Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Label Free

I have always struggled with religion. Always tried to fit into a box, trying different skirt lengths, hair coverings, and tefillah strategies. I've tried to match my actions to my beliefs, but I have never succeeded.  Because the truth is, I don't know what I believe.

I don't have the answers about God and the creation of the world and right and wrong.

I do know that I want to live an authentic life, and make decisions that I can stand behind. I know that I don't want to keep pretending. I know that I want to feel comfortable in my clothes, my hair, my skin.

My religion has always been driven by guilt and insecurity. Guilt, because our people have struggled and sacrificed for generations to keep our traditions alive. Guilt, because it is the tool that my religious education was built on. Insecurity, because I want to fit in to the religious community around me. Insecurity, because I don't want to be different. I care about what others think about me, how they see me. 

I am scared. No - I am terrified. I have always imagined my future self living in some yishuv, wearing a full mitpachat and long skirt, my husband learning on the porch swing, while my kids kick a ball in the backyard, tzitzit flying. That is how I used to picture my future. Dati Leumi. Orthodox. But for a while now, that picture looks like I've copied it from someone else's life.

I don't know what will happen now. Now that I've started wearing pants, have occasionally stopped covering my hair. I've admitted to myself that religious life does not hold the meaning or magic for me that it does for others. I don't know where I will be in ten years. I don't know who I will be in ten years. But I know that I have to be true to myself.

I love Shabbat. I love being Jewish. I love Israel. I love our nation, our culture, our pride. I love our resilience, our story, our passion. I love being part of something bigger, something historic.

I want to be able to give this a definition. I like things to be organized, to know where I should be placed on a spectrum. But I cannot label myself. I cannot label this. I don't know what I am, but I know that for the first time in my life, I feel free.

I feel so free.

I debated writing this for a while. But in the end, I decided it was important. The more I spoke about my feelings with others, the more I realized that I was not alone. And that knowledge gave me the courage to take positive steps. So if you feel something similar to what I have described, know that you are not alone. The world is not black and white. There is so much room in the gray. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Thanks For The Memories

I'm packing up boxes and cleaning up from our goodbye party, but I still can't believe it's true. It hasn't hit me yet - that we're actually leaving, that we're moving to another city, that I won't be taking the 400 bus home every day. I've lived in Giv'at Shmuel for most of my adult life. Detroit is my hometown, but Giv'at Shmuel will always be the place where I grew up. I spent too much time in Bar Ilan, lived in every neighborhood here (does Hashaked count as the new side?), and made more friends than I knew what to do with.

Giv'at Shmuel has been more than a home to me. I've been an observer, taking note of the gradual changes and twists in the community. I saw it grow from just a few apartments to streets and blocks of English speakers. I watched Camp Bar Ilan jump from 6 members to 100 members to 3,303 members (as of this moment). I was taken aback when not every Anglo attended Open Mic Night, or when I'd meet someone from Giv'at Shmuel who I didn't recognize. It's been incredible watching others discover the place that I love so much.

This community is so vibrant, so alive, so young, so powerful. There is so much passion, friendship, laughter, intellect at every Shabbat meal. (There's also a lot of cheap alcohol and Cards Against Humanity, but that's all part of the package.) You can be whoever you want to be here. There's so much diversity in the population - which sometimes causes rifts, but we work through it, delete some Facebook comments, and grow together as a community.

Reflecting back on my time here, I realize that I've become many versions of myself these past few years. I was the shy Oleh in Wolfson dorms, so happy to find my first English speaking friend (shoutout to Talia :D) . I was the social butterfly at every party, making the rounds and befriending anyone I found myself standing next to. I was the confident Agudah rep, giving tours of campus and speaking at orientation (thanks to Rachel & Dovid). I was the lazy and aimless student, switching degrees every year and skipping classes to stay home and watch TV with my roommate (love to Zahava & Cougartown). I was the dauntless college girl, dancing at clubs and bars in Tel Aviv and feeling my freedom. I was a serious debater at Shabbat meals, advocating Aliyah and Zionism over the materialism of corporate America. I was a madricha on a gap year program, a role model for girls who needed to find themselves. I was a newlywed, and then a graduate, and then a "professional", making the daily 9 to 5 commute to Jerusalem.

