Please help me send one of my Birthright trip mates back to Israel.

I’m asking all of you for a big favor right now. There is a guy on my Birthright trip, let’s call him Moshe, that grew up a half-black/half-Ashkenazi Jew in LA. We’re talking teffillin-laying, Shabbes-keeping, kosher-eating Jew who has had his Judaism questioned every single day that he walked into a synagogue because of the color of his skin. He and his brother have a difficult relationship with Judaism as a result: how can they feel so drawn to HaShem and yet so rejected by their people, G-d’s people?

They apply to Birthright. Moshe gets to go. His brother does not.

Mikvah Bound meets Moshe on their Birthright trip. Though they come from wildly different social circles, being the only two “non-Ashkenazi” on the trip, there is a mutual understanding that cannot be denied. Jews of Color do not experience the same things that converts do, but let’s face it, we’re both outside of the norm of “typical Ashkenazi American Jew”.

Let’s say that during this 10 day trip, Moshe took more than 5,000 pictures and more than 15 hours of video footage. That he then assembled, thanks to his Hollywood industry skills, into a 90 second clip that is entered into a contest promoting our Birthright trip organizer, Israel Free Spirit. This contest has a cash prize that could send Moshe and his brother, let’s say Aaron, back to Israel, together, to study and to rock the Jews that they are.

So, once again, I pester my readers. PLEASE go here. Please vote once a day, on multiple devices if possible, for the next 10 days. Please send them back to the Holy Land. Please acknowledge that this video looks amazingly professional and manages to capture the beauty of Israel and the deep connection between Israelis and Americans.

Todah.

EDIT TO ADD: I am clearly brain dead. He is number 9. Thanks for bringing this to my attention kind reader!

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Shabbes, Shabbes, Shabbes.

So you know that phrase that says Moshiach will come when all Jews keep Shabbat twice (or, according to some traditions, thrice) in a row?

Yeah. I’m pretty sure I’m the one keeping Moschiach from coming.

I am not shomer Shabbat. I never have been, and I don’t think I ever will be. I haven’t been shomer Shabbat in the past because I grew up as a non-Jew doing non-Shabbat-y things on Shabbat. I’m pretty sure Saturday morning cartoons are quintessentially American like apple pie and Twinkies.

I’m not shomer Shabbat because I do not currently live in my own place. I can’t very well ask my parents to please forget that very important game on Saturday.

I will probably not be shomer Shabbat in the future because The Boy will, G-d willing, be the co-occupant of my future abode and he’s more of a wine, candles…and movie kind of Shabbat guy.

It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I’m lazy. I admit it. I don’t live in a Jewish area (anyone wonder why Orthodoxy’s going strong? This, more than any other thing, is it, IMNSHO.). I don’t have a Jewish group of people around me 24/7. No one close by for Shabbat or Yom Tov. Getting to shul is an ordeal. Reminding everyone to please not touch the light switches (scotch tape is your friend?) and even if you think this is stupid, it’s not to me, so please, for the love of all that is Holy, just do me this favor for 25 hours.

So.

Here I was. Browsing the list of Birthright Trip Organizers back in September.

Israel Free Spirit: “Shabbat in Jerusalem.”

Wowza. I wonder what it’s like to hear the Shabbat siren.

It may or may not have been the primary decision-factor.

Fast forward a few months and I’m actually IN Eretz Israel. While everyone else was clapping when the plane landed, I was busy saying my Shecheyanu. Not every day that you get to *BE* in Israel.

We are up in the Golan Heights for a few days (which I will talk about later). Then we drove to Tel Aviv. I met The Boy’s Tel Aviv-ian cousin in a bar for a few hours. I slept for four hours. I get on the bus. I am taken to Israel’s Hall of Independence. I am blown away.

I am shuffled to the bus again. Matisyahu’s Jerusalem comes on the speakers.

We are ascending to Jerusalem. It takes 45 minutes. I ask the Rabbi when Shabbat starts. It is already 10:45 after all. “Oh, 40 minutes before. Jerusalem has this special custom.” (The things you learn! I thought it was 18 minutes everywhere!) That’s great rabbi. I’m wondering what the 40 minutes means for TODAY. “Oh. Well it is… what that clock says.”

There is a clock as you enter the city limits. It says the time Shabbat starts and ends. This is mind blowing.

