Sunday, August 27, 2006

Elul Cleaning

I don't really do the whole 'spring cleaning' bit. For me, it's more like Pesach cleaning, but I guess the end result is the same. Everything gets swept and scrubbed and polished, the unusable gets put away, etc. I kind of feel like I've been doing a metaphorical autumnal version of Pesach cleaning. So much of the Life of Me is undergoing changes right now.

First off, I've moved into my own Cara pad. I'm flying solo for the first time in my life. No roomates, no flatmates, no one to share a bathroom with, no one to have to explain my moods to (and even I get moody sometimes). It's lovely. I am absolutely adoring having my own space. Every day, my apartment looks less like an ungovernable morass of boxes and old newspapers, and more like home. I haven't had all of my stuff in one accessible place for over a year. Me likey.

Second, I start school in less than 12 hours. I'm both excited and petrified. I've been talking about grad school for so long, but more as a concept. That concept is about to become reality. I already have my ID, my bus pass, my books. I'm a student again. Next week, I start my field placement, and will be working with children with behavorial problems. Again, I'm excited and petrified. And still adjusting to the fact that I'm going to be Stateside for at least two years. A year ago, I was packing up the last of my things, getting ready to leave for Israel. Now I'm unpacking those same things and settling back into America.

My life looks so incredibly different, one year later. Some of those changes are good ones. Others make me sad. I've gained a lot of self-confidence over the past year, and learned to put my foot down when necessary. I've taken steps to jettison some emotional baggage. I heard a quote recently that said letting go is easy, that it's holding on which hurts. Or something to that effect. I don't agree that letting go is easy, but I'm learning that sometimes holding on hurts more. I'm learning, or trying to learn, to distinguish what (or who) I need to hold on to, and what (or who) it's time to let go of.

On the Jewish calendar, we've entered the month of Elul, the final month of the year. It's supposed to be a month of reflection, of looking inward, as we get closer and closer to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It seemed rather fitting to me that so many of the changes in my small little life are taking place now, during Elul. Last year was one of the best of my life (so far). I know this year will be so very different, so much so that it would, and will, be unfair to draw comparisons. With so many changes taking place at once, I'm trying to see how all of these very different, very separate changes fit together in the bigger picture. Trying to view all of them as parts of the same Make Cara Happy process.

I've been out of touch with many people over the summer. To all of you, I apologize. (Particularly Jon and Veronica. I owe you about three dozen phone calls and emails. They're coming, I promise.) Now that life is settling into a more recognizable pattern, I feel like I can come out from under the rock where I've been hiding.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Few (Inadequate) Words

I can't stop thinking about Mike. My thoughts and emotions are all over the place right now, so coming out with a coherent description of them will be hard. But my last post is just so inadequate. It neither does justice to who Mike was, or how hard his death has hit me.

On one hand, it seems a little strange to be hit so hard by the death of someone I didn't have a chance to get to know all that well. On the other hand, it makes this war- which was already emotional for me- incredibly personal. My shul has already sent out two emails about Mike's death. The American Jewish community, and even the secular one, has been struck by the loss of a young American whose passion and dreams took him to Israel. Such stories are not uncommon. But this one is not just a story for me. This time, I knew that boy. I'd laughed with him, talked with him, chilled with him. I used to tease one of my ulpan friends about having a crush on him.

Since coming back to America, I've struggled with the idea of not knowing when I'll be able to return to Israel. The more I get settled into this life here in Chicago, the more precious my memories of this past year have become. Spazzy Mike is a part of those memories. Maybe this is hitting me so hard because those memories are still so shiny and new. I met Mike less than a year ago. I always thought that he was the kind of person in my life that I would just run into the next time I was in Yerushalayim. The person you see in a bar, and join for a drink. Or stop to chat in Kikar Zion. That will never happen now. Those shiny, new memories that include Mike now take on a different hue. Now there's grief mixed in. My precious memories of Israel are not supposed to be tinged with grief. Nostalgia, yes. Longing, of course. But not grief.

And yet, I'm proud of him, as strange as that sounds. I didn't know Mike very well, but I knew how passionate he was about Israel, and about Israel being home to Jews of all types. That is the Israel that he left America to become a part of, and the Israel that he joined Tzahal to defend. The Israel that he died defending. He was given a hero's burial on Har Hertzl, a funeral attended by thousands who didn't even know him. There's a kind of comfort in that, at least for me. There's comfort knowing that he will not be forgotten, that he has become a hero to the country and people he loved so much. Even in the midst of this grief over a boy who died far too young, I'm proud of him, and proud to be able to say that I knew him, even for so short a time.

I said it before, but I'll say it again. May his memory forever be a blessing to all of us. There's a lot we can all learn from Mike, even though he's gone.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Boy I Used To Know

A few hours ago, Jacque called me from London. He'd called two days ago, but I'd been unable to talk then. I was pleasantly surprised that he called again so soon. We chatted for about ten minutes, and then, just before we had to hang up, he suddenly changed the subject.

"Do you remember Mike? The soldier, Josh's friend?"
"Sure," I replied. We'd called him 'Spazzy Mike' as an affectionate nickname, because he was so full of life and energy. He'd laughed at the nickname.
"He passed away. It's what I called you to say a couple days ago."

For a moment, I was utterly speechless. Passed away? Mike? What could possibly have happened?

"Passed away?" I managed to get out. But I knew, before Jacque spoke again, what he would say.
"Well, killed."
"In Lebanon?" I asked. My eyes were already tearing up, and I could barely get the words out.
"Yeah." He didn't really need to say more. We both understood enough.

I guess, deep down, I knew that eventually this war would get personal for me. It just wasn't possible that everyone I know would come out of this unscathed. But I'd hoped and prayed. And now I'm grieving for a boy younger than I am.

Spazzy Mike, also known as Michael Levin, had been in the ulpan on Kvutzat Yavne about two years before I was. He'd made aliyah and joined Tzahal, and still visited the kibbutz. One of his fellow ulpan friends and fellow soldiers, Josh, was very close with Jacque. As a result, whenever Mike came to the kibbutz, we would end up hanging out. Just chilling on the steps, or in the moadon, or around the nargila.

I can't say that I knew him very well. But I knew him. He was a sweet boy, a few years younger than me, with enough energy for six 12-year-old boys put together. He was easygoing, with a quick sense of humor. One of the only people who could keep up with my sarcasm and send it right back to me. No, I can't say I knew him very well. But I liked him.

Baruch dayan emet. May his memory be a blessing for us all.