And the crazy thing is that during all of these reincarnations, I never felt like I didn't belong.

I know it seems like I've just been writing about me, but me and Givshmu (Gila, it's on a blog so it's gotta be a thing) have been tied up in each other's lives for so long, it's hard to separate myself from the city. I will truly miss living here. After saying goodbye to so many of the people who have impacted my life in the past few years tonight, I realize more than ever that I will always carry this place with me. You have all had a part in creating me. You have all had a part in who I am right now.

I'm excited for a new adventure, and we can't wait for our new life in Jerusalem to begin. New memories to make, new relationships to build, new ways to impact the world around us. We hope you keep in touch, and come visit us soon :)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Yom Aliyah and the Felafel Guy

Happy Aliyah Day!

Don't feel bad. I didn't know it existed until a few hours ago either.

Today, I am grateful for aliyah, and the credit belongs to the felafel guy I just bought dinner from. Here is what I know about him: There is no chummus at his felafel shop, and a pita only costs 7 shekel.

We have had exactly two interactions.

The first time we spoke, he asked if I put ketchup on my felafel because I am American. Nope, I replied. I just like ketchup. It's time for you to learn of techina, he said.

The second time was tonight. I had the longest day. Action packed since 7:15 in the morning. I stumbled up to the felafel store counter, half regretting my decision to forgo pizza - but the felafel was closer. And they had french fries. He served me my chummus-less felafel, no tomatoes please, with fries on the side. I took out my credit card to pay.

"Ah," he said. "We don't accept credit."

On a normal day, this would not be a tragedy. But today, of all days, I just wanted to eat. And I had no cash.

"It's okay," he says, and I think he'll tell me that he can wait while I run up the street to take cash out of an ATM. "You can pay me next time you come."

"I'm going to America," I tell him.

"But you are Israeli, right? So you are coming back."

"Of course."

"Okay," he says. "So what's the problem?"

I leave, felafel in hand, and feel the stress of today melt away.

I am Israeli. I am the person that he can rely on to pay him back. I am the other side of the deal. He must be trusting, and I must be trusted.

This is not the first time I have encountered the natural Israeli kindness, or their confidence in the goodness of others. I have had hundreds of monumental "Israeli" moments. But on this day, this Aliyah day, it meant so much more to me.

I walk home, and a bike rider zooms past me, a near miss. A cat with gleaming eyes is camped outside of my building, hoping to sneak in the door behind me. My backpack is heavy, and I am so, so tired.

There are ups and downs, good days and bad. But I wouldn't trade living here for anything.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

