Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Some Doubts About Aliya

On our walk back from the park, my nephew picked up a maple leaf from the ground and began wiping it against the sides of his cheeks and neck.

When I gave him a suspicious look he said, "It's my sweat leaf ," with that clear-eyed grin that says I'm doing something peculiar but pretending like you're the weird one. So I didn't question.

Every few blocks, as we passed more and more people I knew, I kept glancing over to check and see if he was still sponging himself with that leaf. Whenever I did, sure enough, that leaf was down the back of his polo, behind his ear, or rubbed against his forehead. But I couldn't reprimand him A. because when we left the park he hadn't given me grief   B. for Heaven's sake it's a leaf  and C. the way he cherished it made me want my own sweat leaf.

A few blocks from home, he began to yell. He covered his eyes with the maple, pretending the sweat leaf  had become a monster and was attacking his face.

We both stopped and looked at each other in a who-can-laugh-last showdown. He unfurled the corners, revealing a sidelong smile and we stood there waiting for the first one of us to crack-up.

One heartbeat.
My lips raised up making that creamy pop like opening a yogurt container.
Another heartbeat.
The contained laughter made galloping waves in his chest cavity.
I couldn't make it to the third heartbeat.

We drowned the noise of play-dates and traffic with squeals of sweat leaves on Sacramento Ave., and in that moment I can truly say I regretted my 2-year Aliya plan.

These past few months I've been 100 percent career oriented- meeting with mentors at Starbucks, taking night classes to graduate on time and  landing a winter internship at a newspaper in a foreign country- and with all this networking in the States, with all these relationships I've cultivated and bridges I've built, I feel like I'm flippantly throwing it all to the wind by even entertaining the thought of moving.

As I push myself to get my short stories published, as I circle hungrily around positions at The News York Times, Washington Post and NPR, I can't help but think that America is the only place I can be professionally successful.

Why? Because I know the language. I have the connections here to get me where I want. I have the family infrastructure to support me during rough periods. I have a mom who will move me into my first home. There, I can only assume it will be hard.

I always meet interesting people in economics class. First there was the mustache-goatee combo guy who enjoys building motorcycles and then there was Rose from Rowanda who is moving to Dupont Circle and took down my number to meet up for lunch.

Last week, a week before our final exam, there was Way Lyn. She asked me how I did on the last test. Pretty crumby. Her? Not at all what she hoped for. We were both struggling to teach ourselves to sink or swim in a classroom environment where the lifeguard turned out to be fireman. He thought he was saving us, but was really just adding more water.

Way Lyn and I got to talking about our jobs. She works at Starbucks for their 5 a.m. shift until around 11. She works weekends too, going door to door selling window blinds. When she's not in  economics shes taking a math class in the same building. She told me how difficult it is to do well in her classes, how she cant afford to buy or rent the textbook so she studies from it in the library for three hours at a time. But, it's okay, she says, her house is too loud to do work there anyways.

Way Lyn wants to go into business. I asked if she had any business internships . No. Does she have any contacts to help her get one. No.

When she asked what I do, I didn't want to answer. I told her I was working as a grant writer, but didn't give much detail. When she asked what high school I went to, and I told her, she beamed. She had heard it was a terrific school.

She looked at me from my suede oxfords to my sleek laptop on the desk and her face grew serious and very contemplative. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "I am so happy for you. You have your entire future all lined up for you. You're going to be really comfortable in life and I am honestly really happy for you."  I didn't know what to say or what to do. I just felt honestly--pathetic.

In contrast, yesterday I wrote to a trustee who is sitting atop a 2.5 billion dollar foundation. My knee-jerk reaction was saturated with criticisms until I looked at his 990-form as saw the 15 attached pages of various charities and organizations he supports. It was my daily reminder to judge everyone favorably until you have the full- 8879EO black and white - picture.

When I called my Bubbie the next day and told her how life was handed to me on a silver plate and served to Way Lyn's in a take-out box, she told me to breathe. I felt like Way Lyn's success story is far greater than anything I could accomplish, that however hard I work will never compare to her success. My Bubbie told me not to compare. One day, if God wills it, I will work hard and get to that position where I can help people like Way Lyn. I could be the contact she needs.

What Way Lyn taught me was that in America my "entire future is all lined up," but in Israel nothing is certain. She put a price tag on the life I say that I'm 100 percent willing to exchange. She revealed my stakes on the poker table. No doubt I'll still have to work extremely hard, and of course I'll still be that cliched "starving artist." But in America, at least I know my mom's waiting with piece of hot lasagna on the table.

