My blog has moved! 

After enjoying blogging over the past two summers, I have moved my blog to a permanent home at http://www.shomerhetzi.wordpress.com

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love is proved in the letting go

So, here we are.

The sherut will be here in an hour to collect me and take me far, far away from this place that has become my second home.

How to summarize a summer?

My mind is cluttered with unwritten blog posts, with words that went unspoken, with goodbyes that never happened. My fingers feel full of lead as I sit here and try to string together adequate words to conclude this journey. There’s nothing I can say or write that could possibly do justice to the wonderful, challenging, fulfilling, heartbreaking, and inspiring experiences I’ve had over these past 7 weeks.

There’s so much I wanted to write about, so many thoughts that never got put to paper (or keyboard). I wanted to write about why I love the Talmud so much; to try to describe what it’s like to sit on my most favorite promenade and watch the sun dip below the city; to put words to what it’s like to fall in love in so many ways; to tell you about my first pride parade since coming out; to write about the night where I led a service at the Kotel; to describe the anguish, frustration, and beauty of davening with Women of the Wall on Rosh Hodesh. I ran out of time to be able to write about everything, and there were some experiences that truly defied explanation

For some of these stories, there will come a time to share them-be it through writing, talking, or painting. They will be the stories that one day fill sermons. They’ll be the stories that get passed on to partners, to children, to friends.  However, there are a select few stories that shall remain memories, only to be known to me and the people that experienced them.  They shall remain safely tucked behind my eyes, never to pass through my lips or fingertips.

I don’t know how to properly give justice to all of the teachers, friends, and classes I was lucky enough to enjoy at the Conservative Yeshiva. I feel immensely lucky to have been able to devote a summer to learning and praying. I’m not the type of person to describe experiences as ‘life-changing’, but the lessons and wisdom learned in and beyond the Beit Midrash will never be forgotten. They’ve made an impression in my mind and soul like bright red tefillin marks on my arm after a morning of praying.

There’s no amount of prose or fancy words that can coat the truth: leaving sucks.  It’s just really, really hard to say goodbye to places, people, and things that I love so dearly. The other day, I was asked what it feels like to be going home after a summer here. The only answer I could really come up with was “it doesn’t feel like I’m going home…”.

Over the past two months, I’ve tried far too hard to force myself to enjoy every moment. I knew how much I missed this place, so I was determined to love it as much as I did in my head when I was in Ohio. It’s easy to create a fantasy in your head when you’re far away, but being here has a way of bringing you back to reality. Weaved into every breath was a little voice inside my head saying “enjoy this, because in a few weeks you’d give anything to be back in this moment”. As my time here draws to a close, I’m trying to be easier on myself. It’s okay to not love every second and you’re never going to appreciate the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory. After all, to paraphrase John Green, you can never love something as much as you can miss it.

Throughout this entire summer, one question has being persistently gnawing at me. It’s the question of how I will possibly supply an answer when people inevitably ask me how my summer was, expecting me to give a quick answer. Realistically, I know that I’ll have to say “it was great!”, but that feels like a cop-out answer.  This experience was great, but it was so much more than that. It was incredible, terrifying, hard, exciting, too fast, thrilling, exhausting, wonderful, fulfilling, heartbreaking, sad, fun, challenging, and inspiring all at once. Saying only “it was great!” really erases all of the depth to this journey.

A few nights ago, Sofia and I talked about our feelings on leaving. She shared with me the concluding verse of a poem by C Day-Lewis, entitled “Walking Away”.  This poem is written from the perspective of a father as he watches his son turn into a man.  A strange choice for my final words of this journey? Perhaps, but I’ve been mulling over these words for the past few days, and they’ve eased the pain a bit. I will end with these words which I now know to be beautifully, painfully true:

Selfhood begins with a walking away,                                                                                                                       And love is proved in the letting go. 

