Some Moments of Reflection

Last week in Jewish Education class we had a guest speaker who works for Hillel-Birthright. She spoke about how she only has 10 days to make an impact on each individual in every group. In order to do this she said, “In Judaism, we have moments. We don’t let time pass us by”. The speaker used the prayer of seeing a rainbow as an example of a way for her to take one moment out of a crazy day or week and turn it into a Jewish educational moment.

Her quote really resonated with me. When I was younger, I wore a watch every single day. Sometime over the past few years I stopped wearing a watch (the reasoning behind it was probably so I could wear a more fashionable bracelet on my left wrist, or something along those lines). For those of you who are “watch wearers”, you know the horrible feeling of forgetting your watch or for whatever reason not always having access to what the time is.

Similar to a watch obsession, my planner goes almost everywhere with me. Thinking about this has has made me realize a few things: I frequently look back in my planner to recount particular events, while at the same time, I am always looking forward to the next “exciting’ thing in my life. I recently asked myself if I think I have really been living in the present and enjoying each and every special moment instead of always looking forward to the next thing, whatever that may be.

I have officially been living in Israel for two months. Since I arrived I have been counting down the days until one of my best, best, best friends as well as my parents arrive. However, I have also been stretching out every day to it’s fullest and trying my best to do as much as I can each and every day. Instead of being concerned about the time or what paper/ tests I have coming up, I have really been able to take advantage of what Israel has to offer and bask in the special “It’s Israel” moments, while not stressing about school (mostly because school is a semi joke- however, I now have four midterms to study for…WHAT?!?).

Last Friday my best friend arrived. She texted me when she landed in the airport, but then I was not going to hear from her until she arrived. As Shabbat was quickly approaching I decided I would go stand outside and just wait for her. Of course it was freezing cold and windy that night so instead of standing outside, I stood in the guard gate hoping that he would not kick me out. Much to my surprise, after about 15 minutes he asked me if everything was okay and then asked me to sit while I waited. He doesn’t speak much English and I only speak so much Hebrew, so there was some language barrier, but eventually my friend arrived. The best part of this evening was now that the guard knows me, he doesn’t make me flash my ID when I enter the building, and always greets me with a big smile.

I had a few days of quality time with my friend before my parents arrived. We did a lot of walking, a lot of eating, a lot of shopping/wandering, and a lot of much needed catching up. I really am one of the luckiest people in the world to have a best friend fly out to Israel just to visit me for an entire week (a big todah rabah to her parents and grandparents for making this trip possible)!

One of the coolest experiences (quite possibly one of the coolest top 10 Jewish experiences of my life) happened to us last Saturday night. We walked into the Old city a few hours before Shabbat ended. About 30 minutes before Shabbat was over, we headed to the Kotel and just sat and observed. Suddenly men started putting besamim (spices) into the empty spaces of the mehitza. A man then came over and summoned the ladies over to the mehitza. He gathered both men and women together for Havdallah. For the past few weeks here I have been having an internal debate about my thoughts on the Kotel. However, this one experience really hit me. I was saying a communal prayer with a group of people who I don’t know and yet still felt like I was part of a community (of men and women) at one of the holiest places in the world. Where else would something like this happen each and every week?

Once Sunday rolled around, I had one more morning with my friend before the parents arrived!! We woke up super early to try to go to the Dome of the Rock, but plans fell through because there were hundreds of people waiting to go up even though we got there at the crack of dawn. It was basically like waiting for a ride at Disney world. We decided to leave and go make a stop at Hadaya, (the jewelry place that all young Americans are beyond obsessed with) so my friend could place an order. Because we were the first ones there, my friend got 50% off her order and they made the jewelry on the spot. It was awesome. I also got some other things engraved in the jewelry I purchased my first time in Israel (this meant that they polished my 5 year old stuff…how nice..gotta love some shiny silver).

At around 5pm, mother and father showed up in the holy land! This started a week of craziness. There was SOOO much to do and see in only a short period of time. We went to museums, my favorite hot spots in Jerusalem (mom also tried all my Shuk favorites), as well as some of my favorite restaurants, and they got to see Hebrew U as well as my apartment (mother obviously thought it was disgusting since nothing can ever be clean enough to the Dina Phillips standard). On Thursday they headed to Tel Aviv in the morning and I met them later that afternoon. Let me tell you all…sleeping in the bed at the Hilton was AMAZINGGGGGG. If there is anything I am a little bit excited for when I go back home, it is my bed.