We are dropped off at Marzipan Bakery in the Shuk. I am immediately hungry at the sight of delicious challah. You can get it from the size of your fist to the size of your leg. No joke.

They have the world’s best rugelach. No, trust me on this. You may make great ones that are gone fifteen minutes after coming out of the oven. Your Bubbe may have won countless awards and be in some cookbooks. But these are the world’s best. I didn’t believe the hype. I was a skeptic. I was proven wrong. The chocolate and cinnamon come out on sheets as big as a kitchen table lined with parchment paper and just enough oil to prevent sticking. They are good even days later, but of course are best eaten right out of the steaming bag.

I then prowl the Shuk for two hours. Turkish baklava. Kosher butchers galore. Freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice. Judaica stands so I can find my 10 shekalim “Secret Santa” gift. (Yes, my Aish/OU sponsored Birthright trip did in fact include a Secret Santa gift that definitely made me give them the raised eyebrow.) I bought a really nice “poh” dreidle for myself, and a 10 shekalim one for my Secret Santa partner. And more importantly, the pulsating urgency of Shabbat. It was everywhere in this crowded place.

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Then on the bus to our hotel in Bayit Vagan. Two hours to don religious attire. Apparently some of the female participants needed clarification on what an appropriate skirt was. The kippah-less men are presented with presents.

We are transported to Jaffa Gate. We walk briefly through the Armenian Quarter before hurrying through the Jewish quarter to the Aish HaTorah center. The location is… enough to take your breath away. There’s no other way of describing the multi-tiered building perched on the courtyard overlooking the Kotel.

We listen to a pre-Shabbat concert from a rabbi that studied at UCSB. His personality leads me to believe he would still fit in well with the student body of his alma mater. He also had the audience’s—all Aish/OU Birthright groups, plus a few of Aish’s own programs—men singing “Shabbat shalom, Shabbat, shabbat,” in a deep bass-y voice while the women sang, “Shabbes, Shabbes, Shabbes” in a more alto/soprano. It was annoyingly catchy and stuck with us as a motto for the remaining five days of the trip.

They took the men up to the roof top while our group “mom” brought the women to light candles. We were running short on time, so we quickly laid out 22 sets of candles. She tried to set the kavana for the blessing by describing why this is our mitzvah, what it represents spiritually and symbolically. I strike my match and the tears flow. I am not even one year’s old Jewishly speaking. I am here in Jerusalem, watching the plaza fill with soldiers and Chassids and Dati and Chiloni, in Israel, because someone thought I was worthy enough to stand at the wall that we have prayed toward and for. For hundreds and hundreds of years. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more Jewish, more connected. It was spiritually overwhelming to consider the gravity of hundreds of Jews celebrating Shabbat at the wall.

We light and walk to the wall, pushing gently forward. I appreciate that I tower over most women when I deliver the prayers I carried for my mom, my best friend, my best friend’s mom, and myself. I work them into the nooks.
I back away, to the flag pole, and just watch. The energy. The people. I let it sink in.

We walk to our dinner, uphill, in the cold, for an hour. Challah never tasted so good. Our rabbi asks each of us to offer a blessing for the group. I am the last.

“I’ve seen the group dynamic shift three times already on this trip: at the kibbutz, in Sfat, and tonight. One of my favorite Spanish sayings is ‘Y tiene uno que pegarse fuego a si mismo para poder alumbrar a los demas.’ It means one has to set one’s self on fire first, in order to be able to give light to, to illuminate, others. My wish for you all is that this trip sets your soul on fire.”

We walk uphill for two hours to our hotel. People no longer see the joy in Shabbat. I am upset that for the 20 totally secular kids on my trip, those with no religious connection to Judaism, that this is part of their Shabbat. It was miserably cold and we were already exhausted from lack of sleep. I didn’t want this to be 30% of their Shabbat experience. It wasn’t fair to Shabbat that the OU Welcome Center and the Old City are so far from the neighborhood where our rabbi’s parents lived.

But we survive.

And we sleep.

And we eat.

And we listen to our “group dad” speak about his career, which serves as an allegory for life.

And we listen to the secular Israelis complain about the biased view of Israel being presented to us.

And we sleep.

And we do havdalah with bay leaves and Krembos.

