Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day 72: a new month is here

The last time I posted, I was planning to take a trip to Tel Aviv for the Nachalat Binyamin craft fair and some quality time at the beach. I wound up going with Lauren and Shira, and had an absolutely fantastic day. First of all, the Nachalat Binyamin craft fair is amazing - it's all Israeli artists, and while (as at any street fair) some of the stuff is less than stellar, there's also a large quantity of really beautiful work. Jewelry, Judaica, toys, wall hangings, scarves, paintings... Lauren and Shira and I walked through the fair for almost two hours, and had a really good time. I didn't wind up purchasing anything, because I just couldn't make a decision about what I wanted, but I will certainly be going back there in the future.

That afternoon, we went to the beach where I put my feet into the Mediterranean for the first time in my life. Lauren, in all her rabbinical student glory, even knew the blessing to say upon seeing the Mediterranean for the first time, so we had a nice moment when we put our feet in the water.

As I lay on my blanket in the sun, I came to the realization that I am a little bit of a beach addict. I have always thought of myself as a mountain girl - mostly because of my love for the beautiful, beautiful Appalachian mountains, but also because I love hiking, and camping, and being surrounded by trees. However, as I lay on the beach soaking up the sun and swimming in the warm water, it occurred to me that I felt more relaxed than I have felt the entire time I've been in Israel. There's something about being next to a large body of water that's so soothing - the sun, and the smell, and the sound all combine to make one happy Naomi. In Chicago, I made a point in the summer of spending my Sunday afternoons at the lake for a lot of the same reasons (the water is not quite so warm in Chicago, even in July and August...). I guess it's just something to keep in mind when I work my way back to the States in the spring.

Since that afternoon, I've been thinking a lot about how to bring that level of calm into the rest of my life here in Jerusalem. I'm not absurdly stressed out, but getting through the holidays in Jerusalem is a bit of a long haul, and I feel like I'm only just able to really start settling into life here.

One of the big issues I'm currently tackling is my relationship to the Hebrew language - I am, for the first time that I can remember, nervous about speaking to people in stores. As a child, I was taught all of the same lessons my friends were taught - don't speak to strangers! Don't approach people you don't know! But in the South, there's a sense of familiarity that we all grow up with - when you're in a grocery store, it's alright to chat with the person next to you looking at cantaloupes, or the person in front of you in the check-out line. Commenting on a museum exhibit to the person standing next to you is totally socially acceptable, whether you know them or not. When I was at Brandeis, I often had strange interactions with people in public spaces, because I would talk to everyone, and they had no idea how to react to that. But here, in Jerusalem, I find it genuinely difficult to open my mouth in public.

Mostly it has to do with the language barrier. I'm scared of making a mistake, and having people know that I'm *gasp* American. I don't have a lot of confidence in my Hebrew fluency, so I don't speak, so I don't get better, so I don't have confidence... It's difficult for me to reconcile feeling so comfortable with the neighborhood I live in in terms of knowing how to get from Point A to Point B, and not knowing how to ask for directions if I wander off of my path. I don't really have that much of a problem looking silly in public, but when checking out in the grocery store involves me answering questions by looking bewildered and shrugging, it starts to feel a little uncomfortable.

I'm definitely getting better - not necessarily at speaking, but at learning the right words so that I can understand when people speak to me. Also, I just started an ulpan (modern Hebrew class) that meets twice a week in the evenings at Pardes, so I'm getting in a lot of practice in a safe space. My first ulpan class was so much fun - it was such a relief to be sitting in a classroom where the only thing I had to think about was speaking modern Hebrew, as opposed to biblical Hebrew and the Torah, or struggling through Aramaic in the mishna. I found that I remember a lot more than I think I do - I just need some practice accessing that part of my brain again. And then I need to start speaking in public, but that's definitely a future step in the process.

The next two days are Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan, Cheshvan being either the second or the eighth month of the Hebrew calendar (it depends on who you're asking...). Cheshvan is often referred to as Mar Cheshvan (in Hebrew, Mar means bitter) because it is a month without any Jewish festivals, and therefore a month without rejoicing. I went to a Rosh Hodesh group tonight, where we talked a lot about the positive aspects of Cheshvan - for example, the fact that there are no chagim in Cheshvan means that you can actually settle into a routine, and begin living up to all of your Rosh Hashannah resolutions. And with that, I think I'll get started on one of my Rosh Hashannah resolutions, which is to get more sleep!

Hodesh tov! Enjoy the new moon!

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