Between

“Through a historical catastrophe – the destruction of Jerusalem by the emperor of Rome – I was born in one of the cities of the diaspora. But I always deemed myself a child of Jerusalem, one who is in reality a native Jerusalem.”  Shai Agnon, upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1966


 

Some things will never change. Like how I feel instantly and deeply at home in the crisp fall weather of coastal New England, where the painted leaves line the sky and the smells of wood burning and salt water bring a deep calm to my soul. Like how when I read a street sign here, no matter how many years I’ve read Hebrew, my eyes will always fall upon the English instinctually, following the path of least resistance.

We’ve chosen otherwise. Living a life full of difficulties we never would have faced if we had continued the lives we were born into in America. We have good reasons, which I’ve written about before. It often feels easier to speak of our ideals and hopes rather than our struggles yet when I push myself to write, this topic is always resting just below the surface. Sometimes, more often than I like to admit, our ideological values don’t feel strong enough to withstand the weight of my yearning to feel at home, among the familiar.

I wonder how long it will take my children to notice the longing in me, a result of the two personalities I’ve cultivated. The American Jenna is developed, strong, independent, educated and passionate about big issues. Confident enough to speak about them freely and devote her life to them. The Israeli Jenna, on the other hand, is newly born, shy, reserved, embarrassed to speak a restaurant order in the native language let alone share her views on an important topic. How is it that in my foreign home, my historically accidental home of America, I feel more like me? And yet in my ancestral homeland, where a much deeper part of me has ached to return for generations, I feel foreign and meek, hoping to go unnoticed by shuk vendors and street walkers. It feels like I must be missing some part of the story. I wonder when and if this will ever change.

It hasn’t been long that my family has called America home. A grandchild of immigrants myself, I am part of the first generation that grew up feeling fully American without the weight of my parents or grandparents’ past lives in far away places haunting me daily. Rather, it was a truth I could easily place aside and access when conjured. It is almost poetic that I would complete the cycle, uprooting and returning to the land we came from so many years ago. Almost.

The fact that lingers with me on the days my longing to be near my family wells up and almost overflows is this: Now that I have been opened to this land and my ancestry, to our place in the bigger story, if I were to go back, I would long for Israel and the effortless holiness that lives in her stones. I cannot imagine raising children who don’t start off with Israel feeling like home, like their deeply familiar place no matter where they choose to travel. For now, it seems, I will remain stuck in between worlds. The transitional generation. It is fitting, I think now, that I was born on the water and instilled with a love for the desert, always intended to be missing something fundamental.

My Biggest Fear

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I’m just going to say it. I am terrified of speaking Hebrew. Actually, more accurately, I am terrified of sounding dumb, uneducated, foreign, unconfident, shaky, unsure, un-me. For me, this is scarier than the sound of rockets that wake me in the night and the constant threat of war we live with. I’m not exactly sure what it is that paralyzes me when a nice old man tries to make conversation with me in the waiting room or a construction worker/shop owner/secretary comments on how I should be doing something different with Maor (Dress him warmer! He’s boiling in there! He needs more air! Less sun!) or asks me how I like the carrier I’m using/can I believe how hot is is?/does the amber teething necklace actually work? I actually feel frozen, stuck, forgetting all language and social capabilities that I have in those moments (I promise, I actually do have some. Somewhere.) I’ve never spoken to our downstairs neighbors and I’m sure they think I am the most unfriendly tenant whenever I smile and avoid eye contact as we pass by each other on our shared walkway. When an old woman chastises me for making too much noise with my shuk cart early in the morning by simply wheeling it down the street (true story), the comebacks and retorts well up inside me and the poisonous outrage is stuck inside, lacking the necessary vessels to transport them out my mouth and into the world.

The ironic thing is that I am starving for more human interaction (outside of my amazing, english speaking community). In general, it is what feeds me and makes me who I am. In my past life, as I like to call my life up until moving here, I thrived in communication. I had intended to make my career around speaking with and connecting to people, studying the various nuanced ways to do just that. Here, I feel victorious when I successfully make an appointment or buy my groceries with the most minimal amount of questioning.

I even feel embarrassed just writing these feelings into existence (which is why it felt crucial do so), as if it makes them more real or permanent, as if it changes my situation in the least.

