Tuesday, February 08, 2005

home sweet home...

so....after the security questions, we (Jill and I) put our luggage through the x-ray machine (those big ones that roll your luggage through on a conveyor belt, know which ones I mean? if you check luggage in the US you've probably put your bags through one). This is certainly routine, but by now I'm sure you've noticed that I wouldn't be telling you about it if it went WELL. Um....one of our bags got STUCK in the machine. Stuck enough that a security guy tried to climb in after it....then they told us to wait while they went to get the key to open the machine up....then they went for a knife and scissors....it just kept going....and we kept getting more worried about getting on the flight....until they finally got it out! The whole time we were laughing at the general comedy of the whole thing, and the security workers were also laughing at the whole silliness of it. I guess it's better to laugh than to cry. (Remember, it was almost 11pm, so we were also a little tired!)

Finally, we checked in...and then we RAN for our flight which was already boarding. Neither of us had ever been in the new airport except when we landed a week earlier, so we didn't know how long it would take to get through security and get to the gate....I had VAT to redeem and we also both planned to check out the Duty Free shopping and buy some last Israeli candy....but oh well! Whew....we made it onto the plane!

The flight itself was lovely and uneventful. I was able to sleep quite a bit, and watch movies on my own personal screen (love that part) and eat yummy food .... okay, yummy might be an exaggeration...but it was not bad for airplane food.

The flight that we were on was called "direct" from Tel Aviv to Chicago. Now, many people have recently reminded me that "direct" does not mean "non-stop." This, I accept. But generally, "direct" does not mean "you will have to get off the plane, go through customs, collect your luggage, re-check it, and then get back on the plane." But it does for El Al!

So when we landed, we did as we were told, got off the plane and went through customs and got our luggage and were prepared to re-check it...we were back in another security line with our luggage and Israeli El Al security workers (asking questions again -- hello, did we not just do this 12 hours ago? where did you learn Hebrew, what is your Hebrew name, why were you in Israel...) and then just as the American security guys were taking our bags to put them into another x-ray machine....they came over and announced that our flight was cancelled -- and not just cancelled but it was because of mechanical reasons (remember, we just got off that plane, we were supposed to get right back on it, and suddenly there was something wrong with it!?)....

To make a long story short (and let me tell you, it felt very long), it was about 5:30am, and they could only get us on a 9:30 flight (which ended up really being a 10am flight, they just told us 9:30 because that was the boarding time) to Chicago. At least that was a really "direct AND non-stop" flight.

So we shlepped ourselves and our luggage all over Newark to re-check in on American Airlines. El Al pretty much cut us loose to be with these employees of the airport, and the whole check in process was messy and ugly -- but we did it, we got on the plane, and we travelled home.

I must say I had tears in my eyes when we landed, just to be done travelling! (Of course, then I remembered that in less than two weeks, we're flying to Cleveland....but I'll cross that bridge when I get there!)

It's so nice to be home and see everyone here. To see my family (and they loved their presents -- they both look great in the Russian fur hat I bought for Michael!) and to drop into my office...it's wonderful to return to my loved ones and friends.

It's nice to be home. But I must admit, as soon as we were in Newark, I felt pangs of longing for Israel. I had to re-set my mouth to speak English to various security guards, clerks, cashiers, etc. I had to remind myself that the food I was purchasing at a kiosk just might not be what I think it is (kosher, that is). I had to remember that not everyone around me was a member-of-the-tribe. I had to return to being a minority in a Gentile world.

It is a strange feeling.

Even now, as I write this, I've been home for 24 hours, and it all feels a bit odd. I've done laundry and put it in the dryer (yay!) and I've caught up a bit on my television (don't laugh -- I watch the Apprentice) but there's still quite a bit of Marzipan rugelach in my kitchen... it's all a bit surreal.

For all of you who've followed my blog for the last two weeks, I appreciate all your emails and comments. I hope I've entertained and that you've enjoyed sharing my journey with me. There will be pictures to share, but I think that these words have given you the best of my story. Thanks for reading.

What a trip it's been!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

It just gets better and better...

So this trip has been, in some ways, a comedy of errors. I've had a great time. But let me tell you, please, about my last day in Jerusalem.

First of all, it rained. Did I say it rained? I meant poured. A lot of rain. Harbeh geshem. Harbeh.

I had goals. Pick up ring for group member (it hadn't been ready before), go to Pomerantz, buy rugelach for the trip home, eat felafel. Very modest goals, I feel.

Went out early.

First went to the ring store. Yep, not open yet. Okay, fine. I'm already soaking wet, it's okay.

Went to bookstore. Not open either. Guess I never realized how late stuff opens in Jerusalem. Maybe because I was usually in class in the mornings!

