Monday, August 29, 2011

A nice day for a protest...

Really, is there EVER a nice day for a protest?  Ironically or not, it was atypically cloudy in Beit Shemesh today so perhaps that was our first clue.  I have had blog entries swirling in my head for about a week, but nothing crystallized or brought me to that "I MUST tell the world" place.  Today's events have. 

The very short version of the story is this.  Orot Banot (an elementary girls school) is slated to move into a new building this week.  Plans for the girls to move into the building adjacent to the boys' school up our block have been contractually agreed upon, given mayoral blessing, and received oodles of supporter money.  The Chareidi community near by (Chareidim are what many people refer to as the "ultra Orthodox") has been accepting of this endeavor which is a great step forward in the struggle for Jewish unity, at least 'round here.  There are however, a group of Chareidim who have decided to protest the opening of the school by vandalizing it and surrounding property.   After the school was broken into this week, the mayor told school reps that he is rescinding his approval for the girls to attend the school because he cannot guarantee their safety. explains it like this:

The girls at the national religious “Orot” school had been due to start the new school year at the site, but were relocated due to the protest. Last week, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul sent a letter to the parents’ association, warning that he had received serious threats from ultra-Orthodox residents of the city, who vowed to cause physical harm to both to the mayor and the students should the school open as planned. Abutbul told the parents that in light of the threats, he could not guarantee the safety of the girls, and had decided not to open the school for the start of the academic year.”

I was at the first of the protests this morning.  I’m an emotional gal by nature, but it takes a lot to make my stomach LITERALLY turn.  Standing in the courtyard of the school though, I took in the image of men in long black coats with banana-curled payot (side burns) exit the school with their tallitot (prayer shawls) covering their faces and later, engaging in prayer in a football huddle.  I watched as they told one woman that she is like a “dead body” and “piece of trash.”  I watched as they debated what hatred really means with a gentleman from “the other side” who, G-D bless him, tried so beautifully to engage meaningful discourse.  I watched angry Dati-Leumi (religious-nationalist) Jews yell in disgust.  One woman, a physician, yelled “We take care of your wives and your children and you try to take away our school?”  Other people said that they simply couldn’t understand how these men could ask for tzedaka (charity) at one moment and then pull a stunt like this.  One person said ‘if you don’t like it, go to Gaza,’ while another said, “Go join the army!”

There aren’t enough words to describe how nuts this is.  There are not enough ways to describe how wrong this is, how divisive, how foolish, how logic-defying.  There was dancing, singing, flag waving, and an amazing display of Jewish and Zionistic pride by Dati-Leumi children and teens who let the Chareidi protesters know that they were both appalled and ready to explain the importance of this school and the Torah education our daughters all deserve.  But there were also guards, policemen, the media, border and riot patrol with machine guns, hand guns, and riot gear.  My family saw stink bombs thrown and balloons filled with sewer water tossed at the protesters. I was present for a war of words that started with a shove and a push.  At one point a wall of women formed after a Chareidi man pushed one of them, and the police told the Chareidim to leave for their own safety when fists, not so surprisingly, flew.

All of these details almost don’t matter though.  That anyone would want little girls out of a school because of the potential for salacious behavior or sexual allure is criminal.  That anyone would publicly state that 6-12 year old girls have the potential to sexually sway ANYBODY is sick, perverse, and pedophilia, plain and simple.  That a political official who was hired (or paid) to equally and loyally represent his ENTIRE constituency would out and out lie is, well, crazy!  The whole situation is insane, reinforces a divide between us and them, creates horrific animosity, makes coexistence painful, and hurts not only us and our children, but I’m guessing, G-D too.

And here’s what really kills me.  We are ALL Jews.  We were ALL at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai) when G-D gave ALL of us the ONLY version of His Torah.  Riot gear against other Jews?  Jews calling each other Nazis and coming to blows over women’s education? Why would anyone want to deny these girls, or torture them in the process, when they are our future mothers, wives, teachers, and respected, contributing members of the entire world?  We’ve had enough dealings with people who want to kill us.  Heck, we have that going on now as rockets blast through the skies from Gaza to Be’er Sheva and runaway cars attempt to plow teens in Tel Aviv.  Do we need to turn on ourselves?  Do we need to virulently try to kill the spark of Judaism that I squarely believe cannot go out?  How do we get this to stop so that we unify for the good and not because some of our own have clear done lost their minds?  

We don’t have to love each other and sing Kumbaya, but we do have to respect the space we each take up on this earth, and here, in this G-D given country that embodies what Judaism REALLY is.  I don’t have to understand why someone wears layers of black in the dead of summer in the desert just as no one has to understand why I like to wear funky mitpachot (head scarves) and sport the world’s ugliest ankle brace. Perhaps I’m naïve; no, I know I’m naïve.  But I also know that I am now left with the task of carefully discussing this with my kids who have already formed opinions on the matter.  I must remind them that not everyone of ANY group is all bad, and that the men in the black hats and coats are not “always” this or that.  I must now re-explain that some of the stuff done by “our side” was wrong, too.  There are no guidebooks for dealing with stuff like this, though.  I’d grab the first copy of “How to cope when your own are out to get you” or, “How not to hate people who sound like you but are nothing like you at all” if I could.

