Sunday, October 30, 2005

What I Think About in the Shower

A year and six days ago, Liz was in Chicago with me. Having been given a clean bill of health by the doctors, she came on a celebratory "Woohoo, I'm Done With Chemo!" visit. That weekend also coincided with my friend Michelle's birthday, and so Liz and I went dancing motzei shabbos with Michelle and some other girls. Two weeks after that, Liz celebrated her 23rd birthday. One month after that, the tumors had begun to grow again. Four and a half months after that, I stood by her graveside.

On Rosh Hashana, Kevin mentioned something that has really stuck in my head. It's something I had thought of before, but it stuck me particularly forcibly this year. On the Yomim Noraim, in the Netane Tokef, we say that only Hashem knows what will happen in the coming year: who will live and who will die; who at his appointed time and who before it; who by fire and who by water; who by the sword and who by wild beasts; who from hunger and who from thirst; who by earthquake and who by plague; who by strangling and who by stoning; who shall rest and who shall wander; who will be tranquil and who harassed; who will be at ease and who afflicted; who will become poor and who rich; who will be brought down and who raised up. Looking back on the year that's just ended, it seems so easy to understand this. We know who has been born, and who has passed away. We know who has celebrated simchas and who has suffered misfortune. The Netane Tokef, however, is not about the year that's ended. It's about the year that has just begun. We don't know what the year will bring. How could I have known what 5765 was going to bring? What will this new year bring?

Last year, during the Yomim Noraim, I was praying for Liz's recovery. Only a few weeks after the chagim, it seemed as though those prayers had been answered. During Sukkot, Gila announced her pregnancy. Who could have foreseen that in half a year's time, I would celebrate Azriel's birth and bris, and two weeks later fly to Pittsburgh to mourn Liz's death? It's been six months now. That six month mark coincided almost exactly with the dates last year that Liz had been with me in Chicago. Somehow, it seems particularly cruel. This time last year, I thanked Hashem for her recovery. Everything was fine. She was talking about going back t graduate school. She would have been in school again by now. Instead, I'm mourning her with a grief as raw and painful as it was in April. The only difference is that now it's been even longer since I've heard the sound of her voice.

This coming Saturday would have been her 24th birthday. It weighs on me, and I have no one here that I can really talk to. No one here knew her. No one here can possibly understand what she was to me. Everyone who did know her, and who does understand, is on the other side of the world. I never knew how lonely grief could be.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chagim When 'Homeless'

With the chagim over, and the moadon completely empty, I finally have a bit of time to describe the chagim in Israel. There are many other things I also wish to blog: the trip to Yad Vashem, life in the Love Shack, and today marking six months since Liz passed away being at the top of that list. I'll just start with the chagim, and see what kind of time I have before dinner.

This was my first year not being with my family for any of the chagim. Spending Rosh Hashana with the Aaronsons in Bet Shemesh was the closest thing to a Chicago-style Rosh Hashana that I could manage, and it was wonderful. I can't remember ever being in a shul where everyone davened and sang with such kavana. The walls seemed to shake with their voices. It really was beautiful.

Yom Kippur on the kibbutz was everything I needed it to be. I spent most of my time in shul, and my free time on my own, thinking about this, that and the other. Forgive me for not sharing my private Yom Kippur thoughts, but they're really just between me and the Big Guy Upstairs.

Sukkot was both wonderful and disappointing at the same time. It went by really, really quickly. I spent the first yontiv in Tel Aviv with Eli and Miryam, and had a phenomenal time. They have some crazy British friends, and we all know how much I like crazy British people. The only downside is that I somehow managed not to make it to shul in the morning, and so missed Torah and Hallel for all of yontiv. It doesn't feel like yontiv when I don't go to shul. Shabbat Chol Hamoed was a very unique and special one for me. I went to my Yemenite ulpan teacher in Rehovot and spent shabbos with her family. Not only did I speak Hebrew for 90% of shabbos, but I also experienced Yemenite davening for the first time. It takes getting used to, to be honest, but it sounds really cool.

Simchas Torah was in Yerushalayim. Like the rest of Sukkot, it was both wonderful and disappointing at the same time. Not having a shul of my own meant that I didn't really know where to go for hakafos in the evening. My ulpan friends and I all went to Bukharia for dinner, to a meal hosted by the same Gerer chasidische couple that I had two shabbos meals by last August. The meal was lovely: close to a hundred people in a room, and the men were singing the entire time. The only downside is that we had to leave the Kotel before the singing and dancing really got underway in order to get to Bukharia on time, and got back to the Old City after everything had died down. Simchas Torah night for me felt more like a particularly fanstastic shabbos. The morning was a different story. We were directed to a tiny Carlebach shul (sorry, Daddy) in the Old City, and danced three hakafos there, until they broke for kiddush. The women's side was tiny, but we used whatever space we had for dancing. I loved it. Then we went down to the Chabad of the Cardo, where the boys had a great time. Unfortnately for your truly, the Chabad women didn't do anything but sit there and eat. The funniest moment was probably when an old rabbinic-looking person came to the women's side and announced, "We're looking for a wife for David Stern. Any eligible young lady should step forward!" Since he didn't bother pointing out which one was David Stern, though, none of us stepped forward. I spent my afternoon sitting in a park wit Jacque, talking about life, Judaism, my grandmother and Liz. It's probably the first time I've ever cried on Simchas Torah, but somehow it didn't seem inappropriate. All in all, it was a good yontiv...but I found myself missing Bais Abe.