There is a ton of construction around the Mashbir at the top of Ben Yehuda. Couldn't figure out how to walk back through it, so I got a little lost on my way to the shuk....but figured it out.

Ended up at Marzipan, asked for ruglach. Very cute Israeli man told me that he would love to give me rugelach but he didn't have any yet, could I come back in an hour or two. !?!?!? it's still pouring. Fine. I walk through the shuk, buy some yummy fresh warm pita bread (improved my mood dramatically, who said food can't do it?), bought some botnim americayim (these are yummy peanuts coated in sugary stuff. frankly I have no idea what they are. But I really like them.) and some dates to take home. Lingered over the possibility of buying eggplant with mayonaise and hummus to go with the pita but couldn't figure out how to sit right down and eat it in the rain....anyway.

Then I walked back to Pomerantz booksellers, which is a great place to spend a ton of money. I picked out lots of books. Enough that it was worth it to get the V.A.T. (value added tax, some weird Israeli thing) back at the airport. Hooray!

By then I was wet. I mean soaked.

Went back, with books in hand, to get the ring. Hooray, it was ready! Then I couldn't find the slip. Then I found the slip. All better. With ring in hand, I went to meet friend with car. Car is good in rainy Jerusalem weather!!!!

Dropped off all the books at home and headed off for the final task: Felafel. We went to the Malcha mall, a place Michael and I regularly frequented. It was so much fun to go there and re-live our Jerusalem days....usually M and I went there for a movie, but no time today. On a mission: extra-good felafel! The charif (hot stuff) was really charif! But great, since it was so cold and yucky outside....the heat was extra-welcome.

Then I went home, just hung around, until Liz & Leah were ready for dinner (They had classes). We went to a great vegetarian restaurant in Yemin Moshe, right by the Windmill where Michael proposed to me....and it was very cool to be there on my anniversary (which today is!)

Then came home and Jill and I prepared for the sherut to the airport.....which came on time and all seemed great. We got to the airport and stood in line, and passed through the first security screening (where did you learn Hebrew? why were you in Israel? what is your Hebrew name? if you are a Conservative rabbi -- this was directed at Jill -- why aren't you wearing a skirt?-- this last one goes down in the annals of modern "rabbinic favorite things we've ever heard when told about one's rabbinic status".) and then....it all went down hill!!! stay tuned...

Friday, February 04, 2005

Hangin' out in J-lem

Without the group, I am completely on vacation, and I must say that Jerusalem is the place to be for that! I'm so happy to be able to just hang out and enjoy what was a special place for me (and Michael....I miss you!). Most of my time here for the last few days (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday -- which is today -- I am finally caught up with the blogging!) has been culinary -- I needed to eat in my favorite spots and eat with my favorite people -- and also mercenary -- I've spent time shopping and exploring all the places that were my favorite stores.

So here is my update on Jerusalem as I remember it (since I left in 1999):

The Village Green is still here and the food is still fabulous. Maybe I'll even go back one more time before I leave. I just love that place.

Sefer v'Sefel is still here. This is a great used-English-bookstore that Michael and I frequented. The books are still awesome and the store still has that wonderful policy of allowing you to return your books for a discount on your next purchase. Almost like a library. It kept us going during our Year in Israel. We probably still have books that we bought there. I know we do. Wacky.

Little Italy is still here -- an awesome Italian restaurant that is kitty-corner from my old apartment on Keren Heyesod. Speaking of my Old Apartment -- I've walked by it many times and the shutters are tightly closed. Either Shlomo got to the people who live there (he always wanted us to keep those darn things closed) or it's not rented out. The big for-rent sign in front of the building is a hint to me that it's not a lived-in apartment. I know that no HUC students are there. But that's okay. He was a difficult landlord! Speaking of others...I've walked by apartment buildings and stood for a moment recalling fond memories....Shabbat dinners, study sessions, poker games...it's all good.

Smushy Yogurt -- Yep, you can still get it and it's still great.

Felafel -- Mmm....good.

Shoes -- There are still Naots to be bought, and, happily, I now own a new pair.

Stores -- So many stores have closed or moved. I'm sure this is because of the various bombings and security issues as well as the decline in tourism. Lots of things are still around, but sometimes have moved. Examples: Kravitz, my favorite school supply store, is moved. And so is Big Apple Pizza. Demises: Yemenite Step is gone, and so is Pizza Sababa. Another sad one: I finally got to Jerusalem Pottery today (it's the pottery place in the Christian Quarter, the really good one that makes the tiles for the Old City Street Signs) and it seemed like their stock was sparse. When I asked about the coffee mugs (mine has a little chip, I wanted a new one), he said that they've closed the workshop and are just selling off their stock...because of the tourist decline, but that hopefully they'd start up again as things get better. For their sake and ours, may it be so.