Please – resist the urge to give me advice. I’ve heard it all and actually have come up with all the obvious answers on my own. I actually can’t believe when a well meaning person suggests, as if it is a novel concept to me, that I just need to speak in order to feel more comfortable. That once I can speak Hebrew more confidently, I will feel more at home in all areas of my life. And therein lies the problem. This knowledge, the pressure of knowing exactly what I need to do and feeling unable to do it is building in me at every single possible moment of speaking and each time I shy away, give a one word answer, smile and nod, I feel as though I’m getting farther and farther away from ever being able to successfully speak and therefore exist here. As if I can reach a point of no return where I’ve passed up on enough chances and the doors will close. My language privileges will be revoked and I will be doomed to be silenced for the rest of eternity. Sounds a little crazy, I know. But really, if you see me on the street speaking (or not, as it may be) to someone in Hebrew, it’s all happening. The snowball effect of my self-doubt.

And what is the best-case scenario, really? That I get over my ridiculous fear and speak more freely, become relatively fluent but always with an accent, with a clear sign to all around me that I am a foreigner in my homeland (more on that soon). I am different. I will never be from here, understand all the subtleties of language and interaction, comedic timing, puns, and the like. My kids will forever be embarrassed by my attempts. It is a blow to the ego, let me tell you!

I think this is really what it comes down to. Accepting this ideal fate as different than how I’d pictured myself but ideal nonetheless. I don’t need to elaborate now on how strongly I feel about making aliyah (moving to Israel) and our part in history by doing so. And when I think about previous generations and how hard they had it, or people who are actually fleeing their birth places and cannot return, I think, “Toughen up, Jenna. You’ve got it easy! You’ll be fine.” But it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is where I am, at this moment in time (and hopefully not too many future moments) and it is real and hard and some days I’m motivated and make progress but sometimes I feel hopeless and homesick and bitter that I need to work so hard. But I do, and I will. And someday I hope, in my old age, I will meet a new, unsteady immigrant, wondering what they’ve just done and why the littlest things in life seem impossible when all the big things finally make sense and I will smile and reassure them, as I, and all those who have done this before me, are reassuring me now. Baby steps.

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Holding Scattered Moments

I remember snapshots now, fragments of moments that hold together pieces of the last few months in my mind. Seems more fitting this way. It is impossible to hold it all at once and foolish to even attempt. Who am I to give voice to all of this?  Who am I to give up trying?

These snapshots flood me now that I can reflect, exhale, look forward.

Holding our breath while reading the news – the terrible news that keeps on coming. Our boys. Three boys. One family hanging between suspense and hope.

Eyes locking when an air-raid siren goes off – seeing our thoughts reflected in each other’s eyes.

Holding – as we run to a shelter, as we go get groceries. Every moment feels heightened, crucial and mundane simultaneously.

My dentist’s hands shaking in my mouth as he tells me of his son fighting this war. Waiting for no news at all. No news is good news, he reassures us both.

The wind knocked out – after getting the call, tzav 8, report for war. Holding each other, without the need for words.

Waking the baby to say goodbye, seeing the shadows, cast by the streetlight, of the sweetest embrace.

The breath of relief upon a quick return, soon followed by the guilt of our own fortune.

My baby son’s cries at a soldier’s funeral attended by thousands of strangers, family members we haven’t yet met.

More news. Articles, videos, soundbites. Searching for a piece of truth to hold onto, in hope of finding hope.

The suffering is unspeakable. It haunts me in sleep as much as in wakefulness.

The gust of wind during a dusk walk that brings me back to this moment. The paradox of calm existing next to chaos.

We’re getting there – back to something we weren’t aware of when we had it. The status quo, the calm amidst a constantly brewing storm.

All that is unimportant has fallen away. And I long for it. For a quiet that allows me to reflect.

I miss this place I didn’t know, even when.

I was held.

I am holding. We are holding for each other. All of existence mirrored in each fragmented, scattered moment.

A constant seeking for graceful wholeness, within and without.

 

 

 

 

What Keeps Me

Sometimes, I am struck by moments of clear and pure gratitude for the place in which we live.

Where women gather, encircle each other to support each one’s learning, growing, mothering, being. Instead of wedding and baby showers, we rain down blessings and shared wisdom before moments of transformation.

Where among my sons first heard sounds are chassidic melodies and the words of ancient prayers offered up on high as he joins a legacy, a family, of spiritual warriors and scholarly soldiers.

Where it is difficult to leave the house and remain anonymous and alone for even a supposed stranger will strike up a conversation, share unsolicited advice and even ask to hold my baby.

