Wednesday, January 26, 2005

From Japan To Israel, With Love

The other night B. and I attended a wedding where I noticed an abnormally high number of Japanese people at the wedding. I am in no way racist (or "Japo-phobic", as B. put it), but at most Orthodox, religious weddings in Israel there are not too many Japanese. In fact, of the over 100 weddings I've been to, this may have been the first time I saw a Japanese person at a religious wedding. And there were at least 10 at this one.

Anyway, B. and I asked another guest how the bride/groom (both Israeli, neither of whom worked in international relations or business) came to know such a large group of Japanese people. It turns out the father of the groom is a professor at Hebrew University and became friendly with a group of religious Christian students doing a semester abroad from...Japan.

At Israeli weddings, in lieu of the always-boring speeches, close friends and families will often do something a little more personal - like a skit, or a dance, or a slide presentation - for the bride and groom. So B. I were intrigued when the Japanese contingency got up to perform.

The men were sporting large white kippot, all the performers were wearing blue-and-white vests, and one of the women had an accordian. The leader said, (in perfect Hebrew, natch) that they were very excited to be able to perform at this wedding and that they were going to perform traditional Israeli songs, IN JAPANESE!!

First off was "Zion, Zion, Zion" which was a scream to hear. After the lyrics in Japanese, they finished it off with "Aiiiy-yaaiii-yaiii-yaaii Zion!" Then they performed "L'maan Zion lo eshtok" (For the sake of Zion I will not be silent), also in Japanese. Then they sang "Heveinu Shalom Alechem" in Hebrew, and for an encore, performed a delightful Japanese love song.

I have heard that the Japanese people really love their karaoke, but these people were loving it up there so much! Which was good, because most of the other guests were total duds.

Anyway, B. made fun of me for "counting the Japanese people" - but really, I thought it was so nice that they were integrating so well into Israeli society and that they were so overjoyed to be in Israel, singing at the wedding of yet another bride and groom who had fulfilled the prophecy, "It will yet be heard in the cities of Judah and the outskirts of Jerusalem; a voice of joy and a voice of happiness, a voice of a groom, and a voice of a bride..."

Or the voice of Japanese students with a deep love for Israel...

UPDATE: I am posting the following comment by Rahel. B. and I went to look at the links she included, and we agree that the people we saw were definitely who Rahel thought they were. The tip off was the bright blue vests/waistcoats in one of the pictures.
"Rahel said...
Sounds like the Makuya. They recorded with Shuly Nathan, too."
Follow the link - its fascinating reading!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Some more highlights...

My apologies for being so "out of it" the past few weeks. We've been internet-less at home, so during the free moments I have to blog, I generally do not ahve a computer nearby. And I am generally the impulse-blogger type.

Some highlights of the past few weeks:

* I took my first tests in Hebrew where I had to answer in Hebrew as well. The other tests I have taken so far were either multiple choice, or essays where I was allowed to answer in English. I have no idea how well or poorly I did, but I'll let you know when grades come back!

* I finally felt like a contributing member of my class. About 2 weeks before the final, our psychology professor tacked on 2 additional chapters to our already burdensome syllabus. The chapters were in English, from an english textbook. This was wonderful news for me, but not so much for the other class members, none of whom speak English at a textbook level. She actually added on 2 chapters before the midterm as well, but these were in Hebrew. This meant I barely passed the last exam (but I did pass).

Anyway, several people asked me to translate the chapters to Hebrew for the class. Now, my Hebrew is decent, but my typing is garbage. Plus, I have such a full plate right now, I barely have time for my own schoolwork! Anyway, I ended up translating for the class. They offered to pay me, which I refused, mostly because I figured the quality would be awful.

But alas, I did a good job, and the group was so thankful, they (unbeknownst to me) took up a collection in order to buy me a gift from the class. I am just so happy that I was finally able to contribute something to the class - usually it's me asking the others for a translation!

