ID

When my husband and I were deep into the process of coordinating our Aliyah back in the States, we received a lot of email communication from Nefesh B’Nefesh, some of which was extraordinarily helpful. (In addition to weekly webinars, NBN also has a robust website with lots of information for potential new olim — I would have been a lot better off if I had read any of it before I landed in Israel.)

Occasionally, though, I would get an email from NBN in my inbox and I would be really confused; in the same way I sometimes feel confused when I go to Shabbat services these days and in the middle of the service everyone starts bowing or shuffling their feet and I have no idea why or what I am supposed to do.

There I was 12 months ago: Confident enough in my intention and desire to make Aliyah — married to an American Israeli; 10 years of Hebrew school and USY under my belt; synagogue membership; two kids in Jewish preschool — but still, in many ways, feeling like an impostor.  This was not a new feeling for me — uncertain of my Jewishness among Jews– but a feeling that was becoming much more pronounced with my decision to make Aliyah.

While preparing for Aliyah, there were some things I didn’t understand, but felt awkard asking for an explanation. Shouldn’t I already know the answer? If was “Jewish enough” to be making Aliyah, shouldn’t I have been Jewish enough to understand all the steps involved in transforming from an American Jew into an Israeli?

This was all very subliminal, mind you. I wasn’t consicously aware that I was questioning my own qualifications for making Aliyah. Consciously I was preparing all the documents with ease. I am a Jew after all. I have the figurative C.V. to prove it.

But just as I had never felt Jewish enough among Jews, I didn’t feel “oleh enough” among the olim.

Let me offer you an example. Apparently, when Jews from other countries make Aliyah, they will sometimes change their names.  You could be a 45-year-old woman, whom her whole life has been called Randi, and one day she lands in Israel and her name is Rivka. In December, you’re Susan or Bill or  Mandelovitch and, in January, you’re suddenly Shoshana or Ruven or Manof.

And it’s not just make believe. It’s legal. I don’t know exactly what happens, particularly when you go back to the States to visit, but it’s legal in Israel.  I imagine your American passport still lists you as Susan, but for all official and unofficial intents and purposes here in Israel, you are Shoshanna.

So, Nefesh B’Nefesh sent us this email a month before we made Aliyah asking us if we would be changing our names, and instructing us what to do if so. Huh? I thought. Change my name? Isn’t that something only zealots and freaks do? (Yes, judging, judging, judging.)

I could see the practicality of changing our names — all of which save for my husband’s are very Anglo — but I could not imagine calling my son Oliver by his Hebrew name, Itamar. Or by any name other than Oliver.  Certainly, as an idea, it seemed fun to come up with a new beautiful name for myself–one of my own choosing, one that was easy to say– or to have a second chance in naming our children (particularly our daughter whose name I think we chose in haste). But I couldn’t imagine it. For better or for worse, I am a Jennifer who likes to be called Jen.

Then, soon after receiving that email, we went to an NBN job fair a month before making Aliyah. If we didn’t feel out of place enough already at the event — fairly secular Jews in a sea of Orthodox –we were introduced to a seemingly secular couple our age who was also making Aliyah to the North around the same time we were. They introduced themselves to us by their “new names,” with a shy footnote that they were trying those new names on for the first time. My husband Avi and I smiled and nodded politely, but after they parted, we exchanged looks as if to say, “Say WHAT?” (This was one of those delightful moments where I once again thanked the Divine for gifting me a husband who I could have “say what” moments with.)

Who were these people we were making Aliyah with? Who were we to be making Aliyah?

Who am I to be making Aliyah?

And really…Who am I to call myself a Jew?

My husband was already an Israeli citizen. He was born in the States to two Israeli parents who moved to the U.S. as young adults. His parents returned to Israel with their children when my husband was in preschool and they lived here for many years while he was growing up. He’s Israeli. He may not “look Israeli” or “act Israeli” (this is something I heard over the years from my family and friends when they first met my husband.) But he’s Israeli. This (along with the eight years he spent at Solomon Schecter)  lends legitimacy to his both his Judaism and his Israeli-ness, in my eyes.