I’ve turned and twisted and mulled this over all day and am left with a heart wrenching inner struggle.  It sickens me, devastates me, and makes me wonder why we use some of our best skills- negotiating, advocacy, and passion, to destroy who we are.  It simply makes no sense and if it doesn’t end, we will.

Post script:  News reports now state that the school will open this week as originally planned. While this is surely a success we still have so much to do.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wherever I go, there I am...

I have had moments, hours, even days, where homesickness has bitten me fiercely.  Today for example, I dried my hands in a public bathroom under a hot air dryer, read the company address under the manufacturer’s logo, and started to cry- it was made in Bartlett, IL.  I’ll be the first to admit that that's ridiculous for a variety of reasons. Let’s see, there are probably 15 Jews in all of Bartlett, I have no connections to Bartlett, and I've never BEEN to Bartlett!  But seeing a zip code that started with ‘60’ and an area code of 708 made me mushy.  I’m guessing the moral of the story then is that I should’ve used paper to dry my hands.  Sigh...

Things are moving along though and some are starting to feel OK.  Milk in a bag is just fine, as are 10 shekel coins vs. 10 dollar bills, the occasional iguana that graces my path, liter and a half bottles of soda, mailmen in shorts, T-shirts, keepah and tzitzit (the four cornered garment with strings worn by men), and kosher Doritos.  Hiking to the grocery store, the lack of closets, the inability to understand the writing on my shampoo bottle (I can only assume it says something like ‘hair will grow in thicker, fuller, and just like it was when you were 20’), and Splenda that can be purchased for the low, low sum of half a leg, are things I’m certainly less enamored with.

I try hard to be realistic though I know I can do my fair share of idolizing when I need and want to.  Honestly though, Israel, the hum-drum, everyday, go-about-your-business Israel, is a place, to a degree, like every other place. People here buy food, clothing, go to appointments, spend money on non-necessities, like their neighbors but dislike that one guy down the block- just like they do everywhere.  So while this is the holiest place on the planet, G-D is not literally standing in aisle 5 of your favorite grocery store ready to wait on you.  What I do feel though is a connection to physical land that I don’t think I’ve felt before.  It’s weird, but I know its there. 

But while there are things that are indeed new BECAUSE of Israel, some would’ve happened here, there, or anywhere. Take my children, for example, all Henny Youngman jokes aside.  I have been blessed with four bright, feisty, independent, stubborn, creative, thinking children.  Two are teens, one’s an almost-teen, one’s got a few years until he’s a teen, and I’m applying for sainthood now.  I love my children with my heart and soul, and every cell of my being, even when it feels like I have nothing left to give, or on bad days, like they've taken all I have.  Their job is to push boundaries and envelopes and my sanity to the brink and on certain karmic days, I get to do the same to them.  Still, I don’t envy them for having to recreate themselves at this stage of their lives because I realize that adolescence mixed with Aliyah can be ever so slightly mind-blowing.   Its daunting to witness, let alone go through I’m sure.

The days that feel like good ones, where things are steadily progressing, where I’m not completely overwhelmed by school forms, and where I feel at peace with who I am, give me the courage to wake up the next day.  Days that are less-than, make me sad, make me wonder why things don’t seem easier, or feel right.  Those are the days I now realize that not only have to give me the courage to wake up, but throw myself on the floor and say, “Get up dang it!  Life’s not gonna wait for you!”  The days I let other people’s bad behavior get to me, like the man who reached across my face to get a pen in a store that was 5 inches wide at its maximum, are the days I have to remember that people are, as corny as it sounds, people.  There are wonderful people in Chicago as well as Israel (I’ll give Mr. Pen-grabber credit for at least wearing deodorant when his armpit came dangerously close).  There are rude people in Israel as well as New York.  There are religious people, people who aren’t religious but dress the part, and people who couldn’t care less about religion, everywhere.  People in most places would do anything to protect their kids, are often in a rush to get somewhere, and hate traffic.  People are who they are no matter where they are and that, quite frankly, also includes me.  At the end of the day, or any part of the day for that matter, it really isn’t about bags of milk or the lack of closet space.  It’s about how I handle where I am and what I’m doing.  Only I can decide when the honeymoon’s over, where reality and imagination converge.  And for now, I’ve decided that I’m not so sure I want to separate them or at the least, determine they have to be separate at all.

I realize, now that I’m old enough to say I’ve been around the block, that I’ve learned a couple of things about myself.  New York is where I grew up and will always have a special place in my heart.  I accepted being in Chicago like a cat to water, but eventually, it grew on me and is really where I grew as a person and human being. Israel, this land of mountains that continue to take my breath away, is the keeper of my roots.  If you think about those plant projects we all did in elementary school, where you planted a lima bean or whatever was in your parents’ kitchen, you may recall a soggy, soil-filled, messy mush.  The bean smelled funny, it looked weird, cracked in half and seemed downright icky before it became what our teacher insisted it would.  And then it happened.  Our weird looking bean sprouted… and grew.  Like Mr. Pen-grabber, I will continue to take the path less-smelly.  But much like that lima bean, I’m sure I look a little funny to the natives, and I know that sometimes I feel torn apart, not terribly whole, and like a soggy mush.  But G-D promised us this Land and It’s where I belong.  This time I’m planting myself so that I can be more than that bean and let the roots take hold.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Honeymoon's Over...

I'm tired of bourekas for breakfast, I don't understand the all-in-Hebrew e-mail I received from school, I miss my weekly People magazine fix, it freaks me out when cheese labels say "28% fat," and even iced coffee gets old.  I don't have a set of wheels and probably won't for the foreseeable future, have to rack my brains to get a full thought out in Hebrew nearly every time I open my mouth, stare intently when people speak so I can understand what they're saying, don't have a cell phone that consistently works (I'll take credit for dropping mine to its death, but the screen suddenly dying on my Droid is a sick trick Verizon saved just for arrival), and wanna know why the heck skim milk is non existent in this country!! Its my dang pity party and I'll cry if I want to... and I have.  A lot.

I love Israel.  I love what it means, what it stands for, that actual ancient ruins and holy sites are just 4 short bus rides away.  I feel like I belong, and that's not to say that I didn't in the States.  The difference is I don't just feel like I belong- I know I do.  And I also knew going into this full steam ahead, as I do with most things in life, that it was going to be hard.  All that talk about leaving everyone and everything? I get it now.  At this very moment as I digest my gazillionth boureka, stare out into a field that is yelping for water, and watch the dog sleep in the sunlight, I really get it.

I spent all of last year living in two worlds.  I always knew what time it was in Israel because our daughter spent the year here. My confusion is magnified now, in a reverse parallel universe kind of way,  because I'm working American hours. Add to that the fact that sometimes I really don't know where I am! I keep using the wrong words to describe America and Israel; America was always 'here,' Israel always 'there.'  But I'm not 3rd generation American HERE, nor am I going to live OVER THERE.  I am here, I'm from there and now I need more iced coffee!

I find myself struggling immensely with the world in which I now live, or more aptly, how my world view is shaping me and how I'm choosing to shape it.  I never believed myself to be a terribly materialistic person, and I still don't know if missing my purple carpet and view of the yard makes me a hypocrite.  There are things I can live without, no question, but at this very moment, I miss them.  I used to be part of a world where I was different because my hair was covered, because I took off on a bunch of holidays few were familiar with, and because I said it like it was.  That last part really put a damper on the whole ladylike thing;  much like Popeye, I am who I am.  Here though, I'm one of seemingly a million head scarf wearers who say it like it is and that's kinda' cool.  I don't have to get ideas about how to wrap my mitpachat (head scarf) from a You tube video any more- I can get them from the lady on the bus or the cashier at the grocery store.  I don't have to worry (as much) about kosher food availability or where I can purchase religious items either- they sell kippot (yamulkas) in the grocery store for crying out loud! 

But I also lived in a world where people view each other within the scope of color, race, and religion, both as a statement of what simply is as well as judgmentally.  Black, White, Latina, Asian, Jewish, non-Jewish, and the list goes on and on and on.  Israel is sadly not above that, but by and large, everyone here, no matter the color of their skin, country of origin, or length of their skirt or payot (side burns/ curls) is Jewish.  What I'm not used to in the full throttle way I'm experiencing it now, is the amazingly, painfully, and really sad ways the lines between Jews are drawn.  There are disparaging feelings shared between the Modern Orthodox, 'regular' Orthodox, and Chareidim (what many describe as the Ultra Orthodox or Chasidic); its a pathetic mutual non-admiration society.  Why on heavens we're debating amongst ourselves who "does" Torah or Judaism right-er, better, or more WITHIN the Orthodox camp boggles my mind.  That just means that there's more to get used to and in time, address.

I haven't had too many breakdown's since the Aliyah ball got rolling.  I've cried, L-rd knows I've cried, but actually feeling like I'm going to fall on my face from homesickness has only happened a few times.  I understand that my life is no longer about when I move- it's about where to get milk in a bag.  It's no longer about how good my Hebrew is or isn't, but how much I'm going to push myself to communicate and understand my environment.  And its not about saying goodbye anymore, but embracing every darned new thing in my path.  To quote a neighbor and others who've said this, "If [Aliyah] was easy, everybody would do it!" Well, it ain't easy by any stretch of the imagination.  

I'm trying to accept that the kinds of things I miss most are knowing where the post office is, how to get aluminum pans at a good price, and fully understanding the words I overhear in any given public place.  The honeymoon, wonderful albeit brief, is really over but I'm not leaving the marriage.  And as with my husband, who, on occasion makes me ponder how far he'd fly if I threw him out a window, I will weather the storm of marital discord with Israel.  There is no question that this is my homeland and that of my people.  But I'm not quite at the point where my physical abode feels like home and that's one of the things driving me batty. Being patient when you are naturally impatient makes for even more fun on this joyride.  My seatbelt's on tight though and the ride continues...