* The other night, I went to an engagement part of a fellow classmate. This would be the girl who got engaged after 1 month. B. was very excited to come - in part because he would finally get to meet more of my class mates - but mostly because he has so few opportunities to improve his Hebrew, and now he'd finally have a chance to speak with real live Israelis. His vocabulary is better than mine, I think. he definitely knows more words than I do, but because he never gets a chance to speak it, his speech is incredibly slow. B. keeps asking me to speak in Hebrew to him, like having an all-Hebrew day, but I find myself getting so frustrated, I want to stick my hand in his mouth and pull out the next word. I have the same reaction around my friends from Georgia though. I need to chill out about that and give B. a chance to develop his Hebrew.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun going to a real Israeli event. I've been to a few non-Anglo weddings/engagement parties, but usually as the guest of someone else. For the first time I was the invited guest! I was participating in all the conversation in Hebrew. I was the one who knew what was flying! It was really wonderful.

* I've refrained form blogging it until now, because somehow things always go wrong with this kind of stuff, but in 1 month I will be flying to America for 5 days in order to give some speeches on Aliyah, through the Nefesh B'Nefesh Ambassador program.

I'm really excited about this - I am being sent to New York City, to my old stomping grounds, to talk about Aliyah and my expereinces. I love doing this kind of PR work for Israel and Aliyah, and all the more better on someone else's dollar. Of course, because its the middle of the semester, I can only afford to miss a few days of class, so I am making my trip super-short. But I'm trying to pack in seeing as many friends as possible. So if any of you live in New York, and want to see me from March 2 -7, send me an email or a comment. Maybe we'll do a mini-blogger get-together.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Women and The Wall

I was never one of thsoe people who was into praying at the Kotel (Western Wall). I found it annoying to cram into a small space with a bunch of women who, though busy praying, seemed to have forgotten basic manners. I really didn't like praying there on Shabbat or other holidays - while the men found it a spiritual, uplifting experience, I found it annoying not to be able to pray with a minyan (quorum of men, required for certain prayers). I am used to singing in the synagogue with the group, while at the Kotel if I, as a woman, starting singing out loud I would be shushed immediately, or worse.

Also, I never felt a connection with the concept that the Kotel was the closest remnant of the Holy Temple - if anything the connection for me was that for hundreds of years other Jews had found it meaningful, so I was going to a place my ancestors had prayed at.

In short - I was not a Kotel fiend. I felt like I had no place there and it certainly held very little meaning for me.

Then I met the Women of the Wall.

The Women of the wall are a group of Anglo and native Israeli women who do not accept the various Supreme COurt rulings forbidding them to pray, as a group, in front of the Kotel, as this practice (women praying together in a group) is against what the court decided was "Orthodox" rule. They are considered to be an extremist/fringe group, and many rumors and ridiculous comments swirl around the controversy. My favorite comment ever, which was printed in a newspaper, was "Are the Women fo the Wall married? If so, what do their husbands think of this? Does this means their husbands are home, taking care care of the house and kids while these women are out there praying and doing this horrible abomination?" Check out their website for more accurate information.

Anyway, when I first started praying with the group, which meets every Rosh Chodesh (first day of the Jewish month) at 7 am, at the back of the women's section of the Kotel, I felt like I had finally found a "home" in the Kotel. I could finally pray as I was accustomed, with a group, with the singing I so cherish, yet be at the Kotel. The woman who frequently served as the leader, Rahel, has a beautiful voice, and it was uplifting and meaningful to pray with these women.

But then I started noticing things that bothered me. Some of these women, though by no means all, weren't really there to pray. They were there to make a point. There were some women who would come clad in tallit (prayer shawl) and kippah (skullcap) - both items traditionally worn by men in orthodox Judaism - but never actually open their prayerbooks to pray! Some of these women told me they only pray once a month, with the group, but not during the rest of the month. As much as I enjoyed the prayers, i began to feel uncomfortable with my participation.

Now, i am not saying I disagree with the point being made. I support what i had hoped was the point of the Women of the Wall which is: That the Kotel belongs to all Jews and it is not for one group of Judaism to say "Our way is the only correct way of doing things, and we will make your way illegal". I would be very upset if, let's say, the Sephardi Jews convinced the Supreme Court that only prayers said in the Sephardi tradition will be allowed at the Kotel, and Ashkenazi-style prayers will be illegal. Ashkenazim can still pray, but they must do so in accordance with the Sephardi tradition.

