בפרידה יש תנועות של פרידה וכולם מכיריס אותם

בפרידה יש תנועות של אהבה ותנועות של גבורה וחסד ויש תנועות של דממה, ותמיד הם אותם התנועות

ובפרידה יש תנועות לעתיד כשהפרידה שוב תהיה יחוד

In parting, there are movements of parting, and everyone knows these.

In parting, there are movements of love and movements of intention and kindness and there are movements of stillness, and always these are the same movements.

And in parting, there are movements toward the future when there will again be unity.

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Every 50 meters the road had a speed hump or was torn up. The Lonely Planet-listed 15 kilometers had already turned to 20 and the time from 3:30 to just beyond 4. The brewery was supposed to close at 4. “But she knew we were coming, right?” we thought with a big dose of dread.

We were heading uphill and away from Ramallah in a taxi. Our destination: the Taybeh Brewery. Back in Jerusalem, I called the brewery to ask the best way to get from there to Taybeh. Take a bus from East Jerusalem. Get off there. Find a service taxi near the center of the city. Take the taxi to the brewery for about 8 NIS.

We got the bus part down. We didn’t know this yet, but a service taxi is something different than a taxi taxi. Who would have guessed? Anyway, the meter in that thing was steadily churning and bubbling up, but we thought somehow that it didn’t matter. We would agree on a price later, the driver seemed to agree to then. We found the brewery. Or, we found a building with a big painting of a beer bottle on it. No one was around. We got out. I walked around looking for a soul or an entrance or something. It was maybe five or 15 past 4. Suddenly, a voice from a face on a balcony.

“Are you looking for the brewery?” the face said in perfect English.

“Yea!” I shouted back.

“It’s closed. But give me a second. I’ll be right there to open it for you.”

Problem solved. The face became a body, and a body with keys no less, and soon enough we were inside the Taybeh Brewery for a private tour. Amid the colorful stacked boxes of lagers and ales, the young woman who’d opened the door, sat us down to watch a quick video about how Taybeh was founded. After the video, the woman walked us around to the various tanks and machines and we sampled some of the goods.

Taybeh is sold in the territories, in Israel, in France and Germany and they’re working on Asia. Despite the fact that the family who started the brewery is just a bunch of ex-pats, the U.S. is whole different story. It’s basically an impossibility, she said, to get a box of anything with “MADE IN PALESTINE” stamped on its side into America. And to go the couple dozen kilometers into Israel proper is day-long endeavor for these people. Even so, she was able to rattle off a long list of bars and pubs in the Holy City that serve this Palestinian brew. And in Ramallah and the surrounding towns, there’s a different set of issues. An old Jordanian law, which for some reason still holds influence in the territories, says that one cannot openly advertise for alcoholic beverages. Word of mouth is the way of business here.

Micah, my travel buddy, bought a sixer. I just bought a poster. “Drink the Revolution,” it reads, though its unclear against whom or what or which people this revolution is directed.

We finally got back in the cab and started heading back toward Ramallah, and this return trip would prove to take even longer than the first. There was a pit stop on the edge of village. Thirty feet away a dry and wavy hill of beige grass crackled and suddenly erupted into flame. A tossed cigarette, no doubt. And back on the road we joked about youth and being old, about Obama, about Bush, or we were just laughing because we really didn’t understand who was saying what, and what about.

Then there was another stop so the driver could get another pack of cigs for himself. He hadn’t had one since the drive up the mountain and given that he smoked three in that 30-minute span, I wondered how he had made it this whole time without. Then we were back in Ramallah and after he parallel parked, the meter had ticked all the way over 150.

In the brokenest of Englishes, he told us, after Micah asked, that we could pay whatever we wanted, if we wanted. We realized we weren’t in a fabled service taxi. That became clear when Micah asked our brewmistress friend back in Taybeh how much to pay the man for the ride. She said 40 was a good price. So Micah handed him two of those plastic 20-Shek notes. Immediately,  after all the good-natured chit chat and feeling of universal brotherhood with this man, we had hit a wall, and we had only to pull ourselves out of the wreckage to see that it was bad, real bad. He was insulted. What is this, these two bills? Do you see the meter?! In between our failed attempts to explain why we’d given him that much, he’s asking us if we want him to call the police so they can sort it out. No, definitely not. We get out of the taxi. Ramallah’s a lively city. Even on this side street where we were parked, people were walking this way and that. A handful of women stopped to listen in on the argument. We asked if they spoke English. They did, and the translation mediation began. This goes on for another 10 minutes, and we’ve gotten basically no where. The 40 Shekels was an insult. We either pay the 150 or we call the police. One of the women is asking if we can pay it, not if we want to. Clearly, in their eyes, of course we can. We scream American. We scream tourist. What’s the big deal, you know? And it’s true. We could cover the fare. But that wasn’t the point. We felt cheated. He felt cheated. There had to a compromise. Now, a handful of men approach and are listening in. Micah’s giving me the eyes that say, “let’s get the fuck out of here,” and I’m thinking that 150 doesn’t sound so bad after all.

Finally, our team of translators reaches a breakthrough. The man will take 120, but he’s not happy about it. The money’s exchanged, we thank our new friends who are already walking away and onto something else and we walk fast. Back in the main square, where we’d picked up the cab in the first place, we scan the shops to find coffee. A place to sit and breathe. Up in the sky, above the packed city center and even higher than the banners of green and black and red, a sign for Stars & Bucks.

Yep. They love us and they hate us. And we? The wealthy, privileged, free, young American observers of all of this. How do we feel? It’s hard to say. Let’s find our way up there for some coffee and sheesha and talk it out.

So much can change in a week. Or in a day. Or in an hour. Or in 10 minutes. I’m in Jerusalem now. Nothing new with there, right? Wrong. This isn’t my home any more than is Tel Aviv or Tzfat or Dimona or some cave in the Judean Hills.

A little more than a week ago though, this was my home. I had an apartment with posters and furniture and food. I had bills to pay. I had bills to pay. I had bills to pay. I had final exams and papers at Hebrew University. My mom, dad and sister were here, and I was guiding them down the golden alleys of Nachlaot, introducing them to friends and teachers and my life, my home.

Then, about a week ago, these connections to this city started to become untied, my life became unknotted. I washed and packed my clothes into a few bags, sold empty beer bottles for shekels at the store across the street, left sheets and towels and Sager’s shoes on a table in the street with a sign in Hebrew letting people know they could take the stuff. I sold the fridge. I painted over the mold on the bathroom walls, took my carefully collected stock of music-show posters off the walls and packed away my own drawings, too. In their wake, I painted over the bare spots and finger smudges.  A friend came over, read my meters, called the electricity people, the water people, rattled off credit card numbers in Hebrew, paid my bills. The landlord stopped by. He saw the painted walls and the empty rooms and handed me back a fat stack of deposit money. I handed him the keys. I was standing in someone else’s apartment.

The tests came and went, I finished a paper and hit the road for Fleet Family Fun Week. When we left town, most of the friends I had made over the semester were still there. They were doing the same moving and writing and testing. Most wouldn’t be there when I returned. Some left to work at summer camps. Some went back for summer school. The others, I’m not sure. I don’t even remember where some of them lived. Jerusalem isn’t Gainesville. It isn’t Friends & Friends. It isn’t downtown, midtown, campus. It’s a thousand different neighborhoods with a million different bars and shops and rip offs and revelations. I couldn’t ride my bike for five minutes and be at a friends house where all my other friends would be with their own bikes lining the walls. I don’t have a bike here, for that matter. I could walk a few minutes and visit a couple different people in Nachlaot. I could walk 20 minutes and visit a couple more in Rechavia. I could take a bus from my side of town to campus and spend time in the dorms. But that whole journey would be at least 45 minutes one way. And if I wanted to stay late all the way out there, I could count on having to pay top dollar for a cab ride back. This all amounted to pockets of friends or individuals who were generally mutually exclusive. And there was never enough time to learn about their lives for no fault other than my own.

Anyway, we left town to travel around in a rental car for the week. My parents had planned each day to the minute. We were in five cities in as many hours and the time spent with eyes closed was never enough. One day it was the 5,000-year-old ruins of Beit She’an, fresh fish on the Kinneret in Tiberias with a now-married childhood friend and several cats, a self-guided walking tour of Tsfat that ended in nervous collapse after hours of being lost and getting bad directions or not ignoring instincts, a hysterical drive around Khatzor where we were two hours late to a meeting of the local Jewish Agency where we were supposed to give a gift from some community in Palm Beach in which the entire town of real-live no-English-whatsoever Israelis was directing us this way and that or calling this or that relative for advice or directing us to the police car which then escorted us to a place that certainly was not the place we needed to be until somehow, by the grace of God and dozens of people we didn’t know who had nothing better to do because there is only one traffic light in Khatzor, we arrived at the meeting just as it was ending. Then we drove down the road to Kibbutz Ami’ad where we promptly collapsed.

The next day was less lost. That’s because we had a guide. He sat in the front passenger seat and told my dad where to turn. He was bald, his nose was huge, he spoke basically perfect English in the softest, kindest voice. He grew up in Kfar Blum. He fought in ’67 and ’73 and ’80. He knew everyone, everywhere. He spoke Arabic. He loved Israel, was excited about Obama, felt the suffering of the Palestinians. He knew every back road of the North and took us to some breathtaking sites. There was the Naot factory. The road there is lined with huge cypress trees. The Israelis planted them so that the nearby Syrians couldn’t see who or what was travelling where. Now the trees just block the view of stunning mountains. There was a boutique winery up one of those mountains in Edom. By 11:30, I was drunk. And then we took a quick hike to another beautiful view, stood on the edge of a giant “hole” in the earth where trees grew big and sideways as if they were frozen on the edge of the most fertile black hole this side of the Jordan River. The drives were rife with stories of the wars that had taken place along the roads and in the valleys we were passing. Now, it was silent and so so peaceful. Once, twice, thrice, there was the thunder of battle and the blood of kids trying to change the world, or at least save their own. We were near a lake at some point. I forget the name. Next to it was a Druze village. We ate on a hill in a Druze restaurant by an open, breezy window that looked out over that lake. There was Nimrod’s Castle, its ancient Arabic stones, its hidden staircases, its silence. There was a the highest point in the area, a kibbutz where you could clearly see a town in Syria. It was so close. It didnt’ look any different than the towns on the Israeli side. The meaning of the word boundary began to fall apart in my mind. We ate dinner in Rosh Pinah, drank a bit in a bar there and again returned to Kibbutz Ami’ad to pass out.

The next crack of morning we were off to Akko. We wandered around the old city there, ate hummus in a restaurant that didn’t have a menu because it only served hummus and coffee and only charged for the hummus. Found our way to the Ramhal’s synagogue. The man there told a story to us which I then translated for my parents and sister. Here’s the story: The Ramhal was a rabbi who started out in Italy but eventually made his way to Akko via Jerusalem, I believe. He wrote a lot of books. He wrote 71, to be exact. They were philosophical, kabbalistic, moral books. He was brilliant but humble. Normally in a synagogue, the place where the rabbi stands is physically raised above where the congregants sit. In this shul, the bimah was actually dug down below the seats. Anyway, the Ramhal told his disciples to bury all of his books when he died. They did this, but one guy, who knew where the books were, dug one of them up. It was a book about ethics. The man travelled to Vilna where he brought the book to the Vilna Gaon, one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the past several centuries. He told the VG he had a book from the Ramhal. Ol’ VG asked him to run and bring him the book. The man did so and when the Gaon saw it he went into shock. He then read the book. And read it again. And read it again. The Vilna Gaon then exclaimed that, if the Ramhal were still alive, he would travel from Vilna by foot to study at the man’s feet. He also said that there was not a single unnecessary word in this book.

In Akko, we saw another synagogue that was, from top to bottom, all three floors, covered in mosaics. The man who greeted us at the door and told us about the place was the man who had the idea for the shul and who started working on it. Needless to say, its fucking crazy. Visit it if you can.

When then drove on to Haifa, where we ate falafel, bought memory cards for my parents camera because my dad couldn’t go a single second without capturing the scene, and found the highest, most-unobstructed view of the B’hai Gardens. A young girl was standing up there blowing a shofar. It was chokingly hot. The gardens were almost too perfect. We made our way to the tourist street of Zichron Yaakov. It was ridiculously hot there. We went to the old ruins of Caesarea. It was a sweat lodge there. My head was pulsating. My body was sticky. I couldn’t drink enough water, or keep my eyes open for very long. I felt like a kid again, complaining to my parents, thinking only of myself, staying in the car  in silent protest when we got to the ancient aqueduct toward sundown. But finally, we were in Tel Aviv, in the down-comforter-and-endless-complementary-chocolate arms of a four-star hotel on the Mediterranean and after all was said in done, cold hard sleep did come.