Truthfully, I'm relocating to a land where I cannot speak fluently, where my familial ties are sparse, and where I have no professional contacts. I am giving away my "comfortable life" and consciously choosing Way's. But besides the money, I'm giving up something far greater, something far greener: all my sweat-leaf moments,

Just spilled a bowl of grapes and excess water in my bed--man's first grape juice spill that won't stain.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shifty Shades of Gay

Pride Parade NYC

“If a man also lies with men, as he lies with a women, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” -LEVITICUS 20:13

For Chicago’s 46th Gay Pride Parade 750,000 people made lines of twelve-rows-thick down five city streets.  Showers of rainbow confetti spiraled the skyline and it seemed like there had been a blowout sale on banana hammocks and fluorescent wigs. While I wasn’t there to partake in the states of gaiety, my social media feeds blew up. Allies on Facebook began using rainbow photo screens, snapchats of festival pics waited for me on my phone and the twitter hashtag #LoveWins went viral. With the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states I got to wonder what I truly felt about it all, as an American, as an Orthodox Jew and as college student in the liberal arts.

A  Gayteway through Time:

1.Go to BIMA, a summer arts institute at Brandies. Find your niche of singers and musicians whom you write lyrics with, star-gaze with, and roll down high hills with at 2 in the morning. At 3 a.m. Julie tells you she is a bisexual. Say “so cool” because you’ve never heard the word before. Discover Marcus is also bisexual. Google “bi-sexual.” Go to sleep wondering how you feel about all of this. Grab your breakfast tray and sit down with the crew. Notice Julie and Marcus seem aloof. Shira whispers in your ear, “they hooked up last night.” Wonder if now they’re straight.

2. You never thought anything of his high pitched voice, even after winter came and he started wearing infinity scarves and a sweatshirt that read “fruitcake.” He isn’t gay until he tells you explicitly, and when he tells you, he tells you the explicit. He’s dating guys, many of them. He meets them online. Cute guys, brainy guys, young guys, bald guys. And then there are the 50 year old professor guys. He tells you that in gay dating, age isn’t a thing. The words “SEXUAL PREDATORS” flash across your eyes in bright lights. Suffocate your thoughts into his sweater.

(2a. Try setting him up with your gay best friend in PhotoJournalism class. Discover your gay best friend from PhotoJournalism isn’t gay.)

3. Her topic is Judaism and Homosexuality. A large picture of Men under a Chupah kissing fill the Powerpoint slide. And though you are the quintessential helpless romantic- Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth give you goosebumps, Jack and Rose make you sweat- this image on the screen makes the air thin. Turn your head away slightly cursing yourself for not loving love equally. Wonder if those around peg you as a bigot.

4. Flip back to when you dated a guy who has two gay brothers. Recall drafting an email to your friend to tell her, because you didn’t know quite how to break the news over the phone. It would probably be the second worst thing you could tell her. The first only being that you were gay. After the relationship goes under, muse over the incredible fashion sense your kids would have had with four gay uncles buying them presents. Apple watches would have been growing on trees.

5. Your first Shabbat back from school over winter break, all you can think about is sitting next to your mom in synagogue. Trying to catch up, you stand with feet together in silent prayer, as the white-bearded figurehead ascends the platform to the podium. He starts talking about homosexuality, about it being the evil inclination, about the tiy-vahs (the desires) taking hold. About homosexuality being abominable. You can’t finish your conversation with God, so you just crouch to a seat. When you whisper to your mother that you’re walking out, and she says don’t make a scene, look over at your dad and know that you can't. He’s president of the synagogue.

6. There’s a carnival at sleep away camp and all the younger kids are invited on the “hill,” where the highschoolers bunk. Go into a room where music weaves between the small crevices of sweaty skin just barely brushing. Start dancing in a circle with a bunch of your girlfriends. Lose your friends at some point because of the bodies and brushings. When you find them later and they say you danced like a lesbian, turn the insult back on them. Swear for thinking wearing just a Northface was ever a good idea. Embrace heat rash—feel like trash.

7. You know you’d rock a pixie-cut, but guys want hair they can stroke and tug and have sexy dreams about. Figure you’ll crop it short once you’ve settled in your mom jeans with mom hair and sketchers. Until then no guy will look at you and think Ellen DeGeneres.

8. Determine to go to see a live performance of Rocky Picture Horror Show to educate yourself on drag-life. Wimp out. Discover from friends that it was sex on a stage. Feel hair crawl.

9. Dive into Orange is the New Black the way 90's teens devoured Sex in the City.

10. Work at the Holocaust Museum. Learn that lesbians were not sent to the death camps like gay men were. Lesbians still had the potential to procreate and were kept alive as Nazi pleasure-whores.

11. You’re in a bungalow with kids wearing hemp hats and wool socks, eating organic popcorn and carrots that still have their leafy tops attached. Ricky tells you to look at the girl leaning against the wall wearing hiking boots and cameo shorts past her knee. She slaps you’re shoulder. Don’t make it so obvious, she says. You make eye contact with the girl. She’s getting pumped with hormones to become a man. You turn the spot where he stands into a black hole that ceases to exist. You feel excited by his presence and wish so much to strike up a conversation but you can’t make your eyes meet his. By the time you decide to man-up, the corner’s empty.

12. Abomination: " something that causes disgust or hatred.”

Things I know:
God loves all mankind equally.

Things I know:
Man is meant to follow in God’s image.

Things I know:
Just because I turned my face, doesn’t make me a bigot.


Trying to be both open-minded and faithful,
both tolerant AND tolerant of the opposing view