Where our weekends consist of sitting around abundantly delicious tables with each other, speaking about everything from mysticism to policy, inviting in strangers and family alike, sharing all that we have, which always miraculously is just enough.

Where we share and hold both joy and mourning so fully, often simultaneously. Our songs and dance come from places of emptiness and yearning just as much as jubilance.

Where our prayers hold more meaning when said together, stemming from a deeply ingrained message, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Where our shared aching for our first homes across oceans blends with our awe of returning to a much older, yet less immediately familiar home.

Where I fumble and blush through Hebrew interactions, stumble through the disorientedness of feeling foreign and then look around me realize we are all coming back here from somewhere.

Where the weight of responsibility, the threat of missiles and the burden of the unknown leads to an inexplicable feeling of safety felt no where else in the world.

Nothing is accidental or meaningless. Our commitment to being must be reinstated daily, sometimes hourly. Conscious community keeps us going.

We share in living – from birth to death – together. Those of us with family far away are adopted by and responsible for each other.

We are seen, held accountable, challenged to go further, providing a safety net when we inevitably fall and a celebration when we reach new heights.

Nothing is simple or rational, few things are comfortable, yet a deeper, invisible magnetized pull keeps us all here.

A glimpse of the biblical landscape from atop a tall city building leaves me immediately speechless and present. The soft breeze I feel sweeping over us from the nearby desert whispers a timeless secret. To live and cry and birth and die and dance through the tears of yearning and mourning together is why we’re here.

I am a witness, a sister, a daughter, a neighbor, a humble mother to the holy next generation of the children of Israel.

I am because we all are, both near and far.

The fullest expression of what I can be, even in those moments where all of this escapes me.

Jerusalem, 1844 Photographer: Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey

Jerusalem, 1844
Photographer: Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey

Only in Israel

moving

After Maor was born, we decided to start looking for a bigger apartment. We felt both excited and hesitant to leave the space that had become our home for almost two years but also knew that moving would allow us necessary room to grow. We found our new apartment pretty quickly after seeing an ad posted online. I came to see the place and loved the size (a two bedroom instead of our studio seemed like a huge upgrade!) and how it was filled to the brim with light from three sides of the building. Ben came to see the place the next day and, after comparing with a few more places, we decided this one suited our needs best. The landlord agreed to send us the lease and told us to look it over and made any additions we felt necessary.

When we received the lease, Ben read it over and told me there was something I needed to read for myself. I told him I wasn’t really interested (time to read with a newborn around is very precious and I didn’t much feel like spending it reading legal jargon) but he insisted and pointed me to the end of the lease. As my eyes skimmed over the last few clauses, I did a double take upon reading the word “Messiah.” Sleep deprivation had been setting in so it wasn’t out of the question that I could be hallucinating. I read it again and realized I was not, in fact, mistaken. The clause read, “Upon the coming of the messiah, tenants agree to vacate the apartment within 15 days.” Period. As if this were a completely normal request and subject to appear in a rental agreement! The owners of the property live in America and apparently want to make sure they have a place in the holy city upon the arrival of the messiah. Seems reasonable, right?

At first we laughed at the silliness of two worlds colliding – our religious beliefs and legal contract. The spiritual and physical realms. Then I started thinking about what this could mean. “But Ben, what if Mashiach (the messiah) DOES come and then we have no where to live because everyone is trying to come to Jerusalem? And what does this say about the landlords? That their first act of this messianic era will be to evict their tenants so they have a place for themselves? And what if they belong to some fringe sect and think Mashiach is their cousin’s dog?” It was not comforting, to say the least. We went through many scenarios during the conversation, both chuckling at envisioning this seemingly far off reality and then questioning our own religious beliefs and their applications in our lives. It is what we are praying for, right? A basic tenet of Judaism being that we are eagerly awaiting and trying to bring Mashiach “speedily, in our days.” Honestly, It’s always been too huge a concept for me to wrap my head around I’m embarrassed to admit. One of those massive ideas I’ve come to terms with not fully grasping and deciding to table for the time being. But why not believe it could happen at any moment? This conversation went on for a while.

Finally, we agreed that defining the terms in the lease would make the most sense and set us a little more at ease. We told the landlord that we’d like to add in, just to be sure, that it must be the messiah as agreed upon by Clal Yisrael (the majority of the Jewish people). He laughed out loud and said, “Yes, of course.. come on, we’re not crazy!”