But who am I? Am I Jewish enough to live here? Am I Jewish at all?

The irony, I have learned in the 11 months that I have lived in Israel is: I am not the only Israeli asking myself this question.

In fact, a lot of Israelis are asking themselves this question. And, in some ways, I might be considered “more” Jewish than the ones who aren’t  because I am asking the question.

As deficient as a Jew as I often felt in the States, I am feeling here…awakened spiritually. Indeed, more awakened possibly than Israelis who have lived in this country since birth…Israelis who have never stepped foot in a synagogue their entire lives. Perhaps, even more awakened than religious Israelis who have been praying daily in the synagogue for years.

I bring this up not to judge or to compare, but to transform my judgment into compassion. My judgment of myself. My judgment of others.  My judgment of religion, of spirituality. My judgment of the words “God,” or “Universe,” or “Divine.” My judgment of prayer practices, of devotion.

I share this with you as a way to publicly offer myself compassion retroactively and to ask forgiveness for the judging.

My wish is that as my spiritual journey continues, however it continues, may I continue to explore Judaism (my version and yours) with curiousity and compassion…and an open heart and mind.

And, as always, your feedback and contribution to the discussion (via Comments) are welcomed.

Bubble

I work from home. And since my younger children are in Gan on the kibbutz and my older son takes a bus to his school in Givat Ela (a 15 minute-drive away), I don’t have much reason to leave. In fact, I don’t really have much reason to shower. (See? Already I’m contributing to the water conservation effort in Israel.)

This makes for a very insular life. Which, for the moment, I enjoy.

Especially since this type of isolation means I can forget I live in a country in the middle of a war zone.

Did you ever see the Christopher Reeve film, Somewhere in Time? It’s a time traveling story in which Reeve’s character, Richard, falls in love with a woman (Jane Seymour) he sees in a vintage portrait. Richard figures out how to travel back in time to the turn of the century to meet her…where they fall in love. He needs to be mindful, though, because if he sees anything that reminds him of his own time, he will be hurled back there in an instant.

I, too, need to be mindful. All it takes is one email, one conversation with a friend, or one visit to msnbc.com to remind me that I didn’t move to a communal farm in New Hampshire, but to a kibbutz in Israel, a land whose fate is consistently in question.

The other day I was driving to Nazrat Ilit, the nearest “city” to Hannaton with my friend Yitzhak, who is also a new oleh. On the drive, he asked me if I was concerned about the situation in Egypt. “What’s going on in Egypt?” I asked tentatively. He looked at me as if I had three heads. “Do you know what’s going on in Tunisia?” he asked. I told him I thought I saw a picture about it on Facebook. He sighed.

When I got home later, my husband Avi was closely reading an email in his inbox. When he saw me looking over his shoulder trying to make out the Hebrew, he quickly closed it out. “What was that about?” I asked. “Oh, nothing we need to worry about right now,” he replied.

The problem with his response is that I already saw the photo included in the email which, it turns out, listed the dates the local municipality would be handing out complimentary gas masks to each family in the region, and the specific locations at which we could pick ours up.

“I see,” I said, noting that the soonest date to pick up our stash was mid-February. I took a deep breath and glanced over at the miklat* in our house, which for now is filled with boxes we have not yet emptied, as opposed to gas masks, extra water, or bags of dehydrated food.  I was better prepared for catastrophe in New Jersey, where I kept a big tupperware box filled with 2012 End of Days supplies in my basement.

Is it ignorant or naive of me to think I could move to Israel and not be forced to confront the politics of living here? I think the clear answer is, Yes.  And, yet, I’m doing a really good job of it so far.

Or so I easily lead myself to believe…

I think it’s only time until I will be forced to confront, or at least acknowledge, what it means to be an American Jew living in Israel. When all the careful indoctrination I received studying International Politics in college, interning at the Embassy of Israel, and working in Washington, D.C. think tanks rises to the surface.  