And I think I see Moschiach off in the distance, inching closer and closer.

Where to begin?

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:

People

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.

Israel

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.

I’m back.

I have no idea how asthmatic Israelis survive.

I’m back, hacking up a lung, but alive and happy to have experienced what I did.

I’m still not at a point where I can articulate what I experienced, exactly, but I’ll try to put it into words as the days pass.

For now, I will merely reflect what my Facebook status said earlier this morning:

As awesome as Israel was and as much as I can’t wait to go back, nothing beats your own bed, clean laundry, mom’s cooking, and hugging The Boy.

Beep

You have reached the blog of Mikvah Bound. I am either writing on paper or away from my laptop at the moment. Because I am in Israel. Until January 5th.

Please leave a message with your name and contact method after the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks. Bye.

Beep.

Srugim

My mom doesn’t always understand why I’m so excited to see Jews in the media. I think any member of a minority group can relate: we’re very rarely in the media, and when we are, it’s not always as a fully-fleshed out, nuanced character. We’re always some plot device or trite archtype.

So when I see us portrayed as PEOPLE, normal human beings with lives and problems and flaws and amazing moments of happiness…who just happen to be Jewish, Jewish people… I get excited. It’s amazing when we’re not the “self-hating” Jew, or the “funny, intellectual” secular liberal Jew, or the “backwards” Orthodox Jew….

And, shock and horror, I’ve found that many of the films and movies I’ve encountered that have “normal” Jewish characters have come out of Israel. Srugim is one of them. I’m talking non-stop about it and encouraging all people to watch.
Srugim started in Israel in 2008, so I am arriving late to this party. There’s a good chance you already went to the party and returned home, kicking your heels off and loosening your tie. But. If you have not been invited, here it is. You are invited to run, not walk, to your closest copy of Srugim, a tv show about five single Dati Jerusalemites approach their 30th birthday. They live in Katamon, aka the Swamp, a neighborhood/district/barrio for single Datim.

I may or may not have finished the first season in three nights. And I’m currently chugging my way through the second at another equally alarming speed: when will the dishes get done tonight? Do I make my bed or watch another scene in the morning? Do I pray in English so I can finish another episode tonight or do I stumble along in Hebrew knowing it will take three to four times as long? Decisions, decisions.

So what do I like about it?

A) The drama. I can’t stand to be around people in my own life that remind me of Grey’s Anatomy characters. But, I recognize that drama is a compelling genre for its ability to capture the tension in life that we run into. We do have to make tough choices, wade through hard situations, and encounter other beings. Srugim is a TV show, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a level of drama, and situational drama, that I find bearable.

B)Orthodoxy. I’m a Conservative Jew. A happy Conservative Jew. I have my beefs with Orthodoxy, but I honestly cringe every time I see Orthodox Jews portrayed in the media. They’re not wife-beaters stuck in the Middle Ages. They’re not brainwashed and incapable of critical thought. They’re not totally unrelatable alien lifeforms with quaint folk customs for us to gawk at. Of all the media I’ve seen, this most accurately reflects the Jews I know who are Orthodox. It may not be 100% accurate, but it comes the closest that I’ve seen. I’d be interested in hearing what Orthodox Jews think of the OJs in this series.

C)Hebrew practice. I’ve already learned new words and phrases from listening. My accent and rhythym are horrible, but I figure they always will be.

D) Israel. Oh boy. I am so conflicted on Israel (can’t wait to see what I feel like then I get back in a few weeks!) and am currently feeling very much an American Jew. Who is happy to live outside of Israel, in the Diaspora that I refuse to call Exile. And yet watching this series provokes a longing in me. How much LESS of a personal struggle would kashrut be there? What would it feel like to not have to negotiate work schedules around Yom Tov? To have people approach you (assuming you’re a man) in the street asking you to make minyan for them? It’s kinda… mind blowing.

So yes. Please watch. And let’s discuss!

P.S. In case you live under a rock, Matisyahu shaved his beard. I’m clutching my pearls and scratching my head. I joke.

I had to turn off the interwebs yesterday.

