Saturday, May 29, 2010

Encounter Testimonial --

The Encounter facilitator's evaluation is long. It took me something close to two hours to fill out. The last question (section V) asked each facilitator (pet name: Fac) to write a testimonial about their experience on the trip. So I told them that I'd write a blog post and send it to them instead.

Here it is, my...

Encounter Testimonial:

If Encounter changed me the first time I participated then it created me the second time. The first time - three years ago, as a student in Migdal Oz- I entered Bethlehem from my refernece point: Northern Efrat. There I stayed alone in a cold, dark hotel room leaving Al-Jazeera on the television just for the comfort of the background noise. There I met Palestinians for the first time. There my curiosity was sparked. And then I went to Hebron where I walked from Area C to B to A and back again, walked from fear to anger to entitlement, walked from entombed silence, utopias and curfews to a stifling bustle, crowds and foreignness -- all of this was my first Encounter experience. I returned to America after a gap year in Israel changed. I studied Arabic. I got involved in Middle East politics on campus. I went to Egypt and Morocco to live the culture first hand. And then I came back to Israel.

And I was asked to become a facilitator for Encounter. I was asked not to only be changed, but to change. To experience and guide experience. To built and be built (livnot u'lhibanot). So I came to the facilitation training. And I met new people there who are wise, open, and caring. And then I came on the program. And I met new participants who wanted to see, to hear, to listen. And I lead small groups. And I met new people who were grappling with concepts like compassion, fairness, and honesty who reminded me of my own values. And I heard from speakers who brought hope, anger, and passion. And I met Palestinians again -- and I was able to talk with them. In their own language.

And all of this created me. This time Encounter wasn't scary. It was safe. This time Encounter wasn't lonely. It was a community. This time there was no need for Al-Jazeera. I slept well.

Song of the moment: Aisha by Kheb Chaled

Thursday, May 20, 2010

We worked like dogs. We worked all day to turn our campus into some sort of combination of a Bedouin Tent, MacDonald's Farm, and a Fancy Outdoor Restaurant. Room for 250+ people to sit (and at one point there were something like 400 people there). We built two covered-tent areas, brought in hay, hoisted a bicycle between two trees so that it hung suspended, took some flowers from a wedding that was held here yesterday and spray painted some of them gold, built a cage and brought in a duck, a goat, and a donkey....and a million and one other crazy things I can't mention for lack of space right now. It was nuts. In any case, I was enlisted to be a "meltzarit" - a waitress - at the "reception" that took place when the guests and bogrim (alumni) first arrived. I and a few others work black and white, smiled a lot, and took around platter after platter of cheese, banana shakes, and wine that we had prepared earlier in the day, pampering our visitors with hors d'oeuvres which both they and I took part of heartily.

We had a MASSIVE "Kabbalat haChag" on the Mitzpe (lookout) with all of the guests, everyone bright and shiny in pure, festive white. It was beautiful on many, many levels.

Play: We had an incredible dinner (though, I will admit, I had eaten a lot of cheese...wasn't so hungry by the time all the delicious food came around) which I helped to serve, running around with plates of labane, hummus, two types of pasta (yuuumm!), lasagna, and bread.

Precious: The lectures after dinner were great. But the highlight of the night, for those in my machzor (loosely: semester) was a play that a bunch of the guys put on imitating some of the teachers. They really loved it. Erez Eshel said he watched it twice.

Pontificate: At 2:30am everyone broke into group "chavrutot", or discussion groups that some of us had prepared. My group was - yes - on one of Levinas' 9 Talmudic Readings. I lead it with my friend Tea, a wonderful, thoughtful secular from Haifa. One I first learned in Migdal Oz, and have never forgotten. It's about the meaning of the phrase "Na'ase V'Nishma" ("we will do and we will listen") and its flipped logic. There is a story that Levinas brings from the Talmud about God holding Mt. Sinai over the Children of Israel and essentially leaving them with the choice of "Torah or Death". The group that sat with us was very serious, very studious, and very interested in the subject matter. The discussion was flowed, breathed, lived, and we talked until 4am (!) when I took my leave (before everyone else!) to go listen to the Book of Ruth be read in the Yishuv's synagogue. I sang along.

