Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 323: Home Again

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I wanted to wrap up my experience of life in Israel. I fell off the blog wagon a few months ago – I simply started doing too many things (a common experience for me in the spring time) and this became a lower priority. But I also really wanted to take some time to talk about what the last few months at Pardes and in Jerusalem meant for me.

As a student, the last few months at Pardes were difficult for me. It was hard to maintain my focus, because I had started to think about where I wanted to be during the summer and in the fall, and that became more of a priority as the semester went on. Some of my classes continued to be stimulating and exciting – for example, my absolute favorite was a class called Critical Issues in Modern Jewish Thought. It was a simple class – we read a different essay each class period, and then came together to discuss it. The essays were divided into distinct units – God, the Torah, Chosenness, Halacha, and Feminism – and at the end of each unit, several students were invited to present their personal views about the topic using the readings as a guide. I appreciated the push it gave me to examine my own ideas – I don’t think we spend enough time talking about what each of us actually thinks about God, and where the Torah came from, and whether or not the Jews are a chosen people. And it’s important to be able to answer those questions – or at least, to start to encounter them – because if we know what we think about the basic concepts, then we can start to structure our answers to the more complicated questions.

I had a lot of beautiful moments during my last two months at Pardes. My parents and one of my brothers came to visit, which was a wonderful ten days. I went on one last Shabbaton with Pardes, to the Galil, where we hiked and swam in the Mediterranean and relaxed in the sun. I celebrated Shavuot at Pardes, where I studied all evening and then prayed at sunrise on the Tayelet, wearing a brand new tallit I had purchased the day before. I became closer with the people around me – had picnics in parks and dinners out, ate amazing salads, ate rugelach and drank iced Aroma’s until I thought I would burst. I helped plan and run a student fundraising campaign as well as a series of programs to help people prepare for life after Pardes. I cancelled a trip to Bonnaroo and planned a trip to Chicago instead.

A lot of people ask me if leaving Israel was difficult for me – and in some respects, it was. There are definitely things I’ll miss, like being able to look out of the Beit Midrash windows and see the sun setting over Jerusalem, or being able to hop on a bus to the shuk and buy halva and olives and cheese. I’ll miss the community that supported me and helped me grow for nine months. I’ll miss the traveling throughout Israel – the hiking, and beautiful wildflowers, and seemingly never-ending sunshine. But then, on the other hand, there are things that are easy to leave behind. I spent the time before my flight back to New York sitting on the floor in a terminal in Ben Gurion, writing a few e-mails to friends and watching a movie. At one point, I looked up from my computer to see a man walking towards me. We made eye contact, I smiled in his direction, and he started to speak, saying “have you davened Ma’ariv yet?” And that’s when I realized that he hadn’t made eye contact with me at all; in fact, he had been looking at the gentleman sitting to my left. It is moments like this that I won’t miss about Israel at all – feeling invisible during what should be heightened spiritual moments, feeling less than or other simply because of my genetic makeup. I don’t like feeling that way, and I still, even after nine months of intensive study, don’t see a reason why there are people in the world who think that Judaism requires such a separation between men and women. I’m ready to leave that behind and look to the future.

And what does the future hold for me? In my last entry, I referenced a job interview that I thought had gone well. It had definitely gone well – after a follow up interview and two weeks of waiting, I was officially hired as the new North American Director of Recruitment for the Pardes Institute, which is a really long and complicated way of saying “person who convinces other people to move to Jerusalem for nine months.” I am incredibly excited about the job – I think it will be challenging and stimulating and a wonderful place to work for the next few years. I’m moving to NYC at the end of June, and starting work on July 1st.

There’s so much more I could say about my life in Israel, but instead I want to take a moment to think about something else. Five years and eight days, the day before my nineteenth birthday, my grandfather passed away. One year and four days ago, three days after my twenty-third birthday, my grandmother passed away. I think these two weeks will always be a little difficult for me, but I take a lot of comfort in knowing that my grandparents would be incredibly proud of what I have done and what I am planning on doing with my life. This year, right before my birthday, my parents gave me my grandmother's copy of Jewish Cooking in America - I'm looking forward to using it in the future, as I continue to live a rich and fulfilling Jewish life. Much like the nine months I just spent living in Jerusalem, it's something I will carry with me forever.

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