My mediocre pursuit of mediocrity

The Jewish new year is imminently upon us and amazingly, I remember my resolution from the beginning of the year that is coming to an end. The one new year resolution I had was to stop pursuing perfection.

So how did I fare? Have I internalized more that idealizing perfection is a creativity and fulfillment killer?

Well, it’s complicated, I’d have to say.

I’ve exposed my perfection demons to my consciousness. I’ve become more familiar with how they behave, how connected I am to them and what I think about them.

Being more aware of their presence has allowed me to make some exciting and scary decisions. Namely, I am spending my days on things more connected to my talents and loves. This is an amazing development and couldn’t have happened unless I was more able to admit that I can pursue my passions without being perfect in them. It’s so much easier to fail at something that isn’t a dream.

But now that I’m doing more of what I really want to be doing, my expectations of myself and of my life have skyrocketed which hasn’t been fun.

Tapping into my hopes and dreams makes failure seem scarier than ever.

Bottom line? In a perfectly  mediocre manner I am succeeding beautifully at fighting my urge for perfection. I am allowing myself to pursue my dreams despite my fear of failing and I am fighting my pursuit of perfection when so much more is at stake.

How did you fare with your resolutions from last Rosh Hashana?

Shana tova. :)


Yom Kippur, a lamentation

I really hyped up Yom Kippur yesterday in my post on The Times of Israel hours before the fast began. I meant what I wrote and yet, post-Yom Kippur, I need to make a confession.

This year I had a very annoying and pretty upsetting Yom Kippur.

First of all, I really hate fasting. I’m not the worst faster but it makes me feel uncomfortable and weak and the whole time, I just can’t wait for it to be over.

Secondly, I knew I might have menstrual cramps on Yom Kippur and I wouldn’t be able to take pills for them. This stressed me out all day.

And then, thinking about cramps without pain killers got me thinking about other people who would suffer more than usual because of the extremely strict fasting laws on Yom Kippur. Ynet’s overly dramatized Yom Kippur in numbers article mentions that 108 fasters were taken to the hospital by ambulance after fainting today. Oy vey.

Third, Yom Kippur really stirs up the emotions and sometimes that means we get to see the stuff about ourselves that we wish wasn’t looming there, ready to rear its ugly head. My oh my.

In yesterday’s piece I said that I was going to focus on the positive – imagine a better me and a better world. But instead I kept thinking about how crappy I can be and that wasn’t fun. (For some odd reason.)

Finally, this year I didn’t feel like being in shul. I normally spend quite a lot of time there but after Ma’ariv last night, I decided not to go to during the day. This gave my Yom Kippur much less structure and maybe, much less meaning.

Of course Yom Kippur this year wasn’t all bad. Last night I walked to Emek Refaim with a few of the kids in the family and that was really nice. Instead of going to shul today, I took up camp on my parents’ couch and stayed on that dear couch from approximately 8:30 in the morning until around 5:00 in the evening. During that time, I read (Great Expectations), slept and had many visitors in the form of parents, sisters and nieces and nephews.

At around 5:30 this evening I decided to go to shul for the end of Ne’ila. I got there in time for the very dramatic and touching ending of the Yom Kippur prayers (I’m not being facetious).

And then it was over.

Usually when Yom Kippur ends, I am giddy that it happened and relieved that it’s over. This year I’m left feeling a bit empty. Maybe I would have felt better if I’d forced myself to go to shul at least for Mussaf today. It’s hard to know.

It’s interesting that I had such a frustrating, forced Yom Kippur after I wrote such an excited piece about this holiday a few hours before it began. I wonder if I jinxed myself or maybe, through writing the piece, I realized that actually I don’t exactly feel the way I thought I do.

Or maybe this Yom Kippur I was just in a bad mood. Everything being said, I think the truth is a mix of all of the above.

Shana tova.

The perfection in mediocrity

My grandmother has a new idea. She wants me to wear a t-shirt when I go on dates that says:

I know how to bake bread and apple pie. I’m an amazing balabaste. With me you surly will never know hunger.