Of course, I can keep going. Do you want to hear the rest? There were so many restaurants. There were so many people on the beach. So many closed museums. Too much to tell really. Saturday night, after Old Jaffa, my sister and I headed out to Flourentine to meet with friends. We wandered over to the Hudna for drinks, met random people there and then got in the taxi of a mad, young, industrial beat-loving Russian. He dropped us off at The Block. There was an trance dance party going on there. It never ends, does it? All of this, the music, the food, the money, the sun, the beach, the moon. We end, I’m sure. But the party rages forever. That’s what Tel Aviv feels like.

My family’s final day in Israel was marked by a bit of tragedy. I won’t recount it, but they got off to the airport just fine and are now back in the waves of Florida heat. My dad thinks he’ll never come back to this place. I think he loved it but, given that it took 50 years for him to make it, I understand why he feels this way. My mom can’t help but start planning her next trip. My sister, B”H, will make on to a Birthright bus or a JLI-type trip within the near future. I saw more in this week than probably during the rest of my time here. But that’s because I can’t do the micro-managed minute-to-minute planning thing. Everything I’ve done since January has been decided upon minutes or, if I’m smart, hours before doing it. I look for quality, not quantity. But I’ve seen that you can have quality in quantity, and for that, and so much indescribably more, I am thankful.

They went off, and I went off. I had a single paper left to write and rework before the whole bridge became undone. Yesterday, I finished that paper, and now it’s three weeks of living day by day. I came back to Jerusalem after a week with the family and I wasn’t quite returning home. I have no keys, and after this paper, no real ties to this city. Most of my friends are gone. New friends have shown up on various summer programs. I can leave at the drop of a thought and only a few people will notice. It’s terrifying, nerve-racking, it’s only three short weeks.

I’ma hit the road, I’ma hit it hard. To myself and to the rest of you, whether you’re still here, back in the South, following Phish again, in India, in NYC, wherever you may be, I wish you safe travels, long cool nights, hot food, smiling friends and peace peace peace.

See you out there…

Also, good luck, Mom. Love you

The lights weren’t on. If I stand up, I thought, the motion sensor will trip them. But that didn’t happen. And the switches on the walls were duds. I thought, to anyone in an alternate universe whose lights have been turning on and off for no perceivable reason, I’m sorry. I also thought, I’m the only one in here, so might as well sit in the dark.

I was in the computer lab at school, actually starting to get some research done for one of my final papers. Something about the Mystical Proletariat. Sounded cool when I thought of it. What it actually means (or if it exists), we shall see. Then, there in the dark, was that moment when it’s clear you haven’t eaten in enough hours that it’s possible to justify closing the book, clicking restart and getting the hell out of there.

Above the buses, in the Forum, I saw a friend. She was with her newly significant other. I had met him earlier in the day, standing in line for food. We knew each other’s faces and voices from Raz’s, but nothing beyond that. I managed through an awkward bit of Hebrew, got my food, went on my way. And now, above the buses, did more or less the same.

I sat down on the 19 and was back near Nachlaot some 30 minutes later. My plan was to stop by my apartment, put down my stuff, then head to a friend’s in Rechavia, grabbing food on the way. In the dark, on the stairs down to my apartment, I felt for my keys. Pockets? Nope. Bag? Nope. Hands? Still, no. Clearly, I had left them hanging from the same key chain as my flash drive which I had left safely in the grip of the computer in the Rothberg computer lab.

Down in the dark of my basement apartment’s “porch”, I thought, how can I avoid getting back on a bus to head all the way back to campus to get my key in order to head all the way back? I didn’t have a roommate anymore. I couldn’t call Jacob and walk to him to borrow his keys, and he wasn’t waiting in the light of the window where we get steal our Internet. No, he was gone, thousands of miles away and keyless. I’d have to rely on the old self, which, it seemed, wasn’t so reliable, as I was there in the dark, 0 miles away, also keyless.

The get-back-on-the-bus option was not an option, I quickly decided. I would stay in town, crash with a friend, wake up in the morning wearing the same Phish shirt and hiking shorts from the day before. I mean, hey, I’ve got the uncontrollable beard and scruffy hair, might as well fulfill all the rest of their expectations and wear the same (Phish) clothes on consecutive days.

Doing more work that night was not an option. It’s incredible how the combination of near-dead laptop and cross-town, early closing computer lab amount to finishing your studies at 9 p.m. At UF, if the library was closed before 1 in the morning, it was an issue. And if the lap top was geeking, any number of friends wouldn’t mind sacrificing theirs’ for an hour or two–anything so that they could avoid doing work themselves. Here, exam-ish week as it is, these just weren’t realities. Like I said, the lights wouldn’t even turn on after 8 in the computer lab on campus. And those ever helpful friends of mine were either using their laptops for their own last minute projects, using other friend’s laptops because theirs’ were stolen or were thousands of miles away, keyless and sleeping probably.

Some hours later though, I couldn’t resist picking up a book and reading more about Rav Kook. I’d checked out a stack of books from the library, and I meant to find a solid-enough chunk of research to write about Kook’s view of early secular-Zionist settlers in Palestine as the proletariat of Messianic redemption. Rav Kook felt that his days were the beginning days of the time of Moshiach. Many people before Kook thought that their days were His days, but this guy, he was on to something. He was the first chief rabbi of British-mandate Palestine and, despite his detractors, he embraced his non-believing brothers with the biggest bear hug of love imaginable. All the writing about his thought talks about the differentiation between things sacred and things profane. In the end, these things–as all other things–are one. For Rav Kook, divinity was infused into all of creation when it was created and there is no perceivably existing thing that does not contain at least the faintest whisper of such divinity. Every act, every thought, every moment is rooted in holiness, whether the actor, the thinker or the bit of time knows it or not. For him, it was fine that the Jews building Eretz Yisrael were heretical halakha-rejectors. They were the Mystical Proletariat. Their action was still the first revolutionary action in the first stage of ultimate Messianic redemption (because in order for the Jewish people to be redeemed, they had to have a land, says Kook).

So what do labels like secular or Haredi matter? What is sacred, what is profane? What is darkness, and what light? What is Hebrew, and what is English? What is confidence, and what is confusion? What is forgetfulness, and what is a two-ton stone? The answer is an upside down question mark in the middle of an endless and silent field.

No worries though. Today is a day later, I’ve retrieved my keys from that kidnapper computer, I’m wearing the same clothes, no one is looking at me (or smelling me (I think)), and I’m getting work done. (Or am I?)

It’s back to the Mystical Proletariat. It’s back to light.

The Holiday Of The Week this week is a double-whammy: Yom Yerushalayim & Yom HaStudent. That is, a day to celebrate both the reunification of Jerusalem and the students who study here. Sometime last week or more than that ago, was Lag B’Omer. Next week, of course, is Shavuot. I’ll see you all at The Mountain.

I feel every holiday here is a coupling of extreme happiness and inevitable sadness. The darker part this time around is that fact that my roommate, Jacob, is leaving. It really seems like a couple hours ago that we were making plans over the phone back in The States, lamenting the fact that Carl wouldn’t be able to make it but resolving ourselves to live the dream without him and in his honor. The dream is over, a former Beatle once sang. But a new one begins every second, and I look forward to the colors and creatures in it.

The lighter side of things this time around was the all-night concert last night in Independence Park. As students at Hebrew U’s Rothberg International School, we get “points” that we can spend on various trips and programs. These points are part of our tuition. I hadn’t used any of them up until a couple of days ago. I got a ticket to this concert with a point, a whole 45-Shek savings. It was a strange evening. The headliner was Macy Gray. The audience was 20,000 Israeli college students. The sunriser was Shalom Hanoch. There was Idan Raichel and other Israeli acts.  Macy Gray was hammered, but her back-up singers were quite large and quite in charge. She sang a Radiohead song. That was a trip. I’ll put some pictures up soon.

Just a quick update. Gotta go make a late lunch breakfast.

Bye Sager. You will be missed.

…means lovingkindness in humility, which means realizing, through being humble, that every person around you is a brother is a sister is a mother is a father and that all there is to do is love that person. And it means just four more days til big ass Lag B’Omer bonfires in the hills of Israel!

Earlier this week, I turned in a paper about Shabbat in the Zohar. Then I started doing research for another paper. That is, I walked into my Contemporary Issues in Halacha class and our teacher, Pesach Schindler, had a stack of sources waiting for me. We had discussed two days before that I wanted to write about adoption in Jewish law, and there were the texts on his desk, Post-It-ed with my name. That guy’s a mensch.

Chutz mi’zeh, Shabbat Shalom everyone. I miss you.

And some things to hear/read/play:

Or, Finding an Israeli Reality

I’m sitting here in the Library West of Hebrew University. The atmosphere is just as club-like, and if you cross your ears it’s almost possible not to notice that virtually no one is speaking in English.

This is the Israel that didn’t take long to get used to: loud, obnoxious, inappropriate, distracted. And also, plugged in. There, on every other ear is a cell phone. On every other ear than that is an iPod earbud. And if they had more ears, Israelis would fill them with other as-yet-uninvented media machines. And there go their fingers pecking half-heartedly away at their chicken-meal Mac keys. It didn’t take long to get used to because this, my friends, is America.

I found Israel a couple days ago. It started when I went to the Kotel at night for a Yom HaZicharon ceremony. Once inside the Old City, there was a clique of two or three or four Israeli soldiers every five yards. This holiday is a day of remembrance for the thousands of Israeli soldiers and citizens who have died throughout this country’s short history of war and life. Not on this day will an Israeli needlessly die, the streets didn’t whisper. But every five yards were a few large guns held by a few young Israelis ready and ordered to wield them if necessary.

At the Kotel, President Shimon Peres and other officials spoke. I didn’t know this until afterward. Everything was in Hebrew. Fast and somber Hebrew. No translation. No clapping. No excess. Just flames and pressed uniforms and lost lives.

With friends on the walk back, I found twenty-odd twentysomething Israelis sitting in the middle of Ben Yehuda Street. It’s normally a surprise to hear Hebrew at night on this tourist shop-lined pedestrian walkway. But here were real, live Israelis sitting. One of them was reading a Hebrew poem. Another was holding a small classical guitar. Another was holding an accordion. Another a recorder. The rest were holding sheets of paper. The band began to play. The twentysomething twentysomethings began to sing. They sang so softly and with such sadness. Their hearts were breaking all over again and mending simultaneously.

I don’t know who these people were or are. We sat down with them. Others came and went. We kept turning pages. The songs kept coming. A couple hours went by and they were still singing, but I had to leave. The connection I felt with these kids when we first stumbled upon their circle had turned into a flesh-like wall. At some point, I felt like I was sitting inside the dream of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the guy who basically revived Hebrew from the dead-and-dusty to the living, breathing language spoken by millions that it is today. These people were singing page after page of songs written by Israeli songwriters in the land of Israel in the last half of a century. I thought I grew up with Israeli songs. I didn’t recognize any of these. And I realized then that if I wasn’t sitting in the dream of a guy who died in 1922 before this state even existed, then I must be sitting in a reality, a collective consciousness that, at least for these couple of hours, excluded me. These were not the songs of my youth or even my parents youth. These few tears were not because one of my friends or relatives had been lost in the decades of fighting. I was imagining what it maybe might be like to have lost someone. I was inserting into these words and verses a meaning that may or may not have been there. And I realized that even if I decided to move to this country and join its army and fight its wars and really let its language soak into my pores, I still would not be able to fully relate to this moment or to these songs or to these people.

The next day was basically uneventful until the evening. A group of us took a cab out to the Tayellet which is across the valley from the Old City and has the view of views, day or night. There, a group of (who else?) twentysomethings, hundreds this time, was davenning the evening Maariv service with a special section added in for the holiday that started that night: Yom HaAtzmaut: Israeli Independence Day.

The service, Hallel specifically, was drawn out beyond belief. Each verse or group of verses had a segue of joyous song and dance with guitars and djembes aplenty–a glaring shift from the sobriety of the day.

After this, I had another “How did I get here?” moment while sitting in a car with four Israelis whom I’d met minutes before and who, I was told, would take me to a happening  party. A friend was walking to that party with another group of Israelis so I was supposed to meet up with her whenever she arrived. Benny was the one driving but his girlfriend and the other couple in the car might as well have had their hands on the wheel, too. At every traffic light (ramzor) an argument ensued as to which way Benny should turn. By the time a light change came, each and every direction had been suggested and the one chosen was always the wrong one. With this I connected. While I sat quietly in my cluelessness, happy to go with the flow, everyone else in the car yelled their thoughts at everyone else at the same time at the same blaring pitch and with so much love. Fleet family Passover Seder in Florida, anyone?

So eventually we made it to the party. This place was definitely tucked away from the eyes and GPSs of foreigners.  It turned out to be a charity event for needy children put on by, among others, Hitorrerut Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Awakening). Remember that sad somber circle of Israelis in the middle of Ben Yehuda on Yom HaZicharon? The guitar and accordion players from that night were here at this party and were charging through a barrel full of Israeli classics with a full band that included drums and horns and a synth organ.

