Saturday, April 18, 2015

My Favorite Saturday Spots in East Jerusalem

As I have written previously, Saturdays are pretty quiet in the Jewish parts of Jerusalem, as most businesses are closed due to the Jewish Sabbath.  While often this silence can be maddening, it has also motivated me be adventurous in seeking out new, interesting, and lively surroundings.

As of late, my wanderings have taken me to East Jerusalem's Bab a-Zahara neighborhood.  One of the first Arab neighborhoods built outside of the City, it was a bustling commercial area during the British Mandate and after the 1948 partition (in which East Jerusalem and the Old City were part of Jordan). I first happened upon the area when searching for some Palestinian art galleries, and have enjoyed peeling back its layers.  The area lies just outside of the Old City's Damascus Gate and is the meeting ground for several different communities cross paths.  You have the local Muslim population, who flock to the area for the bustling market as well as the Palestinian bus station that provides transportation to towns in the West Bank.  It also contains numerous Christian religious sites such as the Garden Tomb, and so it's not uncommon to see missionary groups from the U.S. and Europe wandering around.  The area's proximity to the French Institute and the American Colony Hotel also insure there is a presence of European NGO employees hanging around.

So here I want to share three spots in this area that have become my favorite haunts as of late.

Educational Bookshop
9 Salah Eddin St.

A delightful bookstore-cafe focused on providing information on Middle East culture and the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Here you can get everything from introductory books on Islam and conversational Palestinian Arabic to post cards of Banksy's murals on the separation barrier.  I felt at home seeing J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami's A New Voice for Israel displayed alongside works by Karen Armstrong, one of my favorite contemporary religious scholars. The crowd at any given time is a mix of locals to the neighborhood, foreign journalists, and curious tourists.  The upstairs cafe area is nice because it's the sort of place where you can sit for a few hours charging your devices without anyone bothering you or guilting you into buying more than a cup of tea (which you can get with your choice of sage, cardamom, chamomile, mint, or za'tar).

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Israel on Yom HaShoah: Train Tracks, Memory, Anxiety and Photography

Eleven years ago today, I was 18 and standing on the train tracks in Poland leading from Auschwitz to Birkenau as part of the Holocaust remembrance event, March of the Living.

A typical scene from March of the Living 
This year on Holocaust Memorial Day--Yom HaShoah--I find myself staring down a different train track that runs along Jerusalem's light rail on Jaffa St.  Every year the state of Israel observes a two-minute moment of silence on this day to commemorate six million Jewish lives lost in that horrible tragedy.  For two minutes, a siren blasts, and all activity stops.  Not only trains, cars, and buses, but people on the street stopping in mid action and conversation.  Our program director instructed us to visit public spaces on this day and film the two minute silence, as a way to examine the ritual in Israel from an educational and philosophical perspective. My friend Liz thought the view from the light rail would provide an interesting vantage point.

The symmetry with my experience eleven years ago barely even occurred to me.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

So Many Sides Now: Different Views of Israel's Wall

Tzameret Zamir's "Path to Peace" mosaic along the Gaza border
So last week as part of Perspectives Israel, we got a tour of the West Bank security barrier with Danny Tirza, the man who designed it.  While there was a lot about Tirza's presentation that got under my skin--I found his tone a bit glib and took issue with his attempt to show how cushy and comfortable life was for Palestinians in refugee camps as a way to I guess make them seem less deserving of international sympathy--it was definitely interesting to hear about the practical considerations that the government had to weigh in order to move forward in such a major security construction project.  This created a weird sort of symmetry to the emotional journey I've been on with Israel over the past decade.

Danny Tirza (right) explains to us the context and concerns that went into his design of the wall)
When I first visited Israel in 2004, the wall was in its beginning stages. Firmly rooted in the values of humanitarianism and liberalism, the whole concept horrified me.  The fact that my tour group wouldn't engage with me on the complicated politics of the region further enflamed my tempers, and I penned an angry editorial for the Boardman High School Bugle raising my concerns that Israel was not exhibiting the Jewish values I had cherished.