It’s a gimmick, for sure, but it just might work. As long as it’s a flattering t-shirt.

Another year has gone by and I’m still single. Often, at this time of year, I think about my singlehood, I feel pretty badly about it, and I hope that in the coming year I’ll meet my beloved.

But this year is different. So much has happened this year and I have so much going on even as I write this, that I hardly have time to focus just on that. There are many matters that are much more pressing.

I see that I am most definitely dealing with issues that are forcing me to grow in very interesting ways, and I am thankful for this. Although I am most definitely sad that I am still alone, I think that I am living a full life.

Even in the dating arena I can’t have many regrets. I am a very proactive dater and as I become more refined over the years – I am like good wine – I understand more about what is important for me and what is not. As a result, this year I dated quite a few guys who were on the right track. As other singles can attest, this is a huge accomplishment.

I have heard the idea that if there is a goal that is very important to you, then you should put a certain amount of time towards it on a daily basis – maybe half an hour a day. Well, I can definitely say that I put at least that amount of time towards this goal. The fact I’m still alone continues to bother me, but I know I’m doing what I can to remedy that and all the meanwhile, I’m involved in a many other good things too.

While I cannot feel too badly about my relationship status, I am feeling very frustrated by my writing. Writing is so important to me but something has created a huge block in me over the last year or so and it isn’t letting up. Yes, I wrote some of my most “successful” pieces this year but I know there is so much more where that came from and I yearn to be getting many more pieces out on a regular bases.

But I have been very down on myself about my writing – my style, my vocabulary… It’s been poisonous the thoughts I’ve been feeding myself.

As a young girl, writing was never considered my thing. On the contrary – my mother always called my spelling creative because it was so far removed from proper spelling. I have come to love writing but am aware of my shortcomings. My lack of vocabulary, my sometimes preachy tone… One of my biggest challenges is the fact that I don’t write about extremely personal things, especially if they involve others, which removes the option of writing about a huge amount of stuff about which I have a ton to say.

It’s been difficult and upsetting. I walk around wishing I could write more but it’s not happening.

And so I know what I want to work on in the new year. Well, besides all the other things. I want to work on seeing the perfection in mediocrity. So often I stop myself from creating something or doing something because I am scared it will be insignificant. So often I do get myself to do things but the actions are accompanied by a great amount of fear because I am scared I’m going to do them imperfectly and possibly cause harm.

Basically I’m scared to act. I push myself and I do a lot of things that are very scary but I know I’d have a real blast if I decided to do my best – the key being “do” – and hope for the best. And whatever comes, let it come.

It means having faith in my ability to deal with whatever comes… But of course I can do that.

I want to publish posts that aren’t great and be OK with it. I want to then move on to the next post without dwelling on the success of the last one.

I want to hone the skills I know I have and discover the ones I don’t yet know about. And this will happen if I let go of the need for perfection.

I have a belief that unless you are one of the greatest – musicians, artists, writers, actors – you aren’t making a significant change in the world. I want to contemplate what it is that leads me to have this black and white belief and work on throwing it away.

My perfectionism has, to a large extent, frozen me in place. The modern world trains you to believe that perfect is something that exists. For example, I just bought a new computer bag and keep thinking that maybe I should have held out for something better. For something more perfect.

What a waste of energy.

Perfectionism is a freezer. It doesn’t allow me to act because I know the chances of me being perfect are so slim that it’s a lost cause before I even start.

And I want to stop this destructive way of thinking.

I just saw an old woman, being taken on a stretcher out of her building to an ambulance. She seemed lucid; she was looking around. If she is in fact lucid, she could have been thinking many things. But I imagine she was thinking, “How did I get here? I’m not old.”

And she grew up in a time when time went more slowly. Today, time is zipping by quicker than we can grasp. That day is going to come sooner than we realize and we won’t feel old but we’ll be old and that’ll be a simple fact. And maybe we’ll be able to remember facts from our lives and maybe not.