Nothing here is a coincidence. These songs were a complete about-face from the previous night. With two projectors beaming the song lyrics up onto some screens and the yard filled with hundreds more twentysomethings, there was no reason not to feel included. It’s much easier to relate to joy and independence and freedom than death and sadness and a national identity that had war and loss and confusion programmed into it.

On the way back to Nachlaot, I walked through Ben Yehuda, which was filled with Israeli kids spraying white foam from cans on passersby, playing with blow-up Israeli-flag hammers (apparently, a beloved Israeli tradition) and generally being loud and obnoxious. Nothing new or unique here. But then I heard that there was a party a few streets away from my apartment. Like Purim, people were standing and dancing in the street in Nachlaot outside of a bar called Slow Moshe. It was across the street from this scene, in the direction of a Sharpied arrow on a white sign, down a tiny street which I’d never thought to explore, that the real party was raging. From the main road you couldn’t hear it, but once you made it down there to the somehow-enclosed courtyard there was bumping trance, tents with homemade pita and hummus and chocolate treats and hundreds of raving Israelis packed in and grooving.  I met up with some friends there. We stayed and danced for a bit. The trance went on and on. We left. We came back. It had switched to Hebrew-flecked reggae which then switched to electronic takes on old Israeli folk songs (there’s nothing like hundreds of Israelis screaming in unison to cheesy Israeli folk music) which then snapped to rootsy hip-hop and then on and on. And it was 4:30 in the a.m. at this point.

The next day meant thousands of people in Gan Sacher (a park close to Nachlaot) barbecuing to their hearts’ content in the springtime sun.

Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough before. Or maybe I was slipping into surrounding myself with Anglos and with English because its so damn easy to in this city. But Israel actually came out of hiding over the past couple of days. And today, officially, I have less than two months left to get to know her.

The Word of God (the white letters)

Elie Wiesel’s Great Regret (The Daily Beast)

Ahmadinejad entourage brands Elie Wiesel ‘Zion-Nazi’ (HaAretz.com)

Behind Bars in Iran (the New York Times)

Wall: A Monologue (the New York Review of Books)

The Beats: A Graphic History (macmillan)

A lot of distance has been covered since Boombamella.  There was the trip back from the festival with some religious settlers who we didn’t really meet in the Breslov tent, in which Sleepy Chana and I got a run down of reasons why Jews belong in Israel. In brief, because the Torah says so. They dropped us off in Modi’in and we ran and jumped on a bus from there to ride the rest of the way back to Jerusalem.

Morning meant SHPiEL. Clearly, years writing for (and running) the paper has not taught me to get things done early. I knew Zahara would be putting the paper together that day so this was really the last opportunity to not fuck it up. It’s not that I can’t get things done early. It’s just that I want to write something as up-to-the-minute as possible, and having an open-ended period in which to turn in my column isn’t conducive to being on top of things.

I wrote the previous post that morning and left the apartment to grab something to eat. Every other restaurant on the street  here is closed during Pesach. The ones that are open aren’t always appetizing. Then there’s this one cafe that doubles as a book shop just off of Ben Yehuda. I met Sara G. and Jacob and his sister Jessica, who was visiting for the holiday, there. Tmol Shilshom is overpriced, the service is usually infrequent and it’s overpriced. But they have real coffee! But, I would find out, not on Pesach. They were finishing up, but I was OK with that. I got shakshuka. Jacob wrote a few short poems on his reciept and gave them to me before he left. Here’s at least two of them:

Uncle Morty’s tape recording / are all we have left of him. / but Aunt Lula pawned the tape player / to pay off his gambling debt / so we won’t hear his voice again

Matzah cracked / covered in sand / by a people celebrating / in their own land / but when the tents are packed up, / the toilets are backed-up / & there’s trash everywhere

Then I was alone with my fried eggs over tomato mash and matzah and cafe americano and so I wrote something on my placemat:

An open window / in a coffee house / in Jerusalem / during Pesach / is a tree dripping with fruit, / and leaning hard / into the wind.

Then I over paid and dipped. Went to get a Lonely Planet for Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Over paid for that, too. Went to meet Chana and her cousin (Tsip was there, too) who would be driving us up to Haifa. They had chosen to eat at a a place with awfully overpriced selection of awful Passover pasta. Mmmm.

Yisrolek (a.k.a. Ari), Chana’s cousin, dropped me off in Haifa. He, his silent-type brother who we picked up on the side of the highway just outside of Kfar Chabad and Chana were driving on to go to a family reunion of sorts. The Port Inn, where Lonely Planet told me to stay for the best price, was all booked up. I took the underground (Israel’s only) up the mountain to get to a hotel where I knew Jacob and Jessica would be staying that night. Haifa is on the side of a mountain on the edge of the Mediterranean. There’s stuff on the bottom, on the side and on the top. The B’hai Gardens is one of those things that is on the side of the mountain. The Port Inn is on the bottom. A lot of restaurants and expensive hotels are on top. The Carmelite subway is underneath all of that. It costs less than six sheks to ride.

I rode it to the top of the mountain. The Carmelite has a total of five stops. I guess its not a very tall mountain. Up there, I spent a few hours killing time in Aroma Espresso Bar updating my journal (Since when do I have a journal? We’ll see how long it lasts.) and later at the only kosher-for-Passover place I could find. I got a corned-beef sandwich, and on the TVs there Macabee Tel-Aviv got beat by Macabee Haifa.

The Sagers arrived. The hotel was expensive and made me sleep deep. After “free” buffet breakfast, I took a bus to meet Chana, who’d taken a bus to meet me, so that we could take a bus to Tzfat.

Oh, Tzfat. We decided that Jerusalem is, at least these days, too hot and heavy. There’s spirit dripping all over everyone, and everyone is freaking out about it, always. Jerusalem is fire. Tzfat is air, mamesh, air. The second we got there things were light and cool and calm. Chana and I found ourselves in the Artist’s Quarter and later in a Joseph Carro’s synagogue. Some of these people take some trippy pictures of old rabbis. Wowoah.

Two restaurants were open in Tzfat, one meat and one dairy. We chose The Meat Restaurant and weren’t disappointed. They brought us endless Israeli salads and chips (fries) and some meat on a skewer. Two hours and a few more friends arriving later we were off to Mordechai’s place, where we would sleep and live for the proceeding night and morning. I’ll leave it at the fact that the man had courtyards met by rooms met by courtyards met be meditation wombs met by roofs that met other roofs, and somehow we ended up several houses away, down the mountain, singing nigunim in the light holy sun.

Chana, Tsip, Adiella and I eventually found our way down to the Ari’s grave. Below Tzfat on the mountain is a sweeping cemetery specked with blue. When you’re down in it, those specks are the sky-blue-painted graves of tzadikim, righteous Jews of old.  People pray by/on/all over the graves of tzadikim. It lifts them higher.

On the way to the cemetery we stepped into the Abuhav Synagogue, just off of the main drag of the Artist’s Quarter. It took about five seconds to realize I had been in this place nearly four years earlier while on USY Pilgrimage. Four years ago, I remembered, they had dropped us off in Tzfat for a few hours. It hadn’t been enough time. Now, as we stopped to marvel at the shul, I think I began to make up for the earlier insufficient experience.

You walk in and there’s a massive sky-blue bimah in the center of the room. Above this is mural swirled around mural ending in the center with a massive Holocaust-memorial chandelier. Around that bimah are four pillars. Built in to ones of the walls are three separate arks for Torah scrolls, each serving a different context and purpose for yearly Torah readings.

Like I said, Tzfat is air, and this place was one of the many pure embodiments of that. As we stood in wonder and silence, a few birds flew into the shul and began flying loops in and out and around the pillars, chasing each other. It was possibly the most graceful/peaceful thing I have ever seen. The old man who let us into the shul and sat quietly while we looked around told us, in Hebrew, that the same birds come back every spring and fly the same loops.

What next? Every day that I’m back and don’t finish writing this post, the things we did in Tzfat seem to be one wonderful blur of holy happiness. It’s hard to put things in order. In any case, after Abuhav and after the Ari we stopped in a dusty supermarket on the way back to Mordechai’s. We were looking for something to cook for dinner. Mordechai didn’t have much in the way of pots or pans or plates that were kosher for Passover, so we had to improvise. We got some chicken and potatoes, a hand-held grill-ish thing and marshmallows.

A couple hours later, when we were full from such improbably delicious fire-cooked cuisine, the four of us decided to venture back out into the world and visit Ascent, a retreat center in Tzfat that offers lodging, tours, classes in Kaballah and Hasisdut and the occasional farbrengen.

Adiella taught me a fire nigun on the walk over: “Nigun Moshe” brought down by Yehuda Green. I have since, as always, forgotten how this song starts and haven’t had any luck finding it online. But I know you’re out there somewhere, and I’m coming for you.

When you walk into Ascent you have two options. Take the stairs that go down or take the ones that go up. I started walking down because I knew that the action would be down there. Adiella did the same because she was looking for a friend. Chana and Tsip, on the other hand, stopped and sort of just stared up at something. They were looking at an older couple sitting in the waiting room upstairs. A dozen exclamation points later I realized that the couple sitting up there was the parents of our friend Micah. They were a bit distraught, but only, they said, because Micah was distraught. Nothing was working out. They came to Tzfat to have a holy experience and things had just turned sour. This ran completely counter to the experience we were having in Tzfat. I know that I was unable to stop smiling and/or singing and that everything felt really right and light and sweet, not sour or wrong. I had to cut them off. Where’s Micah? I wanted to know. Downstairs, they said. So let’s find him! and we ran off. I can only say that while this was entirely unexpected it was entirely meant-to-be. Our friend was definitely out of sorts, but I hope that our presence eased his mind for the night.

It’s not that we didn’t do more after this, it’s that I’ve already written far too much and, honestly, I need to go shower, eat and try to find a place to go to in the North for the rest of my break. That night we slept in The Womb (The Woom) and in the morning made our way to the bus station to catch a ride back to Jerusalem. It was almost noon by the time we got there. Buses to Jerusalem had stopped at 11 a.m., so we hopped on to a bus that took us to Tiberias where we could then hop another bus home. In Tiberias there were literally hundreds of people waiting in the line for the bus to Jerusalem. We couldn’t dig our way on to the first bus. So after taking out some money and unexpectedly running into some friends who were also traveling, we literally clawed our way onto a bus that ended up being overfilled by at least 15 people. Meaning to say, every seat was taken, some seats were shared by more than one and the aisles and stairwells of the bus were filled to the last inch by flesh and luggage. Chana, Tsip and I had a nice cozy piece of aisle for the three-hour ride. And in such conditions, it was impossible not to meet the young Israelis all around us: new friends who I’ll probably never again see but who were beautiful and blessed nonetheless.

And, oh, there’s so much more, but it looks like I’ve crossed everything off the list from a couple posts back except the camping in the Golan. Let’s see what the Lonely Planet has planned for me today…

Boombamella is not Bonnaroo. And it’s not JazzFest or Lollapalooza or Austin City Limits for that matter.

I didn’t know this when I ordered my ticket over the phone the day before the festival began. I still didn’t know it on the bus ride to the beach between the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon where it would be held. I think I started to figure it out when the bus dropped me off in a field a few miles from the festival’s site.

In that field on the edge of that beach, things started clicking. I was surrounded by packs of chattering Israeli brace-faces smoking cigarettes and 16-year-old boys acting like the overgrown 20-year-old warriors they hoped to become. Some of them were dropped off by their parents. I hadn’t noticed it, but some of the others came on the bus with me from Jerusalem.

I started to feel old, which made me feel self-conscious, which made me feel crazy. And so, feeling like an old, almost-cracked nut, a seed of thought began to form in my head: Boombamella is not a music festival. It’s a three-day gathering disguised as a music festival made up of unsupervised Israeli hormone machines on the Mediterranean.

Then, because of that thought, I really felt old. But then, something a friend said to me earlier in Jerusalem began to make sense. That thing, I realized, was actually the main reason why I chose to come to Boombamella.

Back in Jerusalem, before I got on a bus with dozens of Israeli spring-breakers, before I ordered my ticket, before I was even capable of deciding what to do for my break from classes, a friend said she was going to the festival to bring the spirit of Shabbat. Back in Jerusalem, this didn’t really make much sense to me.

The City of Gold is Shabbat incarnate. Everything in Jerusalem feels like it builds and builds during the week and keeps building through Friday afternoon when the streets and markets are packed with panicking people. Then everything stops, and it is Shabbat.

Jerusalem is a bubble. It can go one of two ways if you choose to live here. You’ll go crazy after a few weeks and need to speed off to a far-flung beacon of secular society, or you’ll never want to leave and you think that if you do leave, the rest of the country functions the same way.