The visit with Danny marked one of many vantage points through which I have seen the wall on this trip.  Not going to lie, as a child of American peace activists, I was actually extremely excited the first time I got to see the wall from the Palestinian side, to see the kind of protest art that would no doubt be present.  And the splendor of the barrier in Bethlehem near Rachel's tomb did not disappoint.  There were vibrant, poignant, and soaring images that showed the international community was deeply invested in the Palestinians' plight.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On Race and RENT in Jerusalem

So, encountering RENT at different points in my life is always a complex processing experience.  It's also interesting to see a show on the amateur level for the first time that you previously saw on Broadway (or in this case two Broadway tours) and to see how a smaller company solves issues of staging. I went into tonight's production RENT in Jerusalem with both intrigue and trepidation.

If you squint, you can see the
 one person of color in the cast in the lower left
I was pleased to see this production illustrate that you don't need a huge budget to make stage magic.  One of the things I dread about seeing non-professional theatre is cringing at sloppy, unnecessary set elements.  The best small productions are those that don't try to be Broadway, but instead use what they have thoughtfully.  One of wittiest moments in tonight's show was during Angel and Collins' first meeting and when Collins' said "nice tree," we realize he is referring to a pine-tree shaped air freshener around Angel's neck.  There is something really refreshing about seeing immature, hormone-crazed characters in their early 20s played by actors the same age, as opposed to people pushing 40.  In the case of RENT, having younger actors made their impulsive life decisions much more believable and the characters easier to empathize with.

However, this production also highlighted RENT's inherent flaws in terms of how it deals (or doesn't deal) with the subject of race.

On the one hand, the racial diversity of the Broadway production of RENT has always been a given and one of its most characteristic and important elements.  In particular in the original cast and movie, you have characters of color representing a wide range of class experiences, sexual identities, and body types.  That coupled with show's universal messages of love and freedom definitely offer a hopeful vision of society that has led to its appeal among young people.  On the flip side, by ignoring the issue of race completely in the script, it also ignores many of the very real systematic obstacles and issues that prevent that utopian world from becoming a reality.  From a casting point of view, it means that a show about economic inequality can get away with having virtually no actors of color in the cast.

Is this necessarily a problem?  I think it is in a place like Jerusalem, in which racial tensions and inequality color the fundamental conflicts facing this society.  There's conflict with the Palestinians, who routinely face eviction from their homes and water shortages based on their background.  And within the Israeli Jewish society, you have Jews from Ethiopia and North African countries as well as those from the former Soviet Union who suffer from a huge income and opportunity gap compared to those of central and Western Europe.   One of the reasons the ultra-Orthodox party Shas has continued to endure it is it's one of the only parties that has made income inequality among (Jewish) minorities a central part of its platform.   Sure, it was an English-language speaking production whose main audience is the Anglo community.  But seeing the all-white audience of well-meaning liberals watch an almost completely white cast (with the excerption of the black actor playing greedy mogul Benny, which raises other issues) sing about how oppressed their lives were in their little artistic bubble, I felt like something fundamental was missing.  One American girl in the cast had been a roommate of mine, and at one point I heard her bitch about how it was ridiculous to say that there is anything controversial about Israel occupying the West Bank because they won that territory fair and square.  And how many of those actors, who probably consider themselves left-wing, have had any meaningful contact with the real issues of inequality here in Israeli society?

By not dealing with any of these issues directly, RENT was able to find broad universal appeal, and yet this also makes it prone to shallowness and superficiality, just another exploration of myopic white people problems.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Most Amazing Pearls Of Wisdom From An Evening With Writer Etgar Keret

I've been psyched out to attend a talk with Etgar Keret ever since I saw the event on our class schedule.  While I haven't read any of his fiction in full, the commentaries about Israel politics and society that have appeared in the New York Times and Haaretz over the years have always been moving, hilarious, and devastating.  While my own relationship to Israel and the conflict has ebbed and flowed over the years, his deeply insightful and self-reflective work has always given me peace of mind that my values are reflected in certain places within that society.