All those things are out of our control. What is in our control is to look at our lives today, see what we have control over, and take action there.

Someone recently taught me that you need to look at a situation and figure out until what point you can have an effect and from what point it is not your responsibility because you simply lack control – even if you lie to yourself that you have it.

I hope to work on all these things this year.

To put it in one short sentence:

והעיקר לא לפחד כלל – the main thing is to not be scared one bit.

Shana tova.

Read about my mediocre success one year later.

Me? Enjoy praying? My post-Yom Kippur thoughts

As those close to me know, I reeeally don’t enjoy conventional prayer. I mean, I talk to God as much as the next Jew but I can’t stand conventional Jewish praying for the following reasons:

  1. I don’t like feeling pushed to the side because I’m a woman.
  2. I don’t like reading lots of text.
  3. I don’t connect to a lot of the text in the siddur.
  4. I actually have issues with a lot of the prayers. I don’t get showing such reverence to God as if He/She needs it and as if that creates anything close to a healthy relationship with our Creator. (There are other things I don’t get about the prayers in our siddur like talking so much about the animal sacrifices in the time of the Temples in Jerusalem. Yuck.)
  5. It’s boring.

Well, now I’m glad to announce that this Yom Kippur (which was yesterday), enlightened me to some of the positive aspects of conventional prayer. I actually enjoyed being in shul this year and I had enough time to try to figure out what it was about the prayers this year which made it meaningful. I think there are two things about the Yom Kippur prayers that make it more meaningful to me than regular prayers during the year.

There is nothing better to do

I know it sounds a little lame but hear me out. I spend most days of the year so distracted that if I ever attempt to partake in conventional prayer, I’m almost always thinking about the other things I could/should/prefer to be doing. Prayer can seem pretty unproductive when you feel like a busy person.

On the other hand, on Yom Kippur, there is really almost nothing better to do than sit in shul. You can’t eat. You can’t check your email. You actually very possibly don’t want to check your email. It is such a unique day for me in that regard. It is the one day a year that I really want to disconnect and do “nothing much.” And when you have really nothing much to do at all, sitting and reading from a prayer book or listening to the prayers being recited actually feels quite nice.

Personally meaningful prayers

Yom Kippur prayers are so much about introspection. You are actually given a pretty thorough list of possible things you’ve done wrong so that if you choose, you can take the opportunity to try to think of what you did wrong over the last year and consider how you might improve yourself in the coming year.

Now that I can relate to. I don’t like the major guilt trip and I try not to let myself go there but I do try to think of what I did wrong and consider how I can try to improve in the coming year.

Yom Kippur rocks

Don’t get me wrong. I hate fasting and dread it every time. But this year’s Yom Kippur taught me a lot.

It made me realize that I really am unable to be still in my day-to-day life. My mind is so busy that I can’t allow myself time to just contemplate/meditate. And contrary to my feelings on contemplation/meditation (that it’s pretty bothersome and annoying), I don’t think it’s a waste of time. I think it can be very good for me and I’d like to see how I can add more of this into my life this year, even if it’s through conventional prayer! (Shocking, I know.)

I also realized how much I love Yom Kippur. It is by far the most unique day of the year, especially in Israel. The silence of the cities is awesome. The feeling that every Jew in the country is doing what you’re doing is just amazing. The feeling that we really all have “nothing better to do” than be together, because that is what we’ve all chosen for ourselves, is very exciting.

I honestly think that Yom Kippur might be my new favourite holiday. It is the day that has the potential to calibrate us. If we’re capable of stopping and listening to the silence.

Shana tova!

Photo by chajm on flickr.

Important lessons from this past year

Tonight is Rosh Hashana. Everyone is writing their introspective thoughts on Facebook, emailing shana tova blessings and calling each other. And yes, I’m also feeling introspective and extro-spective. I am looking at my world thinking about what’s gone down and what hasn’t. Feeling grateful for all the wonderful things in my life and sad about the tragedy of life.