Pass out:
Then I went to bed. Ahhhhhh. The next day was...chill. No one was up before 1pm. Including me.

Chag Sheni (or, My Personal Shavuot):

When Havdalah came around

Surprise Tiyyul:
We're going on a tiyyul - the whole Midrasha - next week. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. No one knows where we're going, but we're all gung-ho. Should be fun. They told us last Thursday. They told us to bring our passports. I think that was a joke. It must have been a joke.

Slip Down to Qelt: Went down to the mayaan this morning. The most "chagigi" thing I could think of doing. And it was lovely. I read Sefer Ezra there with a friend. Glory.

Shiur Ezra:
Micah Goodman gave a talk on Sefer Ezra. That's all I need write here.

"Shimru Al HaEsh!":
I made myself a lunch of what food there was. I managed to save a yortzeit candle that had been lit before the holiday so I could use it's flame to light a fire to cook with, and I made a stir-fry dish of red pepper, tomato, and whole lemon seasoned with chili pepper, turmeric, salt. Spicy. Strong. Tasty...?

An abbreviation for "Sheina B'Tozhorayim" or "afternoon nap". Something I did today.

So I leave you with this, a lovely ballad called Jaykub. The band is called Sparklehorse (here they perform with another band called Danger Mouse. I like the animal themes ///|||\\\\), and I like them for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that their first album is called Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. One word.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I want to write a book about tremps. I think I have tremps like other people have dreams. I have bizarre, surreal, unreal tremps. (A tremp, by the by, is a lift. It's a ride from a total stranger. A hitchhike -- the only way to get around in some places, including Alon.)
-I had a tremp with an Ole (a guy who moved to Israel) from Mexico and was a hard-core surfer. He was coming with his boards and equipment from the beach, an hour or two away. Turns out he's the gardener of the Yishuv and is helping us to put together a compost. We had a long conversation about water-sports and the smallness of Israel where people think that to drive an hour to the beach is like driving to the end of the world.
-I had a tremp with a man and his son to Jerusalem where I kept silent until we were in East Jerusalem and his son, who must have been about 10, asked if the women in their long black garments and heavy hijabs were hot all of the time. And his father answered "no". So I said, "I'm not so sure" and from there we ended up having a conversation about where I had been in the last six months and Arabic. Turns out, his mother is from Tunis, and he knows some Moroccan Arabic, so we spoke Arabic for the remainder of the ride. I see him around the Yishuv from time to time, and we always exchange some Magrebi. Fun.
-I had a tremp with a handicapped woman who drove - not with the wheel - but instead with small, sensitive device that, when turned, turns the wheel. Her baby in the backseat slept the whole way, making cute slumber noises from time to time.
-I had a tremp with a Chareidi who wouldn't stop talking to me. He was curious about things. He started off on a rant about Diasporic Jews, to which I (obbbviously) need to respond. So we talked about living as a Jew on an American university campus. Slowly the conversation turned to shidduchim (matchmaking) and how it worked on my side of the fence. He was interested to learn how men and women met when there was no third party to set them up, what age was a "normal" age for marriage, and what it must be like to "pick" your own match.
-I had a tremp with an American form Teaneck who had come to hear Micah Goodman's talk on History and Philosophy. He made Aliya a few years ago. I actually had a tremp to his tremp...i.e. the guy who picked me up told me that the guy in front of him (this American guy) was going closer to where I needed to get we chased him up and down the windy Alon Road, caught him at the turn onto the highway and had a crazy Chinese fire drill.

Each one is a dream. Not all are good dreams, but very few are nightmares.

This upcoming week is the "shavua emtza" - the "middle week" indicating that our program is halfway over. Or a little more. Which I don't want to think about, I want to be present, live in the moment, and carpe diem (I learned the Greek poem where that phrase comes from the other day!) while I can. My song for you, as you may have guessed, is Simon and Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge" because, well, I'm feelin' groovy.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

One Fantastic Week

Someone told me yesterday that I have a creative soul. I hope that's true. Because I was thinking about writing a book. A book from the perspective of the soldier who I saw on my way back from the Gush the other day. I saw him -- I couldn't tell the color of his skin, he was standing in the dark, all I saw was his outline. He was a skinny guy, and he was turning, spinning, with his gun. He was playing -- he was a kid playing, only in a uniform, and with a gun. And suddenly I wanted to write his autobiography. I wanted to understand his life. But the car I was in kept right on driving, and he passed me by. Maybe someday I''ll find him as a character in a novel, or I'll write him into mine. For now, I'll have to make do with this blog.