And there have seldom been greater times when that kind of peace of mind has been so necessary than after a visit to Hebron this morning.  In case you aren't familiar, Hebron is a deeply divided city in the West Bank where tensions between Jewish settlers and Muslim residents have come to such a head that the military has effectively put a moratorium on human activity in much of the Old City.  The result is an eerie, post-apocalyptic feeling that feels like something out a dystopian sci-fi novel.

Feeling exhausted both physically and mentally, I was relieved to go into a talk with a someone who has absolutely no illusions about the reality of the conflict, and yet still endeavors to find hope and beauty through his work (with a rueful sense of humor).  And Etgar Keret did not disappoint.

Here are some of his more delightful sound bites:

On the Purpose of Fiction:
Etgar Keret (left) reading one of his short stories
to students at Hebrew Untion College in Jerusalem

"Why do we need stories?...cutting a salad is more important than writing a story."

"Religious belief and art...make existence less arbitrary."

Fiction allows readers to "enter worlds without risk, to places that wouldn't be safe in real life."

"When you write a story or read a work of fiction you are exercising your empathy muscle."

"I find literature for the power that it has no function."

"I don't know if fiction is a place of truth--it is a place of sincerity. You can be yourself."

"[My favorite art] shows there is something good in humanity...If I want to know that life sucks and people are terrible I just have to look out my window."

Friday, March 13, 2015

Gambling Eden: On The Joys--And Anxieties--Of Funding

A few months ago, there was a Salon piece going around by a female writer discussing how being "sponsored" by her husband allows her the financial freedom to pursue a full-time writing career. While talking about money is super uncomfortable, it opened up an enlightening conversation among a lot of people in my network about the financial challenges and sacrifices involved in making a career in the arts. When I was between jobs a few years ago, I conducted an informal survey among my writer friends about the most sustainable strategies they have found to both support themselves financially as well as make time for their art.  For some people, the answer is support from a spouse, while for others the answer is office work or teaching.  Because every writer has a unique set of emotional and intellectual needs, no two life strategies are going to be the same.  And a lot of my life over the last few years has been experimenting with different life rhythms to figure out what makes the most sense for me.
The view from my hotel room at the Dead Sea last month

Since January, I have been in Jerusalem on a the the Jewish Theological Seminary's Kesher Hadash Semester In Israel Program, which is funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation.  As someone who is in an insane amount of debt from grad school for a playwriting degree, being on a funded program is completely blowing my mind.  Not only am I studying tuition-free with a rent stipend, the program takes us on experiences as diverse as the Palestinian-narrative program Encounter to Perspectives Israel, which was created to provide Israeli views on the occupation. They also frequently reimburse us for attending Israeli cultural activities and puts us up in hotels with sumptuous breakfast bars.  I am not saying this to brag--I find myself every other week to take pains to say how humbled and grateful I am for this experience.  Throughout my whole application process last year I kept waiting to be told I wasn't good enough, that there was some bar it turned out I probably wasn't meeting.  Or maybe I was just traumatized from applying to so fellowships in the theatre world, where funding opportunities are so sparse and competitive it's hard not to feel like vultures fighting over the corpse of a famine victim.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Seeking A More Perfect Jewish Union and Striving For Empathy

This week as part of our mifgash with Israelis from Hebrew U, we visited the Yitzhak Rabin Youth Hostel.  I knew this was going to be an emotional evening:  I was in Hebrew school when I learned that Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a religious Jew, and that event has loomed as a shadow over my relationship with Israel. This is very different from my father's generation, for whom Israel represented a safe haven in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the miracle of the Six Day War.

The "broken amphitheater" 
For the our program, we were taken into a room that we were told was designed to represent a "broken amphitheater," representing the deep divisions that Rabin's government and murder revealed in Israeli society.  We were then told we were going to see a video presentation from a projector, but no one pulled down a screen.  Instead, images and scenes from 100 years of Zionist and Israeli history surrounded us in 360 degrees.

Whether it was Israeli troops storming Jaffa Gate during the Six-Day war or impassioned rallies and peace demonstrations in the lead-up to the Oslo Accords, the curators of this presentation put the viewer directly in the middle of the turmoil.  While I had been aware of many of these events on an an intellectual level, I had never seen footage of many of them and so they weren't really alive for me.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Collecting Narratives: Podcasts I'm Listening To Right Now

A few months, I started to become very conscious of the fact that most of the media I was consuming was created by people who look and sound like me.  While this impulse is natural, it is also super problematic for someone like me interested in cross-cultural dialogue.  When my lens into other cultures is always being filtered through even the most well-intentioned white people, there's the inevitable danger of fetishizing the sense of difference and not seeing those communities as fully human.

I started to think about this deeply in the criticisms of Sarah Koenig's smash hit podcast "Serial."  In one particular article headlined, "Serial and White Reporter Privilege," Jay Caspian Kang takes aim at Koenig's cultural tourism in her investigation of the communities of Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee. "Who among us (and here, I am talking to fellow people of color)," Kang writes, "hasn't felt that subtle, discomfiting burn whenever the very nice white person across the table expresses fascination with every detail about our families that strays outside of the expected narrative?"  I've felt my own version of this whenever Christians in Ohio would tell me "Wow, it's so cool that you're Jewish!" but it rarely occurred to me that I could be guilty of the same annoying behavior.

But this is not a post about me flagellating myself over white guilt.  This is a post about sharing some of the awesome podcasts I've discovered by voices expressing narratives I would love to see get more recognition.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Moving From The Margins To The Majority, And Trying To Stay Inclusive

From Loving the Real Israel by Alex Sinclair

I spent a lot of my childhood being an outsider.  Whether it was for my religion, my vegetarian diet, or my love of musical theatre, my identity existed outside of the norm in Youngstown, Ohio.  As I mentioned before in previous posts, my Jewish values are deeply tied to the idea that because of my people's history of oppression, it is our duty to use the advantages we have achieved to provide support to those still struggling to achieve equality. Whether it was explicitly told to me or not, I also came to be suspicious of any kind of majority and felt it was my duty to provide nuance and a voice for the voiceless.

And this is why perhaps I have always struggled in Jewish majorities--whether in Israel or New York City.   When traveling through the neighborhood that used to be the Warsaw ghetto, some girls expressed distain that anyone could live there after the Holocaust, and I felt obliged to point out that we Americans build shopping malls on former Indian land and name subdivisions after tribes.  At least we Jews have memorials commemorating our suffering--most groups simply get their histories erased.  I thought of this as exactly why my parents were adamant about sending me to public school as opposed to day school:  they wanted me to be able to relate to and empathize with a larger society than one ethnic/religious group.  If I became too comfortable only surrounded by people who are like me, would I lose the ability to empathize with others, and then become part of the problem?

And so my experience in Israel on Kesher Hadash has been an interesting one.  While I spent the last ten years feeling really isolated from the Jewish community because of my religious questioning and my issues with Zionism, for once I find myself in an environment where most of my colleagues share my views.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reflecting On A Visit To West Bank: History, Citizenship, And The Accidents of Geography

When I am walking back to Jerusalem's city center from the German Colony area, I often like to cut through Liberty Bell Park.  Not only does it provide more compelling scenery than King David Street, it also features super cute and curious cats.  It's also a great place to observe the demographics of the city.  It's one of the few places where you see Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis interacting with each other--there is even a plaque that states that the playground is for "All of the Children of Abraham."  On early Friday evenings, when most of Jewish Jerusalem is observing Shabbat, the park is full of Muslim families enjoying barbecues to wrap up their holy day.  Saturdays the park fills with secular Jewish Israelis looking to give their kids some fresh air.  I've often longed to know what goes on in the heads of the guys who run the ice cream truck that I always see parked at entrance, how they observe the coming and goings of the different communities.

When I returned from my Encounter trip to the West Bank this afternoon, I decided to walk back to my apartment instead of taking the taxi.  Like I have many times before, I cut through this same park and sat down to decompress this the past few days.  As I observed groups of smiling Muslim families watching their kids play on a shiny new playground in one of the nicer neighborhoods of Jerusalem, I couldn't get out of my mind the contrast in what I had only seen a few hours earlier in the West Bank village of Khalet Zakariya.  In the last several years, this village has found itself surrounded by Israeli settlements on either side.  We met with the community leader of the village, who discussed how because residents are often unable to obtain building permits, most of the houses have corrugated metal roofs so as to avoid becoming a target for demolition.  Even the minaret of the mosque remains unfinished due to army restrictions.  When roadblocks made it impossible for parents to send their children to their regular school, there was no schooling for five years until the community managed to raise money to build one there.  The tiny three-room building not only serves as a school for 45 students, but also a school, clinic, city council building and a community center.  On a hill above we could clearly see the Israeli settlement of Gush Etzion, where children where playing in front of a state of the art three story school complex.  Looking at this tiny village surrounded by the development of settlements, I couldn't help but think of the classic children's book
The Little House, about a quaint little cottage that over the course of industrial development finds itself squeezed into an urban center.

The school in Khalet Zakariya, with the Israeli settlement Gush Etzion school in the distance

Friday, February 27, 2015

Wherever You Go, There's Always Someone From Ohio--Even In The West Bank

It's always a thrill to find something unfamiliar when you're in an unfamiliar place. I get really excited when I am traveling and I meet people from Ohio. People who understand my context of growing up on the edge of the midwest, who were shaped by economic stagnation of the rust belt and hold hold self-evident the truth that cookie tables (including buckeye candies) are an integral part of any celebratory gathering (this also applies to some extent to people from Detroit and Pittsburgh).   In my life in New York, I've met fellow Ohioans while working at Trader Joe's, Amnesty International and the Dramatists Guild of America.  

The last place I didn't expect to meet an Ohioan was on a tour of West Bank.  

To back up:  I just got back from a tour of the West Bank town of Bethlehem with an organization called Encounter.  Over two days we met with various individuals active in Palestinian society, from filmmakers, to educators, to two young women who started the first yoga studio in the West Bank that gives classes to people with special needs.  In our last session, we met with a guy named Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American working to develop the high-tech industry in Ramallah.

"I was born in Youngstown, Ohio," he began and I squealed in delight.  

After the discussion, he told me he grew up in Liberty, only a few minutes from the Jewish Community Center where learned to swim and attended Hebrew school.  One of the things that often makes me hesitate in approaching intercultural work is the fear of fetishizing the Other.  What is the line between reaching out to people from different backgrounds because you are generally interested in their stories or because you just want to feel special as a white person?  Essentially: how do you avoid being completely awkward? Meeting a Palestinian who happened to be from my hometown went a long way to overcoming some of that awkwardness, giving me a personal way into the conversation.  Now whenever I am able to take a day and go to Ramallah, I will actually have someone specific to talk to and visit.

Sam Bahour and Me

I'm not totally proud of feeling comfortable just because I met someone who dresses and talks like me.  In an ideal world, I'd like to think I should feel comfortable to talk with Bahour as I would with any of the people in the Palestinian villages we visited that lies sandwiched between two Israeli settlements.   

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Who Owns Jerusalem? The Cats

Those of you who follow me on Facebook may have noticed something about my feed since I moved to Israel:  I take a lot of pictures of cats.

On the surface, this isn't that unusual--cats are adorable.  I am certainly not alone in this observation. There is even an Internet Cat Video Festival held in Minnesota and Brooklyn every year.

Still, I've gotten a bit of strange looks from some people here over my fixation on Israeli street cats, which are after all as common as rats or squirrels in the U.S.  On many levels, these are hardly the cuddly house cats people keep as pets.  Frequently they can be seen foraging in dumpsters.

And yet I find them irresistible.

Monday, February 16, 2015

My Shabbat Struggle

The journey to Kesher Hadash so far, has come with numerous adjustments. There's the Hebrew, for one. The other big adjustment is living as a full-time student and not taking any part-time work.  As a member of the over-achieving "Lean In" generation, prioritizing personal and creative growth over income is extremely difficult for me, but it feels good to give this gift to myself (with thanks to the generous support of the Jim Joseph Foundation).  

My status as a full-time student also means that for the first time in about four years, I have a regularly scheduled two-day weekend.  During most of my time in New York, my two jobs have meant taking days off whenever I could--lately some combination of Tuesday/Friday or Thursday/Saturday.  While not having regular weekends sometimes made it hard to make plans or do things like take classes or get involved with a synagogue, I also enjoyed having days off to break up the monotony of my work week.  The other big upside to having downtime in the middle of the week is I got to enjoy empty grocery stores and open library hours while everyone else was at work.  

But now I am here, with two days off in a row every week that I don't have to negotiate for fear my hours might get cut.  One lovely benefit to this has been that every Friday evening since the beginning of January, I have observed some kind of Shabbat minyan. Those have ranged from the soaring melodies at Shira Hadasha (even though the whole gender separation thing kind of ticked me off) to the energizing drumming in Kol Haneshama's monthly Rosh Chodesh renewal service.  This past weekend at our group shabbaton by the Dead Sea, one of my classmates led us in a beautiful activity that had us at one point identifying different meaningful Hebrew words from one of the prayers and chanting them at different pitches all at once.  I experienced the kind of spiritual transcendence I've only received in glimpses during kirtans at the Bhakti Center in New York.  

With my soul filled up with warmth on Friday, I can then look forward to taking Saturday to catch up on the rest of my life.

Except it's Jerusalem.  And nearly everything is closed. 

When I was living in Germany Colony, I was absolutely dumbfounded walking down the main drag of Emek Refaim.  While 24 hours earlier the street had been bustling and lined with people sitting at sidewalk cafes, now every shop and cafe (with the exception of McDonald's) was completely closed. I felt like I was one of the last survivors of a post-apocalyptic Ray Bradbury short story or zombie film.

A family walks over the dormant light-rail line on a typical Jerusalem Saturday

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The View from Jerusalem's German Colony

What I have loved so far this semester on Kesher Hadash is getting to experience a Jerusalem I would never get to see as a tourist here.  When I'm traveling in a giant mob of 30 people, it's difficult to be spontaneous.  Maybe it's too many Madeline books as a kid that filled me with an insatiable need to investigate the mysteries of my surroundings. Today I'm going to talk about some places I've discovered around German Colony, the neighborhood I've been staying in for the past three weeks and just moved out of today.

For some background--why is it called German Colony?  Isn't that a kind of ironic name for a neighborhood in Israel?  The other night I actually ran into a group of American tourists who were coming to the area thinking they might find some good German restaurants.  The name, I explained to them, refers to the Templars, a group of German Protestants who moved to this area of Jerusalem in the mid 19th century to wait for the Second Coming.

19th-century house with a German inscription above the door
The area attracted  Germans throughout the rest of the century, giving much of the architecture a particularly European flair combined with a Middle Eastern aesthetic.

I have no idea what the story is behind this building, but it's fucking gorgeous

 After WWII, the British sent the Templars back to Germany, and the area became a home for Jewish immigrants.

Today, German Colony is one of the more trendy neighborhoods in Jerusalem.  Demographically, I would say it reminds me of Park Slope or Lincoln Park--lots of little boutiques, cafes, and strollers. The abundance of signs in English makes it an especially attractive neighborhood for American immigrants to Israel, religious and secular alike.

And while these amenities are lovely to walk past every day, I am personally too much of a cheapskate to actively partake in them.  I want to focus on some of my favorite spots I discovered while living there.

