You don’t know who you are…

Today is the day that kind of floats by every once in a while. Maybe once a year. I realize, out of nowhere, people from the past who I suddenly miss terribly.

You don’t know who you are; and if you did, you’d be pretty surprised. A professor who I adored and looked up to… A friend from very early childhood who I haven’t seen or heard from in 20 years… An elementary school teacher who made a huge difference…

It’s hard to consider all the places I’ve been, all the people I’ve been…

Nostalgia is like a box of chocolates.

A coworker, upon returning from vacation, brought a box of chocolate to share today, as per the office tradition. I don’t think she realized the excitement it would cause; she’s an olah like me. We found it very cute to watch the Israelis get excited about her choice:

elite retro chocolate

It’s a retro-style box of Elite chocolate bars; Elite is the Israeli brand that brings us the series of “cow” chocolate bars. Apparently, they recognized he retro-ness and enjoyed the nostalgia.

Let’s face it; we’d do the same with Hershey’s.

On high school reunions, halacha, nostalgia and everything in between.

Between running into my high school principle, the recent Flatbush fiasco and my friend attending her ten-year reunion couple nights ago, I’ve had high school on the brain in the last few weeks.

High school is something I have successfully managed to block from the forefront of my mind. Part of it was my own religious conflict, part of it was being a chemically-frustrated teenager and part of it, of course, was just high school. It’s been a while since I have even been associated with that part of my life.

Then a friend of mine wrote this post for Jewschool: Homophobia and Hypocrisy: Yeshivah High School Reunion Politics. It’s a response, along with the Facebook petitioning that’s been going on, to a recent Flatbush alumni reunion where a former student, who happens to be gay, was asked by the school board’s president, not to bring his guest, who happens to be his partner. The president’s argument?

“There are standards of halacha that guide the Orthodox community. All of our graduates are welcome to attend our reunion but only those involved in recognized halachic relationships may register to attend as a couple…”

One of the strongest points made by the article’s writer regarding the reunion debate was this question in response to the above statement:

“Is gay male anal sex prohibited by the Torah? Sure, but so is a man having sex with his menstruating wife, and no one has ever gotten kicked out of a reunion for that.”

I have come to realize that all the religious labels I grew up with in my Flatbush years can no longer apply to anyone. This is where Flatbush is going wrong with the current reunion debate.

The fact is, I have gay friends who are better at observing Orthodox Judaism than I am, and I’d consider myself traditionally-observant. It kind of goes with the way that there are gay people I trust to be better parents or life partners than many straight people: being gay is usually not the point.

I think that living in Israel has given me a very different perspective on what it is to be a Torah-observing Jew. I look around and see Mizrachi teenagers waking up at 6 am for shacharit, going to shul donned in jeans next to their fathers and grandfathers. These kids won’t eat pork in their lifetime. They are going to marry Jews. They are excellent examples of tradition guided by halacha.

When I see Ethiopians and their brand of Torah observance, tradition and respect for the religion, I realize that my life has not been enriched to the fullest potential, despite the Western-brand of ‘classic’ Judaism I was raised to worship. There are elements missing; indeed, it is possible that there is a significant lacking in the kind of Judaism we were taught, even in the most formidable of American yeshivas.

So, I no longer can wholeheartedly identify with the brand of classic Orthodox Judaism I was taught at my alma mater. I’ve become very comfortable with that in the last three years. I am, however, grateful for what Flatbush has done well, which is promoting the philosophy of deeper education in halacha so that I can make educational decisions and have a strong Torah awareness. These two elements together – the Israeli brand of traditional observance mixed with the study Jewish history and practice – are what keep my Jewish soul surviving.

Oddly enough, all this debate and action has made me a little homesick for high school; or at least, nostalgic for what attending the Yeshivah of Flatbush was supposed to be: a haven for modern Orthodox tradition fused with secular knowledge and deep, practical and open thinking.

We were taught philosophy along with practice; with the study of social issues came social action. I think I did get plenty of doses of that. We all did; after all, who better to stage a revolt against closed reunions than former Flatbush students, taught to stand up and act when faced with a troubling policy?

Today I turn three… and am no longer 'new'.

So apparently, starting today, I am no longer considered an olah chadasha (new immigrant). That seems to be the consensus from other olim, the Israeli government and Nefesh b’Nefesh.

Do I feel vatik (senior)? Certainly not… But I suppose I don’t feel new anymore, either.

Whatever I am in numbers or years, I know that what is really interesting is all I’ve accomplished in three years of ‘newness’: Finding a city, finding friends, finding a masters program, finding homesickness… Searching for jobs, registering for a masters program, getting a job, starting Israeli graduate school… Discovering the world of Israeli mediation, discovering the world of Israeli hi tech… Finding a new career, finding a life partner, finding a neighborhood, settling in an apartment… Learning about the various cultures that surround me… Finding new friends, finding a new city, coming close to the end of the masters program…

What freaks me out is not that I’ve been living in Israel for three years; it’s that I haven’t been living in New York for three years. What’s happened since I left? How has the city changed? Where in life are the people I left behind? If I returned, would they recognize me?

And what have I learned in three years? I’ve learned a lot about patience, creativity and open-mindedness, which I still think are the three things you need to make it in Israel long-term – and I now think life in general, as well. I’ve learned a lot of new Hebrew. I’ve learned that if you can laugh, you can enjoy your status of ‘new’ and actually take pride in it.

But, I’m finally here, no longer new; here, on the other side of three years.