 

 

 

Go slowly – don’t run

Last Monday, I had the honor of meeting with Tamar Elad-Appelbaum. Rabba Tamar is the founder of Kehilat Zion, the shul I’ve been going to every week. Over the past year, I’ve followed her community and derived immense inspiration from all of the work they do in this city. She’s built a warn, open community that combines many Jewish traditions-Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrachi, secular and Orthodox-into a space that feels authentic for people from all backgrounds and experiences. She also participates in many interfaith initiatives, including an annual interfaith Chanukah candle lighting in Jerusalem’s First Train Station.

With all of this in mind, I knew she was someone I needed to meet this summer. I see so much of what I want to accomplish in her; talking to her gives me hope for my future. I told her about my background and plans for becoming a rabbi, after which she (politely) interrupted me with some sage words:

“This is the first thing I want to tell you: Go slowly. Don’t run. It’s such a beautiful journey. One of the things I see in American society is that things are very very quick. In the Middle East, things are much slower. You know, it’s like making coffee, you brew it on the fire for such a long time-mamash do it slowly. Because you now have the gift of choosing, then of learning.  I think many times when you enter this world there’s something so intensive about it that you want to jump in to it, but you really have to start mamash from the beginning.”

I took in every word that she had to offer, and over the past week I’ve mulled them over and let each word really sink in. I’ve always been very quick to volunteer and try new things in Jewish spaces, regardless of if I am ready or not. Last week, I tried to chant Torah for the first time and it didn’t go particularly well because I don’t know the trope marks at all, and learned the portion from a recording. This is really not a viable method for approaching things because I fall into a perpetual cycle of biting off far more than I can chew and always ending up disappointed in my performance. Rather, I should take one thing and a time and really enjoy the process. It’s okay to not do everything all at once. I’m always going to feel behind (something she told me and I already know very well), and jumping into every possible thing simultaneously is not going to change that. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my plans for this upcoming year and what I want to do in the Jewish community. I have many things I want to do, read, and learn, but each time I find myself trying to take on too much, I hear her voice in my head, repeating “Go slowly. Don’t run”. I think that will have to be my motto this year (or for the rest of my life).

I still can’t really believe that I got to meet with Tamar. I thought that, at most, I would say hello in passing after services one day. I’ve had many experiences this summer, this experience being the primary one, which have shown me that I can do great things if only I open my mouth and ask. There’s not really anything that can describe what it’s like to meet someone who has inspired you so greatly or what it’s like to hear her tell you “If you’re going to be a rabbi, and I hope you’re going to be a rabbi…”, which is why it has taken me so long to compose this post, and I still feel I haven’t done the occasion justice in any way, but after all: Go slowly. Don’t run.

-Emily

Like silence but not really silent

I’ve been meaning to write about last Shabbat (and the previous one…whoops), but I’ve had trouble coming up with something because I don’t want to repeat things from my previous Shabbat posts. Rather than come up with a listing of my Shabbat activities, I thought I’d write about what it feels like to really experience the holiday here.  

My preparations start midday Friday and have evolved into a multi-hour long meditative process of preparing myself for Shabbat. I do laundry and tidy up my room as the afternoon sun pours through the windows. I walk across the street to the shuk to get groceries for the weekend, taking in the Friday afternoon commotion. The shops are packed with people trying to get their last minute items before everything shuts down. The usual smell of cigarettes and cat urine is covered up by fresh baked bread and chocolate rugelach. The shopkeepers call out their prices in a shout even louder than usual. I find a cheap clothing store and get a new dress to wear to shul. Shabbat here is communal-everyone celebrates in their own way, but the entire city shares a common sense of urgency to get home and get things done before the sunlight goes out. That’s what I really love about Shabbat here-I know that everyone around me is preparing to sit around the table and enjoy their day of rest. 

Late Friday afternoon is my favorite time of the whole week. I come home from shopping and paint my nails, humming the songs I’ll hear at night in the synagogue. My ‘Shabbos Shower’ allows me to transition from the stress and long days of the week into Shabbat. I scrub off all the dirt and sweat of the week (I do shower during the week, I just get extra clean on Friday) and use my most favorite rose jam soap. After showering, I feel that my mind has also been cleansed and I am at my most peaceful. As I slip on my new dress, I say shehecheyanu, the blessing said the first time one does or uses something. I tie up my hair into a tight braid, just like the braided challah I’ll eat later tonight. My final preparation is to fasten my kippah to my head. I have a kippah that I wear only on Shabbat-I bought it here during my first week and I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It looks like how Shabbat feels.


