time she was here. May her memory be for a blessing and may her soul have the highest possible Aliyah. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Aliyaversary

            I was just talking to a friend about getting older (as one does when they get older). When you're looking back on the previous years, do you really remember the differences between one year and the next? Was there something significant about the year I turned 23 to distinguish it from the year I turned 27? Not particularly. Maybe I made some new friends, maybe I switched cars or apartments. But fundamentally, each year that passed living in New York was by and large similar to the one before it. That all changed exactly a year ago.
           Today is my one year aliyaversary, the anniversary of when I made Aliyah! This also marks the end of the most significant and impactful year of my adult life thus far. It also marks a little over one year since I started this blog, inviting you all on this crazy journey, one post at a time. Over the course of twelve months and over 50 posts, I have tried to convey the good, the wild, the infuriating, the confusing and the awesomeness that is moving to Israel, as a single American girl. 
          Moving here seems like madness. You leave your family, your language, your neighborhood Target, your customer service, your SUV and essentially everything you have known, to chase a dream you think you have. And you hear it will be tough, but you feel like you're tougher. You hear you will lose out of material happiness, which you gladly trade for the promise of spiritual richness. You hear that you will miss your family and friends, but you intend to make new friends that will become your family. You hear that the Hebrew will trip you up, but luckily everyone here wants to practice their English. You hear that the way of life here is so different, so you do your best to infuse a little of your American personality into the prickly Sabra atmosphere. And you try and find your place here in Israel- to become the best Israeli version of yourself that you can.
         When I look back in the milestones of this past year, I am, quite frankly, kinda shocked. I started and completed ulpan, lived through a war my first month here, published my blog in 2 online newspapers, switched over my license, found and furnished my apartment, voted in a national election, spent a month on unemployment, started 2 jobs and am now employed in another one I truly enjoy, visited NYC for Passover, made new friends and connected with old ones, improved my Hebrew (kacha kacha), and only cried over the bureaucracy 5 times, tops! That's probably more than I accomplished in the past 5 years in New York combined! 


         Is all this because I'm super special? No, not at all! It's because I truly believe that this is where I'm meant to be for the rest of my life. I am still asked regularly if I plan on moving back one day. Honestly, I didn't even realize that was an option! Only being here and meeting and hearing about people who go back to their native countries did I even know that Aliyah wasn't a permanent choice for everyone who does it. I'm not casting any blame on anyone. There are a million valid reasons someone who moves to Israel realizes it's not the place they're meant to be in the long run. I'm not in anyone else's shoes, and I realize everyone is different. From my perspective, however, my plan is that this is my forever home (bli ayin hara!). It's exciting to be the little branch who broke off my European/American family tree and hopped over the ocean to plant new roots in Israel. And I'm lucky that I have an incredible family who supports me in living my dream here (as hard as it is for them that I'm far away.) I also pray regularly that my friends and family will get sick of the freedom, luxury and comfort of America and decide to move here with me! It's not looking good, but miracles happen!
          I want to thank some people for making this year what it was. My family in America for loving me long distance, and my friends in America for cheering me on. My new friends in Israel for easing the bouts of loneliness one can't help but have here, and joining me for 5 shekel Goldstars on a Thursday night. My teachers in ulpan for fighting valiantly to infuse some much needed Hebrew into my insanely Anglo-centric life. The bus drivers, goverment employees, phone company workers, bank tellers and countless other Israeli-born individuals who have toughened me up and made me a much stronger person, mentally and emotionally. I had a head- start being from New York, but nothing prepares you for a bus driver literally closing the door on your fingers as you ask if this bus goes to town. Thank you to those who applaud and support my decision to move here and thank you even more so to those who ridicule and question it- who force me to qualify all the million reasons this crazy, difficult, wonderful life in Israel is the life I am blessed to have. Thank you to the people of Israel who make me proud to be amongst you, and grateful to live in our eternal Homeland. And thank you to the readers of this blog- both people I know and those I have never met. Your feedback, both complimentary and critical, has been invaluable, and I hope to continue on this journey with you for years to come. 
           And thank you to HaShem, "Who has granted us life and sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion- Shehecheyanu Lazman Hazeh." See you next time, in Jerusalem.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Work in Progress


I may have mentioned before that I live in the center of Downtown Jerusalem. Reactions to this information are mixed. They range from “That is so so cool!” to “Um, why?” The short answer is that I wanted to live alone and this was the best and most affordable option, while still being walking distance to everywhere other single Orthodox Jews live. And for the most part, my apartment situation has been an utter delight. My apartment is light and airy, tiny but perfectly sized for me, and truly in a fabulously central location. Almost no complaints. Almost. Although, I do have at least one complaint, and IT IS HUGE.

One of the things people worried about with me living in town is the noise. (No one here was worried it was dangerous to live there alone, because #Israel.) They thought my proximity to bars and restaurants would keep me up at night and cause me untold angst. For some reason, though, the noise of the restaurants and bars barely registers in my little studio. Even though they are open every night (including Friday night- sigh) and even though I am only one flight up and leave my windows open for the breeze, it is not the boisterous chatter of people much more social than me that is causing me the most distress. It is the roadwork.

Most people who now hear where I live wonder, “Haven’t they been working on your street for a while now?” Why yes, kind friends, they have! They have been working on “fixing” my street since before I moved in, and I have no doubt, will continue working on it till long after I am gone (either after my lease is up or at 120, whichever comes first.) I would like to say that the municipality is working on a huge upgrade to both the city and the world, based on the amount of time this renovation is taking, but I literally have no clue what the plan is with this street, and it’s been 6 months!
Site of "Construction/Brick Moving/Earsplitting Noise" at Night


They seem to be moving the barriers side to side, incrementally, weekly. I am pretty sure they are doing this purposely, to mess with me. Sometimes they will put down new bricks, sometimes, those bricks are gone the next day. Sometimes there are cranes and bulldozers, other times, shovels and jackhammers. Sometimes there are barriers, sometimes you are free to wander in and fall to your death in an unguarded hole in the ground. It’s truly an exciting game of “What on earth are they doing?”