Earlier in the week was Purim (aka my first “big” Jewish holiday in Israel). It was crazy and it is impossible to describe the things I saw. However, I did manage to run into four people the first night of Purim that I didn’t know were going to be in Jerusalem. That started a streak of running into someone new every single day. It was hilarious. Some might say that it just proves how small of a country Israel/ the Jewish world is, but there had to be some other factors involved because the timing of everything was too perfect.

It was incredible to have my parents here in Israel with me. It is really scary that my time here is halfway over. Spring break is in a week and a half. I will be traveling to Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Florence, and Rome. Before I left IU, a wonderful friend told me to do something different everyday and not get into a routine. I have kept this in mind these past two months. I plan on stopping to truly recognize the incredible moments that are happening around me even more so than I am already doing while I am in Israel, as well as when I return home. This semester really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am so incredibly thankful I was able to share a snapshot of experiences with my friend and my parents.

I’ll conclude this post with two “only Israel” experiences that have happened in the past few weeks:

1) During the second night of Purim, my friend and I were out late with some friends and got in a taxi to go back to my apartment. The driver and I agreed on a price. Unfortunately I didn’t have exact change and the driver decided not to only give me back half of the change that he owed me. I was not pleased and yelled at the driver in a polite manner until he gave me the rest of the money. Apparently this is very typical for Israel, and I believe that, but I was very proud of myself for getting the money back that I deserved, and returning safely to my room.

2) I was wearing a headband while getting my nails done. My nail lady wanted to know if I was married because she thought I was wearing a sheital (wig). I personally thought this was hilarious because I am not married and simply really like my headband.

Hope everyone is doing well, wherever you may be! Keep in touch! Until next time…xoxo

 

 

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Jewish Educational Experiences Through My Personal Lens

It all started when I was in fourth grade. My best friend’s mom took us to the synagogue to hear a presentation about a sleep-a-way camp located in the mountains of Clayton, Georgia. I watched an outdated video and read an itinerary of what a typical day was like at Camp Ramah Darom. In the car ride home, my friend’s mom told us stories about her summer camp days, basically trying to persuade us to go to camp that summer. When I was dropped off at my house, my parents were not so in love with the idea of sending me to the mountains for a month. Side note: mom and dad were not against camp either as they would never stop me from doing something, but to say the least, my dad told me there would be rats in the bunks.

Most of you know how this story ends. I went to camp that summer, cried everyday for the first two weeks, and then returned for six consecutive summers. I am almost positive that I would not be in Israel today if I did not go to Camp Ramah. Sure there might have been other factors that led me here, but I know for fact that I would not be studying at Indiana University and probably would not have the same interests, career path, or love for Judaism that I do today.

One of the highlights of my semester so far is my Jewish Experiential Education course. A large focus on the class is on camping and youth movements, two separate groups that have impacted my life to the point that I would not be who I am today without them. We just finished a lecture series given by Shalom Orzach who currently serves as the Avi Chai Foundation Project director and Director of Education in the Israel Fellows Unit of the Jewish Agency. His lectures spoke about why camp works and the long- term impact of Jewish overnight camp. Orzach also has a history with both USY and Ramah and held a discussion on Ramah camps. One of the coolest things about this class is that aside from it reaffirming my love for Jewish camps and teaching me that the Jewish camp business really does work in the sense of Jewish continuity and identification to one’s personal Jewishness, it has given me the opportunity to reflect on my upbringing and how my family as well as my experiences as both a camper and staff member has helped sculpt my Jewish identity and journey.

All of my Jewish experiences really hit home when I attended the Women of the Wall Rosh Hodesh (new month on the Hebrew calendar). My friend’s cousin was involved and she asked if I would go with her. We woke up way too early and headed into town with some friends towards the Kotel (don’t worry, everyone, stopped for coffee before we returned to campus). We walked through the Christian quarter and the Jewish quarter and because it was so early it was so quiet and calm- a totally different experience than a regular weekday afternoon. When we arrived at the women’s side of the Kotel, a group of about 30 women were just starting with the morning prayers, we were handed a siddur, and joined in prayer.

 I am not here to discuss political issues about the Women of the Wall organization.  I am here to share that for the first time in my life I had the opportunity to join in prayer, out loud, with a group of women at one of the holiest places in the world. I have prayed at random gas stations and some of the most beautiful places in America (shout out to Crater Lake) as well as some extraordinary places in Israel; however, I have never been part of communal prayer at the Western Wall. I have witnessed men taking part in spiritual and ruach filled services, but have never myself been able to have the same experience at the Kotel. Without a doubt, my morning with Women of the Wall would not have been the same if there were protestors or if I was not able to follow along with the service, but luckily there were only two protestors (one man and one woman who blew her whistle at us) and I was familiar and comfortable with the service. Overall it was a very moving and meaningful morning.

For the rest of the week, I have been reflecting on the community versus the individual. This was a long week filled with lots of class and some afternoons in town walking around and exploring with some friends. However, on Thursday, my four- hour class was cancelled so I was done with class at 10am. A few of my friends were going to Eilat this weekend, but I decided to stay in Jerusalem to catch up on sleep and get my life together since my best friend and family arrive in Israel this week (SO EXCITED!!!!). So after a two- hour nap, I grabbed a falafel and headed into town. I walked around, went to the Shuk, and just wondered alone. I guess this was the first time since I got here that I had really been alone for a substantial amount of time. However, I realized that I really wasn’t alone. I think Israel is the only place where I feel like I am part of a larger community at all times. I’m not sure if it is because I know I’m surrounded by so many Jews or because I see Hebrew everywhere or even because people really are just so helpful and welcome, but in an almost indescribable way I feel as if my life is more meaningful here than in any city in America. So, after my afternoon alone, my Israeli co staff from the past summer picked me up and took me to a coffee shop (Tachanat Hacafe) and then to a place that was playing live music. It was great to spend some time with an Israeli as well as reminisce on the summer.

Friday morning I woke up early and continued on my solo adventures to get a manicure and pedicure. I then met up with my friend and did some shopping (no worries mom and dad, didn’t really make any purchases…waiting until you arrive for that). This was the first weekend in a long time I was able to explore Jerusalem on a Friday. We had brunch and walked around feeling the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem as everyone was preparing for Shabbat. Later in the afternoon we headed to the Kotel to welcome in Shabbat. On our walk there we heard the Shabbas siren. When we arrived at the Kotel, I did some more of my personal reflection. We first walked around listening to the men pray my favorite service, Kabbalat Shabbat, and saw the women pray silently. We actually did join in with a group of Israeli women soldiers who were briefly singing some songs. Once that ended we just sat down and people watched. We saw tourists (love the American Jewish women who just talk and talk), religious men and women, soldiers, families, and other groups all flock to one area to sing, pray, and observe (some even observed by attempting to take photographs until they were yelled at).

Shabbat at the Kotel was very black and white. Men were dancing, singing and praying together as a community. Women were for the most part individually praying, quietly singing out loud, or chatting about what they saw around them. I was very engaged in my people watching and observing because I realized that I am starting to naturally look at things here from an educational perspective. The other day in Jewish Education class, we broke out into groups and tried to pick 6 places and experiences we would provide for a Birthright bus. I actually had a Birthright guide in my group so it was very interesting to hear what Birthright allows guides to pick as well as what is mandatory for each bus. Almost every group in class wanted to provide the participants with a Shabbat experience and most of them said that the Kotel was the place to do that. I completely agree that Shabbat in Israel is an experience every person needs witness, but I question if the Kotel is really the best site in Jerusalem if only given one Shabbat. Without a doubt there are incredible moments that take place at the Kotel everyday and especially on Shabbat, but I definitely saw it through a different lens this past Shabbat.

It is starting to hit me how quickly time is moving. I am almost half way through this semester and I really don’t know how that has happened. I am finally to the point where I enjoy going on adventures alone as well as exploring new cafes to work on my small amount of homework, so to me that means I am extremely comfortable and settled here. My best friend arrives this week and my family (minus my brother..still bitter) a few days later. I can’t wait to show them around Israel through my eyes. Even though I still have a great deal of time here, I need to start planning my next trip back. There is something addictive about this country. I just can’t get enough of it. Who knows…maybe alyiah is in the future…..so until next time, xoxo

 

disclaimer: i apologize for any grammatical errors (that’s for you, mother).