Every Friday night I attend services at Kehilat Zion. It’s a fairly long walk, about 45 minutes, but I enjoy this part of my routine. As I take to the streets, I enter a completely different scene than I did earlier in the day. The streets that were only a few hours ago packed with people and activity are now completely empty. As the sun begins to set, Shabbat begins and the city of Jerusalem drifts off into sleep. I arrive at Zion ready for Shabbat. The weekday feels far away and unimportant as I prepare to enter another world. I walk in and take my seat as the music begins. I imagine that I’m in a cloud drifting higher and higher as the prayer builds and I keep rising up until I’m floating and surrounded by light. This is the only time in the week where I feel truly quiet and still. At the same time, I’m not quiet or still because I’m swaying back and forth and singing. 

I leave shul and head to dinner with songs in my heart and the faint remnants of my perfume on my skin. I feel like I’m one with this city and I have slipped in to its rhythm. Walking through the streets of Jerusalem at night is a spiritual experience in of itself. After walking down the main roads, I enter the maze of residential streets that connect to mine. As I pass by each home, I listen to the sounds of conversation and prayer that pour out of the windows. There’s something magical about knowing that each house I pass by is a small sanctuary where another family is resting and celebrating Shabbat.

I get up early on Saturday morning to attend shul again. I love walking down the street with my tallis bag-it’s my own quiet rebellion. I try to actually rest a bit after I get home in the afternoon, but it’s time for havdalah before I know it. With the lighting of another candle, it’s time for Shabbat to end as the sun sets. Unlike the Shabbat candles on Friday night which are left to burn, the havdalah candle is extinguished forcefully by plunging it into wine. It’s said that the louder the sound this makes, the better your week will be. I don’t know if I believe that, but I do know that as yet another Shabbat slips away and a new week begins, I feel that I am renewed and ready for what the following days may bring.

 Shabbat represents quiet to me. I don’t have a lot of quiet moments during the week. I have significant trouble sitting still and my brain is always running far too fast. I will my body to be still and my mind quiet but it doesn’t work. In shul on Shabbat is the only time that I feel this calm-time stands still but also moves far too fast and the service is always over before I know it. I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of quiet, and I find that the (aptly titled) song Quiet from the musical Matilda describes it pretty well:

Quiet-like silence, but not really silent.

Just that nice kind of quiet.

Like the sound when you lie upside down in your bed.

Just the sound of your heart in your head.

And it is quiet.

And I am warm.

Like I’ve sailed.

Into the eye of the storm.

-Emily 

Maybe I’ll be an okay rabbi 

I meant to write a post about this past Shabbat, and while I do intend to get that out within the next day, I feel that I must write about today first.

I guess a lot has happened within the past 24 hours.  Yesterday after class, I made the decision to buy my own set of tefillin. I had initially planned on waiting until later in the summer to see if I really wanted them (considering the price of tefillin, it’s not exactly a decision to be made lightly) but I really wanted to be able to wear a set tomorrow morning when I will be at the Kotel with Women of the Wall. Overcome with the feeling that having my own set would mean that I would suddenly feel connected to davening, I set out to HaSofer on a mission. This was the store that was recommended to me because despite being located in Mea Shearim, they are one of the few stores that will sell tefillin to women here. I joined my friends for drinks after this, and was eagerly greeted with “nu, let’s see them” regarding my new possession.

At the beginning of shacharit today, I took my brand new tefillin out of their boxes for the first time and carefully unwound the straps as if I were opening a present. The leather is shiny and new and beautiful but the straps cut into my skin like a pair of shoes that have yet to be broken in.  Hoping for a magical davening experience aided by my very own tefillin, I was left feeling disappointed when the service felt mostly the same as it has every day before. Rather than focus on the beautiful singing happening around me, I was distracted by the strap on my hand that kept slipping off. If one is to believe that the purpose of tefillin is to be constantly aware of their presence, I guess they did their job.  However, I do not see this as the reason for laying tefillin and I ended the service on less of a high note than I would have liked. 