But honestly, I wouldn’t care at all if they wanted to build a new light rail line through the street if it wasn’t such a huge, life-altering inconvenience to me with no foreseeable end. Take, for example, the fact that the road is essentially a one-car-at-a-time quagmire that is perpetually filled with honking cars. If, for some reason, I wished to subject someone giving me a ride, or a cab driver to that mess, that would be one thing. But even if I did, I’d be caught in a web of gates, keeping me from my door, unless I wanted to climb back up the block and then down, or down the block and then back up. That is to say, there is no point in getting a ride to my block, as I will essentially have to walk 2 extra blocks anyway. This also makes food or grocery delivery all but impossible, as I feel horrible making anyone deal with the construction zone that is my street. You can imagine what a delight this was during the weeks I was moving in and delivery men would come with my furniture. No amount of “I’m so sorry” could wipe the scowls off their faces after tangling with my street.

But truly, the worst part is the noise, as everyone had warned me. See, in New York, road work and construction work in general are often done overnight (on highways) and on private streets during working hours, so as not to disrupt the sleeping residents of that area. Not so in downtown Jerusalem! Prime brick- moving hours are from 6-8 AM and premium jackhammering takes place from 10pm to 12 am most nights. In case you’re playing at home, that’s before most people wake up and while most people are trying to get to sleep! And if you’re wondering what is going on from 8 am until 10 pm in that construction area… you guessed it! Nothing! Perhaps the workers are catching up on all that sleep they’re missing while they assault my eardrums late at night and early the next morning. And lest you think it’s just the jackhammering and bulldozing that make up the soundtrack to my life these days, there is also varying levels of screaming that takes place amongst the workers as they move their bricks. And I assure you, there are few things more melodious than a man yelling “Ahmed! Ahmed!” at his friend who is down the block, jackhammering, oblivious to any other sounds. Only I am privy to the constant and unending calls of “Ahmed!,” as Ahmed works to blow out my hearing faculties from a different vantage point.

And here it is in the daytime-true beauty!
I think I had basically learned to block the sounds out, and then it became summer and I started leaving my windows open for air, and then the sounds traveled from outside and magically ended up right near my bed. Sometimes, I don’t notice that it’s that bad and then a friend will sleep over and inform me in the morning that she “couldn’t sleep a wink” due to all the noise. And then I feel terrible, because my goal in life is to be an amazing hostess and show people the best Jerusalem time imaginable.

So that’s basically what it’s like to live on a construction site for 6 months, stretching out into infinity. Do I think the work will ever be done? In my low moments- no. I assume they are building an underground tunnel to China or spearheading a Jerusalem subway project on my block without telling anyone. I imagine there are no actual plans for the street, and that the brick-moving will continue, interminably, forever. Who really knows? All I know is that it’s another way Israel is showing me that it’s not perfect, because nothing is perfect. There will be bumps along the way, but I think living on a noisy street in Jerusalem beats living on a quiet street in Queens any day!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Taking the "Home" Out of Homeland

         Today I was informed that I am not a resident of Israel, as I previously believed. Six Supreme Court Justices from the United States informed me that, as far as they were concerned, I am a resident of Jerusalem, Full Stop. Or Jerusalem, Earth. What has been universally regarded as the capital of the Jewish homeland for 67 (and over 3,000) years is suddenly in no man's land, a casualty of those who would rather see this city as part of a political agenda, instead of a home to thousands of Israelis. 
          And so Jerusalem, which is the home of the Knesset and the Supreme Court, and the city mentioned in Torah almost 700 times and never once in the Koran, is apparently not to be considered the capital of the Jewish State. Because they say so. And so, please G-d, when I have children who will hopefully be born in some hospital in undisputed and US-sanctioned West Jerusalem, and I apply for an American passport (because I still love and appreciate the country of my birth), those children with be from "Jerusalem, the Universe." "Jerusalem, Nowhere." "Jerusalem, We are too scared of World Opinion to be honest and say it's Israel."
          To me, this is a real tragedy. It's negated what our ancestors died for, in Jewish history and in the history of this State. And if I'm honest, it's an act of defiance against our own self-determination. We are being told that the United States is denying our right to choose our own capital. The Cabinet is ostensibly saying that, so as not to offend the minority, you must gravely insult the majority. This whole debacle does nothing but weaken the Jewish claim to this city, and perhaps that is the point. Perhaps there is an unsaid goal that if people say Jerusalem isn't really part of Israel, it will make it so. And the army of anti-Zionists and anti-Semites worldwide is jubilant at this public slight. Just looking at the comments sections of the various articles about this case will give you a glimpse into the international damage this is causing to a people that suffers one assault after another. The comments are rife with hate and fresh anti-semitic epithets, showing us all that yet again, we are alone in our fight for justice. The United States, our eternal and natural ally, is the country that is now causing all of Israel's detractors to crow with delight, turning this basically clerical issue into one that threatens our very legitimacy in this city.
           Well I, for one, refuse to be told that the capital city of Israel is not actually located in Israel. I refuse to believe that due to political correctness and a fear of condemnation from the Arab World (and- gasp! Europe), children born in Jerusalem have no country to call their own. And I pray for the day when the State Department and the president and the Supreme Court of the USA agree with me and change this ridiculous ruling. But until that time, I remain a proud resident of Jerusalem, eternal capital city of the State of Israel.
Me in a Jerusalem Tshirt with an Israeli flag- sorry State Department!