Makolet life -- yep, still going to these cute little makolets (markets) to buy groceries!

Hotels -- they keep changing the names of the hotels on me! This is only a problem if you use them as landmarks, as I guess I did.

Road Construction -- there seems to be a ton of road construction going on. The corner of Keren HeYesod and Sokolov is a mess and much of Keren HaYesod is all torn up. That would have been annoying while we were here!

Security -- Jerusalem doesn't seem that much safer or less safe to me than when I was here last, but I do notice the guards at the entrance to all the restaurants and cafes. This is new, I'm told, mostly since the Sbarro Pizzeria bombing. Overall, it's been quite quiet while I've been here... (I really haven't been here in a while, though: the first time I was asked if I had a weapon, I just laughed at the security guard. Luckily for me, he realized that I am not a danger!)

Cell Phones -- Certainly a lot of Israelis had them when we lived here but not like now. EVERYONE has a phone, including me! All the HUC students are required to have them for security reasons and my friends here have taught me the joy of SMS, which is what they call text messaging in Israel. We have this capability at home, but I must not be cool enough at home to do it so often.

Internet Cafes -- another new thing for me -- especially in the dark and scary(ish) streets of the Old City. I was a little surprised to see Internet cafes next to merchants hawking shlocky Armenian pottery and stuffed camels and t-shirts.

I'm sure I've missed something that either I noticed or I didn't even remember. That's the amazing thing about time....it certainly passes and makes the memories foggier and foggier. That's why I guess we'll need to keep coming back and creating new memories here in Yerushalayim...

Also -- I had dinner with Mike and Sara Bram last night. He is here studying in Yeshiva and she was studying in a Professional Kosher Cooking Course and they're heading home on Sunday as well, but I'm glad to have caught them before they left to go back to Atlanta. Mike is an old friend, for those of you who don't know, and it was great to see them. Here's what they taught me:

Keeping Kosher in Israel can be hard! (I had really no idea about this. See, this is why we need to keep coming back, you can always learn something new in Israel) I never paid much attention to the various Kosher Certifications at restaurants, but there has been a bit of an uproar in the Jerusalem Rabbinate, the ones who do the Kosher Lemahedrin certification. I guess the head Mashgiach (Kosher certifier) was fired, and now all Kosher Lemahedrin (the bulk of restaurants, I guess) are "suspect." So we had to choose from a list that has been circulating in the haredi community. I had no idea it was so complex, but I was assured that most of this is just politics. Still, it seems like we're just making it more difficult for ourselves if you ask me. Anyway, we went to a dairy restaurant in the Sheraton Plaza hotel where the food was great, and it was good to see old friends.

A few things still on tap for me in the next two days:
Shabbat, of course, will be wonderful. I plan to go back to Kehillat Shira Chadasha for Kabbalat Shabbat and to HUC for Shabbat morning....and then I'm so excited to see Liz perform in the Vagina Monologues. I'll have to write a post to share that with you. I also want to go to Mahane Yehuda to buy pita and, of course, Marzipan rugelach to take home....and maybe another felafel for the road.

Am off to prepare for Shabbat....Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Our Last Day as the JUF Rabbinic Mission

So...we've been together a long time....today is our last day together. We started with another (yummy) breakfast briefing at the hotel. Today we met with a Lone Soldier and a Lone Student (these are young people who've made aliyah alone without their families. Some are in the Army and some are in University) -- this is a new program for these young people; the Jewish Agency helps them out and gives them a little bit more of the family feeling that young Israelis feel when they're in the army or in university (meals, extra phone cards to call home, laundry, appliances, etc.) We met with the had of the program and two young ladies who were very articulate about their lives and their choices to come to Israel without their families. We didn't really have a lot of time to ask them questions, but it certainly blows my mind to imagine coming here at 18 alone. I'm not so far removed from 18, as I'm often reminded, and I know that I would not have been ready to move half-way across the world from my family to go into the Israeli Army. I have a great deal of admiration for these young women who've made this choice.

After the briefing, we went on a short bus tour of Har Homa and Gilo, two "hilltop neighborhoods" that are right along the green line. We stood and looked into BetLechem and felt very safe even though these are areas where there have been snipers and other kinds of attacks. Our guide, Yoram, read the following piece, that we giggled at but I think really gives you a sense of how Israelis view their situation. Check it out here: The Freezer in Gilo

Then we went on to Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, for a "caucus" -- a chance to come together and "process" our journey together. I wish we had been able to do this more along the way, but it was great to hear everyone's thoughts and comments and to share what we each saw as the highlights of our journey.