Throughout the day, doubts about being a rabbi began to creep their way back in. Surrounded by so many brilliant people who are also pursuing rabbinic ordination, it’s easy to feel that you are not good enough and could never possibly be a good rabbi.  This isn’t a new feeling, but my continued frustration with prayer is not helping.  Close to the end of the day, I noticed a flyer on the board for a talk that would take place tonight at Machon Schechter by Rabbi Sharon Brous. The topic was to be “re-imaging the synagogue”, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  I decided to attend, and I made my way over from the CY after my last class. 

I sat in stunned amazement the entire time. As Rabbi Sharon talked about her story, I felt as if someone were repeating my story to me. Listening to her talk about how she felt the same things at my age that I am currently feeling, I held on to her every word. I laughed when she mentioned how when she was in college she didn’t know not to talk after ritual hand washing, because I’ve done exactly the same thing. She described how she would spend her summers in Jerusalem feeling alive and connected in an entirely new way, and would return home not knowing how to maintain any of those experiences.  The struggle of how to pray like you’re in Jerusalem when you’re not is something that’s been weighing on my mind every day. The story of her community, Ikar, is incredible. Started in a tiny room with folding chairs, it’s grown to a major gathering space for people who have not always felt at home in traditional synagogues. Her story and community give me so much hope that things will change and that I might be the one to change them. 

I’ve had a lot to think about over the past few weeks, and a lot of room for self-doubt. I know that I want to be a rabbi and bring people to the Jewish community who struggle in traditional religious spaces, but this sometimes feels like an impossible task that I’ll never be inspirational or smart enough to accomplish. I have so many ideas and things that I want to do, but I have even more questions.  I’ve been blessed to have met people here that I greatly admire and take in their stories, but it’s easy to feel intimidated by those who have already done so much more than I could ever imagine being able to do. There has been one thing in common with everyone I’ve talked to that has given me hope that I’m not as lost as I sometimes think I am: none of them had any clue what they were doing when they were 21. 

Although doubt and confusing religious practice have clouded some of my days, I smile when I remind myself that the leaders I admire so much were equally clueless and unsure at my age. I’ll probably never be the next great world leader or best rabbi in the universe, but I think I’ll do okay. 

-Emily 

Shabbat is home

I’m finally getting around to writing about last Shabbat, less than 24 hours before the next begins.

I was excited to spend my first real Shabbat of the trip at Kehilat Zion, which I had been to and wrote about last year, describing it as the best service of my life. Led by Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, Zion is a synagogue unlike any other-it’s officially affiliated with the Masorti (Conservative) movement, but the community is made up of both secular and religious people, as well as both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. In addition to their unique prayer and music, they are heavily involved with interfaith work. (On a side note, I emailed Rabbi Tamar earlier this week to ask if we could meet to discuss Judaism and community. I received a reply this morning and I’ve floated all day).

I was joined with some fellow CY students, and we made our way to my former neighborhood of Baka, where Zion is located. Everything felt familiar-the JCC the community is located in, the collection of plastic chairs, and of course the ruach. Although I couldn’t remember every tune from last year and there were some new ones, it felt like home and I couldn’t have been happier to return. The room that the service is held in was packed by the end, with people having to stand because there were no more chairs. During one of the songs, the sun burst into the room accompanied by a swift breeze, which made it feel as if I were in a different world.

After the service, I went back home to Nachlaot to go with Tracey to dinner at the house of her friend Rivki,  who teaches the Torah study class I went to last Saturday. They are Haredi, a type of Judaism very foreign to my own, but they were warm and welcoming, and it didn’t hurt that the food was delicious (isn’t it amazing what Jews can do without dairy?).

I spent Saturday morning at Shira Hadasha, the shul I had meant to go to last week. Apart from the Western Wall (which is not a synagogue, something I wish the government understood…), I have never davened with a mechitza before. A mechitza is some type of partition used to separate men and women in synagogues. I disagree with the premise of this concept, but I will still go to a shul that uses one (as long as it’s left-right and not front-back.  I won’t sit behind the men where I can’t see anything). Overall, I did not so much mind the presence of the mechitza, but I did find myself often distracted by trying to see what was happening on the men’s side rather than focusing on the service. The service was lovely, if a bit long.