Which is why the Supreme Court's April 2003 ruling was fine with me. It delineated a portion of the Kotel, known as Robinson's Arch, at the corner of the Southern Wall excavations, as a place where groups that did not follow the Orthodox tradition could still pray - be these women's groups, Reform groups, Conservative groups, etc.

As long as all groups had a place they could pray according to their own beliefs, I was okay with not being able to pray in a women's group at the Western Wall Plaza itself. To me, the Southern wall is equally as holy as the Western one, though I know this is not the classical case.

Anyway, after the Women of the Wall continued to pray at the Western Wall (As opposed to Robinson's Arch) evern after the Arch had been prepared for them, I decided to stop praying with them. I felt my beliefs were not in line with the groups. And though, despite my now somewhat menaingful connection the the Kotel, I still am no big Kotel fan.

Which is why I surprised myself, when I asked one of my nursing school friends to come pray with me this past Tuesday, Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat, at the kotel. She and I both had some things we wanted to pray for - for me, I wanted to pray that things with B. should continue to go as smoothly and wonderfully as they have been for the past 3 months, and that whatever G-d intends to happen to us should happen in a good time, without difficulties or stress.

I almost totally forgot that the Women of the Wall would be there - and I felt somewhat embarrassed as I slunk past them, hoping they wouldn't notice that I was walking right past the gorup to pray by myself. I don't know why I was so embarrassed - to be honest, most of the women never talked to me during the year I prayed with them, and I doubted more than one of them would have recognized me.

But then I began to pray and I finally felt a connection - the spark of holiness that I suppose thousands before me have felt when praying at the kotel. And yes, it still had to do mostly with those that had come to pray before me at the exact same spot. What became of their hopes and prayers that were whispered in pain or anguish, what had they given thanks for at this very spot? I thought how Jews all over the world imagined this place as the antenna receiver for their prayers. And so, I too, am now a woman of the Wall. With or without the group.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

I'll Have The Number Two!

I'll admit it. I am one of those people who walks her dog, and doesn't always clean up after the dog. To be fair, Sharona (my dog) poops in such out of the way places that if you step in it, you deserve it. Sharona will hide in a corner, under a bush, behind a truck and then do her business. So you see what I mean, its hard to step in her poop, without trying to step in it.

Every once in a while someone will call me on my behavior - and yell at me for leaving Sharona's, um, presents behind. These interactions are usually hilarious (at least from my point of view).

Case in point: Two days ago I was walking Sharona, when she stopped to take a pee. This woman (who was more or less my age) came up to me, and with righteousness and justice in heavily American-accented and broken Hebrew, told me that I was a disgusting person for letting my dog make on the floor, and that I better plan on cleaning it up.

I looked at her, and in English said, "Lady, it's piss! Did you want me to lick it up or use a paper towel?"

Her face then crumpled up, all the righteousness dissipated, and she burst out into tears! "I didn't know it was piss - I thought it was a sh*t! I thought she was taking a sh*t! Everyone lets their dog sh*t all over, and I always step on it!" At this point she was actually crying, and I knew if I stuck around much longer I'd be laughing in her face. I have no idea why she was crying, but I think she was having some issues besides those related to stray turds.

The funny part is, had she caught Sharona and I a block earlier, I would have been guilty as charged. I don't know why the whole interaction was so funny to me - I think it was the moment her face crumpled up and she exclaimed, in a tearful voice, "I thought it was a sh*t!"

Another time, Sharona and I happened to be walking past a fresh pile of poop; I believe it was still steaming. It wasn't ours, we just happened to walking past the pile at an inoppurtune moment. This man nearby started screaming at me for letting my dog crap and for not cleaning it up. I was about to defend myself, when I realized the proof was in the 'pudding', so to speak. I told him to stop yelling at me and look at Sharona, then to look at the poop. Each individual turd was bigger than Sharona's head. It must have been the work of a horse, or a Saint Bernard, but it certainly wasn't the work of my 4.5 kg dog. The man felt pretty stupid and shut up.