Then we were on our own for lunch -- many of us chose felafel, after all, who can go to Israel without felafel!? Then we did some last minute shopping, took another quick trip to the Old City...everyone packed up...and then we were off for our last meal in Jerusalem. (The Last Supper, some termed it.)

Now, I must admit that we have been largely blessed with the weather on this trip. Except for the very cold and snowy day in Moscow, even here in Jerusalem, it's been almost perfect....until the last night. And of course, it seemed appropos for the group to be flying back in again bad weather after our journey from Moscow....but still. So it was pouring rain as we went to the Mount Zion hotel for dinner in their beautiful restaurant. It was, I believe, one of the only meals the whole trip without a speaker attached to it, but we had great music provided by a small Klezmer band, and we made our own toasts, etc, to say goodbye and thank you. (oh, and the food was good too -- how could I fail to mention that!)

Truly the journey was wonderful together. I felt so blessed to be a part of this great group of rabbis who could come together and create a sense of community. I know that what we are doing here together is God's work in its most incredible sense -- we are sharing ourselves in order to make our community at home stronger. I was so lucky to be a part of it, and for me, as a young rabbi in Chicago, it was a chance to make connections with my colleagues that I will treasure throughout my rabbinate.

The group left for the airport, leaving some of us (like me!) behind in Jerusalem for a few more days. I am so excited to spend the next few days (through Shabbat) with Liz and Leah in their apartment, with the joy of relaxing and enjoying Jerusalem on my own. I look forward to revisiting some of our old student-day haunts and revelling in the Jerusalem atmosphere. I'll keep you posted....

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Things are Winding Down for Our Group...

Ahh....to sleep in! Our breakfast hour this morning was 8:30am, which I believe is the best we've gotten (except Shabbat) the whole trip. We were scheduled to have a "breakfast briefing" again, but I must admit that I skipped out of this program in order to attend morning Tefillah at HUC next door to our hotel. I was excited to go to services at HUC because Elizabeth Wood and Leah Ingerham (the two students I mentioned before) were leading services, and I was so lucky to be there while the two of them were doing this. It was so strange to walk into the Murstein sanctuary at HUC -- it's been a long time and I certainly missed Michael -- but it was nice to be there also. The students use the draft editions of Mishkan Tefillah, and it was interesting to see how the prayerbook is used on a daily basis.

I must admit to tearing up a little as I watched Liz and Leah lead services. I think it was partly just being back in Jerusalem, but it was also a little bit of pride in their accomplishments -- to have known them "before" and now to see them leading services with great skill...it was a moment of personal pride for me as well. (Cheesy, I know. But hey, I'm from Wisconsin)

After services, I returned to our group in time to leave for our final JDC (Joint Distribution Committee) site visit. We went to a drop-in center called Tzomet (Crossroads) that is run by a fabulously motivated young woman named Caryn Green. This place was very interesting. I guess I would have never realized how many troubled (mostly American) youth are on the streets of Jerusalem. They are students who have left yeshivot or year-course programming, and this place provides a safe haven for them. Our whole group was impressed not only by the work that Tzomet does but also by Caryn, herself. Her passion for her work was unmistakable, and she brought out a lot of great questions (of course) and interesting discussion from our group.

After lunch we went to the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute for lunch and a facilitated discussion on the disengagement process. We heard from three different political figures: Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Yair Kahn, from Yeshivat Har Etzion and in favor of disengagement, and Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, from Yeshivat Hesder and against the disengagement policies. The whole thing was interesting but the group didn't sit on panel together. Instead, each rabbi spoke and answered questions. This was a little disconcerting and hard to digest because they each had such varied positions. Either way, disnegagement is a huge issue for Israeli politics. We'll have to wait and see what happens...

We had a free afternoon to hang out in Jerusalem (shopping, anyone?) and then went to the
Montefiore Restaurant in Yemin Moshe under the Windmill there....that Windmill is a special place for Michael and I...it is the spot where he proposed to me almost six years ago...overlooking the Old City...so it was neat to send him a text message from that spot to tell him where I was. (At dinner, we had a guest speaker discussing Israel's security issues with us. And...the food was great.)

Afterwards, a group of us decided to walk back to the hotel (I can't tell you how close we were and yet we still took the bus:-) and then a smaller group decided to go on to a Karaoke bar, to which we were led by our very cool security guard, Nir (then he left us, he couldn't handle the concept of hanging out with a group of rabbis, I think). It was quite fun, the six of us who went had a great time and did all sorts of silly karaoke songs! It was a lot of fun and a good way to begin to bring our journey together to a close....one more day for the group together in Jerusalem!!!