Monday, January 19, 2015

"Selma," Activism, and the Importance of Showing Up

It's appropriate that Martin Luther King Day is when I finally got around to watching Ava Duvernay's Selma.  Having seen the film, I agree with many who feel it's a crime that it didn't get more notice during awards season.  The scenes in which Duvernay depicts the brutality faced by Selma protestors were some of the most visceral, gut-wrenching moments of filmmaking I have ever scene.

Much has been written as to why questions about the film's historical accuracy might have prevented it from resonating with the various academies.  Some object to the less than generous picture of Lyndon Johnson.  Forward took issue with that and the fact that Jewish contributions to the Civil Rights Movement did not get their proper due (given the demographics of the Academy, I have a feeling the latter issue might have been a factor in Selma's lack of nominations).

I tend to agree with those who say that the choice to focus on ordinary black folks instead of white allies and politicians was meant to highlight something specific about the nature of activism.  Specifically, how do you get grassroots movements national attention and keep fellow activists motivated, even when action comes at great personal cost?  With regards to the film's hardened portrayal of LBJ, how do you assure politicians that your concerns are significant enough to warrant their trust and attention?

I thought a lot about the summer I raised money on the street for Equality California in LA.  It was 2009, and the California Supreme Court had just decided to uphold Prop 8, the law that denied gays and lesbians the right to marry in California.  It was an exciting time to be a canvasser because this was an issue everyone was informed and fired up about, for better or worse.

Occasionally, I would run into someone who asked me, "Aren't you mad at Obama for not doing anything about it?"

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Israel, Judaism and the Politics of Dress

I've always thought of myself as good at packing a suitcase. Having grown up in a joint custody arrangement shuttling between my parents' houses daily and attended scores of education, I've become adept at knowing the clothes I will probably need to look presentable but also still manage to fit it all in my suitcase.  As a commuter in New York, I find I gravitate towards thin, soft layers, that allow me to feel comfortable sleeping on a bus to New Jersey without exposing myself and easily store in my bag if the heating in a particular building.  Lots of knee-length skirts and leggings that I can wear with Uniqlo under armor long-sleeved tees and boots.  This fall I also pulled out a wool cloche hat from high school that I always think I've forgotten about but seems to always just the right scalp protection and wind resistance.

In preparing for the initial tour of my Israel program, I strategically separated items I knew I would need for the ten days.  I had travelled to the Middle East in January previously, so I knew not to expect summer temperatures.  So I put aside some comfy layers, in dark colors so I wouldn't have to worry about them looking too gross if there wasn't a laundromat and I had to wear things over again.

About the second night of our trip, we're waiting to check into our hotel and one of my new classmates asked me:  "Are you someone's wife?"

WTF?  I mean WTF?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Overcoming Performance Anxeities: Finding Solace in the Circus

Traveling brings with it a wave of triggering emotions and experiences.  While in theory I love how travel to foreign countries expands my worldview, it exposes some huge insecurities for me.  As a writer, I like to use language and words to not only express myself, but also control others' perception of me.  
Basically, using big words makes me feel smart.   

When I am in a foreign country, however, that tool is suddenly gone from my toolbox.  Even if I have some knowledge of the language--I no longer have the guarantee that when I open my mouth it will make me sound intelligent.  This issue is even more compounded on my current trip to Israel, where my Hebrew is embarrassingly elemental.  Not only that, I also insecure about my lack of Jewish credentials in comparison to others in my group here, who range from rabbinical students to directors of Jewish youth programs.  

Ironically, it was a an almost completely non-verbal experience that helped me feel centered again.  

This evening we had a program where we visited the Galilee Circus, a group that brings Jewish and Arab youths together to collaborate on performance as a way to build community.  While I had assumed we were simply going to watch the show, the troupe leader had us begin by playing some theatre games to get us in the spirit.  As he started to pull out a set of foam balls and have us toss them to each other and play name games, I suddenly felt a sense of reassurance and calm:  I had played many of these games before in various movement and clowning workshops since undergrad.