Everything was going fine yesterday until I checked Facebook at lunch.  First I read a story about a small Baptist Church in Kentucky that voted recently to not allow interracial couples to join as members.  Sure, they could come to worship, but they couldn’t participate in any services unless it was a funeral.  I’m not sure why that matters to the church, why a funeral is different than regular Sunday worship or baptisms or marriages.  But it apparently does.  And they want you to know, of course, that they’re not racist! They’re just… this isn’t appropriate.  Or something.

It took me a while to calm down.  It boggles my mind that in 2011 we are still having these discussions, even in rural Kentucky appalachia. What’s even more disgusting is that 9 people voted for this, 6 people voted against, and approximately 25 other people in attendance “abstained” from voting at all.  I’m sorry, is this a convoluted gray issue? Are you too chicken-shit to call out your “brothers in Christ” on their crazy stupid idea that some of us are “more” or “better” Children of G-d than others, based on pigmentation levels in skin?  I guess the one benefit of stumbling across this article is that it provides excellent ammunition for the next person I meet who denies that racism is still alive and well in this country.

But then, I realize another of my friends posted this article from the Atlantic about an ad campaign airing “in at least five American communities that warn Israeli expatriates that they will lose their identities if they don’t return home.”  Okay.  Fair enough.  The pressure to assimilate can be strong, I get that, and we ARE two different cultures and societies.  But then I actually watched the videos.  I’ll let them speak for themselves:

(I guess the one small benefit is that I could read 75% of the Hebrew on the screen and understood about half of it.)  This Yom HaZikaron ad is at once hilarious and perplexing.  The male actor looks nothing like 90% of Jewish young adult men I’ve met in my life (save the Renewal crew in the Berkeley area…), what with his long pony tail and awkward accent and intonation when speaking in English.  And why is this guy supposed to read her mind? Why is she not capable of saying “Hey, you know what, I’m not all that interested in hanging out with friends tonight.  Today is Israel’s Memorial Day, and I always feel sad about all the lives that were lost in the wars and how my cousin was affected by his time in the IDF. Can we just stay home and let me have some space?”

Instead, this ad makes it seem like American significant others are deliberately obtuse or that Israelis live on some other planet and are alien creatures that are impossible to relate to.

I’m sorry, but what?! If little Nuraleh doesn’t understand the significance of Chanukah (and of COURSE the government chose the holiday specifically about assimilation!), isn’t that the fault of the “will always remain Israeli” parents?  The parents who haven’t taught their Jewish daughter enough about Judaism or Jewish identity?  I know plenty of Jewish kids in America who wouldn’t fail that “test” administered by the grandparents. But once again, no, it’s our American Jewish culture and education that’s inadequate, not at all the precious Israeli parents.

It’s a backhanded slap in the face to American Jews and I can’t believe the Israeli government ever thought this was a good idea. Klal Yisrael and Am Israel! Right?! Not.

I think I’ll just copy and paste the last paragraph of the Atlantic article here to finish my thoughts on the matter:

These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America. How else are we supposed to understand the “Christmas” ad? Obviously, assimilation and intermarriage are issues in America in ways they aren’t in Israel. Israel has other problems of course, such as the fact that many of its rabbis act like Iranian mullahs. (I’m not even going to try to unpack my complicated beliefs about intermarriage and assimilation and life in the Diaspora here; that’s for a book. But let me just say that intermarriage can also be understood as an opportunity.)

The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don’t mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.

It’s not stealing if there’s attribution

Erika, blogger extraordinaire of Black, Gay, and Jewish, got back from Israel and I’ve been reading through her posts, and those of other people who went on her trip.  I found the blog of one extraordinary writer who traveled as well.  I’ve copied and pasted a few of my favorite passages from Scott’s Blog below but you should totally go check it out yourself:

Finally on the plane, two rows in front of me, there is consternation with seat assignments.  Apparently, a woman has a seat between two haredi men.  The men are youngish.  The woman is probably in her 60s or so.  She is no Bar Rafaeli.  To the extent I am able to tune into the conversation, it seems that the man who has the window seat is offered a seat in, as they say in Hebrew, “biznez.”  I wanted to blurt out, “Lama lo notnim lagveret lashevet bebiznez?”  Why don’t you let the lady sit in business?  Seems like the easier way to solve the problem.  But I try not to yell on planes, even El Al, and don’t want to antagonize my neighbors.  Besides, maybe the man is a premium frequent traveler and is entitled to the seat.  Maybe he offered to pay the upgrade and I didn’t hear.  Mostly, I guess, it’s just not my problem.  The woman looks PEEVED AS HELL, but keeps quiet. 

