Thursday, July 31, 2014

It didn't feel like I was doing anything wrong- swimming yesterday during the nine days- until I realized, there was no one else in the pool. I had done my research: some say it's a dangerous activity and therefore drawing the evil eye during a period when the Jews were in peril, others say its problematic due to the stringencies against bathing. Still others hold that since the 9 days are a period of sorrow, swimming for pleasure would be going aginst the spirit of the destruction. Exemptions for "medical purposes" seemed to be the only accepted leniacy.

I ran through the arguments in my head. Swimming in Talmudic times were probably dangerous because they swam out in the ocean or sea, not in a community pool with cameras, gaurd rails, and a lifegaurd. So that didnt seem like an issue to me.

Next was the question of whether bathing was appropriate during the days. But I realized that too was not an issue, because after swimming for an hour, I would take a shower to wash off the pool chlorine, pee, and whatever other science experiments were aquatically growing. Never would I consider immersing in this chemical-human juice as a "bath." I would emerge grosser- and even my most loyal friends would leave me, choosing to walk off the plank into a vat of killer sharks.

The final claim- swimming is pleasurable- I could not counter. I sorta stuck that one in my back pocket, and sat on it hoping to suffucate the issue. So with 2 out of 3 of the pretenses outwitted, I started doing laps. Around lap 8 I realized that there was no issue at all- I found swimming to be so difficult, so exertive and starinworthy, that it was unpleasurable. By lap 25, I realized I was a pious Talmudic Chacham, and I would not burn in the river of Styx for my butterfly strokes.

Discovering swimming to be so deplorable, I decided to go again this morning; Winded by the end of lap 20 I realized that even though I was the only person in the pool, it was okay. I had done the research, talked with Rabbis and friends, gone through the rationale, and decided for myself. It felt good to synthesize my lifestyle and halcha. I'm not saying I don't value kashrut, Shabbat, and halacha, I'm just saying I dont want to be a robot.....expecially a robot in a pool. (I hear they spark quite a bit- cleanup in aisle 2!)

Lockerroom talk

Monday, July 28, 2014

I consciously tied the laces of my Vans this morning thinking that if G-d forbid I had to run and hide, I could.

Last night I had heard about a pro-Israel rally taking place downtown, and immediately researched the various ways to participate: Metra and Public Transit. In the end, a friend and I were able to catch a bus departing from a local shul. After arriving two minutes before the bus's ETD and after the giddy excitement had worn off, came the painstaking watch checking, foot tapping, divergent eye conversation making, that accompanies waiting. One (not two)school buses arrived 35 minutes late, and my friend and I sat on the floor in the center middle runner. Tensing my leg muscles to the beat of "staying alive," I was able to resuscitate my circulation during my awkward straddle. Ironically enough, this bus "plopping" reminded me of cramming onto the Bet Shemesh  Eged bus on Motsei Shabbasas and being  situated in monkeylike maneuvers that everyone unspokenly  approved of because they had done it themselves the Saturday night before.

What I observed/partook in today:
1. An international Shema recitation
2. Hundreds of Jews making an effort, and using their lunch breaks not to hold conferences, but flags.
3. A sign with an IDF solider smiling that read "He is spending his honeymoon in Gaza."
4. A black pastor that bellowed "Let me hear somebody make some noise"
5. Learning, at an open beit midrash program my friend developed, in merit of friends and family raiding through copious southern tunnels

Today I got attention not for the mascara on my lash or sway of my strut, but  for the the flag on my back, sign in my blistering hands, and song in my spirit. Today I was not made of vulnerable flesh, but of the immortal fabric of Israel's flag. It felt so good.

I could have worn flip-flops

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Over Shabbat my cousins introduced me to my other half; he's white, squishy, and $76.30 on Amazon. The object of my adoration is a plush bio-soy memory-foam pillow, and because of him, I've spent most of the day in bed. Upon the sizzle of flame in grape juice, you can guess I sprinted to my computer in order to purchase my mail-delivery husband.

Like any true GenY-er I opened Facebook to see what notifications lay waiting. What I found made a whoosh of air explode from my lungs and rupture my ribs, leaving me empty and shattered. In the past 48 hrs. 18 IDF soliders were murdered while protecting Israel from terrorists. Thousands of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters stood in the line of missles and bullets, laying sleeplessly on rocks, as I compared materials and density of memory foam.

On Friday, I boarded the bus to work, and continued where I left off in Yishtabach. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man staring at me as I unabashedly mumbled supplications to G-d. He unabashedly sat transfixed in my direction. As the bus filled, more riders turned in my direction. I told myself this would not be the first nor last time I would receive this kind of curious attention, so despite the growing audience, I prayed. As I closed my siddur, the man whose curiosity had peaked stood as his bus stop came into vision. Before he descended, he sat beside me and spoke a foot from my face.

"Read Psalm 83," he said. "Say it for our 'situation'." A bit stunned, I promised the man who had stared for nearly fifteen minutes-and just as he had boarded, he descended without another word into the streets.

It's true what they say about the transendence of Torah, of it being everlastingly relevant. Now as in the days of Asaf, we plead, "Oh God, do not remain silent, do not turn a deaf ear. Do not stand aloof, O God. See how your enemies growl, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish." -Tehillim 83

As I browsed through Facebook Erev Shabbos searching for news to quell my shattered spirits, I came across a link to a friend's charity page in order to purchase safety gear for his Sniper Team. Without another thought- the money I had planned to purchase my pillow went towards protective vests, red night flashlights, and gun silencers. (Here is the link:

A pillow, a bald man on the bus, and a bit of breathlessness; This is all it took to realize that if the protectors of my people can't sleep at night, neither should I.

El-ya'aneh ; God, He will answer

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Rabbi spoke and for the first time in a long time, I heard him.

Mind you I listened as attentively as my technologically spoiled and instant-callused brain could focus, but being able to carry the sentiments out through the shul doors is a triumph in itself. With children clattering outside, flies attacking my face, and an inexplicably intense craving for Froot Loops, I listened as the Rabbi spoke about the destruction of the Temple. A topic I had found irelevent to my lifestyle of roller blading, reading, and redbox dvd-ing.

He spoke about how Rueven, Gad and half of the tribe of Menashe often get a bad rap for requesting to live on the other side of the Jordan outside the boundaries of Israel. What are we, a nation of separatists? How could they ask something so disrespectful-were they ingrates of G-d's gift? 

Here's a different perspective. If we think back to the midrash often told during those shul groups we all hated but for the candy, we recall the story of Reuven picking flowers for his mother Leah and making Rachel cry. Where did these flowers come from? Apparently, these flowers- dudayim- were desert flowers. Reuven went extra lengths to pick flowers from a place that was considered no-man's-land in order to be extra careful about stealing from his neighbors. Applying that to the episode in this week's parsha, Reuven was a large and prosperous tribe and would require a lot of resources and land in order to sustain itself. The heads of Reuven were nervous that their flocks might accidentally graze on another tribe's property or they might over-hunt. In this light, Reuven is nothing but sensitive and pragmatic.

This teaches a powerful lesson about considering the feelings of others; Intentions are often misunderstood and incorrectly attributed. In these three weeks- the period of time between the siege on Jerusalem's fortress and the destruction of the second temple- I will attempt to be extra sensitive.

 On that note, in last week's post I  thoughtlessly pursued self-expression at the expense of my mother's dignity. When I think about the epitome of children honoring their parents, I think of the Roosevelt children. It took a long time before President Roosevelt's syndrome was exposed and his paralysis made public headlines; How did citizens not know the physical condition of their own leader? During every speech, as Roosevelt addressed the people as an emblem of power, one of his sons stood beside him supporting the weight of his body, and safeguarded their father's decency at having been hoisted from a wheelchair.

In contrast, I metaphorically tipped my mother from her wheelchair and yelled "walk woman, walk," on the internet. It goes without saying that I am now comparing bouquet rates on my own dudayim. 

In these next weeks I dare us all to be a bit more thoughtful in speech, action, spirit. Pay a little money, time, respect. See that roller blades, reading, and redbox are all just escapes from thinking profoundly about the things and people that we hold at our own Temples. 

craving more than just Loops

Sunday, July 13, 2014

There's a climactic moment that happens for different people at different times, when you realize that it's not everyone else who's changed, but rather it's you. I've had friends tell me, it happened when they returned home from their year in Israel refusing to eat strawberries, and friends who recognized the change around their bar/bat mitzvahs when they no longer wanted to drive to shul- but for me, it happened only a week ago. 

-"You're coming home."
-"No, I'm not."
-"Elle, there is nothing to negotiate."
-"Why can't you be a bit more open-minded."
-"What will this do for your reputation; how far off the derech have you gone?"
*dial tone.................*

Plans took an unexpected turn, when my host mom packed her bag and left for three weeks bound for her el-al flight. Now as much as I have come to love her and as happy as I am that she will get to visit with family- nonetheless, I cant help feeling like an uncapped, stomped-out air-mattress whose only prospect is accumulating dust in the crawlspace.