העם הנצח לא מפחד

I went to the right wing rally in Kikar Rabin last week. I was looking for affirmation that the right wing sector is still strong, is still alive. Every poll I've seen shows the left with more seats than any other party. Most Facebook groups that I've looked at are flooded with posts encouraging it's members to vote left. I needed a rejuvenation, a reminder that there are still people who share my values, who are willing to fight for this land.
I got everything I was hoping for.
The square was packed. I can't give you a credible number any more than our various news outlets can, but I can tell you that there was no room to move, no room to breathe. People were filling the streets around the square, a river of humanity flowing constantly towards the stage. They were there from every right wing party. Men and women, dati and secular, old and young - we all banded together.
I heard the singing before I saw the group. The sound of a at least a hundred voices singing "Ha'Aretz, Ha'Aretz Hazot" wafted over the crowd. I fought through the streams of people and found a circle of unity, one that was growing larger every minute. Members of every party, young and old, girls and boys all dancing and singing together. Am Yisrael Chai, Od Avinu Chai - starting slow and then gaining momentum, they were singing at the top of their lungs, singing for the world to hear. Arms around each other's shoulders, the Israeli flags waving high. Ha'am Hanetzach Lo Mifached - the Jewish nation is not afraid of the hard path ahead. Two older men, one with a Likud flag and one with Bayit Yehdi, linking arms and standing in the middle of the circle, taking it all in. The teenager sitting high on shoulders above the crowd, yelling IVDU! ET! HASHEM! B'SIMCHA! and the roaring response.
We were not there, in that moment, to support Bibi. We were not there to hear Bennett. We were not there to understand Eli Yishai. We were there as a nation, there for each other. Everyone standing in the crowd felt connected, felt as though the songs we were singing were sweeping us away on a cloud of Jewish strength and unity.
From where I was standing, it was impossible to hear the speeches. But it wasn’t about that. It wasn't about hearing the leaders, because we've all heard what they have to say already. It was about banding together with those that share our same ideals, our same love of the country. Standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people, chanting Bibi's name. Thousands who sang Yerushalayim Shel Zahav together with Naftali Bennett. It gave me hope.
It's no secret that I voted for Bayit Yehudi. I hope, I pray that the elections will turn out in our favor. For the past few weeks, I've been trying to come to terms with what could happen if the left wins. How will the country change? What will our security situation become? Standing in the middle of Tel Aviv with thousands of Jews, I finally felt confident in our future, no matter what it may be. I will not lose faith in our country. We are the Jewish nation. We have survived so much.
Ha'am Hanetzach Lo Mifached Mederech Arucha.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Six Years Israeli

I've been in Israel for 6 years, but on this day, 5 years ago, I became an official Israeli. (I've been corrected that the
Aliyah flight actually landed yesterday, but 09/09/09 is just easier to remember.) It's a day I think about constantly - more of a landmark than my birthday is. Every year on this day, I take a look back at my life. It starts in 2009. Before that, I was me, but not the version of me that you may know. I was searching for myself, trying to find my place. My world was full of boxes, and I tried to twist myself into them, but was perpetually finding myself outside.

I was 17 when I first came here. I was lost and confused and unsure of who I wanted to be. I started that year attempting to "frum out" in seminary, and ended it doing an ulpan program on a kibbutz - where most participants were secular. At the end of the year, I still didn't know who I was, but I knew what I was not. I was not ever going to do the seminary "frum out", and I was not going to be the kibbutz secular. I still didn't have a box. However, for the first time, that didn't scare me. It didn't make me feel alone or like I didn't fit in. Because I had learned that in Israel, while the boxes do exist, they have glass walls and tunnels for visiting. There were so many possibilities - so many things that I could be - and I wanted to be them.

Israel made me happy. Israel made me feel safe. Israel made me feel like I could just be me, and that was good enough. I didn't want to leave. And with no plans, no money, and no idea what I was doing - I made aliyah.

The past 6 years have been so full, so dynamic, so alive. When I look back at the 17 year old version of myself, I know that the best thing I've done for her is let her make that rash, irrational decision to stay here. She wouldn't have turned into me, if she'd gone back to America. The confidence and self-assurance I have in myself, in my religious beliefs, in my life, were only - and still are - brought about through the challenges and rewards of living here.

I've climbed mountains, jumped off cliffs. I've camped out at Gan Sacher and the Tel Aviv beach, and eaten chummus so full of sand it crunches in your teeth. I've been up North and down South, and spend too much time in the Center. I've herded sheep and ridden camels and discovered how much I love ice coffee. I've gone to the Kotel at 2 am in the pouring rain and stayed there all night until the sun came up. I've organized Shabbatonim and tiyulim, and somehow found the courage to speak in front of people and share my love of this country. And then, I got married here, had my wedding here, got an apartment here, started real life here - and I know that my experiences until now are a blip on the timeline of my future in Israel.

I really want to say thank you. Thank you to the beautiful, frustrating, invigorating, and challenging Land of Israel, for creating and shaping me into the person I didn't know I wanted to be. Thank you to all of those who have been my support group along the way - my family, my friends, and now my husband. Thank you to God, who saw me from the beginning until this moment, and is probably laughing because He sees how much more I still have to do.

Every year, on this day, I look back on my life. So far, so good.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

So what's it like, beginning a marriage in a war zone?