I am, in fact, very aware and informed of the history of the land I now I live in. It’s one thing, though, to read Amoz Oz or write a paper on “Why the West Bank Is An Important Strategic Asset to Israel” (which I did in 1993). It’s quite another to pay taxes here, prepare my children for a bomb drill, or walk beneath fighter planes doing exercises in the sky.

When there is inevitably another media blitz about an Israeli military choice or when Israel is once again front and center in the international news, where will I be? Lobbying in support of my country? Or quietly insisting that the latest news doesn’t concern me?

Only time will tell.

Like many transformations I’m experiencing as a new immigrant here, my political leanings are still…TBD.

GLOSSARY

Miklat = Bomb shelter (which by law every new Israeli home built has to have. Most people use these as closets, storage rooms, or offices.)

Limbo

I still don’t feel like I live in Israel.

This is probably because I don’t.

Technically, I do, of course. I am now an official citizen of the State of Israel. I have a new cellphone number and an address here.  I have a Teudat Zehut — and therefore, an Israeli identity. And by mid-week, all three of my kids will hopefully officially be in school.

I live here. But I am still in limbo.

Our shipment with all of our furniture, most of our clothes, our new Israeli small and large appliances, and all the material possessions that make it possible for me to live at peace with my children (read “Legos” and “dollhouse”) are still, supposedly, stuck in the port of Haifa.

Three days after we landed at Ben Gurion, our container arrived at the port. Unfortunately, that same day was the start of a week-long strike of the port workers. This is Israel.

The strike was finished a week ago, but we are still without our shipment, and also without any word of where it is or when it might arrive. Our rented home on Hannaton sits empty. We remain living out of duffel bags on the second floor of my very generous in-laws’ home in Kfar Hittim, a moshav overlooking Tiberias. I am fully aware that the situation could be much, much worse. We could be living in an Absorption Center, as many immigrants do. I could be living in a one-room apartment with not just three, but six children. I could be pregnant.

Things could definitely be worse.

And, things could be better. Right now.

Meaning, I could get over wanting this phase to be over.

I am a believer in the Law of Attraction. Say what you will, but it’s worked for me. Using a strong sense of focus and clearing my mind of negative thoughts, I somehow have been able to manifest anything from incredibly close parking spots to a huge bonus for my husband. Ask my family members about my parking luck…it’s not luck, my friends, it’s the power of intention.

So why isn’t the Law of Attraction working now?

How am I unable to attract a 40 foot container attached to a tractor trailor to my little red house on Hannaton?

I posed this question to my possibility-creating Facebook friends. One said: “Perhaps focus on the feeling you would feel once the shipment arrives. Just keep on thinking those feelings.” Another said, “If you can accept this moment just the way it is, everything gets easier- whether it all shows up or not. You do what you can and then relax and trust that it will work out in the best way possible.” (A lot of people “liked” that response.)

And, yet another said, “[Practicing the Law of Attraction] is harder than it sounds. That’s why they call it practice.”

Indeed.

Can I accept this moment just as it is?

Can I enjoy the chaos, the uncertainty, the cramped quarters, the unfamiliar tastes, smells, and sounds?

Can I be with the crying and the pushing and the acting out of my children? Accept that they too are in limbo?

Lord knows I’ve been trying.

But I know that I haven’t been trying hard enough.

I know what I am capable of accomplishing. Who I am capable of being…for myself and for my children.

I haven’t been her as of late.

When my friend Rita challenges me to accept this moment just as it is, what I know she’s saying is: “Choose it.”

Once I choose the balagan that is my life right now, I will suddenly have all I want. I won’t have to resist it any longer.

And even those who don’t practice Law of Attraction know what happens when you resist.

It persists.

So, what happens when I let go? When I accept? When I choose?

Anything and everything.

Limbo disappears.

And suddenly, I am here.

Living.