Afterwards, I had Shabbat lunch at the home of a fellow student. I didn’t realize how far away from my neighborhood he lived, so I was in for a 2 mile walk home, all uphill and in direct sunlight. An hour later I made it home, albeit with some new blisters.

I’m going to try to catch up and blog about classes and what I’ve been up to in the evenings, so hopefully I’ll work on that over Shabbat (no, this trip hasn’t turned me shomer Shabbos).

-Emily

 

 

Talmud and tefillin, or the first days of class

Classes began on Sunday, and the days that followed have been full of learning.  Sunday began with shacharit, the optional morning prayer service.  I have promised myself that I’ll go more often this year, so we’ll see if I stick to it or not.  This was followed by a brief orientation, where I met more of my fellow students, including Sofia from South Africa-who it turns out lives on my street!  After orientation was ulpan, my Hebrew class.  As I mentioned before, I’m in level Bet, which is the third of five levels offered.  Our teacher’s name is Edna, and despite the class being almost entirely in Hebrew, I can follow along pretty well.  After lunch and mincha (the afternoon service), I had my first text class, of which I have two each afternoon.  My first class is officially called The Place that God Will Choose: Holy Space and Place in the Tanakh, and is taught by Esther.  We’ve been looking at examples of how holiness is commanded and executed in scripture, starting with Avram and Sarai.  My second class on Sunday/Tuesday is Ta’amei Hamitzvot: The Reasons Behind the Commandments, taught by Shaiya.  Shaiya is unlike any teacher I’ve had before (in a good way); his class is very philosophical and he sometimes shares his idea for a third, egalitarian, temple with us, while requesting that we view the Torah through the lens of an alien anthropologist.  On Monday I had my second set of afternoon classes, which included Others and Otherness in Rabbinic Literatures with Yarden, and Tefillah Nusach with Saralee.  On Monday we also had a lunch provided for participants under 30 to meet each other, and the best part was meeting someone else who eats pizza the same way I do-by removing the cheese.  

Tuesday (yesterday) was a big day for me.  I started the day with shacharit, where Rabbi Joel taught us how to wrap tefillin, most of us for the first time.  Laying tefillin is a daily mitzvah with which men are tasked completion, and is what is supposed to be the defining element of a boy reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah.  Many women have taken on this mitzvah as well, but it’s certainly less common to see a woman with tefillin than a kippah or tallit.  There are two tefillin boxes-one for the head and one for the arm.  The tefillin shel rosh (of the head) is placed just below the hairline, and the tefillin shel yad (of the arm) is placed on the bicep and wrapped seven times down the forearm.  I had been looking forward to taking part in this since last summer when I missed the instruction day.  I was expecting it to be a big moment, for me to suddenly  feel connected to the weekday morning service and feel as though I was taking part in something very important.  It was more uncomfortable than anything-I tied the leather too tight around my elbow which served as a distraction throughout davening (praying).  I think I realized that like anything else, it’s going to take practice to feel like a natural and wonderful thing to do, and it’s also perfectly okay to decide to not make this part of my routine long-term.  Something that I did very much enjoy about this was being helped to lay them by two other women, who are older than me and have already been laying tefillin for some time.  There’s something really beautiful about women helping other women to complete a mitzvah that is traditionally only afforded to men.  


The other news of the day comes in the form of a change to my mornings.  On somewhat of a whim, I decided to take Talmud class in place of Hebrew ulpan.  I really wanted to take class with Shoshana, the teacher, and I know that I won’t have the opportunity to study Talmud back at Oberlin.  It wasn’t even 9:30 in the morning yet, but I had already taken on two things that women aren’t to do according to most Orthodox scholars.  At first I thought that perhaps I had made a mistake-the Talmud is in Aramaic, which I don’t speak, and what about coming here to learn Hebrew?  I warmed up to the class quickly, and I will be staying in it for the rest of the session.  My class is small, only three people plus the teacher, and coincidentally happens to be all women.  There’s an older German woman (who is nearly fluent in Aramaic), and a British girl who is a few years my junior. We’re all at very different levels, but it makes for interesting study as we all have something different to contribute.  