The other haredi man, who has the aisle seat, asks the man sitting in the aisle seat in the row between him and me if he would change seats with him.  There are only men in that row.  The man says fine.  I’m glad I’m a row back and he didn’t ask me.  What would I have said?  The woman glares quietly at the haredi man as he packs up his stuff and moves.  He doesn’t notice, of course. 

I can‘t help but wonder when humiliating a random Jewish woman on an airplane became a Jewish value.  

Probably around the time conversion could be undone, retroactively, and not even for your own error but that of some other ger sponsored by your rabbi?  Or the time some Orthodox stopped eating strawberries and broccoli because their rabbis said there was no way to verify they were clean enough (i.e. devoid of insects) for their hechscher? 

One can certainly criticize Israeli government policies.  One can believe that Israel has made many mistakes, even committed sins, over its history.  It’s especially easy with 20/20 hindsight.  But none of that, nothing at all, can convince me that it is a legitimate position to maintain that of all the peoples in the world, Jews are the only ones not entitled to their own nation-state.  The denial of the national rights of the Jews smacks of anti-Semitism, (or anti-Jewish prejudice, if you prefer that term).  Yes, I know there are people of good will, including some Jews and Israelis, who reject Zionism and believe in a one-state solution in which everyone would be equal.  There are people who say that that Jews and Palestinians have much in common and would quickly learn to live together in peace.  I’d like to think so too.  Maybe that day will come.  But in the meantime, there needs to be two states.  Let them learn to live together.  Then we will see how idealistic the future may be.  In the meantime, the Palestinians are stuck with checkpoints and barriers and collective punishment.  I cannot deny that it is oppressive.  But it is a lesser evil than suicide bombers’ blowing up teenagers at a pizza parlor.

Amen, amen, selah.

Profound Truths

One of the thoughts that the leader of our tour asked us to keep in mind as we began our journey is that the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth.  Nowhere is this truer than in Israel.  Pick a side, or embrace the contradictions, or both. 

Holy Moshe, that blurb should be required reading for all of humanity.

Operation Get to Israel

I’ve purchased my flight to LAX.  I really wanted to fly down on Christmas Eve, rent a hotel, and take like a 6 am taxi to the airport even though my flight leaves at 1:30 pm on Christmas Day.  Instead I leave at 6 am on Christmas morning.

Birthright sufficiently frightened me with their warnings of arriving at least 4 hours early because apparently flights to Israel are always overbooked AND not to mention there are always possibilities of storms or fog that mean  you might lose out on your ONE chance to go to Israel.  I’m really just trying hard NOT to think about this anymore.  Thinking leads to what-ifs, and that’s a horrible road to travel.

So, to save some money and to not completely alienate and upset my parents (note to self: do not look at mother’s face when you say you’re going to Israel… and leaving on Christmas Day), I decided to leave very, very early on Christmas morning.

I’ve also received all vaccine updates.  None of them were necessary for traveling to Israel (can you tell I’m used to Latin American destinations?), but rather for general life.  However, I do appreciate a mobile jaw, and I assume they have rusty metal in Israel just like we do here.  I’ve also received new inhalers and was pleasantly surprised to see that a formerly way-too-expensive preventative inhaler has been added to the list of covered meds under my medical plan. Woot.

I received my order of shekelim I ordered from BofA (one of three reasons I will never entirely disassociate myself from the Big Banks, sorry Occupy movement) after arriving to an airport once that had no open exchange offices.  I don’t even know how that’s possible, but leave it to me to encounter it.

I started making packing lists.  This weekend I will begin assembling everything into one corner of my bedroom that I want to take but am likely to forget.

I rented a cell phone, with an American number, so I can call home and even text.  I’m hoping this will be easier for my parents than having to figure out the enigma that is dialing a cell phone in Argentina from a landline in the United States.  This expense is entirely so my parents have SOME peace of mind.  They have no conception of Israel beyond the headlines involving rocket explosions and are (naturally worried).  Of course, I have not mentioned the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations.  Nor the Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN general assembly and their award of membership in UNESCO.  Nor that Gilad Shalit has returned home, at the expense of releasing hundreds of terrorists.  That Israel and Gaza have experienced an escalation through the tumultuous “negotiations” for statehood.   Before the approval of additional construction in contentious sites.  That Iran and Israel seem to be involved in a nuclear peeing contest.  As Almost Jewish said, “The prospect of all-out war seems much closer and more real than it did when [I] thought, “Hey, let’s go to Israel!”