Looking back, I think that what I've really missed is the familiarity of my Tishrei routine in America. I like knowing where I'm going and what I'm doing and where I'm davening. Everything this year was just so different from what I've known. It seems strange to me that I should find anything negative in spending my chagim in the Holy Land. I've wanted this for so long. I think I would have enjoyed it far more if I'd had an apartment in Yerushalayim, and didn't feel like I'd been wandering aimlessly looking for somewhere to go to shul.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

All Joking Aside...

I've been to Yad Vashem once before. It was on my birthright trip three years ago, and it was only a little over a month since my beloved Grandma, a"h, passed away. The timing of the visit to Yad Vashem probably could not have been much worse. Still coming to terms with losing the most important person in my world, I was suddenly faced with photos and mementos that recalled the stories of Nazi Germany that I grew up hearing. It made me even more vividly aware that I would never again hear her tell me those stories, and that she was another part of the Shoah that was gone forever. Another memory, left to others to carry on. I was a complete emotional mess, and it was one of the more horrible experiences of my life.

A few days ago, I found myself in a conversation about Yad Vashem, and I said that I wasn't ready to go back yet. Someday, I said. I think it's wrong to stay away forever. But not yet. Not for me.

Tomorrow, we're being taken on a tiyul (ie, field trip) to Yerushalayim. "Yay!" you might be thinking. After all, why would anyone not want to go to Yerushalayim? They might not want to go if the tiyul is starting off with a visit to Yad Vashem. The thought of going back just pulls up all of my memories from my first trip. It makes my grief over my grandmother feel as fresh and as raw as it was three years ago. But I can't not go. It seems disrespectful to my grandmother, and to every other Jew whose life was destroyed or uprooted by the Shoah, to avoid going back simply because it's painful. It's supposed to be painful.

That said, I'd rather be working in the kitchen tomorrow, shoving kishke up the tuchas of a dead chicken. I'd even rather be stuffing it up the tuchas of a live one.

A Tale of Two Ilanas

When our heroine (giggle, chuckle, snort...she said 'heroine') first moved into the Love Sack, she was put into a room with an 18yr old British girl named Ilana, henceforth called Ilana Rishonit. They got along perfectly well. Indeed, it would have been hard not to, as Ilana Rishonit was scarely ever actually in the room. Still, they became friends and had a good time whenever they happened to be in the same place.

The shifting and moving of boys and girls to and from the Love Shack and ulpan giur caused a vacancy in the room of another 18yr old girl. Ilana Rishonit decided that, given how little she was actually in the Love Shack, it would save her much time if she lived with the other 18yr old girl. This would make it more efficient for them to be typical 18yr old girls together. The moving out of Ilana Rishonit (which, at the time of our story, is only half complete) caused a vacancy in the room of our heroine, which was immediately filled by a new ulpanist...named Ilana. Ilana Sheinit is a 27yr old American. So far, she and our lovely heroine get along just fine. However, it will take our heroine a few days to once again grow accustomed to sharing a room with someone else.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Eighteen Again

For some reason that I just don't understand, everyone who meets me for the first time in this country assumes that I just finished high school. In Chicago, people assumed that I was older than I really am. Now I've suddenly lost six years of my life. At first it bother me, but now I'm thinking of it as a fantastic opportunity. I never got to take a year after high school to come to Israel. Now I can pretend that this is my post-high school year. A few people here have also assumed that I'm a chabadnikit, which I really don't understand. I don't think I have that chabad aura at all. I'm getting a kick out of being eighteen again, but there's no way I'm becoming a chabadnikit (no offense to the chabadniks in the audience, of course). Silly Israelis.

