Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 88: Israel is a very small place

It's been a little while since I've updated - all sorts of things have been happening here! A few quick highlights include:
  • Ulpan classes are in full swing and are going very well! Hebrew is flooding back into my brain, which is a great feeling.
  • I've started writing for the new Pardes student blog (along with seven or so other students), which you can read here.
  • Tofu! Pardes has a tofu co-op which I am currently organizing (taking orders from students, placing the order with Simcha-the-tofu-lady and dealing with sorting out the delivery). I get a free kilo of tofu with every order, so it's pretty worthwhile for me.
  • Vegetables! Miriam and Sarah and I joined a CSA called ח'ביזה עלי (alay chubeza - I don't actually know what it means) and now a lovely box of vegetables gets delivered to my apartment every week. It's fantastic. Last week there were eggplants, sweet potatoes, a big piece of squash, corn, lettuce, rocket greens, scallions, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes. And cilantro. I'm in vegetable heaven.
I have a lot of stories from the last two weeks, but here are two particularly good ones. The first one starts on the Friday night before Simchat Torah (October 9th, for those playing the home game). Miriam and Sara (Gunning) and I all went to our friend Jessica and Amy's apartment for Shabbat dinner. We had a really wonderful evening - one of the other guests was actually someone that Sara taught with at Beth Emet, which was a nice surprise. While we were there, Amy asked us if we had met her friend Jeremy yet - he works for Btselem, a human rights organization here in Israel. The answer was no - or at least, not yet.

The next day, Sara and I went to Nava Tehila for Simchat Torah services - Nava Tehila is a Renewal minyan here in Jerusalem, which mostly means that there's a lot of really beautiful singing. The service was very spiritual and joyful, and at one point we unrolled the whole Torah scroll and held it up in a circle with our tallitot. Sara was standing on one side of me, and there was a gentleman I'd never met before on my right, so I introduced myself and started chatting. His name is Jeremy, and it turns out that he works for Btselem, and knows Amy and Jessica... Small world, right?

Jeremy is also a central figure in the second story, because it's actually mostly his story. Jeremy's father is Israeli by birth, but his family moved out of Israel when Jeremy's father was two years old. Jeremy came to Jerusalem to work for Btselem, which is a great human rights organization that doesn't have the best relationship with the Israeli government, for a lot of reasons. Anyway, after Jeremy got here, he went to apply for a work visa, and was asked where his parents were born. Upon mentioning that his father was born in Israel, Jeremy was informed that he couldn't apply for a work visa because he's actually an Israeli citizen, and so what he needed to do was make aliyah.

For a lot of complicated reasons, and also some pretty simple and obvious ones, Jeremy didn't actually want to make aliyah, but it wound up being his only feasible option for the time being. And so on Friday I found myself hanging out on the Tayelet with Miriam, Sara, Jeremy, and Jeremy's friend Avital having a little mock-aliyah party, celebrating the insanity that is the Israeli government. And in another example of the world being small, it turns out that Avital, who went to Berkeley, knows Kelly (one of my AVODAH roommates and current good friend). Crazy!

Beyond the fact that the world is fairly small, I think Jeremy's story is really interesting because it highlights a weird part of being in Israel. I get the sense sometimes, both from Israelis and Americans, that in order to be a good Jew I have to want to live in Israel forever. Which, frankly, isn't something I think I'll ever want. I have far too much of a life in the United States to ever really be comfortable with the idea of moving to Israel, and that doesn't even begin to address the ideological problems I have with making aliyah. Anyway, talking with Jeremy about his situation has just reminded me how complicated living here actually is, and how far from home I really am. It's easy to forget you're living in a foreign country when you spend most of your time with other Americans, but it turns out that things are really different here! Who knew? :)

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