In reality, Israel is a country of bubbles. Tel Aviv is a bubble of an entirely different shade and shape. (There’s even an Israeli film called “HaBuah,” “The Bubble,” which addresses this phenomenon.) Eilat, in the south, is an even stranger bubble. In every case, the bubble makes you think that the rest of the world thinks thoughts likes you and lives lives like you, and so you need not leave the bubble because everything you need and know is inside. Outside is some foreign redundancy. Don’t go there, says the bubble. It’s a waste of time.

So back in Jerusalem, when my friend talked about bringing the spirit of Shabbat to Boombamella, it didn’t quite click. The spirit, whatever that means, would be at the festival, I posited. I mean, the festival is in Israel, right?

Still, something pulled me to order a ticket at the last minute and to wake up earlier to catch a bus to a foreign land. I didn’t even check the list of bands or events online before I left.

And then I arrived and reality hit. I was on a beach with thousands upon thousands of young Israelis (read: Jews) in the middle of the holiday of Passover and on the verge of the Shabbat, and the girls were basically naked (OK, some were completely naked) and the tents were bumping and blaring and the non-Kosher food was frying and it was Spring Break ’09. The Jewish State seemed a lot less Jewish and a lot more like any other place in the world.

Boombamella is not Bonnaroo. The live music doesn’t start until night time. The music tents seem like caricatures of tents at big festivals in America. There was the One Love tent that featured standard reggae tunes and a smattering of crappy American rap mixed in. There was the Tribal Beat tent, which featured endlessly bad trance music with bass that made the beach shudder. And so on.

Starting Friday afternoon and continuing through Saturday night, I spent most of my time at a tent just outside the festival proper. It had a big Hebrew sign that read “Kfar Tefillah,” which means “Village of Prayer.” The people who set up this tent are the sort of Israelis who might as well be living during the time of the First Temple. These people just look biblical.

They lead a service on the beach at sunset and a meal after that back in the tent. Any person–shirtless, spiritless or otherwise–was welcome to join, for free and without question. The story was the same on Saturday. Tales were told about rebbes, rabbis, prophets and priests. Songs were sung. Wine was drunk. Shaloms were Om’ed. Circles of dancing souls were spun. And in the end, the spirit of Shabbat, whatever that means, had some life breathed into it.

On Shabbat, it’s taught, we receive an extra soul. On Pesach, we receive an extra dumpster.

Wednesday night is the night of the first and only seder in this country. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are days of frantic cleaning and discarding. The dumpsters that line the streets of Nachlaot are spilling over with old appliances, rotten furniture and legions of other chametz.

11 HaYarkon got a good cleaning today. Bucket-of-water-and-squeegee-to-the-dome good. To the trashy multitudes we added a kumkum (electric hot-water pot) — it started causing the main fuse in our apartment to blow, leaving us without lights or hot-water, taboot — and mounds of dust and debris from three months worth of life.

It’s spring time, finally, here in Jerusalem. That means I’m in my element. That means shirts and shorts. That means this city is buzzing lovely. And since Pesach is this week, I’m on spring break. And since I’m on spring break, Shabbat was especially stress-less this weekend.

I enjoyed the company of old and new friends and dug into countless hot homemade meals. We talked about going back home and about what we think will be different.  We talked about nothing in particular. We talked about finding our place in this world, or just acknowledging that there is space and freedom enough for us to have a place. We sang. I relearned a really really powerful nigun (wordless melody) called The Nigun of Three Stanzas (Nigun Sholosh Tenuos) because its three sections are attributed to three different Hassidic masters/innovators:  the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch and the Alter Rebbe. I relearned that sometimes I need to stop assessing and analyzing my options. Instead: Just go with it, or  go with something else, but don’t let the bus leave before you get to deciding that you have somewhere to go. I walked and walked and walked all over this city. Everything is blooming, everything is growing.

For the coming week(s) I’ve got ambitious plans: Finish cleaning the apartment. Prepare for the seder (every guest has a section that he or she must read and bring alive somehow). Go to the Seder. Go to the Boombamella Festival on Nitzanim Beach. Write a SHPiEL column. Go to Tzefat. Camp and hike in the Golan. Tiberias. Haifa, too, maybe? Read, read, read to prepare for classes when I return….We’ll see how much of this I actually accomplish.

I hope that we are all blessed enough during this holiday to completely clean and reset our lives, that we get rid of all the choking dust from where our bodies live (the home) and from where our souls live (the body), that we remember what it was like to be enslaved and that we don’t forget how thoroughly free we are now.

And some things to read:

Printed in The SHPiEL Vol. 7, Issue 6

Shabbat dinner with Jewish settlers from Palestinian territories was an unforgettable experience.

Everyone knows Jewish West Bank settlers are rabid, armed racists who, more than anything or anyone else, are the reason why peace will never exist in Palestine. Forget the war machine made up of 18-year-old boys, the money-sex-power-starved political establishment, the unfeeling coldness of Israeli women. To be sure, these are all symptoms of the same destructive delusion. But, it is the settlers in the Palestinian territories who destroy the most and are the most deluded, and every day, the Western conscience is further hard-wired to feel that behind all of Israel’s moral quandaries—her apartheids and her holocausts—there is the insane smiling face of the Israeli settler.

Today’s world citizen, today’s college-graduate intellectual doesn’t merely believe this, he or she knows this deep down in the marrow.

This, at least, has been my experience since entering the academia of American university. Before that, I was never really challenged by anyone about my views. After leaving the sheltered confines of private Jewish day-school education when I was 11, I actually assumed that everyone else in the sane, moral and free West agreed with me.

Middle school wasn’t so bad. The kids around me were more concerned with labels and logos and treating others as steps on the social ladder than they were with confronting the fabric of the Jewish state. And 9/11 certainly helped. For a while there, it seemed like every one was on “my” side. All Arabs were pegged as soulless animals who would destroy Us in a second if they had a chance, and Israel and the Jews were part of that Us.

High school, too, didn’t amount to much in the way of confrontation. In the forever-red North Florida county of my youth, most people believe Israel is God’s country, too, and that it definitely belongs to the Jews (How else is Jesus going to return to earth and convert us all at once?).

College has definitely been a change of pace. The tension on campus between Jewish and Arab groups only gets thicker with each new semester. A prerequisite for discussion of the Middle East is the notion that the suffering of Palestinians is solely a result of oppressive Israeli rule. And one in seven American Apparel hipsters wears a keffiyeh to show the rest of the world that he hates human suffering so much he is willing to spend $20 to look like the late Yasser Arafat—our generation’s closest thing to Gandhi.*

Living for a few years in this environment, my views only sort of changed. I still believe in the necessity of a Jewish state. I still believe Israel is where such a state must be. I still believe terrorism is terrorism rather than a legitimate form of protest. The only difference: I believe that Palestinians are suffering, that Israel has done a lot to cause such suffering and that Israel could do infinitely more to alleviate the situation.

But back to the gun-toting, bible-belt racists of the region with whom I ate dinner on Friday night.

Did they bear their horns or their guns?, you ask. Did they make their meal with the blood of a Palestinian child? Did they propagandize you? Did they radicalize you? Did they infect you? Are you OK?

Well, to answer in succession: No and no. Definitely not, that’s disgusting. Maybe a little. No. No. I think so.

Shabbat dinner with the family was, honestly, one of the happiest, worldliest experiences I’ve had in a while.

Finding a meal for Shabbat in Jerusalem is an art and skill which I have yet to master. Because of this, I went to a synagogue on Friday night that sets up anyone and everyone who needs it with an open dinner table.

This week, there were something like 10 needy people like me, but no one in the congregation was offering. The community leader repeated his announcement four more times. Someone came forward with space for one. The announcement was called again. And again. Finally, a man approached saying he had room for two. I quickly jumped on board.

The man spoke English, but not very well. The young man taken in with me didn’t speak any English. I knew it would be an interesting night.

We walked up the street with our host, his wife and his son, and we soon arrived at a characteristically cramped apartment in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Just inside the entrance of the apartment was the foyer/dining/living room. A table was pushed against the wall so that there would be room to walk around. The space was small, and it turned out that there were three more members of the family—two daughters and another boy.

The apartment belonged to one of the daughters. She’s a student at Hebrew University studying social work. One of the sons is in Jerusalem at yeshivah. The rest of the family was visiting from the Israeli settlement of Shilo, which is almost 30 miles from Jerusalem.

In the late 70s, the patriarch and matriarch of this family helped found Shilo, which is built next to the site of a biblical city of the same name (that Shilo was the capital and home of the Temple for nearly 400 years before ancient Jews picked up and moved over to Jerusalem).

This family breathes, lives and believes the settler ideology every day. Israel was given to the Jews by God, they say. It belongs to Jews still. Jews must live there. And that’s it.

I didn’t experience any radicalism on Friday night. I wasn’t indoctrinated or judged. All I saw was a family of six ecstatic to be together again in a tiny apartment and equally happy to create space for guests. All I tasted was some soup and chicken and rice. All I heard was six people singing with all their souls the same songs that Jews have been singing for centuries on Friday nights. All I felt was Jewish, clear headed, at peace, grateful that such a space existed, and sure that it was not because of these people that this region is it at war.

Call me crazy.

—————————————————————————————————

*Read an interesting (but really really long) essay, The Missing Mahatma, on the search for a Palestinian Gandhi/MLKjr figure. Strangely, I found this yesterday, days after writing this article for The SHPiEL. The guy who wrote this essay is also half of the brains that make up SouthJerusalem.com, a “progressive, skeiptical blog on Israel, Judaism, culture, politics and literature.”

I think I’ve finally reached that point of blurred weeks. The ones that seem to end moments after they begin. The ones in which there are a thousand things to do but room enough for getting to a few. You know the weeks I’m talking about.

Well, I’m in that now, and though I know this is a good thing–it means I’m busy, it means I’m living a life–I also know it means that the rest of my time here, from this point on, will happen in a snap.

This week in that future snap was made of these and other moments:

  • A full bucket of classes splashed on top of my head:
    • Readings in the Zohar finally reached the point where we get to read from the Zohar. Want to feel confused and humbled and laugh from it? Read the Zohar.
    • Contemporary Issues in Halacha finally resumed after our teacher, the short and wise Pesach Schindler, was out from a bout with something. We started learning about medical issues like child birth and birth control. Did you know that sexual enjoyment and procreation are separate commandments?
    • Orthodox Judaism in Modern Times was as boring as it sounds. One interesting thing though: some scholars believe that the originators of Reform Judaism were remnants of the Sabbatians.
    • Hebrew: moving along as it moves along.
    • Creative Writing Workshop: the group has dwindled down to just me and the teacher, for many different reasons. We learned about halal, Hebrew word for “space”. And I’m currently working on a poem that fits into a category of poetry that is gaining popularity here in Israel (well, popular in poetry circles). It’s called “slim poetry” because each line in a slim poem is one word and therefore each line must be packed with meaning. There is a lot one can do with this  because one word in Hebrew can mean three or four separate words in English.
  • Got another free couch and turned our living room into a place capable of entertaining hundreds.
  • Bought a refrigerator. I feel like a real person now. Eating out can be for special occasions again!
  • Launched another blog: Touristography. We take pictures of people in fanny packs taking pictures. (And we’d love for you to contribute, too.)
  • Discovered that Skype calls are best when turned into cross-continental dance parties
  • Saw a friend from camp for the first time in almost three years
  • Reformatted my computer.
  • Had a quiet Shabbat at my apartment because of my own poor planning. Had time to think. Felt a bit down. Went to a party/gathering after Shabbat that basically turned that earlier experience into a vague, lonely memory.
    • Learned that my energy is radiated through my smile.
    • Realized that everyone here is in transit. Half the people at this party were moving back to their homes in a week. Others were in the throes of religious self-realization and self-actualization. Others were just drunk.
    • Now, if only I could remember that Baal Shem Tov niggun that we sang there for a half hour.
  • Went to the Dome of the Rock. You know. That big bright gold ball in the background of every picture of the Western Wall ever.
    • Apparently, the rumor that Jews aren’t allowed to go there is, in some way, not true. Sunday mornings, the place is open to visitors. Other than the metal detector, the security was minimal and the questioning non-existent.
    • Apparently, Torah law forbids Jews to be there. So, even though Sunday mornings are free-for-all, if you’re a strict halachtician, better luck in the next messianic age.

With that, I want to bless all of us that our end-of-experience snaps be loud and that their sounds linger on and on.

Side notes:

  • Mazel Tov to Grandmommie and Grandpa for 60 years of love and togetherness. I am sorry that I had to be the only grandchild missing from this weekend’s festivities, but you were in my thoughts then and are still today.
  • On that note of sheer bliss, a new installment of Shir Bliss is up.
    • Micah, my friend, you’ve done it again.
  • Also, new post at ForMoreUsesOfPlasticBags.

so here are a few pieces to ponder:

Purim vs. St. Patrick’s Day (themorningnews.org)

Rethinking the American Dream (Vanity Fair)

The racist Israeli fascist in me (Haaretz)

Hi Friends. How are you today? It feels like its been a while. I’ve got lots to say and share.

First, Mazel Tov to Leo and Keshet Margolit-Stein! The first Friends & Friends wedding was one for the ages. There wasn’t a dry eye in the garden. The food was stuffing. The dancing was wild. The couple’s faces are still glowing today.

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Before that was Purim, which was basically two days of partying in the streets. We had guests galore staying in our apartment–familiar faces from Gainesville in town for the wedding. It was really good to see everyone and even at this moment Mar Rosenblatt is in the other room singing a niggun to himself and strumming violently on my guitar.

I just finished the first draft of SHPiEL story about being in Jordan and coming back to a Purim-ready Jerusalem. I’ll copy it below, but before you read that, please check out the new “For More Uses of Plastic Bags” blog published straight from the For More Uses of Plastic Bags world headquarters at 11 HaYarkon in Nachlaot. Jacob spent hours last night preparing a thorough guide to refurbishing an old drying rack using plastic bags with visual and video aides and all. Below that is a post about my Purim costume which, you guessed it, was made entirely of plastic bags. Check it here.

And SHPiEL it here:

From Jordan to Purim: A lesson in cultural alcoholism

This time last week, I was riding on a bus through the no-man’s land between Jordan and Israel.

After four days traveling around Jordan, my travel companions—an old friend from Jewish summer camp and a new friend from Hebrew U (a Jewish summer camp in its own right)—and I knew we needed to make it to the border early to avoid as much bureaucratic back-up as possible.

Mainly though, we knew that the earlier we made it back to Jerusalem, the earlier we could start drinking.

Don’t get me wrong. We didn’t want to leave Jordan. The country is a beautiful mixture of endless desert, surreal mountain, cheap food, welcome words and smiling faces. By day, we hiked the cliffs of Petra and the canyons and Wadi Rum, and by night, we were sleeping in a Bedouin tent or hostel heaven.

But, after traveling for hours in cramped taxis and microbuses and then hiking thousands of steps to the most breathtaking scenic outlooks of my life, there was a short list of things that we wanted to sit back and enjoy. One of those being a nice, cold beer.

In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, finding alcohol is a cultural experience in itself. We spent our first night at South Beach just down the road from Aqaba. After dropping a total of $3 for food that left the three of us full for days, we wanted to find something to imbibe during our jaunt to the desert the following day.

After stalking store fronts for an hour, we came to the right place. After a few quick words in Arabic (thanks to my old friend who taught in Egypt for six months and picked up the language along the way), the store manager ran up some steep stairs in the back that opened to a hidden road. He pointed toward the spot and seconds later, we found ourselves in an unmarked liquor store in a back alley of a country where, for all intents and purposes, alcohol doesn’t exist.

Despite the secrecy, they had quite a selection. Oh, there was beer. There was wine. There was whiskey. There was gin. There was Jager. There was Arak. There was money to be spent.

We chose the cheapest, biggest bottle of whiskey we could find. They double-wrapped it in black plastic, and we had ourselves some drinks for nights on the beach and in the desert.

Cut to two days later. We were tired beyond belief. We’d spent hours that day climbing cliffs and scaling rocks in the surprisingly unregulated old city of Petra. On the walk back up the hill to the Petra Gate Hostel where we had a few beds, we passed dozens of restaurants and bars filled with foreign faces like our own, but there wasn’t a beer under four and a half Dinars (something like seven US Dollars). For broke budget travelers, this price was just too much.

At the border two days later, we couldn’t have known what was lurking on the other side. Thankfully, because of our American passports and smiling faces, we didn’t encounter any issues on either side–other than erroneous and excessive fees for stamps and luggage and two-minute forced bus rides–and soon enough, we were back home in sunnier-than-ever Yerushalayim, where children and adults in the streets were already wearing masks and costumes for the coming Purim holiday.

A Jewish holiday in Israel is unlike anything back in The States. Dafka Purim is unlike anything in Israel or America or the rest of the known universe. The whole country–secular and religious alike–comes out into the streets to revel in the moment.

For many religious Jews, Purim is the one time during the year where drinking alcohol is not only permitted but commanded. For some, it’s the only time during the year that they become intoxicated. The commandment is, more or less, to be so drunk that you’ll curse your mother and make out with your archenemy. The goal is to acknowledge and experience a world turned on its head; to recognize that we normally live in a world of hidden truths and overwhelming superficiality.

The three of us arrived in a country preparing for such a holiday. Alcohol was everywhere, and it was on sale.

Classes (the ones I skipped to travel to Jordan) were cancelled for Purim. My apartment, which is just steps from a street that was blocked off for the two-day party, filled with people and bottles. Dry-but-beautiful Jordan was already somewhere in the distant past, and the next several days were a holy blur in the collective consciousness of the State of Israel.

Shavuah Tov v’Purim Sameach!

I’m on a break between classes right now. It’s been a while–not since I’ve had a break, but since I’ve been in class.

This time yesterday I was riding on a bus through the no-man’s land between Jordan and Israel. After four days travelling around the country with an old camp friend (Cory Sherman) and a new friend from Hebrew U (Micah Weiss), we knew we needed to make it to the border early to avoid as much bureaucratic back-up as possible.

We didn’t encounter any issues on either side–I think our American passports and smiling faces played a role in this—other than erroneous and excessive fees for stamps and luggage and two-minute forced bus rides. And soon enough we were back home in sunnier-than-ever Yerushalayim where children and adults in the streets had already begun wearing masks and costumes for the upcoming Purim holiday.

I posted pictures on the Facebook of the various hikes, excursions and mishaps from our trip. As briefly as possible, our trip went like this: Cross from Eilat into Jordan, cab ride to the South Beach of Aqaba where we stayed at the Bedouin Moon Hostel (slept outside in a hut because it was much cheaper and because the weather was incredible), snorkel in Red Sea in the waning afternoon, dinner in Aqaba proper (a whopping 2 Dinar – 3 US Dollars – for a massive meal for three), drank tea, took a bus to the middle of nowhere where a cab was waiting to take us the rest of the way to Wadi Rum, Jeep tour of the Wadi Rum desert, had beautiful hikes and terrifying moments on cliff walls, played desert Frisbee, watched an unreal sunset, slept in Bedouin Sunset Camp, drank tea, took a cab to Petra, bargained, drank tea, ate more cheap food, found no beer, hiked down to Old Petra’s entrance, paid lots of money, had beautiful self-guided hikes and terrifying moments on cliff walls, took a nap on top of a mountain, sang songs for Shabbos on top of a mountain, ate dinner, found beer but did not buy it because 5 Dinar is too high a price, watched a scratched copy of Indiana Jones, went to Old Petra again, took pictures of tourists taking pictures, went to the End of the World, were pained from the sight of young boys whipping donkeys for no reason, stood on edges of cliffs, bargained, got in a cab, made our way to Amman, ate cheap dinner and had pleasant walk there, more bargaining, less sleep, crossed borders, were constantly awed by Israeli women younger than us with guns, loud voices and heavenly smiles, and on and on.

Maybe I’ll write a long reflection piece about this trip. Maybe I won’t. In any case, I had lots of great conversations about religion and spirituality and politics and nonsense. Heard some good music and some bad. Got back and called the Fluffhead opener for Phish’s reunion. Reminisced to the extreme. Was thankful to be alive and privileged.

Chutz m’zeh, Jacob and I have launched a new blog called “For More Uses of Your Plastic Bags” where we explore our options and try to come up with creative ways to use an overflowing cabinet of multi-colored polymer packaging. We’ll be posting soon about our first successful project. Check it out and send us your ideas.

There are times when the 19

will turn a corner and if it’s the right

19, the two-parter, then there’s a brief

moment when one half of the bus

is facing down one street and the other

half is still pointing the other way,

perpendicular, and for that moment

it is as if the one bus has been penetrated

perfectly by another and that no damage

has been done, no shards of glass

or plastic flung, no looks of horror,

just 90º of bus -on-bus action

in the center of the city of Jerusalem.

Just before the double 19 takes a corner

like this, a man in a Tzahal uniform

gets on the bus. He might be my age.

He might be younger. I am on the bus

because it takes me to Hebrew U

on the other side of town. I am an hour

late for Hebrew class. Growing older

has changed nothing about my sleeping

pattern: I sleep like I am dead, rising

from the earth every now and then to press

SNOOZE once again. Please, I think,

just let me sleep and dream about brains

brains brains brains brains brains brains.

When I finally do get up to grope

my way through the waking world

and catch the bus, my brain feels locked

in a black box of data and ice. I rub

my eyes. The soldier, who is sitting

just beyond the threshold of the bus’s

first half and facing the back, rubs his

eyes. He is holding a machine gun

so big that I pinch my nose, shut my mouth

and try to breathe just to check if I am

dreaming. I cannot breathe. I am not

dreaming. He fought in a war recently,

probably. Maybe he killed people

with that gun. Maybe he is dreaming.

Maybe it won’t matter that I missed

three out of four Hebrew classes in this first

week. The gun looks like it is pinning

the soldier to his seat. Maybe he is

dreaming that he is on a roller coaster.

The gun looks like a toy, but the gray

mask around the soldier’s eyes, the chapped

cut charred skin on the hands that hug the gun

look real. The idea that this pen writing these

words might be or is mightier, more deadly,

more sleep-robbing, laughs at me as I think

it in this frozen moment on this right-angle

rocket. I become self-conscious. The pillow-

sized callus on my right middle finger

is the only external evidence that I’ve worked

hard at anything in my life, and I’m pretty

sure you have to be as close to me as I am

to notice it. I shut my nose and mouth

and will myself to breathe through this wall.

I don’t. I am still not dreaming. I am still.

The bus straightens, and the road takes it.

Had the third meeting of the Words & Spaces creative writing workshop today. In one of our excercises we picked a thing to compare ourselves to–an effort to stretch our Hebrew metaphor limbs–starting with “I am like the…” Here’s what I came up with and a translation:

אני כמו הים. תלוי איך תסתכלי אליי. אני יכול להיות כחול. אני יכול להיות אפור.אני אש לבן על אש ירוק. אני יכול להיות אלימות. אני יכול להיות סבלנות. ואני מלא עם חיים. ואני מלא עם כלום. אני רוצה לרוץ לך אבל תמיד אני נופל לאצמי. אני משתדל למלא את הכל אבל אני רק מצליח להציף אצמי

I am like the ocean. It depends how you look at me. I can be blue. I can be gray. I am white fire on green fire. I can be violence. I can be patience. And I am full of life. And I am full of nothing. I want to run to you but always I fall back to myself. I try and try to fill everything but I only succeed at flooding myself.

Chodesh Tov Tov Tov.

And Shir Bliss is on fire. Gainesville Gevaltness!

quote_themonkinus1

– Brother David Steindl-Rast from a reading for Eliezer Shore’s class Contemporary Spirituality in Israel and the U.S.

Started classes on Sunday: Contemporary Spirituality in Israel and America, Philosophy of Maimonidies, Readings in the Zohar and Hebrew Level Gimel. Today, Tuesday, only one of the original line up remains. But it’s not that I didn’t like the classes.

The Maimonodies class sounded good on paper, and the professor is undeniably brilliant. There was just something off about it. A feeling I had. Some bad energy, in the parlance of our times. I’m dropping that one and picking up Contemporary Issues in Halacha, which is taught by the cutest old man at Hebrew U still hanging on to his faculty position and good sense but not so much (or not at all) his hearing. The man’s been teaching since people my parent’s age were at Hebrew U. Great, open learning energy in that room, by contrast.

Back to Hebrew class, only with new teachers now. Instead of old Israeli women who treat you like their grandchildren but aren’t condescending in the process, my class is being taught by a young, attractive Israeli woman who treated the class as a roomfull of Israeli kindergarteners. Not what I want. I think I’ll switch to a new class (at the same level) tomorrow.

And then fell Contemporary Spirituality. I love the professor. I love the content of the class. I love the whole learning-for-the-sake-of-learning set up. But damn it to hell if the time slot conflicts with my already-paid-for, once-a-week creative-writing workshop. I think I’ll stay on his mailing list and do all the reading and try to attend the Sunday meeting of this class, but I’ve got to officially axe it in the meantime.

I’m picking up a seminar on Modern Orthodoxy instead. It only meets on Mondays, so I’ve already missed the chance to try it out before things are set in stone. Still, the class sounds interesting enough, fits with the rest of my schedule and if I pick this one up and drop the other I will no longer have class on Sundays. Three day weekends are back!

I’ll leave you with some links to things recently-read or in line to be. The views and opinions expressed therein are not necessarily the views and opinions of me.

Hope you enjoy. Hope you are well. Chodesh Tov! Peace!

Oh My God! It’s Friends & Friends! It’s Alive!

The SHPiEL Vol. 7, Issue 4 (pdf)

The Gary Higgins Story (naturalismo)

In Blindness, a Bold New Artistic Vision (New York Times)

The Gatekeeper: Rahm Emanuel on the job. (The New Yorker)

U.S. to Give $900 Million in Aid to Gaza (New York Times)

Amnesty International urges freeze on arms sales to Israel (Haaretz)

ADL: Amnesty denying Israel the right to defend itself (Haaretz)

Israel’s Dangerous Choice (The Daily Beast)

Laid Off? No New Job? How Bad Can It Get? (Wall Street Journal)

Curb Your Dog’s Enthusiasm (The Morning News)


Coming soon to a SHPiEL near you:

There’s something about exam time that short circuits my brain. The last thing I want to do when an exam is approaching is study. Reviewing old notes just becomes a test in itself of how well I’m able to mindlessly trace over the world of words I scribbled hurriedly at some earlier time. I can flip a hundred flash cards in as many seconds and remember not one of the words. And just opening the proper text book brings to mind so many thousands of unrelated images and words and feelings that ripping my eyes from the blank wall and staring down at the page is virtually impossible.

But, when it comes to my test taking, studying or not studying is irrelevant if my alarm doesn’t go off the morning of. And, be assured, alarms have the uncanny ability of failing just when I really need them.

Which brings me to a hazy Thursday morning in Jerusalem. The last day of Ulpan. The last unbearable hours of intensive Hebrew class.

Please don’t get me wrong. Learning the Hebrew language has been a goal of mine for a long time. And to be in a land where Hebrew is spoken (at least 50 percent of the time) is an undeniable opportunity to accomplish this goal.

It’s just that Ulpan makes me feel like I’m 10 years old. When I was 10, I was in my final year at the Solomon Schecter Day School in hometown Jacksonville, Fla. At SSDS, half the day was spent learning the things that all children in America learn in school at the age of 10. The other half of the day was an elementary-school-length crash course in the holy trinity of Judaism, Zionism and Hebrew.

Perhaps because all my best friends were (and still are) brilliant, because I knew then that I could copy their Hebrew homework if I forgot to do it the night before or if I really just didn’t understand what we were learning at the time and mostly because staring off into space and contemplating existence rather than paying attention is something that I was just as good at then as I am now, I was more often than not clueless.

When Morah Ilana–one of those adorable, old survivors of kibbutz consciousness who somehow made her way to America to teach young, semi-assimilated Jewish kids about their heritage–called on me to answer a question, 11 times out of 10 I didn’t have the answer. Eight times out of 10 I didn’t even have an attempt at an answer.

If ADD actually exists, I’m probably one of those borderline cases. If I was 10 today, I’d probably be pumped so full of Aderol that it would give me the disorder even if I didn’t really have it originally. But today, I’m 21, and nothing has changed.

Ulpan made me feel like a 10 year old. All the kids in my class, from the start, knew more Hebrew than me. Most of them could answer Varda and Doron, our teaching team, with ease.

On the other hand, while I could understand 95 percent of what went on in class and could write sufficiently coherent homework essays with the help of a dictionary, talking in class amounted to more “ums” and “ehs” than it did to whole sentences. I would feel my face get red. I would feel my brain protest and come to a slow, embarrassing stop. Frustration ensued.

I felt we were doing too many varied exercises on too many aspects of the language, all at the same time. I felt our books and the topics we discussed in class were basically unrelated to the things Israelis talk about—the things that we international students should be learning and living.

It’s true that there are innumerable Ulpans in Israel, and that all have lesson plans designed for specific purposes. At Hebrew University, the language that is taught is less everyday and a lot more academic. The teachers will prepare an exercise to teach the different ways of saying something like “because,” but will begin with a disclaimer about how Israelis don’t use these phrases (and if they do, they don’t use them correctly) and how most of them don’t even know what they mean in the first place.

There is a disconnect here and in America between the things we are taught about Israel’s culture and its native tongue and the way the language and the people who speak it actually function. Perhaps that is why, come exam time, my brain’s doing the usual thing.

And why shouldn’t it? Ulpan hadn’t been engaging enough to be at the front of my brain’s already-crowded queue, let alone on some priority waiting list.

So the alarm, too, did its thing, and at 9:50 I woke suddenly from a dream and without looking at a clock I knew I was late. Running out the door didn’t help much because a 30-minute bus ride stood between me and getting to the exam.

When I finally did get to class, only a few relatively responsible classmates remained. While they were checking their tests over for mistakes, I was rushing through the directions and flipping pages to see which sections I could finish quickest. And by and by, though I finished the exam, the jury’s still out on whether all the stress and distraction was worth it.

Back to that warm feeling.

A week or so and a knife fight ago, and here we are. I am alive and intact and feeling warm, again. And when we talk, you want to know what it’s like here for me. You want to know how much more Jewish I am now. You want to know how I got here. You want to know if I’m staying here. You want to know where I came from. You want to know why I don’t do this or why I do do that and why I’m looking so hard at the wall over there. You want to know what’s burning inside me.

I want to tell you, but what can I honestly say that won’t make you say I’m just saying some stocked something to get past this question? Well, I suppose, I can try.

It is light outside in the daytime. It has rained twice. Sometimes the bus driver doesn’t open the door and drives away even though I just ran to catch it and pounded on the closed doors and it’s the only one for the next thirty minutes and I am already late.

There is nothing to do and no where to go on Saturday, and often this is incredible.

Too many meals come in pita, or not at all. But I am working diligently to overcome this.

As a rule, the things I learn in intensive Hebrew class aren’t relevant to much of my life here. Another rule: everything I learn from you and from an hour and a half in a crowded room with floor to ceiling books and brains and beards is scarily relevant to even the immediately preceding minutes of my life here.

Some days it feels like early spring. Some nights the cold bites all over. Always there are all sorts of people walking to all sorts of places. And always one among those people is crying.

Today, I know that I came here from Gainesville via Jacksonville via Atlanta (and on and on). Today, I know that I would love nothing more than to never leave Nachlaot and never see more than the same 30 or so faces I see every day. I also know, today, that I miss big oak trees and red racing Firenze and vegan burritos and Gainesville’s Gevaltness and talking to family members when we’re both finishing a long day at the same time.

Today, I know that I wish all of you people would just get on a plane already and be here breathing next to me for the rest of our own short lives. That would make things easier. And I know that when I talk to people here that they are telling me the truth as they know it. And that they want nothing more than the best for me. And that their words, whether they realize it or not, are blessings. And I know that I hope that I’ll never think otherwise ever again when I’m talking to you.

I learned today that once Israel had 5000- and 10000-shekel bills, and, to stop this rampant inflation, they crossed out the zeros, added the word “new” to the front of the word “shekel” and printed thousands more pieces of otherwise identical money. I don’t understand this. The explanation can only be: this is Eretz Fucking Yisrael, we do what we want.

I learned last night that some of the hippies who survived 60s experimentation and 70s radicalism are now living down the street from me. They are still drinking wine and reading poetry until the darkest parts of the night, only now they are gray and have beards and wear long colorful rippling skirts not because they are hippies.

I learned that the length of time you know a person can be irrelevant. Sometimes minutes are years, and the other way around. And always it will switch again because you were sleeping and something’s got to wake you. And I learned that homemade challah can make you cry. And that cabbage, apples, pecans and soy sauce is a delicious combination. And that there is more perceivable energy in five minutes in Jerusalem than there is in a whole lazy weekend in the desert. And that you can never learn enough or be thanful enough for either.

I learned that nothing actually changes. This is 5769. This is the edge. This is still the Summer of Love, people. There is still war. There is still love. There is still pain, pain, pain. And love. And even if we learn from our mistakes, we will mess other things up. We will never look at ourselves long or hard enough, though often it feels we are straining our eyes beyond repair.

I am learning that abstraction is OK. Making sense to other people is OK, too. And making up words is OK. And not having this or that word while speaking a foreign language is OK. And not having this or that insight in a native language is also OK. Just keep trying, my friend. And things won’t change. And I will spend more months here, but will eventually be back in the country of endless oak and granola. And then one of you will be in my place and feel my feelings. And then I’ll feel old and alone, but I will also have this warm feeling spreading through my body again because nothing changes.

Fresh off of a one-day weekend in Beersheva, and already I’m sinking under a stack of Hebrew homework. As if having Ulpan on a Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 pm. wasn’t enough, I’ve got to write a one-page essay, invent 20 sentences with new vocab, complete endless activities from our two books and read a story or two from the newspaper in order to talk about it in front of the class. All for tomorrow. They’re trying to squeeze it all in, I’m sure, because this is, after all, our last week. And may it end speedily.

I’ll post about Shabbos with Leo and Keshet in the desert soon. Just know that Keshet’s challah made me cry. For real.

Until then, check out the naturalismo blog where, after being silent for far too long, I posted about a groovy/chanty little folk outfit called Timber Timbre. Check it and all the other posts up on naturalismo here (mine’s already second or third from the top): http://naturalismo.wordpress.com/

Shavuah Tov!

If you go to the bottom of Ben Yehudah Street in the center of Jerusalem where the Breslovers dance and the drum circles pound and the bums are the holiest poorest bums in the world and you face Yafo Street and you make a right just beyond the steps that lead to a towering bank and walk down the hill alongside the metal wall that blocks your view of mud (today, but usually just dust) and construction and you keep walking down until maybe the third narrow side street on your right comes out of nowhere and you turn right there and then you walk under a sign that is cracked in half but still hanging high and walk through a crack in the wall that is actually the entrance, well, then, you’ve found Pundak HaBESHT.

It’s where I found myself today for the first meeting of a two-month-long Hebrew creative writing workshop for English speakers called Words & Spaces. The workshop is lead by a young Israeli woman named Michaela who is working on getting a PhD in–don’t quote me here–the presence of different types of spaces in the writings of Rebbe Nachman. She said she isn’t even sure what that means, so don’t feel bad if you don’t.

The group is intentionally small, but this first meeting was even smaller than expected. Two out of five didn’t show, so it was Jacob, Michaela, Formerly American Jewish Mother #1 and me for the day.We introduced ourselves. We talked about our expectations. We talked about good and bad writing and whether such distinctions can even exist.

Then, we were told to think of a Hebrew word with which we somehow connect. My word is a word that I was taught while working at Camp Ramah Darom three years ago (it’s only been three years since then? I feel like I’ve lived a decade’s worth and missed out on three decade’s worth since then): Meguchach. It means “ridiculous.” And fittingly, I think it sounds ridiculous and puts a smile on my face whenever I think of it. Then, we had to write a poem in Hebrew through the lense of that word. This is what I wrote through that ridiculous pair of eyes:

כשאני הולך על הדרך/ ברור לי שאין באמת דרך/ ובאמת אני גם יודע/ שאין עוד מדרכי/ וגם שאין אני/ וגם שאין עוד ממני

Meaning to say: When I walk on the path / It’s clear to me that there isn’t, truly, a path. / And, in truth, I also know  / there there is nothing other than my path. / And, also, that there isn’t me. / And, also, that there is nothing but me.

Ridiculous enough, I think. I’ll keep y’all updated on the progress.

There was no class today because it’s election day in Israel. First, it was very windy. Then, it rained a lot. I ate some vegetarian Indian food near the Shuk. I did a lot of homework after that. I ate a feta and eggplant sandwich after that. Dreary and delicious.

Some things that interested me today and may interest you:

DIAGRAM 8.6 (poems, short fiction and schematics) from The DIAGRAM

This is why you’re fat photo collection from thisiswhyyou’re fat.com

Drop Dead Gorgeous photo series from The Morning News

Indulgences Return (Or, another reason to be confused by Catholocism) from The New York Times

I have this other-worldly warm feeling filling my stomach and moving up into my head and down the lengths of my arms and down down down to the pinks of the nails on my toes.

If I stop and sit and quit thinking here for more than five minutes, I get this feeling. It’s not any sort of intoxication. It’s not artificial. It’s not quite describable.

And then, as in my own world as I was—thinking about ways to describe this warm feeling, deciding if I was inventing it in my head, declaring myself slightly crazy for the fact of all this self-analysis—I couldn’t help but notice two black and white blurs burst from their seats and out the exit of this whole-in-the-wall coffee shop where I come to get some Internet, drink some hafuch (cappuccino) and avoid doing Hebrew homework by writing these blog posts and skyping people at odd hours.

The two yeshiva bochers who were moments before right across from me drinking Turkish coffee were now outside on their cell phones with panic actually oozing from their pores, their drinks splashed across the floor.

I look up. I look around. I notice a thirtysomething army-armed Israeli screaming into the face of a sixtysomething bearded, crazed looking man who is screaming back. Something about someone’s mother, I think.

Then, they’re at each other’s throats. The old man is clearly the instigator. Arm-y here finally throws Old Man Missing Marbles across the shop and into a table which promptly collapses to the floor with body on top.

Woman behind the counter is screaming. Adoni, Bachutz! Adoni! Adoni! BBAACCHHUUTZZ! She doesn’t care that they’re fighting. She just wants them out of her shop and in the open empty street.

I realize this isn’t a movie, and that I’m less than three finger’s length from all the action. But where should I go? This place is tiny. And where I’m sitting is in an awkward corner behind a table that blocks any semblance of escape. So, I quietly pack up my things, wait and watch.

Old Man is back on his feet, and he’s got Israeli Dude Brah pinned against a wall. He’s holding his throat. His other arm reaches into his pocket. Something flashes through the air. What’s that?, I ask myself. A pen? A popsicle? A flower? Oh, please God, let it be a fucking flower.

I’m sure the yeshiva bochers frantically calling their sister’s neighbor’s best-friend’s Tzaddik for guidance were praying, too. But, well, that razor was no flower, as they say.

This, finally, is your exit, Master Fleet.

I slip toward the door. I am fine. Yeshiva bochers are fine. Woman behind the counter is still yelling, but she’ll be fine. Thirsty Thirtysomething has gotten Misty Eyes to back off. They’re both, more or less, fine. The street has cars in it. The street lamps have lights in them. My hands have all their fingers on them. I am fine. I didn’t pay for my drink. That warm feeling had gone away. I walked back to the apartment.

The day couldn’t have culminated any other way. Jersualem doesn’t let you become comfortable. You think you know something about something, but it turns out that something is just something else with a razor and no reason not to pull it out in public.

Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Grandma. Sorry, Grandmommie. Couldn’t quite water this one down.

It is what it is. And, like I said, I’m fine.

The day started early. First day in my life that I’ve had to go to school on Sunday. Five hours of intensive Hebrew (including a two hour movie, Bluz L’kayitz Hagadol – Blues to the Big Summer about some seniors in high school who must graduate and join the Israeli army and how their friend dies during training and everything isn’t as light and cheery as the folk songs they sing make it out to be) later and I’m walking with a group of friends to what is called the Museum on the Seam: a socio-political contemporary art museum placed Smack! in the middle of one of the most politically heated spots in the world.

Museum on the Seam was powerful, confusing, beautiful and disturbing, all at once. Check their Web site. Not sure if I have any concrete feelings about the thing. Though, the disturbing part stands out.

From there I followed a new friend, Chana a k a Chani, to a Tu B’Shvat seder in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem.

For those who don’t know, Tu B’Shvat is the new year of the trees and, some say, the new year for everything else, too. Today is a day to plant trees. Breathe near them. Hug them. Bless them. Eat their fruit. And more.

And the night before is a time to have a special meal with dried fruit and other such things. The point is this: Chana comes straight off the boat from Crown Heights. She isn’t so connected with that life anymore, but many of the people I met at the seder still are. As things go here, I somehow met people from Jacksonville and the couple living in this beautiful house happened to be directly connected to a Chabad family in Jacksonville whom I’ve known since I became a bar mitzvah. In fact, the Baalat Habayit is Rabbi Shmuli Novack’s sister. So, If you’re reading Shmuli, Hi!

Met many people from far and wide. Rode the bus back with new friends. Came to the coffee shop to do homework I’d neglected all day. Began writing about this warm, enraptured feeling in my stomach. Felt infinitely connected to everyone and everything around me, again. Truthfully feared for my health moments later.

I’ll never get a firm hold on any seeming truth. Neither will you. But that’s OK. The moments when you glimpse or grasp or have such truth filter through your veins are firm enough proof. Of something, at least.

Or, Hash and the Holocaust, Together, at Least

The two-and-a-half-week election season is in full swing here in Jerusalem, and I have no idea which party is promoting what policy.

That’s fine though. I don’t live here. I speak and understand the language poorly. There are dozens of parties with the narrowests of goals and the littlest chance for succes. Everyone expects Netanyahu and the Likkud Party to win. And the two years of electioning at home was enough to satisfy me for (hopefully) the next eight years.

I plan on writing my next SHPiEL column on this subject either tonight, tomorrow or at the very last lucious second before it’s due to the Editors Who Be. That being the case, I won’t tell the whole story here. Rather, you should know that one of those parties vying for seats in the Knesset that they probably have no chance of getting is a sort of freakish hybrid of completely unrelated causes (Unless you consider any political cause that involves humans and a desire to change something as being related to any other that is and wishes for the same): The Holocaust Survivors and Marijuana Legalization Party!

A friend of a friend is actually heading this part and another friend of that friend who, I suppose, is now just a friend, let me in on some of the background of this Frankenstein faction of Israeli politics. Like I said, I’ll detail those in a column in the next couple of days. Until then, enjoy this ad of theirs that aired on Israeli television and, says my insider friend, has been viewed more times than nearly all of the other current Israeli political ads combined.

At least once a week, usually on Fridays until just before sundown, music fills the little courtyard outside of my basement apartment. I’ve never met this neighbor, but each week I hear his band play their Gypsy Creole jam music for hours and hours.

The other basement neighbor is tall American Paul. He’s soft-spoken, but he remembered my name after having briefly met me once a couple weeks earlier. He davens at Kol Rina, the packed Carlebach minyan that meets in a bomb shelter in Nachlaot.

Above us is the brother of Amram, the  twentysomething black-hat guy from whom we rent the apartment. Amram’s brother is equally black-hatted and we can hear his innumerable children running around and screaming and laughing constantly.

Above Amram’s brother is Amram’s mother. Jacob and I met her last night when we met with Amram to get copies of our contract. What ensued was thus far the biggest test of my Hebrew-speaking. Amram’s brother and mother were there and they wanted to know about our studies and why I was wasting my time in a university instead of studying Torah and when we would be making alliyah and when our parents would be making alliyah, etc. Toyreh, Toyreh, Toyreh. That’s all these people want to talk about, until they realize you are American and that you have a brain, and then they want to know what you think about that new half-Muslim, half-Christian black POTUS.

The jist of the conversation was that Amram’s brother’s rabbis told him that in the Torah it says that K’nanayim (something like that…I think he meant the biblical ancestors of Kenyans, maybe) are born to be slaves and that because Obama’s father is from Kenya so to he is Kenyan and a born-to-be slave. That was pretty shocking. I told him repeatedly that I didn’t agree, but what could I have said to this man who has probably spent his entire life listening to what rabbis tell him is written in the Torah and believing them whole-heartedly. He also said something about an earthquake that happened on some beach in Israel and that it was because, his rabbis said, Obama has ascended to the throne. Well, it took a while to get the conversation onto another topic but, believe it or not, both Amram’s brother and mother said that they hope Obama will do good things and not whatever it the Torah says a black slave muslim would do in the same position.

That’s our apartment building, more or less. Our apartment itself is actually coming together. We got two mattresses from the Conservative yeshiva where Jacob studies. In fact, he and I carried them for 30 minutes through the city center to get them to our place. It must have been a site. The Masons — some kind folks who live a few streets over and have hosted us for Saturday lunch twice and counting — hooked us up with an old table of their on the condition that we help move an old futon frame (from Israel Schiller family fame) down their two narrow, windy flights of stairs and out to the dumpster. With some posters, my drawings, a cheap rug from the Shuk and a tapestry, the place doesn’t look all that bad.

Nisim Bahar, the main road with which our street, Hayarkon, connects, has a row of interesting hole-in-the-wall shops and restaraunts. Toward the top there’s the Place of Peace convience store where literally 24 hours a day one can find at least 3 Ethiopians sitting in front of a TV drinking beer.

Further down the rode is the Neshama art gallery, which I have yet to visit. But judging by the name and the way the outside is painted, I’m guessing some interesting stuff lies within.

After that is Bar Sabich. Their specialty is sabich, which is basically a pita filled with a couple hard boiled eggs, eggplant, hummus and as many other salads you care to add. It’s an acquired taste, I think. They also make some fresh delicious shakshuka, which is an egg fried over a spicy concoction of tomatoes and onions.

Next to Bar Sabich is a second-hand store. I bought some brialliantly colored bell bottoms straight from the 60s there for 40 shekels. Those will show up in some Facebook shots sometimes soon, I’m sure.

Even further down the road is a bar called Slow Moshe. Micah and Dee and others told me to go to this place when I got here. I was never sure where it was until, walking from the bus one day, I spotted this place and realized it was literally steps from my apartment. It’s quite dark inside, and with more than 15 people the place feels packed. But the music is perfect for the space, and oh what a space to sit back and relax once and a while.

For now, that is all. Shavuah Tov and I just posted some pictures on Facebook of a recent excursion into the West Bank. Check it

This post is directed toward family, becuase I’m sure everyone in Gainesville has heard this a dozen desperate times.

To put it bluntly, The SHPiEL needs your help if it aims to stay around beyond the next month or so. The economic events of the past several months have put our paper, and many other Jewish institutions and organizations, for that matter, in a tight place. Ad sales help, sort of. And we still do have some funding. But the reality is that we can only afford to print a few more editions this semester. I’m posting a letter that can easily be forwarded around your communities.  I’m not asking for an amount or anything like that. Just that you reach out to a few friends or family for me. We just launched The SHPiEL on Tulane’s campus and, under the right circumstances, are looking forward to brining the paper to other campuses around the country (world?). To say the least, it would suck if it all ended now becuase we couldn’t scrape together enough change .

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or contact the standing Editor in Cheif Zahara Zahav at zahara@theshpiel.org.

S.O.S. Letter

I think I’ve touched on a lot of this already, but, regardless, I’m posting an article that was printed in the most recent issue of The SHPiEL. Not sure if they’ve been updating the Web site, but, if you’re reading Z, you should. Enjoy. Send me comments, corrections. I’ll post something newer soon.

From The SHPiEL Vol. 7, Issue 2 (I think):

The world is ending. Jerusalem is on fire. And her people, rather than fleeing through the burning streets, are digging in and stretching arms wide to welcome the tide.

This seems to be the consensus in neighborhoods like Nachlaot, where I’m living during my semester studying abroad in Israel. But given the number of people I’ve met, I admit that this can’t possibly provide an accurate sample of the population of even Nachlaot.

Thank God accuracy isn’t my goal. And journalistic integrity I’m ignoring, too. I just want to tell a story. To do that, I’m relying on a shaky foundation. Bear with me.

Despite what outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and others in the Israeli government characterized as a military victory, the overwhelming world opinion on the recent three-week war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip is that the Jewish state was on the wrong side of the moral line.

Protestors all over the globe didn’t just chant “Death to Israel!” They vilified Jews in Israel as Nazis and screamed that those Jews be sent back to the ovens – this even in South Florida, of all places.

OK. Maybe none of this is new. And maybe a hundred protestors here and thousand protestors there don’t represent the world’s actual view of this war. But, the feeling here is that there’s been a shift in the way things work.

President Bush is a has-been now. With the inauguration of President Obama, some Israelis feel that the era of unconditional U.S. support for Israel is over. In religious communities like Nachlaot, this sentiment is especially evident.

Nachlaot is a maze of narrow streets without signs or logic. Ten years ago, the neighborhood was a haven for drug use and abuse. Now, it is low-rent apartment heaven.

These days, Jerusalem’s artists, musicians and otherwise-hip Hassids inhabit Nachlaot’s apartments and pour out their souls daily in her hundreds of shuls.

In the Frankfurt Airport, on my final layover before arriving in Israel, I met a man named Tzedek from Wisconsin who was traveling with his son to the Holy Land to find a community in which to settle. This was his first trip to Israel since spending a year there in yeshiva more than a decade earlier.

In Wisconsin, in his off-time, Tzedek teaches a class about the Jewish perspective on the end of the world. But, his interest in the apocalypse isn’t academic. In fact, Tzedek wants to move his family to Israel because he believes that those end times are unfolding now. And when that end really comes, Tzedek believes the Land of Israel is the only place for a Jew to rightly be.

To leave behind your livelihood, your history and everything that you know seems crazy. Coupled with the fact that every other seemingly sane Jew I’ve met in this place has echoed these feelings in words and in practice, this whole city seems to be full of nuts.

But in their nutty Jewish hearts and eyes, it’s the opposite. In their eyes, the rest of the people in this world are flailing their arms and legs and cackling wildly as they fling themselves off of Insanity Cliff.

In their hearts, public opinion that takes the side of terrorists who plant themselves in schools and hospitals and fire rockets at civilians in small towns is the opinion of a public living through the throes of a cosmos that is heaving and sighing and desperately trying to shed itself of all that is seemingly sure and true.

The likelier reality is that both sides are crazy. I think it’s true that the paradigm of international relations is shifting right now, and I, too, believe that the world as we know it is ending. At the same time, a new paradigm and a new reality, to me, means a chance for a new, better world.

I was surprised recently when I participated in a class at a yeshiva in the heart of Nachlaot. The teacher — one of those wide-eyed, divine-light-basking, hippy-Hassid types — touched on Barack Obama’s inauguration address. In the new president’s address, this rabbi heard a call for t’shuvah, or a return to our essential humane, sane selves.