The turning point for me was the last 15 minutes of class when one of my classmates inquired about why we should bother with studying Talmud.  The tractate we are studying dictates excruciatingly minute rules surrounding idolatry (masechet Avodah Zarah, for the curious), but in the span of class we confronted larger ideas of how to deal with people who differ from us and debated ideas of religious tolerance.  This was ultimately the answer we arrived at regarding the importance of studying ancient (and sometimes boring) texts into the modern day.  As a class of all women, we all agreed that these texts can be problematic and one is not always left with positive feelings about their faith afterwards.  Sometimes the reaction to a particularly hard to hear text can be to shove the book back on the shelf rather than to continue to study.  It’s important to know that this is an option, but we must not let that be a routine result of text study.  Does this reaction prove that women shouldn’t study Talmud?  Is it somewhat puzzling to be studying texts calling for own oppression? No and maybe, respectively.  It’s incredibly powerful to be able to understand and reinterpret these texts into a way that affirms, rather than negates or oppresses, our identities.  Shoshana said something that really stuck with me, which is that it’s important to take the opportunity to read these words which have been off-limits to us for so very long, precisely because we have been denied their usage.  She feels (and I agree with her) that if women are going to continue to be treated like second-class citizens in many parts of the Jewish world, we need to be literate in these texts that are used against us.  We must take this opportunity we are given to study for all the women who didn’t, don’t, and won’t have the opportunity to do so.  Even though reading about what 1st century rabbis said about what is permitted to be in the hand of a statue does not exactly inspire passion in most, I feel that it is my obligation to bring new life into these texts that I would have found myself prohibited from only a few decades ago.  I’m certainly no scholar and calling myself Jewishly literate would be a lie, but I will keep studying and working with the hope that one day I’ll be able to make a real contribution to Judaism. 

-Emily 

First Shabbat

It’s currently Saturday night, which means that Shabbat just ended.  

I started preparing for Shabbat yesterday afternoon, which began with an accidental nap. I also got an e-mail from the CY with my ulpan (Hebrew class) placement.  I’m in level Bet, which is the third of five levels.  I was expecting to be in Bet or possibly Gimmel, but if Bet proves to be too easy I can switch levels.  After showering and braiding my hair, I was ready to go to services.  The CY has a Shabbat program for us at the beginning of both sessions, with services taking place at Moreshet Yisrael, the synagogue on their campus.  Moreshet is one of the few Masorti/fully egalitarian synagogues in Jerusalem.  The services are pretty American in style, although they were led by an Italian man yesterday.  After services concluded, Yarden (a teacher at the CY) led a brief shiur (lesson).  The best part of the shiur were his twin baby daughters he brought with him! Dinner at the Agron guest house was next on the schedule, which is where I got to meet some of my fellow students.  There seemed to be far fewer people than last year-I don’t know if the second session is always bigger, or if more of the students chose to go elsewhere for Shabbat.  I think I may have been the least tired person in attendance-many had just arrived that morning.  After dinner I walked back to my house, followed by a few others who were going the same direction.  

This morning I had intended to go to morning services at Shira Hadasha, a shul which describes itself as “feminist Orthodox”.  I had set my alarm (phone) for 7:30, but woke up at 11 due to my phone shutting off overnight.  Tracey invited me to her Shabbat lunch, which was lovely.  I spent the afternoon unpacking and making final preparations for class, which begins tomorrow.  At 5, Tracey invited me to her Parashat HaShavua (weekly Torah portion) class, at the home of a woman named Rivki. It was a women’s class, and it was a wonderful mix of ages and observance levels.  It was all in English, so I was able to (mostly) follow along well. It was really nice to meet a group of women who were all immigrants (I’m assuming) living in Jerusalem.  We made havdalah after returning home, which concluded Shabbat.  

Tomorrow is the first day of classes!