Let me break it down:

 3 week of Haifa hiatus =   1 roof
                                   ---------------               > my mom could handle  
                               2 men + 1 unrelated girl 

I had everything. A great job, easy transportation, a warm family, the most delicious Israeli food, and even access to the clubhouse pool. It didn't slip through my fingers-rather my fingers were cut-off. Because of shalom bayit, I became an amputee. 

This past shabbat, a friend pointed over to a family walking across the street. "Hey look- Jews!" he said. "You can tell they're frum because they're not going to our shul." For some reason, I am still irked by the dismal acuteness of this passive comment. A statement made in jest has only just begun to excite the synapses of my mind. 

One of the reasons I had hung up on my mom was because I felt that no one could finely assess the struggles I go through on a constant basis to relate to G-d but my own self. I felt closed- locked into an expectation of religion and unjustly discriminated  that I was no longer "frum" solely because I felt comfortable with own decision to keep my job and my living arrangements. I am tired of reading suspicion across friends' faces when I say I lived 5 weeks with a friend who's a boy. I am tired of opening the door for rabbis who won't look me in the eye but ask for "chai." Why can't you see past the denim divider between my legs, and I'll overlook your rampant sex life and 16 children? 

To me, Judaism is like an engagement ring. I don't need you to marvel at its size or scoff at it's dullness. Rather, I'm showing you, to share in my happiness and acknowledge that in my own right- I am finally complete. 


Saturday, July 5, 2014

I opened my first Facebook account in August of 2013; This past Friday was my birthday, and it goes without saying that I was utterly unprepared for the flood of Facebook "toasts" to my turning 20.

Birthdays are funny things and take on different meanings at different stages in one's life. Birthdays are days when you're no longer 7.5 but a full 8 years old, and you can finally sit in the front seat of mom's grey minivan. Birthday parties are concepts parents think they can negotiate for good behavior and threaten for pulling your sister's hair. In actuality, they can't, because you will never forgive them for taking away the day when everyone wants to sit next to you, and depriving you from receiving 3 of the same Barbie dolls with Hawaiian Punch Lipsmakers.

Birthdays are days when your boyfriend picks flowers from the neighbor's front lawn and takes you out to a restaurant where you say, "that was the best pasta I ever had," just  because you know how long he saved up for it. You get pasta because its your birthday and you're proud to be a lover of carbs.

Birthdays are days when you are sociably obliged to make collages and sentimental gifts for friends. They are days when you can no longer avoid relatives, and you actually have to answer the phone instead of running to the nearest parent with the device shifting between your hands like a hot potato. They are days where Hallmark  lists the reasons why it's difficult to be the older sister, and blue checks from Bubbie come in the mail after you specifically said you "didn't" want anything for your Birthday.

They are the days you awake with half-cooked blueberry pancakes,a cup of orange juice, and a pile of 3 squirming kids in your bed. Birthdays start with finding new things that jiggle, wrinkle, and sag, but end with embraces and your husband's encouragement that you've never looked more beautiful.

For my twentieth birthday I did a funny thing. Not only did I refuse to believe that I am no longer a teenager- I refused to believe that I was no longer that dorky, mushroom-cut of a kid, who played mafia at recess, and dug up worms in her backyard.

On July fourth, I spent my birthday picking blueberries in an orchard, visiting chickens, sliding down a fifty ft. slide on a potato sack, doing cartwheels, and dangling from a swing I found tied up to an old tree. When I got back to my host house, I went on my second slide of the day at the neighborhood pool. A line started forming behind me, and I had to share the slide with two other girls about the ages of nine and six. I was older than both of them, combined, yet all that meant to me was that I made a bigger splash.

Over Shabbat, I learned how to ripstick- or rather- how not to ripstick. Ironically, at twenty I discovered my lack of hips. (Hey- my body was made to carry babies, not  fashioned to sway alternatively on an unbalanced board!) Despite my steadfast attitude and assertion of peter-pan-hood, I ended up on the concrete, skinned elbows, ankles, and ego. I headed for the kitchen where my friend bandaged me up and praised the fact that I hadn't even cried.

Sitting at the Shabbat table eating the sweet blueberries I had picked the morning before I thought of all my recent attempts of remaining ageless. In these past few weeks alone, I've driven in a batmobile, chased after an ice-cream truck, roller bladed home from work, and sat upside down on the sofa because I missed the way the floor became the ceiling and the feeling of blood filling my head like a vase.

To me, birthdays are meant to reflect the person I've become, think about the life I have left to live, and then do a handstand after eating cake. Trust me, the vomiting will pass, but the feeling that you are only as old as you think you are, will stay as upright as your knobby legs.

Mushroom-cuts build character