And on the 7th day…

It’s been a long, meatless week. We are coming to the end of the ‘Nine Days’, the mournful count between Rosh Chodesh Av to the Ninth of Av, or as it is (affectionately?) known as Tisha B’Av. During the Nine Days, we refrain from meat, wine, fancy entertainment. You know the drill.

I’m tired of pasta. I’m tired of cheese. I’m tired of dreaming about steaks and wine. Even though Tisha B’Av is on Sunday, today is effectively the last day since tonight and tomorrow are Shabbat (a.k.a reprieve). What to snack on for my last forced dairy meal?

Hell, why not a blast from the past… now in Hebrew!

And now, a little bit about Gsus…

Since I’m already on the topic of religion and conversion, and since Israel is a ridiculous place even without all that, here is an image courtesy of Tel Aviv’s Ibn Givrol that you can feel free to nail into your head…

Gsus industries

Does the crown of thorns come in extra small?

Gsus Sindustries. Based in Amsterdam. Sold in Tel Aviv. Go figure.

A covenant, a conversion, a first.

For me, there aren’t daily Israeli-firsts anymore; it’s more like periods of firsts washing up on the shore. I pick them up and hold them to my ear and listen to the waves of meaning they try to offer.

At least, some of the time.

I participated as a support/witness for a friend undergoing conversion (of sorts). For the second time, I saw the insides of a Beit Din in Jerusalem; this was a specific Beit Din that specializes in conversion.

I’m glad that what I expected wasn’t exactly what happened; at least what I saw. I’m a harsh judge of bureaucratic Jewish process; so often it lacks heart and soul.

Anyway, it was an interesting, intimate and emotional experience that I feel pretty honored to have participated in. My friend has actually always been a practicing Jew, but since arrival in Israel, she’s been painfully aware that it is not according to the standards officially set out here.

I’m relieved that the rabbis didn’t let me down with any chilul Hashem action. I’m ecstatic that my friend can move on with her life. I’m also more appreciative of what I’ve had without ever trying…

Before it was our turn with the Beit Din, we saw a young couple and their baby walk out of the room. There was this aura of silent relief; but it was an exhausted relief, a relief that comes only after you’ve become red in the face trying to do what you know is true.

This man was just that, and he looked at us, wishing us luck. He said – really to God more than to anyone else – “two years“. Those words were so heavy; they carried so much. They carried his story. Two years.

I wished him mazal tov and when he said thank you, I could feel him meaning it. It felt good.

The rabbis had seemed to have already made up their mind by the time my friend’s adoptive family and me walked in to ‘testify’. They had a warm, yet serious demeanor. I thought that was exactly what this warranted: a cocktail of seriousness and warmth. I felt like I could trust these guys. The one who interviewed me had kind eyes; he reminded me of a Talmud teacher I had in high school.

Afterward, when we were all called in for the ‘verdict’, it hit me truly for the first time what I’ve always had. I’ve always had certainty, status. I’ve had the luxury of not being doubted. I’ve had a self-identity as solid as stone.

My friend was given the spiritual head-nod to ‘join’ Dat Yisroel by a panel of rabbis only after providing evidence of commitment. Commitment that had to be inspected, prodded and ultimately, judged. Commitment that – whether it mattered or not – had already been accepted on her behalf before she was born.

I’ve never had to affirm my belief or my Jewish commitment to another human; it never really much mattered to a panel of rabbinical judges. I’ve never had to say Shema Yisroel and accept this covenant in public. Before I was born – whether it mattered or not – it had already accepted me.

The New York questions.

When Israeliborns ask where I’m from ‘b’makor’ there are usually a few follow up questions that I get after I answer I’m from New York. Por example:

  1. Ahhh, so you lived/you have been to Brooklyn?!
  2. Are there a lot of Arabs there?
  3. Have you been to Harlem? Is it really scary?

I wonder if you could analyze that and decide what the undertones mean.

A little late, but a lizrael update.

Haven’t done this in a while, but here goes.

Aliyah

At this point, I’ve been living in Israel for three and a half years. Seems like so much longer… I can now count ‘old friends’ I had when I first came, I have a lengthy list of apartments I’ve lived/crashed in, I’ve been married for nearly two years and traveled internationally with an Israeli travel document six times.

The reasons I stay in Israel are different from the reasons I originally came. When I landed here, I was a single post-graduate with a lot of different directions and vast openness. Since then, I’ve worked at a steady job for three years, which has opened me up to a career path I never would have expected for myself, but warmly welcome. I’ve married a non-American/non-Israeliborn from across the world, so it will never be easy to pick up and leave Israel for us; it’s not a matter of moving to an obvious place.

Also, I’ve invested so much into living here, mentally, and I’ve lost touch with reality in the States. I’ve gotten used to a lifestyle here that I couldn’t have back there with ‘only’ this much effort.

It’s not that I’m thinking of leaving Israel, but I really don’t think about it because it’s now, simply,  where I live, where I get my paycheck from, where I’ve started building my house and home.

School

I’m on the very last leg of my toar sheni, my graduate degree. Yeah, remember that goal I set out for myself three years ago? Conflict Management and Negotiation at Bar Ilan University.

I’m currently engaged in a required ‘internship’ which actually takes place at my job. I’m working on creating a dispute resolution program for an online social Q&A community. I like that it has nothing to do with international relations or politics (although sometimes it feels that way).

I’ve come to realize that being friends with the intertubes is the way to go if you’re going to live comfortabley in Israel. That being said especially as I’ve been told by professors that no one makes a living here off only doing gishur (mediation). Online Dispute Resolution is a curious path I’m looking forward to exploring in the coming years.

Which leads me to my work…

Work

By some interesting twist, three years ago I ended up working in the marketing department of an internet company and I’m still there, job having evolved over the years, but a rainbow of experience gained.

The job that was supposed to be my financial parent through grad school became a career path – who knew? In fact, I’d argue I’ve learned way more at the job than the university, even if the two subjects are completely unrelated.

I tell people now that if you are open, have mother-tongue English and some internet savvy in your pocket, hi tech is the way to go here in Israel. You don’t have to start your own start up, either. There are plenty of jobs right now and the business is flourishing. And because it’s based in Israel, and you speak mother-tongue English, you are a step ahead in gaining a new career that you can really leverage. Just be open to learning some code.

Family

As I said above, we’ve been married for nearly two years now; we have a Tu B’Av anniversary coming up. Marriage is everything and nothing like I thought it would be, in the best possible ways. And I know why that is; it’s because of who I married and how much we’ve both been open and proactive about making this work.

Of course, we’re at two years and no kids, so who are we to talk? There are challenges that crop up now and then, mainly concerning the issue of us both being from two different countries located on opposite ends of the planet. What if we left? Where would we go? Whose family do we visit next?

It is also difficult for both of us to be far from our families; neither of us have immediate family here and we do catch each other’s bouts of homesickness once in a while.

But there’s also the topic of extending our own family, which I’ve realized I wouldn’t want to start anywhere else but Israel. It’s a different life than how I grew up, but I think with lots more positive elements.