-Emily 

Return to the land of your soul 

I left Cleveland Wednesday afternoon, on a flight to New York. No exciting international layover this time, just a few hours in JFK. I didn’t realize how big JFK is; going from terminal 8 to terminal 4 required exiting security.  I had to check back in and get a new boarding pass, which meant going through El Al’s rigid security questions.  It took about 5 minutes and I was made to answer questions on chagim (holidays), Jewish text, and various practices.  I eventually got through and got to my gate where I talked to two girls my age who were on my flight; one was going on Birthright and the other is enlisting in the IDF.  11 hours later, I touched ground in Tel Aviv.  After waiting in a long immigration line, I got my big suitcase and made my way out of the airport.  Everything was remarkably familiar; I was able to find the shuttle I needed to take to Jerusalem, and I was able to communicate my address to the driver and ask which van to get in all in Hebrew.  

I had a grand plan in my mind of what it was going to be like to make the trip to Jerusalem.  I had pictured watching the thicket and arid ground give way to cities, and watching Jerusalem become larger and larger until I finally entered.  This plan went south when I fell asleep twenty minutes into the drive and woke up in Jerusalem.  It felt almost anticlimactic-this city that I had dreamt of returning to for months was finally in front of my face, and reality hit that this place isn’t really my home, at least not yet.  

The driver wasn’t able to drop me off at my address because the streets were too narrow, so he had to drop me off a few streets away (this was the point at which we switched to English).  I had no map and no real idea where I was, so I had to ask people to help me.  After pulling two suitcases up multiple flights of stairs, I made it to my address and was greeted by Tracey, the woman I’m renting a room from, and her cat Kitzu.  After resting for a bit, I set out to get groceries to last me through the end of Shabbat.  The shuk, the big market in Jerusalem, is a mere 30 second walk from my house.  I decided I was too tired to handle the shuk, so instead I walked to Agron street to go to the Supersol, the grocery store across the street from the Yeshiva.   Instead of thinking of what would be practical food to have, I went straight for the foods I’ve missed most over the last year.  

I sat down near the entrance to the shuk and watched the sun begin to set, casting a magnificent golden glow over the whole city and its inhabitants.  As I took this in, I thought about how much has changed since last year, yet how much has remained the same.  The city is still here, and looks much the same as it has for generations, and yet it feels different.  Maybe it’s me who is different.  I know my way around the city and can put together enough words to begin to speak.  I know which synagogue feels like home.  I know not to touch the cats and which bus to take and where to get juice and how to eat soup like an Israeli and so much I didn’t know a year ago, and yet I have so much to learn. I have so much to learn that can’t be taught in an ulpan classroom or the Beit Midrash.  


Yesterday (Friday) morning it occurred to me that all have to eat for two days is unidentified sliced meat (it’s chicken, I know now) and half a can of beans.  With this in mind, I made a beeline for the shuk before it shut down and got some bread and mangoes.  I’ve missed the mangoes here so, so much.  Real mangoes, the kind that feel tingly on your tongue and run sticky juice down your face. After lunch I began to prepare for Shabbat, which I’ll write about soon in a separate post.  

I’m sitting here eating a mango (my writing made me hungry) thinking about what it means to return to a place you’ve longed after.  The words to the Carlebach song Return Again come to mind, inspiring the title of this post:

Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul

Return to what you are, return to who you are, return to where you are

Born and reborn again 

On a closing note, I now have a camera which can record videos, so I’m trying to film as much as I can.  The video I made of my arrival has finally uploaded, so here it is:

-Emily

Travel Update

I’m supposed to be on a flight to Istanbul right now, but instead I am still at home in Berea. Despite arriving to my gate on time this morning, my flight had already taken off.  There were no flights from Cleveland to New York that would get me there in time for my second flight, which meant I would have to reschedule.  I’m still going to be going to Jerusalem, but I have had to cancel my Europe backpacking plans.  I will likely be leaving on June 14th or 15th instead.  I am still going to be at the Yeshiva for 6 weeks as planned, but the beginning of my trip is shortened.  Hopefully the next time I update, I’ll be in Israel!