Its been a long time since I last blogged. There's a good reason: The huge bonfire that the kids of the Yishuv built on LA"G B'Omer (they've been gathering sticks and furniture and brush since Pesach...) burned through internet cable of Alon. I mean, really!? Alon didn't have internet for 3 days. Painful. In any case, I've (obviously?) been through a lot since I last posted. Done a lot, thought a lot, just...a lot. Right now I am sitting on Derech Aza sipping tea (delicious! ginger, lemon, nana) and thinking about what I want to do with my life. I've recently been considering a career in journalism as opposed to academia. I guess what it comes down to is that I just want to write (as can be surmised from my prologue to this blog). Maybe I'll just do this for a living. Sit, drink tea, and write a blog. Who needs money anyway?

All kidding aside: What have I been up to, you ask? I shall describe in brief -- It's been sort of political, so get ready...

Two Shabbatot ago...
I went to Talmon.
Talmon is a settlement.
A real settlement.
Not a Gush Etzion going-to-be-included-in-any-future-borders-of-the-state-of-Israel settlement, not an Alon mixed-religious-non-religious-progressive settlement.
A real settlement.
It sits on what used to be Arab land.
It restricts the Arab access to its 200 year old olive trees.
And its in the middle of nowhere.
Mode'in, a half an hour away, up and down a windy road, is the "big city".
Mode'in, for those who have never been there, is really just an small, ugly version of Miami without the beach.
There's a mall in Mode'in, and a park, and...well, that's it.
So Talmon was an interesting place to visit.
And my friend's (code name: Madeline) family is hilarious. So I had fun nonetheless.

I fear that this style of writing might make this blog post look longer than, well, than it should. So I'm going revert to my previous paragraphing style.

So - that was Talmon. This shabbat I was in Jerusalem. But there was everything in between that -- everything before that we're just going to ignore for now...there was a lot of mayan swimming, my birthday, LA"G B'Omer, friends coming to visit me in midrasha, fox sightings (Abba: I've now seen a fox twice on my runs - once at night and once in the day. I think of you and Rabbi Akiva every time) and learning, of course, lots of learning. And, on top of it all, it's getting hot. Too hot. Running is not fun when its hot. And it's even hot at night. Today I ran during the day (10:30 am, since I didn't wake up for my pre-"daf yomi" run at 6:15 and I was annoyed with myself) and I could only do one go-round -- and even so, at the end, I was gasping. The tyrannical cloudheat creeps into ones flesh and burns one from the inside...slowly. Roasting.

MUSIC in my life
But last week - last week was packed: I went to a marathon of concerts in Gan Saker for Yom HaStudent which took place on the eve of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day which commemorates the 1967 reunification East and West Jerusalem by the Israelis). I got a student-priced ticket, and hung out with some of my "peeps" enjoying Monica Sex, The Ramirez Brothers, Geva Alon, and I missed (to my great pain) HaDag HaNachash and Ehud Banai at the end. There were a number of American bands (like Cool and the Gang -- I kid you not) that were, as they say, "bli kesher l'klum" - totally disconnected from anything and everything Israeli and probably had come that night to Gan Saker because they had run out of venues in America.

Yom Yerushalyim
On Jerusalem Day itself, I had a tour of the old city of Jerusalem on the day itself, was disturbed (as usual) by the storm that rages in its ancient, narrow passages, and reminded of its painful, divided history. And the next day...I went to Bethlehem (....yes) as a facilitator for Encounter ....HOLD UP. WHAT!? What did you do, Elisheva!? WHAT!? Yes. Ok here I must pause and insert some explanation -- actually, no. I'll leave the explanation for another day. And on that other day maybe I'll tell you about all the weird creepy-crawlers that I've discovered in the desert and elsewhere. They really are bizarre, and sometimes beautiful. Someone should remind me. In the meantime I'll give you this song by Geva Alon called Modern Love, his most well known work, I believe.