This rabbi heard Obama’s address as a call to a country, to a world and to all of humanity. It was a call to quit griping and to quit letting that griping lead to killing. It was a call that said: this world is ending, if it hasn’t ended already. Now, let’s work together to rebuild it.

There are so many people pushing so many paths of Judaism in this town, it’s hard not to just roll your eyes sometimes at it all. Well, one of those people is Jeff Seidel. He’ll give you money if you study with him every Sunday for a semester. I went to his first event of the semester the other day. I didn’t stay very long. And maybe my judgment is unfair. In any case, here are some words I wrote about the experience:

Here’s to Two Hundred Something Jewish Twentysomethings Becoming Torah Scholars, Zealot Zionists, Fat, Rich

The world is ending in Jerusalem, but Jeff Seidel doesn’t know,

or chooses not to know. He makes an apartment into The Temple,

invites in hundreds with space for thirty because Jeff Seidel

doesn’t know, or chooses no to know, that his apartment,

with it climbing vines outside, its highly efficient motion-detecting

front light, its green hill mote and rote black gate,

is not The Temple.

But Jeff Seidel beckons.

His money, his greasy grilled meat, his Torah beckon. Outside,

the world is ending. Other people will tell you this. Other people

will meet you and immediately interpret their dreams for you

and cry with you and speak a dozen languages to their impossibly peyosed

children in front of you because other people know we are all just children

in a world that is ending.

Jeff Seidel doesn’t know this,

or chooses not to. The camera above his front door only shows him more

amendable minds coming in through his gate. A light POPS! on

when a new body passes by because Jeff Seidel has programmed that light

to sense bodies not apocalypses.

So here, have a short, bulging

bulb of a woman in a wig. And here’s a thick tree trunk of a man

with a bird’s nest beard. Here, take some kosher meat. And here’s dollops

of gollopy greasing. Here’s some kosher meat. Here’s Zionism.

Here’s Torah. Here’s Alliyah. Here’s a pareve treat. Here’s $500.

Here’s your covenant. Here’s your God. And some meat.

You know, I didn’t really doubt this before I came to Israel, but the music of Phish — talking about, dreaming of and dancing in the groove of the music of Phish – is just as shiver-inducing in the Holy Land as it is at home. And here, just like at home, people who don’t listen Phish still roll their eyes when two or more others in their company begin talking about the upcoming summer tour or the possibilities of Trey fucking it up all over again.Phish, and in general, music, is an easy way to connect a few of the recent, seemingly unrelated happenings in my life.

Before Shabbat, Jacob and I took a cab out to the Talpiyot neighborhood of Jerusalem. All we had were the names of the street and a gas station across from venue where a concert was set to take place. And that the show would consist of the poetry of Rav Kook being read while a jazz group went at it in the background.

The area where we ended up was like any sketchy industrial park in Jacksonville. Now, there was Hebrew writing everywhere. Most of the “store fronts” were dark, but at the end of the strip we saw some light in the windows and a couple guys tending to a fire in the parking lot. The venue, it turned out, was the art/sculpting studio of Paul H. Taylor.

So, surrounded by bizarre metal sculptures that defied shape and weight to balance end over end, Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein and the Later Prophets told us their Torah. “Ha’Orot: The Lights of Rav Kook: A Musical Journey Into The Poetry of Rav Kook” was charged. Almost shorted-out at times. But read, sung and hissed in both Hebrew and English, and laid over electrified Jazz goodness, the show and poetry were beautiful.

And, guess what. They’re available for Shabbatons! Next “Jews in the House,” perhaps?

That was Thursday night and then there was Friday. Shabbat. I now know what Micah meant when he said that Raz’s minyan in Nachlaot is literally (litch-ruhly) on fire. You just have to go there and see and be. Yehuda Freesman, ever the incredible host of my first week here, got me invited to the home of Iliyah and Liron. So, like every other experience I’ve had so far, I followed a group of strangers covered in jungles of facial hair, scarves and mitzvoth into a home and ate their food without asking questions.

People are so warm here. English is Iliyah’s third language (after Russian and Hebrew). But, for the first time, I think, and for practice, he gave a groping devar torah about Parshat Shemot. The next day, at Dave and Chana’s place for lunch (remember them? They were the strangers at whose house I first arrived, and they took me to Josh Freesman’s place), when it became my turn in the circle of about 20 to say a few words of Torah (this is seriously all these people think about), I told what I learned from Iliyah: that, though, “shemot” means “names,” the story is really about all of the people of Israel as a whole. That is, it is about a nation made of tens of hundreds of thousands of different names and colors and outlooks and breaths that is, in the end, just a single people. And the Am Yisrael I see in Jerusalem today still embodies that.

Nu? What does this have to do with Phish?

Other than the obvious, one of the two other guys who were also at Shabbat dinner found out I liked them and thus started the eye rolling and cross-table conversational alienation of the others around us. I was apparently the first person in Israel to whom he had spoken with about Phish. How this is possible for someone who made alliyah years ago, I don’t know.

The other Phish moment came when I traveled across town to Marc Silberstein’s (of Gesher Oh Fo, Fo Sho Fame) apartment for Sunday brunch. Even after four years of not seeing the guy, it didn’t take long for Marc and my conversation to slip into talk of the upcoming reunion and summer tour. Marc, who was a counselor of mine in my final summer at Camp Ramah Darom and is in his first year at Pardes, is somehow going to pull off making it two the first two nights of Phish’s two night reunion run in Hampton, Va. Lucky bastard. But I guess he deserves it more than the rest of us.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but last night was Tel Aviv madness and ulpan has been both terrifying and gratifying (terrifyingly gratifying?), so I’ll be posting about that stuff sometime soon.

B’shalom, b’ahava, b’or, ani mitga’ageah aleichem.

In peace, in love, in light, I miss all of you.

If I sit on the steps that go down to my temporary, virtually furniture-free basement apartment in Nachlaot, Yerushalayim, Yisrael, HaOlam, Ein Sof, I can get one phantom bar of unprotected wireless Internet. I know what you’re thinking: It’s a sad state of affairs if Josh is no longer homeless. But, to be honest, having the only key to an empty apartment  four minutes from the shuk (market) isn’t so bad.

A brief update of a million and a half unexpected events that will soon enough go off on a tangent and not return: After staying at the Carpathian Mountain House with Joshua Freesman, I got on a bus on Yafo Street to try to make it over to Hebrew U’s campus for orientation. An hour and a half later, I had gotten a thorough tour of Jerusalem, interrogated by two Israeli police officers who spoke no English but were suspicious of me becuase I was alone with a big bag on a bus and had realized that the knot in the depths of my soul’s stomach would go away after I made a few more similar mistakes.

These tiny Russian women joined me briefly for what turned out to an hour-and-a-half tour of Jerusalem.

These tiny Russian women joined me briefly for what turned out to an hour-and-a-half tour of Jerusalem.

I always heard people say that life in Israel is hard, intense, incredible. I’m beginning to understand that I may one day acually know what those people meant when they said that. This city is the center of the world. If I walk three blocks, I’ll heard a dozen different languages being spoken fervently. I see kippot, kaffiyahs, crosses and equally conscious breeds of secular life flowing together in Jerusalem’s streets. Everyone here has a place to be. A meal to prepare. A class to teach. A creation to sell. A bus to miss. A war to fight. And they are confident of their place in the massive experiment. And if you aren’t so sure of your place, they’ll quickly tell you to be sure or go somewhere else. And you have to learn this. And le’at le’at (slowly), you do.

Anyway, the days are already a bit blury. Candle lighting is approaching. The sun goes down early here. So, I’ll end soon.

For the next two I’m living in one apartment. On February 1, Jacob and I will move down the road to another, much cheaper place.  Motzei Shabbos, I’ll tell you how that all happened and wish you “shavuah tov.”

Until then, Shabbat Shalom le’kulam and to all a peaceful Shabbos.

Somebody tell me: What day/time/season is it now?

I landed in Tel Aviv today sometime in the afternoon. But before that I was in frozen Chicago and then steely 9-a.m.-sun-rising Frankfurt.

At the airport in Germany, at the beginning of a four-hour layover, I met a guy named Tzedek and his payosed son Ariel Leib (names have not been changed to protect their identities). He was going to Israel for the first time in 12 years to scope the scene and decide if he wants to move his family and businesses there. He told me his main reason for wanting to move is because The End draws nigh and mamesh eretz yisroel is where it’s at when The End is drawing nigh. So we talked about the Jewish apocalypse for a while longer (he apparently teaches a class in his spare time on the subject at U of Wisconsin) and it turned out he was heading to Jerusalem, and more specifically, to the Nachlaot neighborhood. And since I clearly didn’t have a plan of my own, I decided to ride with this man and his son to Nachlaot.

We arrived there and as enthusiastic as he had been in the airport about heading to the same place, he didn’t seem so stoked about the idea anymore. Well, he had this friend who was meeting him and he didn’t know the situation there and didn’t want to impose but I guess whatever we can ask. His friend meets the three of us and I’m starting to worry because I have this backpack-guitar-two-suitcase combo at my side which isn’t really conducive to walking alone in a foreign city with no definite place to go.

Thankfully, Tzedek’s friend, Dave, invited me to his family’s gorgeous place so I could call a few people, check my mail and so on. I do that, but the only progress I can make is that Ye Old Asaf Naymark can hook me up with a couch — getting to his other side of town with my collossal cache of luggage wasn’t going to be easy. Still, there was something about this Dave guy that seemed familiar. Figuring there was a 75 percent chance they would, I asked Dave and his wife Chana, “Do you know the Schillers?” and, lo and behold, not only did Allison lead Chana on a Livnot trip way back when, but this couple had taken in a lonley hungry lost Josh Freesman a handful of months ago and they could walk me over to his apartment right then and there.

Thirty minutes later — that is, after a brief detour to Uzi’s juice stand in Machane Yehudah where I got some dank Kamboocha and sprayed in the face with supposedly cure-all concoction of Etrog juice and who knows what else — I am sitting in the Simchat Shlomo Yeshiva in between a bearded and beaming Mr. Freesman and Rabbi Sholom Brodt studying Parshat Shemot. I was delirious, to say the least.

We had further adventures, but the important part is that I am sleeping at the Carpathian Mountain House where Josh lives and tomorrow starts a full new day in Jerusalem in winter, of all times and places.

By Tuesday, I will be homeless and just dozens of kilometers from exploding bombs and  sirens that wail incessantly to warn of a sky that is still falling. A Jewish mother’s dream, I’m sure.

As I’m posting this though, there is reason to forget such uncertainty and violence and instead celebrate. The familiarity and safety of another sunny January in Florida are all around me. I just watched from Jacksonville as the Gators won another national championship. My Friends & Friends & Family in Gainesville are more than likely joyously lighting something on fire at the moment (couches, dumpsters, coffee tables and/or The Usual).

So in the throes of this holiday of sorts, I begin the record of my travels abroad. On Tuesday, I will land in Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. From there I will get in a van with a dozen strangers and be driven for about an hour to the ancient constant cradle of Jewish life, love and creativity that is Jerusalem.

I don’t know where I will sleep when I arrive (my old friend and prospective roommate, Jacob Sager, and I will start looking for a place as soon as we meet). I don’t know how I’ll get around once I’m there. I don’t know if the war in Gaza will be over. I don’t know if a second front in the North will have opened by then. I don’t know how many homes and schools and people in Sderot and Be’ersheva and beyond will sit silently that day, destroyed by rockets — or how many innocent Palestinians and crazed terrorists will have died side by side from Israel’s response.

It’s a scary time to be going to Israel. I’ve been there three times in the past four years, and I’ve always dismissed questions and concern from others about my safety in that country. The whole of Israel is not, as many people believe and as the news may make it seem, an infinite war zone. I feel safe in Israel. Sometimes, more safe than when I’m chutz la’aretz (“outside of the land” – we’ll try to learn some Hebrew while we’re here).

But this trip, for many reasons, is different. I’ve never been to Israel for more than several weeks at a time. I’ve never been at the height of any of her innumerable conflicts. And obsessively reading news from the front isn’t helping lessen or stifle any anxiety that may be in the back of my mind.  Still, all of this uncertainty and unrest is a bit exciting. It’s like this dream I had last night: I’m skydiving with a large group of friends. We’re swimming and falling and flying through the sky. I don’t feel like I’m falling, but, clearly, I am. Everybody looks at me, signaling to me to pull the chord. I pull it. Nothing happens. They begin to panic. I wait patiently. Have they even pulled their own chords? They panic some more. The chute opens finally. I float slowly down.

I never felt like I was plummeting toward doom. I never felt scared or stupid for having jumped out of a plane with a seemingly broken bag on my back.

I hope you won’t feel that fear either. Just check back on this site for pictures and songs and stream-of-concience blocks of straight black text about my adventures.  I will miss you. Be well.