I’m working in the same company as last year but have since learned plenty about content, about online stuff and most recently, learning a ton about project management – my most recent position. I’m learning how to work with all kinds of people. I’m learning when to take charge, when to make decisions and when to lean on those around me.

I’m learning about the cyclical nature of relationships. I’m learning about the importance of keeping the peace and keeping the relationships good with those closest to me. I am learning that if both sides will it, it’s usually possible.

I’m learning that I’m not always perfect so I should really get over that idea.

I’m learning that it’s so often not about me.

I’m learning that life is most definitely a bed of roses – it is full of wonderful fragrances, beautiful views and lots of thorns.

I’m learning that it’s really easy to want something you don’t have.

I’m learning to appreciate the time I have, the health I have, the people I have, right now.

I’m learning that sometimes it is best to follow the recipe.

And, thank God, I’m learning to be a nicer person.

And why do I write this all in present tense? Because none of this ends. It is all part of the process of my life.

Shana tova umetuka,


The most important moment of the week

I heard a talk a while ago around the idea that Judaism is a religion where time is the most important thing. Now someone just told me he heard a talk where the rabbi said that the most important moment of the week is the moment when we go from week day into Shabbat. Our lives, potentially, revolve around that moment. We rush all week, maybe especially right before Shabbat, then we light the candles and *poof*, we’re in a new realm of existence. Not that anything really changed but it did.

When this guy shared that idea with me, I said that it almost made me feel like fully keeping Shabbat again. : ) It seems so powerful, almost like it reminds us that we have the power. We think that life is just pushing us along but we choose to stop it all. Of course we could choose not to and of course some people don’t even feel that they are choosing to keep Shabbat, but if you can feel that you’re choosing to keep it – I mean seriously, you don’t have to, right? – then you can experience freedom through this.

And is freedom not what we all want? True freedom?

Yom Kippur inspired

Erev Yom Kippur (yesterday afternoon) I wrote this post.

I feel the need to write a follow-up to that post. I was somewhat upset that I didn’t feel very inspired leading up to Yom Kippur but I must say that in the end it was really a very beautiful holiday. Don’t get me wrong. I hate fasting. But it wasn’t a terrible fast. If we had to make a list of the coolest things about Israel, the fact that the country changes to the winter clocks before Yom Kippur so that the fast will come out an hour earlier, is definitely in that list. The fact we only changed our clocks one day before the fast, well, that’s not exactly the most logical thing since we all still felt like it was 7pm when the fast was over but still, the clocks said 6pm and that rocked.

Another one of the coolest things about Israel, is that Yom Kippur is such a quiet, quiet, quiet day. Amazing. I went for a walk with my little sister and niece (nine and 10 years old) after synagogue last night and they were, without a doubt, the loudest things on the street.

Everyone walks in the middle of the streets, even the main streets. It’s not that the streets are closed off. There is no rule. It’s seriously, if I may be so eloquent, the coolest. I only saw two cars go by over the whole 25 hours and they were both medical vans.

Today I went to a different shul than my parents because their synagogue is amazingly uninspiring. The place I went, Shir Chadash, was seriously beautiful davening! They hire professional Jewish-style popular – soulful, as my mom put it – singers to lead the prayers. So, besides the airconditioning that made me into a popsicle (not an icicle because I’m sweet) and the chairs that, well, my poor tushy, I’m so happy I went there at least for part of the davening.

And I do believe that the moment that Yom Kippur is over is by far the most wonderful moment of the year. There is a feeling of the tension being released after such an intense time. It’s such a happy time. Also, we have the longest time before one of the two major fasts comes around again (Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av) and it’s almost Sukkot!

So now we can say, chag sam’each! Happy Sukkot! Tonight we will be able to start hearing our neighbours build their sukkot. And in a day or two, Rachel and I will decorate ours! Yay!