I also rented a cell because I have no idea how I’m going to survive 10 days without any contact from The Boy.  I never thought I’d turn into THAT girl, but I have.  Haven’t exactly determined how I feel about that yet.

Last weekend’s task, besides housework, was researching a new digital camera.  There is a really amazing camera shop in Palo Alto that has many models and will actually let you PLAY with them, no pressure, until you decide which one to buy.  If you even decide to buy.  The Nikon Coolpix P300 was on sale until the 19th, so I ordered one from Amazon on the 18th with the idea of returning it in 30 days if my hands-on and virtual research turned up another contender.  Good thing Black Friday and Monday are so soon!

Those are all the practical preparations.  My coworkers keep asking me, “are you excited yet?”  And the answer is, “I haven’t even gotten there yet! Seems so far off, so distant, like any other day in my life.  Why would I get excited about that?”  I don’t know why I’m not more giddy, but I’m not.  I tend to be of the philosophy that given the choice, look at the glass half empty because if it turns out to be half full, then you’re not let down or disappointed by the demands of your expectations.  So far it’s seemed to work out well for me.  I’m planning on entering the Holy Land with a clear and open mind.

Israel Bound

I filled out my secondary application last week. On Friday, right before Yom Kippur, I got a call from a very…rushed New Yorker.  He wanted to meet me for my interview on Monday at noon.  Thankfully, I had the day off as a government employee.

I arrived early.  I recognized him immediately by the black velvet kippah–not too common in these parts.   He moved our location and pushed back our time due to running late on a video conference.  Cool.  I can totally wait.

When I arrived at our new spot, it was obvious he had not read my application.  He started into one of the standard questions. “Ah, so which of your parents…. wait.  This says neither.”

“I brought my conversion papers with me if you need to see them.”

The conversation and tone changed immediately.  He grilled me for 10 minutes.  How could I believe in Conservative Judaism when it is dying out? When it cut off its nose to spite its face with allowing people to drive? When Emet v’Emunah says Oral Torah did not come from Sinai?

I wasn’t prepared to justify my affiliation, so these questions caught me off-guard.  No research I had done about the interview for Birthright had turned up this kind of questioning.  And I’m not one to publicly debate religion, especially in a mall food court of all places.

But worse than the line of questioning is that I didn’t feel like I could even answer any of his questions, because as soon as I opened my mouth, he would find something wrong with what I said and try to attack that too.  It finally ended with, “What kind of Jew would you say you are?”

“I’d say I’m an active, seeking, striving Jew–”

“Hmm.  Good answer.  They were looking for Reform, Conservative or Observant.  I sense some tension between us.”

Gee, ya think?

“But, Mikvah Bound, I like you.  I’m going to recommend you go and call the office myself.”

I was in shock.  I was so sure he had thought I wasn’t Jewish.  That even if I were a Conservative Jew in his eyes that I was a horrible Conservative Jew at that.  That I had a speech impediment or something due to my inability to speak coherently as a 20-something.  And of course he hates the agency I work for because we are enviro-nuts who try to impose “our religion” on others.

He changed my application to say that I had a Jewish mother.  This way, apparently, Birthright will be more likely to accept me.  I wish they’d just come out and state that publicly–that either this trip provider or Birthright gives preference to those born of at least one Jewish parent.  I’m not into lying.  I want to go, but not at the expense of my integrity.  Worse, what if this comes back to haunt me in some way?!

But, by the time I got back home, they had offered me a trip.  I had the email in my inbox.  I am going to Israel.  I leave December 25th and I’ll be back January 5th.  Pretty cool that I’ll get to spend secular New Year’s in Israel.  I’m not thrilled about it being an 18-26 trip (I really wanted 22-26 so I wouldn’t feel like the cool mom interrupting the party.) but beggars can’t be choosers and did I mention I’m going to Israel?

In case I didn’t, here it is one more time: I’m going to Israel! Woot!