Again, if he'd caught me moments earlier, the turds would have been Sharona, and he would have a had a point.

But if you're wandering the streets of Jerusalem, and step into a little "gift", chances are, it wasn't me!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Love is a verb

It seems (from my last entry) that the blogosphere likes happy stories. And we do want to keep the blogosphere happy, don't we boys and girls?

Last night B. and I attended (and unmasked ourselves to a reader of this blog, Robin, who will now get a shout-out from me) the baby-naming of my friend Rina and David. Rina and I met when we were in the same Ulpan class 2.5 years ago, right after we made aliyah.

At the time, Rina was dating this drudge of a guy (I was going to use the word "man" but that would be a misnomer) and wondering where it all would lead. Needless to say, we, her friends, were thrilled to bits when she and the drudge broke up, and in short time she met David, an all-around wonderful guy, who complements Rina perfectly. They married shortly after meeting, and began a family pretty soon thereafter. It was indeed a beautiful thing to see them bring a perfect little girl into the world. In fact, since Rina gave birth in my hospital, I got the distinction of being the baby's first visitor, a few hours after she was born.

I also got to see some Ulpan friends I haven't seen in a while, and got to introduce them to B.

You know how there are some people, whom you really like, but they're not your friends? They're friends of friends, whom you are always really excited to see at parties and birthdays at that mutual friend's house. Does anyone else have "friends" like this, or am I the only one?

Anyway, a while ago, I was talking to one of these "friends" at a party, back when B. and I were only about a month old - hard to believe its almost 3 months, eh? Anyway, I was telling this woman, Yael, about how when I first started dating B. I kept thinking, "Where's the drama? Where's the tears and fighting?" I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop....the big "issues" to arise. I was worried that if we had no drama, perhaps we had no chemistry. Perhaps I didn't really care about B.

Yael laughed at me and said, "No, hon. What you've got is a healthy relationship!" I never had one before, I didn't know it could be so easy. B. and I disagree (and its usually my stubbornness vs. his reasonableness), but we don't fight. And I'm not saying everything is easy as pie, but its not hard. Not the way I used to think love was supposed to be.

This girl in my nursing school class got engaged this week. She's 20 years old, and has been dating the guy for 1 month. I thought she was nuts, until I talked to her. And she said eacrly the same thing to me about her fiance, that I have said to people about B.:

I can't remember ever having loved anyone else. I mean, I know I did, I was there, and I've got the postings to prove it. But I can't conjure up the remembrances of the feelings (I know this is obstruse, but stay with me folks). I can't remember the emotions. I remember feeling bad about myself, feeling unworthy, but I can't remember feeling love. It feels like I've never dated anyone before B., and that I will never date anyone else. I don't feel head-over-heels in love...I just feel love. I simultaneously love B. and am in love with him.

I know this posting will jump up and bite me in the behind someday, and that I promised I wouldn't blog about B. too much. But he's become a pretty huge part of my life in the past few months. He doesn't read this blog, and he says he doesn't want to, mostly because it would make him uncomfortable reading about himself.

Anyway, Rina and David's celebration got me thinking that about my own love life, and that love shouldn't be hard. I'm not saying it should be easy...a good relationship or marriage certainly requires plenty of maintenance and elbow grease. I believe that love is a verb. It's something you do. It's not a noun - a state of being. Love, I believe now, is a two-way street. Its not about expectations and what someone else can do for me, or how much I can do for somenoe else, knowing full well it won't ever be reciprocated. Its about what I can do for this person, to make them feel loved.

I can chart my life by the way I have spent my New Years' Eves. I can count back to 1994, and tell you who I was with and what I did.

This year, it being a Friday night, B. and I were simply chilling in my apartment, as the clock struck midnight. And as it did, I realized that what i thought would never happen, actually did. Not only does someone love me as I am, he loves me for who I am. B. actually loves me because of my weirdnesses, not despite them!

This post is getting sappy, and I have no clear way to end it right now. I'll leave it as a work in progress, and you'll all forgive me and indulge my sappiness.