Life in the Love Shack continues to lose its summer campiness. We're getting three new girls next week, though, which will shake up the group dynamics once again. The few guys in the ulpan giur are moving into the Love Shack, in order to make room for more girls, since we don't have space for the new girls. Some of the "older" girls are therefore moving into the ulpan giur. Being one of said "older" girls, I was offered a room in the other building, but I turned it down. As frustrating as the children can be, I don't really want to separate myself from the group that drastically. And, as conceited as this will sound, there are few other people in the Love Shack with the ability to keep the peace. I kind of feel like it's in everyone's best interest if I stay put. That, and I don't want to be so far away from Jacque and Dan-Dan. I'd miss too many funny moments. (Digression: Major shout-out to my paternal unit for giving me such an appreciation of British humour. I'm single-handedly restoring the reputation of America which Dubya has destroyed. Now people know there is such a thing as a clever American.)

Someone told me only a few moments ago that they hate it here, and hate living with all these people and never having the anonymity of a big city. Stranglely enough, I disagree completely. When I want to feel alone, I go for a walk by the cotton fields (very pretty at sunset, btw) or find someplace to lay on the grass and watch the stars. When I want company, I have a house full of people who (surpise!) all like me. I love it here. I walk down the road singing happy tunes, consciously aware of how happy I am. Yesterday I went to Yerushalayim for a few hours to pick something up from someone who's going back to the States on Sunday. He was so unhappy that he's leaving, and I was reminded of last August, when I was at Ben Gurion, on the phone with my paternal unit, crying because I didn't want to leave Israel. I couldn't help but think, "I get to stay! I get to stay!". I thought about it for much of the bus ride back to the kibbutz. It makes me grin every time.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Month In Review

I've been here a whole month now. This is the longest that I've ever been in Israel and I'm so incredibly happy that I'm here. Life on the kibbutz is a bit of a bubble, though I go into Tel Aviv at least once a week, so it's been a fairly easy transition thus far. Still, I find myself falling into a routine with work and class, and I'm speaking Hebrew far more and far better than I would have imagined a month ago.

This is the best decision I've ever made in my life. Every day that I'm here confirms just how badly I needed a change from my life in America and the easygoing nature of kibbutz life is the perfect remedy. I've made friends with people I would never have otherwise met, and, in my quieter moments, I have a chance to really examine the person that I've become and the person I want to be.

That said, life is not pure bliss. I miss my family, and not being able to talk to them whenever I want is very hard on me. I miss my friends, and I wonder what's going on in their lives and whether or not they miss me. And I miss Liz. Somehow, being over here makes her feel even farther away. It's probably because no one here knew her, and in America I had my WashU friends only a phone call away when I needed to speak of her. I have a picture of Liz and me on my desk here, and every time someone asks about the girl in the picture, I have the chance to tell someone else about my wonderful Liz. Most of the time, though, those stories remain locked in my own head, and I have no one to share her with.

Tomorrow I'll go back to Bet Shemesh, and spend Rosh Hashana with the Aaronsons. This is the first Rosh Hashana of my life that I won't be with my family. I knew it would be difficult, but not quite this difficult. Still, I'm glad I'm here. So very very glad that I'm in Israel and that I get to stay here for many more months. I don't know what the new year will bring for me. I know that the past year was one of the most difficult I've ever had, particularly the last half of it. Ending that year in Israel lets me end it on a high note.

I don't know if I'll have a chance to post tomorrow. In case I don't, a shana tovah u'metukah to all of you. May this year bring us together only for simchas, and may I see all of you here in Israel.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I Smell Like Chicken

This post was supposed to go up over a week ago, but the Internet in the moadon was down, and this is the first chance I've had to blog. There is so much that I want to say, but I don't want to hog the computer, now that it's finally working again.

Apologies to those of you whose visions of me working in the fields, milking cows, or feeding chickens are about to be dashed to pieces. I work in the kitchen ("mitbach" b'ivrit), and I love it. I work on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:00 until 2:30ish. Usually I chop vegetables, or shove rice up a (dead) chicken's tuchas, or some other preparatory task. Sometimes I get to crack eggs or scrub large pots. I'm on my feet the whole day. I love it. The people are very nice, and I never get bored. I think I'm one of the few people who's truly happy with my job. The only downside is that I usually smell like chicken fat by the time I come home, and I'm often covered in a few different types of food shmutz. It's a small price to pay.

Life is starting to lose it's "summer camp" glow here in the Love Shack. People are realizing that we're here for 5 months, and we've had a few altercations. It's not too surprising that I usually end up calming someone down and helping to smoothe things over. There's no way that everyone here is going to last 5 months. There are some people who may not last many more weeks. At least when I get weary of playing mediator, I can go into my room and close the nice heavy door. I did that for all of shabbos afternoon.

Overall, I'm incredibly happy here. I'm making friends with some fascinating people from around the world. Right now, I spend a large chunk of my down time with two absolutely absurd British boys named Jacque (pronounced Jack...he's French, but has been living in England for the past few years) and Daniel, aka Danny aka Dan-Dan. I don't think I've ever laughed more in my life. Describing how we spend our time would take far too long, so I'll only say that it includes baked beans, a shopping cart and a small dog.