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.

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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.

Horizon: line that recedes as your approach it

My leave request for the two weeks needed for Birthright has been (initially) rejected.

Three minutes after the email announcing that arrived, my manager sent another one, asking everyone in the office to submit their leave requests by COB today, begging us to be flexible while understanding that no leave request could be guaranteed unless there will be sufficient coverage for the office.   She emailed me privately after that to ask that I resubmit my request for consideration.

We are submitting our requests today, and our director will try to let us know by tomorrow, Wednesday afternoon, whether we’ve had our requests for time off approved or not.

The problem? Tomorrow morning, by 6 a.m., is the last opportunity for me to cancel my trip with BIrthright and get my $250 dollar deposit back.  It’s not the largest sum of money in the world, I know, but I am quite upset right now to say the least.

I have wanted this trip for years. I did not do “easy” conversions offered to me by two different rabbis for the purpose of having conversion papers that would enable me to go on this trip.  I waited.  I did the “right” thing.  This is my last opportunity to go before being aged out of the program.  This is also my first opportunity to go as a Jew who felt the process had been respected and that this conversion met my understanding of the halakhic requirements for conversion.

I get that we need to be fair.  I get that my wants are not more important than my coworkers’ wants.  But in this one instance, I can’t be flexible.  I need both of those weeks or else I can’t go. And I feel that I have been willing to be flexible in the past–when they inadvertently approved too much leave or people were out sick and the office was empty–to ensure office coverage, changing my schedule around when others needed it.  I get that since it is Christmas, it wouldn’t be fair to pressure my coworkers to be flexible for me.

So basically this whole post has been my attempt to sound like an adult.  Because the real Mikvah Bound is already crying inside. I just have to keep telling myself that Israel isn’t going anywhere.  That if I don’t go here, I will go eventually.  Somehow.

Man plans and G-d laughs.  I just sometimes wish G-d didn’t laugh so loudly.

 

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!