Yom Kippur uninspired

It’s interesting to me (though not surprising) that these High Holidays, my first in many years in Jerusalem, are turning out to be the most uninspiring.

I dunno… Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are too overwhelming for me. I really just don’t feel the strength to try to make it meaningful because every time I start making an attempt, I feel like withdrawing and stopping.

I think I always have this feeling before Yom Kippur, that I wish it was over already. I love when it’s over. It’s the best feeling.

Ah! I really don’t know. Maybe it only feels somewhat meaningful to me (or sometimes very meaningful to me) because of all the hype. Yom Kippur is the ultimate day of hype. It’s the Jewish holiday that the most Jews celebrate and participate in. Is this just by chance or for a reason?

It’s really quite stressful thinking about this one day a year – well, 25 hours – when we should try to think of everything that has happened and everything we want to happen, not only to ourselves, but to everyone we care about and all Jews and the whole world.

And, of course, I’m just dreading the fast. I do hate fasting. And for those of you who don’t know, when us Jews fast, it means no food or drink, the whole time (except you aren’t allowed to put your body in danger so you must talk to a rabbi if you have medical questions regarding the fast). In this case, in Jerusalem, starting this evening at around 5pm, ending tomorrow evening at around 6pm.

I think that for myself I’m introspective so much of the time anyway that I’m not sure what to do differently on Yom Kippur. And I feel like it’s this window of time to quickly pray for whatever you want and that stresses me out.

OK, those are my current feelings on Yom Kippur. I sound so down here. I must say I’m not. I wish I had more positive feelings about the day that is beginning soon, but it’s OK. I’m still so happy to be here and I know that it’ll be over soon and we can move on to Sukkot!

Also, on a brighter note, I’m so so so grateful that I’m in a gazillion times better place than I was last YK. Last year I had the worst YK I’d ever had (and hope I ever have). I was in pain and couldn’t take pain killers, I was in the process of ending a long relationship which was horribly painful, I was unemployed after someone hired me, I waited two months for the job, and then they let me go after four days and, I lead the pre-teen services at the Conservative shul in Vancouver with all that going on. fyi, leading the services wasn’t bad, persay, it was just difficult considering how I was feeling in general.

But, I must say that after those hard times, things totally TOTALLY turned around for me! I had, for the most part, a really wonderful last year in Vancouver. Met great people, did great work, started writing seriously, finally! … So, I can’t say it was “worth” it but, however it works, it worked out.

Gmar chatima tova to all! I can’t translate this because that opens up a whole other can of worms. :)

Israel, for better and for worse

Today, Monday, is the first day of the rest of my life, even though I arrived here three days ago. Friday was the eve of Rosh Hashana – the Jewish new year – and so I got a grace period during which I got to enjoy Jerusalem at its best.

And yet, as I sit here three days later, I feel as though I’ve been plucked out of North America and suddenly I find myself sitting in Aroma, a tasteful and tasty café, in the German Colony in Jerusalem. My sister in law Tania is sitting across from me at the table going through her ulpan notes. She’s going to study for her Hebrew exam that she has tomorrow and I will try to catch up here.

Oh, but what excitement in Jerusalem today! It is the day after Rosh Hashana, a two day holiday, and I am trying to figure out if the number of people sitting in the café and all along Emek Refa’im in the restaurants, is normal or exceptionally high because it’s the day after the whole country’s Jewish population celebrated our new year.

Where to start when I haven’t had the opportunity to write in so long. I guess I can start at the end. Today the café at the corner of our street is closed to business because they are filming Srugim there. I seriously think I’m convinced that much of what is going on in Israel since my arrival is in honour of my coming home. Srugim is a very popular Israeli TV show about the Orthodox community. From what I hear, it’s basically a soap opera religious style. It won a big Israeli award so it seems it’s popular in the general public, not only with religious people.

It takes place in Jerusalem but it’s very exciting to have our café in it! And now, Tania just got a call from a friend, asking her if she wanted to be an extra in the show tomorrow, when they film at the Botanical Gardens. How exciting!

