Or rather, HOW to begin.
How do I begin to describe 10 days that felt, in all honestly, like ten months?
I heard from everyone before I left that I wouldn’t sleep on the trip, that that wasn’t the purpose of the trip, and that I could sleep when I got back. Yet sleep deprivation, jam-packed itineraries, foreign food, and airplane air will quickly run you down. And that’s without the spiritual and inter-personal exchanges going on.
How do I answer my family and coworkers’ questions of how the trip was? My family cares about me, knew what this trip meant to me, and wants to know if it was everything I wanted. I want to be able to answer, but I’m still chewing on so many sites and questions that I can’t find a way to respond.
For coworkers it’s harder. We generally get along and they were all excited to hear about my plans. But when they ask me how Israel was… they don’t understand how this trip isn’t like a week in Hawaii or Paris. Israel is different for Jews, even for totally secular, or totally disconnected Jews. So I throw out some details tailored to the coworker out of polite obligation and try to move on through the mountain of work I have on my desk.
So for this blog, for the few readers that make a point of checking in…I’m still not at a place where I can begin to describe everything that I experienced. Yes, I will absolutely post later on about specific days or visits that hit me the hardest, that forced me to challenge my beliefs, or that served as strong confirmation and affirmation that resonated deep in my soul.
For now I am left with:
There were moments when the Rabbi leader of our trip really spoke to me as a Jew with deep insights into Torah, humanity, and living in a secular world. There were other moments when I questioned my right to be on the trip. Now, days after, I feel myself drawn to the tension he brings to me life. I’m still not sure why, but I have a feeling I’m supposed to learn something from him. If I haven’t already (and just didn’t realize it…maybe it will come in the coming weeks), I am supposed to keep in touch with him for a reason. I wish I knew why.
The madrachim were one of the most delightful couples I’ve ever met. The husband was a Disney animator. Listening to his journey, not only through his career, but also his Judaism, brought lots of questions and expectations (for myself) to mind. In the course of conversations, I learned that he spoke about why he cannot accept my conversion as valid to other trip mates, but he never treated me differently. And if I was your average Reform/Conservative convert, I never would have recognized his subtle, respectful way of handling the wine I brought for Shabbes. He’s a a Mensch. His wife was truly delightful, one of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. There is something about Orthodox women that make me feel like a failure as a human being. Not that they ever intend this, but sometimes it’s just hard to feel like you’ve ever done anything worthy in their presence. She is that awesome of a person and her children are so, so lucky to have her as a mother. The Israelis I met really forced me to question my “standards” for the term friend. How do you feel so attached to people after 10 days, while abroad, when it can take you weeks and weeks to open up back home? That is what I spent most of the flight home thinking about. I don’t know the answer.
The tour guide made this trip. He put everything into showing us why he loves his country, and it was hard NOT to accept his infectious enthusiasm for this place. He was so capable of running around silly one moment and then deeply responding to one of your tough questions the next. Our guard entertained us with her beautiful voice, the sad tale of growing up in Southern Israel, and her mini-ulpanim. The Israeli soldiers loved showing us around and yet watched with awe as we explored their home for the first time. I remember laughing after we were given our time at the Kotel on Shabbat; one of them was so surprised and humbled that we cared about the Wall. Really? What must he think of American Jews?
My trip mates were overwhelmingly frustrating with a few saving graces. Many had not travelled abroad. Many were quite JAP-y, sorry to say. A few quickly formed a “cool kids” clique that was hard to break through. I was so tired of them by the second day that I quickly turned to my iPod and journal. There is a girl from my city that I really connected with, a girl from another Southwestern state, and a guy from up in the Northwest. It’s kind of disheartening to realize that 40 randomly selected Jewish young adults… and you can’t stand 35 of them. One of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip was to connect culturally and people-y, beyond religion-ly to Judaism. I’m left with a lot of questions of why I have a hard time connecting to Jewish peers, and I do mean beyond the difficulties I have with my peers, period, introvert that I am.
I’ve never felt my own country was inadequate before. Yes, the USA has disappointed me on many fronts. But it hit me like a thud on the third or fourth day, while travelling around Israel’s boondocks, that even in Podunk Israel, it was easier to be a Jew than in New York City or Los Angeles. Everything I saw had a hecksher on it. Every restaurant had a sink with a two handled bucket. Every door had a mezuzah. I heard mean shouting “Mincha, mincha!” in parking lots of gas stations. I will never find that in the US. I will always be the minority.
And then I think of all the things I can have in the US that I will never have in Israel: no conscription. Ability to marry a non-Jew if I wanted. No PTSD. It may not be a fair trade-off, but it’s one I’m willing to make.