Our wedding was exactly two weeks ago, as of this Sunday.

First week of marriage - sheva brachot in the bomb shelter.
We move into our apartment - quickly meet the neighbors while hanging out in the rocket-safe stairwell.
Turn our computers back on - slowly realize we might just be in the middle of a war.

So what's it like, beginning a marriage in a war zone?

I've never felt so lucky.

It goes like this. We laugh and we decorate and we set up our kitchen and build our bookcases, and when the siren comes we drop everything and run to the shelter. We drive back and forth from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and play "Where Will We Run If We Hear The Siren". We laugh as it rings out at the most inopportune times - like at 8am, or when one of us is in the shower, or when I cannot find a mitpachat (hair covering) for the life of me.

I can't imagine a better way to start off our lives together. Very quickly, we have learned how the other reacts in a tense, dramatic situation. Very quickly, we have learned how to comfort and distract each other. Very quickly, we have learned that our ideals are matched up perfectly, that the thought of being anywhere else right now isn't even comprehensible.

This is where I want to live forever. It's where I want to raise my children. We have chosen Israel, for all of its beauty and all of its pain.

A family member commented that once you make aliyah, you are no longer a spectator of Jewish History - you become a player, right in the field. I love that idea. I wish we didn't have to be afraid, wish that peace would come sooner, wish that I would never again have to hear the pulse-quickening sound of the siren. But if this has to happen, I do not wish to be anywhere else. I want to be here, with my people, with my nation, fighting back.

When friends of mine tell me they're waiting to make aliyah until after they get married, or finish college, I never understand. Why not begin your life in the place you want to live it? Where better to find a guy, or have the optimal education, then the place you want to be married and working?

This is the beginning of our lives together. Each day brings a new first. The first time he said Kiddush for me. The first time we had to clean out the sink drain. The first time we made potato kugel. The first time we heard the tzeva adom siren and ran all the way downstairs, not realizing our hallway was safe too.

The firsts are what create the beginning of a lifetime. I am so grateful to be living here, in the land of Am Yisrael, singing Shabbat songs in the stairwell of our apartment building. There's nowhere else I'd want to be.

May our soldiers bring peace to our country, and come home safely.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


I sit in my room, attempting to put together a list of music I'd like to be played at my wedding. There are plenty of songs to choose from, but I cannot focus. All I can think about are the three boys, held in captivity, in an unknown location. All I can think about are their parents, the strength of their mothers, the terror they must feel. I refresh my news feed over and over again, I join all the groups, I hashtag where I can. I want to do more. I sign a petition, forward it to everyone I've ever met. I know it won't help, but I need to feel as though there is something I can do.

These boys are everyone I know. It hits closer to home when one is an English speaker, a gingy with braces. I've spoken to his mother on the phone - set up my students at their home for Shabbat.How can I plan my wedding, worry about a seating chart? How can I be setting up my future when theirs is so uncertain? It is an impossible task to divert my attention for more than a few minutes.

I went to a seamstress in Bnei Brak today. On the kitchen table was a picture of her grandson in uniform. I picked it up. "He got called up on Shabbat", she tells me. "He is in Hevron, searching for those poor boys." We spoke about him for a while, and then she told me she was going to Talmon after I left. Her grandson had a Chumash party there this afternoon. She told me they considered cancelling it, but the chief Rabbi made an announcement. He said, "We will celebrate the children learning Chumash today. It is the Chumash of Am Yisrael, and it is important."

It's a short, but simple sentence that I keep repeating to myself as I try to plan my wedding. We cannot stop our lives in the face of terror. I am planning a Jewish wedding, I am building a Jewish home, I am continuing the chain of Am Yisrael. I'm still finding it difficult to concentrate. Every other minute, even as I write this, I'm checking the news to see if any updates have been posted. But I must keep reminding myself - we must go on. Life must go on.

We will continue to pray, to gather together, to unify and to hope. If we stop, they win. If we carry on, they'll learn that they can never defeat us.

Tehillim Names: Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel, Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim, and Ayal ben Iris Tsura
Petition to the US Government: