A Little Peace and Thanksgiving

Baruch Hashem, it’s been quiet here for the past week. We all had a few mixed feelings when the cease fire was announced last week, because we partially wanted Israel to just go in and finish the job they started, but thankful that we wouldn’t hear the wail of the siren in the coming days.

We were unhappy for several reasons. First of all, Hamas learned some lessons during this war that are not beneficial to Israel. Primarily, they learned that they can fire over 1500 rockets into Israel in an 8 day period and not get so much as a potch (smack) on the wrist. They also learned that Egypt (see below: the real winner of the “war”) and the United States will push for a cease fire and try to get Israel to not ‘invade’ by foot. (I put the word invade in parenthesis because can a country ‘invade’ a part of their own borders? Would the U.S. be ‘invading’ Puerto Rico? Arizona? Just something to think about.)

Egypt really won this war because the world recognized their leader (an open member of the Muslim Brotherhood) as a vital contribution to the “peace” process between Israelis and Palestinians. No surprise that less than a week later, he declared himself a dictator by saying that none of the courts can contradict any decision that he makes as leader.

As for the amount of quiet we’ve had, there’s still some unrest along the Gaza/Sinai border, and not all of the soldiers that were called up from the army have gone home. Most recently, there was some distress on the Gaza/Israel border (see above comment for why I sigh/roll my eyes while I write this) and Israeli soldiers were needed to calm down the situation. We haven’t had a siren in Jerusalem, and I don’t think there have been sirens in the south since the day after the cease fire either.

Even throughout the whole ordeal, we weren’t fearful. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t afraid, but we weren’t full of fear. A friend of mine, who I’ll tell you about in a second, almost found herself outside during the second siren, because she had to go to the butcher. Once the siren was over, she ran out, and while she was waiting for the butcher to ring up her food, she let out a sigh, almost as if she’d been holding her breath the whole way there, afraid there would be another siren. The butcher (a Chassidic man), told her it’s okay to be scared. He said, “You can be scared because it’s scary. But to be paralyzed in fear is not good. To not do things because of the fear is bad.” In other words, being paralyzed because of fear makes you think that you are in control. To be aware but unparalyzed is to see that you are most certainly not.

We’re coming to visit America next week for two weeks, and my mom asked me if we’d had a conversation about not going back because of the war. I told her no. She asked if we would be having that conversation — and I told her it wasn’t in our radar. That it was a conversation that would not happen.

There is a clarity that comes from being in a time of crisis. Over the past week, we were scared, but we still felt safe. We’d have to be idiots to not feel safe after seeing all of the miracles that happened all over Israel. To say that over 1500 rockets fell in and around highly populated cities all over a country that’s the size of New Jersey and only six people died is miraculous. A bus blew up in Tel Aviv and only injured some of the people on board. That rockets aimed at the holy city of Jerusalem landed in Arab territory; there’s no other way to understand it. The army might say it’s because of the Iron Dome, that they are strong, and able, but we know that it’s because there’s a greater “Iron Dome” out there, looking out for all of us. We have to hold on to this clarity.

These are all things to be thankful for. Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Israel (not even in Har Nof, which is made up of A LOT of Americans!), our group of friends from Philadelphia decided to get together for a Shabbaton and eat Thanksgiving-themed food. Everyone made a dish or two, and it was a lot of fun. Jonathan and I made the turkey and gravy, and others contributed stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and onions, butternut squash soup, and salad. For dessert, we had our choice of either lemon meringue pie, pecan pie, pumpkin bread pudding with a dulce de leche sauce, or chocolate chip cookies. To say that we were full at the end of Shabbos would be the biggest understatement of the year, probably.

Throughout the whole experience, all I could think about is how grateful I am that all of our best friends got the opportunity to come to Israel at the same time, and that we’re all quite literally in this together. Just to give you a little bit of background: In college, I met two girls who very quickly became my best friends. They are now here, in Israel, with us. One of those girls, Hannah, is married to a guy that I grew up with, from kindergarten through college. Obviously, he’s here too and he is one of Jonathan’s best friends. Another one of our very good friends from college is here also, along with one more couple. And we all went to college together. Now, we’re all in seminary together. Quite literally, Hashem gave us this incredible support system in college as we were becoming more observant together, and continued to give us this support system through getting married (for some of us, and for others, soon!), and now, going to Israel.

So when we want to go to the supermarket and have to take those four buses to do so (and to share a cab home!), there’s someone to do it with. When we want to go shopping for a skirt, or for gifts for family and friends, there’s someone there. Need to vent? Not a problem. Missed a class? Here’s the notes. And all coming together for a meal that we all had a part in was a beautiful materialization of that reality. And it was a lot of fun.

We missed our family and friends in America, but we’re lucky to have a kind of Philadelphia, mismatched, quirky, and fun family here. And a lot of things to be thankful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for.


Firmly Planted

When I was little, I thought Tu B’Shevat was the coolest holiday EVER. I had a book called “The Birthday of the Trees” and I would read it all the time — it was about a little girl who wanted to make a birthday party for the trees. She even baked a cake.

Today, I appreciate the holiday even more. Today was the day the world began.

I know that sounds really counter-intuitive. I know I shared my vision for a new year already; I know that there can’t be more than one new year per year. But in Judaism, there are three — Rosh Hashana, Tu B’Shevat, and Pesach.

Today is Tu B’Shevat. The fifteenth of Shevat, the new year for the fruit of the trees.

We can learn a lot from Trees; we are really very similar to them in many ways. And in the ways that we aren’t, we should really strive to be more alike.

Trees have their roots planted firmly in the ground. As saplings, they grow in two directions; as their roots stretch and twist and swell from nourishment deeper and deeper in the ground, trees grow branches and leaves. They defy gravity while sinking into it at the same exact time.

A cross-section of human bone looks just like a cross-section of a tree. It has rings on the inside, rings to help nutrients penetrate to the core – to sink inside something that looks and feels so solid.

People too, defy gravity from the moment they are born, but still can’t overcome it. Our feet must be firmly planted at all times or we will lose our footing; even jumping from a high enough plateau; it will always bring us back to earth.

We are conditioned to reach for the skies, to ponder their depths and to look for answers. To use our limbs to reach out and up and grow — to stand on our tipy-toes to see what the world looks like from a slightly higher altitude.

On Tu B’Shevat, today, we can learn from trees. We can reach and reach and reach, higher and higher until we might topple over from standing so high. We can enjoy the fruits of our labors and the fruits that just appear because the rains fall just enough to give us G-d’s candy. We can harvest and reap and sow until our backs hurt and then just stand in the plowed fields stretching and reaching toward heaven.

Today is the birthday of the fruit of the trees. The start of the world and the beginning of a lesson that has been going on for centuries. A lesson about balancing earth and heaven, our heads and our hearts; how to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground and still reach up, searching for more.


Undeniable Proof that I Cannot be Funny on Purpose

I am a failure. At comedy.

Seriously, if I was a sitcom, no one would watch. Something about me just makes me un-funny. I try so hard. I know that you’re not supposed to try to be funny. But I do. Which makes it even sadder when I try to channel my inner David Sedaris.

I don’t know what it is about me. But here are some examples of my experiences that have taught me just how un-funny I am.

At a staff meeting:
At our staff meetings, which occur every Wednesday, I am usually one of the first to sit in my seat (which are not assigned, but we keep going back to the same ones every week). Someone will come and sit next to me, and then the next person, etc., etc., until we are all in our places. Before the meeting is called to order, someone will make small talk. I will react with a facetious clause that I know is HILARIOUS. And everyone will ignore me. Until the person sitting next to me says the exact same thing that I just said. The one that no one laughed at. And everyone will double over, guffawing with joy.

With my girlfriends:
I think that one of my biggest challenges is that my sense of humor tends to be depreaciative, so we’ll all be joking around over ice cream and coffee, laughing until our stomachs hurt with humor. Until one of us goes too far. And it’s usually me.

In the street:
I may be funny in the street. But it is not on purpose. Definitely not on purpose.  

Witty banter:
I really wish this was one of my strong suits. I love the english language so much that I wish I was able to cant and recant every statement with something full of hilarity. Give me a glass or two of wine, and I will be sure to knock your socks off with my intelligent remarks. And make you laugh with every syllable that slips…oh wait, what’s that?

You laughing. And it’s not with me.

The Heart of the Matter

I have started to write two substantial blog entries and deleted them both. On purpose. Everything I try to write is coming out wrong today.

I spent a long time last night working on my manuscript – taking out entire lines of poetry, throwing entire poems into the trash. I have some more to add; things that were written after I compiled everything — but the truth is I’m not sure there’s a market for poetry anymore. I’m not sure that people want to learn or read or do poetry the way that they did before.

All the greats are gone – Vonnegut was the last of them, and the last to go. I’d like to picture him at a great table, somewhere with Hemingway, and Orwell, and Shakespeare, and Hunter S. Thomas, drinking mead and wine and doing shots of tequila, laughing at the nuances and language of today. Shakespeare, who penned so many of the words  we use today, created them just from their sounds — hearing people say things like, “LOL” and “GTG” – can you imagine? He’s probably thrilled he’s not here to see it – but laughing uncontrollably nonetheless. Waiting to see who will come up with the “next great idea.”

Many people describe my generation as the “Lost” generation, but the truth is that we should probably be called the “invented” generation. Children of baby-boomers who care about nothing more than money and cars – driving fast, dying young, devaluing the dollar, the law, and life itself.

A reality I live every day at the job I do is about the insane amount of young people who take their lives as a result of the constant tormenting they face every single day at school, on the computer, and at home from their parents. NJ Governor Chris Christie just signed a bill to enforce support groups for young people contemplating suicide, and all I can think about are the kids that were killed because they were hated. The kids that didn’t want to die – and the kids that kill themselves anyway.

I know that there’s so much to blame, but I think a lot of it has to do with the amount of generous stimuli surroudning us 24 hours/day and a lot of it has to do with the lack of imagination young people have today. There’s no need to want anything. Kids don’t need to play with refridgerator boxes anymore — there’s an app for that. Don’t have to build using wood blocks because they can build houses and roofs and community centers on the computer. They can create false realities and identities and actualize them using the computer.

And I can’t even think of characters to put into a damn novel.

I don’t know if I have it in me to write fiction. So much happens in the world surrounding us on a daily basis, and while I love to jump into a novel and escape from the world – I don’t know if I can create my own. I was always told to “write what I know” – but if I’m not sure if I even know anything…where does that leave me? A blank sheet of paper?

Scratching Ink-Notes

Something happened on Friday. Something that jolted me out of a type of slumber I’ve been zombie-ing in, something that made me want to reach for a pen and to just purge my thoughts from my mind.

Something happened.

I started stringing words together in my head again — I started plucking them out of the depths of my mind — words about words, and about dictionaries and thesauruses and words that made me giggle just because of the way that they sound.

The truth is, I’m going to be leaving my job soon — at the end of February, to either take a break from work to focus on class (if I get into UPenn) or to get ready to go to Israel. And I think I’m going to try to substitute teach for those few months in-between, but I think that more than that, I’m taking off to write. I’m going to write like I used to – force myself to do exercises and just make the words flow.

I just read The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, and while I’m a little bit uncomfortable when authors write autobiographical works about people who cannot speak for themselves, McLain’s novel was well-researched and beautifully written, and it made me want to write. And any book that makes me want to write is worth reading over and over again.

Writing, for me, used to be a kind of addiction. I used to carry a notebook and pen everywhere and even if I never wrote in it, I always felt better knowing it was there if I needed it. Because lines of prose and poetry are fleeting — they soar into my brain one second and if I don’t jot them down (like I didn’t on Friday), they disappear and only reappear later, and only sometimes. Existing apart from writing is painful, and I’m not sure if I like what it makes me.

So I pulled out my manuscript. I needed to remember the poetry and I still can’t believe that it’s mine. Reading one poem took me back to the firehouse where I read it to an entire room of people and only saw Jonathan. Took me back to laughing and choking on crackers in my favorite teacher’s classroom as he tore apart my work.

It’s so interesting to read about who I used to be. The me that’s still inside, somewhere; the poems about my best friend as our frienship fell apart; the love I had with Jonathan. I thought it was so desperate. I thought I needed him so badly. Now – the type of love we share is so much more…real. It’s more mature and developed and old and comfortable. And so much more desperate. Like if he wasn’t anymore I would cease to exist. There is no me without him anymore and just the thought of that makes my stomach flip upside down and turn in circles in a delirious delicious flood of emotion. I never knew that kind of desperation could be good. I thought that it would mean I was weak. Unsubstantial. But since Jonathan is the one that makes me real, it only makes sense.

And it makes me want to write again.

Rose among the Thorns

I FINALLY got to talk to my sister this morning. Becca left for Israel last Sunday, and she’s going for the trip of a lifetime.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but I’m a little bit of an anal-retentive person, and have trouble writing when I can’t think of the perfect first line. Big surprise, right? I have writer’s block.

But I owe this post to Becca. I think that the problem is, I want this blog to be about me. I don’t mean that I wanted it to be about me in that I want all the attention that surrounds it, but more because I want to very clearly respect the rule that “once something is put on the internet, it can never be taken down.” And that’s a big rule to remember!

The truth is, Becca really needs this year. And I think that, just having been gone for close to four days, she’s starting to realize how much she needs this year.

To say that the past few have been difficult for her would be an understatement, but that’s her story, not mine, and I’m not going to share it here.

Before she left, I had our family go around and play the “love game” about her; where we each said one thing we love about Becca and one thing that we’re going to miss about her while she’s gone. After some tears and some laughter, we realized even more than we thought, just how much we’re going to miss her.

Rivka, the matriarch that Becca gets her Hebrew name from, is referred to as the rose among the thorns. Isaac chose to marry her because she cared for animals before she cared for humans, and his servant adorned her with nose-jewelry (yes, the biblical Rebecca had a nose-ring!) so that Isaac would know who she was. They teach that your name plays a large part in determining what kind of person you will be; I think that my sister would make her namesake proud.

She’s in the most incredible place in the entire world, Israel, where the land itself contains a mystique that no other place can capture. It’s the center of the world, both literally and figuratively, and now more than ever, the entire world’s eyes rest on Israel.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been to Israel four times, and each time I came back a little bit changed. I remember standing at the Kotel for the first time and thinking that it was smaller than I’d expected, and then going back most recently and crying into its crevices, awed by it’s sheer magnitude. I remember staring at the cotton-candy-colored Negev sky and realizing that there had to have been something out there that inserted order and brilliance into the crazy world that we live in.

It’s very appropriate that Becca left for Israel during the Hebrew month of Elul. Every month has a pasuk, or a line of Hebrew, that goes along with it, kind of like a slogan, using the month’s name as an acronym. The pasuk for Elul is, “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” which is traslated to, “I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me,” a line that is usually used to refer to the relationship between a husband and wife. During the month of Elul, it’s representative of the potential of a relationship between humankind and G-d. This relationship has even more potential in the land of Israel.

Keeping all of that in mind, this year is going to be so much FUN for my sister. Think about it, who wouldn’t want to get away from it all for a while and just seize every opportunity! There’s nothing mundane or methodical about the year she’s going to have, no daily routine. And that’s something I would LOVE to get rid of!

So, Becca, before I continue I want to let you know (again) how much I love you and how proud of you I am. I also would like to gently urge you to start a travel blog to keep me, Jonathan, mom, dad, and all of your friends updated on the fabulous things you are doing.

I just thought I’d end with a list of things I wish I knew when I was my sister’s age, starting a new chapter in my life.

1.) It’s okay to be different, and to reinvent yourself often. Life’s boring if you never change.
2.) Just like you, the world will change around you. It’s okay, and not something to be scared of.
3.) Make new friends, but don’t forget your roots. The people you grew up with often play a large role in who you are today and who you will be tomorrow.
4.) Go off the beaten path. It’s okay to get in a little bit of trouble. (I don’t think my sister has trouble with this one at all!)
5.) There is such a thing as responsible trouble. Only take a large risk if you know you won’t get caught!
6.) Drink lots and lots of water.
7.) Wear sunscreen!
8.) Tell the people you love that you love them. Often.
9.) Spend more money on experiences than on objects. Memories last longer than any bracelet, t-shirt, or bumper sticker will.
10.) Don’t forget to look around – G-d created this world just for us to enjoy the things in it. Don’t miss what’s right in front of you.



Name Your Babies

GAH! I hate when I have NO IDEA how to capture the thoughts in my head and/or how to put them down on paper…er…computer.

I remember, during my freshman year, spring semester, emailing my favorite teacher from high school and telling him that I had MAJOR writer’s block and had no idea how to make it stop.

He told me there was no cure. Except to keep writing. And to not care if what you were writing was incoherent, or bad, or gibberish. But to keep writing because that’s the only thing that creates better writing.

So now I’m here – writing – trying to type without pause – so that I can just practice. Because just like with everything else, Shawn (my teacher) was right. I was taking a poetry class at the time, and absolutely hated everything I came up with. I thought it was all trash.

And then, somehow, towards the end of the semester, I got inspired to write what I still think is the best piece of poetry I’ve ever written. And it made every other line of terrible poetry I’d written up until that moment worth it.

I used to breathe poetry. I used to sit in class; scrawl furiously on lines of paper — feel like the veins in my body were filled with words and verbs and word-verb hybrids that rode ontop of adjectives and just flew — flew out of the blue vein in my wrist through my hands into the pen and finally onto college-rule. I used to pass back-and-forth lines of prose with my best friend scribbled on with red ink the comments and criticisms. She never used punctuation and I hated that.

I love words – I’m fascinated by them. I’m fascinated by the way that the human mind works that when I say “apple” what you picture is red, even though apples aren’t always red – they can be green, and yellow, and pink–

I learned that in a country that has no word for red, it doesn’t mean that they can’t see it. There’s one community in South Africa that only has words for the colors black, white, and red. But that doesn’t mean they don’t see blue. They’d say something like “black like the summer sky” and everyone would know exactly what they were talking about.

We’re taught that all that G-d had to do to create something was to say it’s name. For example, the concept of light didn’t exist until G-d created light in saying “Let there be light.” There was no physical labor that went into the creation of this light, other than the utterance of the words.

But isn’t that what we do, every day? When we say something is good, we make it better? When we say the word love, acknowledge that it exists – it’s existence becomes that much more important? When we write down our thoughts, doesn’t that make them much more real?

I love words. I love learning about them, saying them (ha ha – you can all laugh, especially you, mom!), molding them until they fit the sentences I carefully construct with the help of the Power that created all of these words in the first place.