Follow up: Great article by Yehoshua Looks on the legality of the Messiah Clause: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/rabbis-round-table/.premium-1.573886

(click here to get behind the paywall: http://bit.ly/1bMmuYY )

Liminality and Purim

The holiday of Purim is almost here and so I feel that it is fitting for me to take some time to really connect to what that means. While taking a photography course a few months ago, designed for new olim (people who had made aliyah to Israel), we often discussed the concept of Liminality and how it relates to our lives in transition. I very much identified with the concept then but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. When this month rolled around, however, it seemed like the perfect time to embrace it.

“In anthropologyliminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”[1]) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes… More recently, usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rituals.[3] During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.[4] The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.” – Definition from Wikipedia

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ink into water

The cycle of the Jewish calendar is meant to guide us through the year and connect us to various  tikkunim (fixings) that we need to make in ourselves and our intentions as well as allow us to draw down the energies that are available to us in a given month.  As one of my rabbis said, the energies of the month are always surrounding us just like radio waves – the choice is ours whether we want to tune in to them or not.

In this month of Adar, the tikkun and overall theme is happiness. It is said, “When Adar arrives, we increase our joy (Talmud – Taanit 29a).” Why is happiness so important in this month? Because it is when we are truly joyful, especially when doing the most mundane tasks, that we can connect most to G!d. For some people, the moment they enter the month of Adar, the delight is completely felt and embraced. I, on the other hand, do a much better job of connecting to months like Av, a month of decreased joy and lots of mourning. For some reason, this is much more natural to me. I tend to write off the times of year when I am “supposed” to be happy and just say they aren’t for me. But is this really true? Maybe this month is especially important for me because I need to transform my natural disposition, turn it upside down, cultivate folly and embrace the liminality in order to achieve the highest state of Purim. To be able to see the potential for good in everyone.

The story of Purim is one of a battle between good and evil, of overcoming enemies (both internal and external) through hidden miracles (hidden meaning that there is no mention of G!d in the entire Megilat Esther, the story of Purim.) To commemorate this victory, we dress up in costumes, retell this story, and drink wine until we don’t know the difference between good and evil. [Interesting note – the word for “to dress up (in costumes)” in hebrew is להתחפש which comes from the same root as freedom (חופש) and to search (לחפש). Clearly there is a connection!]

I tend to run in the opposite direction of hoards of drunk people (in fact, last year I pretty much hid inside the whole day) but I think in doing this, I miss the point of this deeply holy holiday. Sure, there are people who exploit the chance to party all day but what would it mean if we could truly connect to what is in the air on Purim? The chance to shed our masks (by wearing fake masks) and let our inner light out? The possibilities are endless when we stand at the threshold and let hierarchies dissolve! The real goal of Purim is to flip our routine, our inhibitions, our egos, our judgements on their heads. And maybe, just maybe, when we are all upside down, the illusions of barriers that separate us will fall away and what is usually hidden – our truest, deepest selves – will come forth and we will be able to see the hidden sparks of light  in every one.

May we all be able to connect to the deepest truths of Purim and see the oneness that exists around us every day. Purim Sameach!

If you want to learn more about some of the  Kabbalistic underpinnings of Purim, check out the brilliant Sarah Yehudit Schneider’s teachings here.

In the meantime, enjoy some silly Jerusalem Purim images:

Through my eyes

There are some weeks that are so full, so rich with complexities and simple truths, that there are no words. Here are some images that have stuck with me:

early morning father daughter light

early morning father daughter light

homemade fudge

homemade fudge (of course)

hey there

funny animals in my neighborhood

good morning

megillat esther made by an incredible woman in nachlaot

megillat esther made by an incredible woman in nachlaot

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yellow and blue

yellow and blue

our nachlaot onebillion rising event

our nachlaot onebillionrising event

finally time for shabbat

finally time for shabbat

Before the end of the week, I like to reflect on all that I am grateful for. Snapping pictures everywhere I go helps to remind me of this. This week, I am so grateful for the deeply meaningful relationships in my life, my ever expanding yoga community and practice (with a new space to teach (hopefully) in two weeks!), a nice reminder of our engagement from Hatunot Blog, the shifting seasons, the waves and depths of emotions I can experience, and the delicious bread from Russell’s Bakery.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom, the ability to face the present moment with grace, and much light!