My time in Toronto was really enjoyable. I got to spend lots of time with family and also saw a Vancouver friend, Jenny, while I was there. It was so interesting to see how at peace I felt about the move. It was no longer an inner struggle at all. It was just a matter of saying goodbye to people and saying goodbye to Canada. I was happy to be able to get a small taste of autumn – more in Vancouver than in Toronto – and, in general, a last taste of the beautiful Canadian nature. What an awesome country.

But by the time I left, it wasn’t heartbreaking. It wasn’t as if I felt withdrawal from the things I was leaving behind. I went through such an intense process leading up to my decision, where I worked through a virtual list of the things I was afraid about leaving and afraid about coming up against in Israel, that I’d come to terms with pretty much all of them, at least in theory. How I’ll deal with things now that I’m here, that we shall have to wait and see.

So I didn’t feel terribly sad about leaving the nature of northern North America behind. I just felt the need to officially part from it. What a wonderful country Canada is.

I’m amazed that while I wasn’t capable of considering moving back to Israel, I didn’t really connect to the nature here. It just seemed so barren and dry. But since I decided I wanted to come back, my feelings about it have changed. When we landed in Tel Aviv, I really found the landscape beautiful. It’s like it suddenly got much greener than the last time I was here and whatever isn’t green – if it’s brown or beige or grey – still seems pretty to me.

Speaking of dry, we had a very exciting blessing over Rosh Hashana. It poured! Again, I felt like it was in honour of my arrival. I know it’s silly. When I told my dad that I think it’s raining because I came back, he said that he thinks it rains every time he sneezes. :) I know it’s self-centred and strange, but that is how it feels to me. It’s as if I carried a bottle of the rainy-ness with me from Vancouver and threw it into the sky once I arrived here. No one I’ve spoken to, including myself, can remember it ever raining here on Rosh Hashana. The rain here is very powerful because it lives up to the saying, “When it rains, it pours.” It is so intense, falling in big raindrops, as if it’s trying to make a dent in the pavement. On Rosh Hashana it poured on and off for a couple of days.

After shul on the second day (Sunday), we had to stand by the doorway of the synagogue, waiting for it to let up. It did but we still had to cross the street which was a river from the few minutes of rain. Good thing I wore my flip-flops!

The first night of Rosh Hashana we had a big crowd of guests. We ate on our mirpeset, our very big balcony that overlooks some of the hilly neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. It was so beautiful and peaceful. This is one word that keeps popping into my head when I think about Israel. Amazing how a place that in the news is a place of stress, wars and missiles, in real life is a place of vibrancy, living life to its fullest, raw human interaction and, yes, peacefulness. How do Israelis succeed in doing this? Living in a country abundant with problems but yet still living and growing and trying to be all we can be? I’m deeply impressed and I want to understand it more.

How funny. At this moment I’m idealizing Israel big-time. It’s hard to consistently idealize this country because there are so many trials here, but it’s nice to see its beauty whenever possible. I hope that as I need to deal with day-to-day life here more and more, I’ll be able to continue seeing the beauty of the country and the people here.

Anyway, first night of Rosh Hashana. We had family friends over. These are people who went out of their way to befriend us immediately when we arrived in Israel in 1990. They have been caring friends ever since. During dessert I desperately had to go lie down on the couch because, with all the travelling and jetlag, I hadn’t slept normally in a few days. I lay down and Rachel, my little sister, came and lay down next to me. It was around 10:15pm on Friday and I was transported in my mind to exactly a week earlier. It was 12:15pm on Friday in Vancouver (with the 10-hour time difference) and I was sitting at lunch with the clients at L’Chaim. I told them that I was amazed by the idea that in exactly a week from that moment, I’d be sitting with my family at the Rosh Hashana table in Jerusalem. I remember getting teary-eyed from the thought. And now, it really was true!

Saturday morning, when I wished I was sleeping but my jetlag kept me awake, I heard the mu’ezin at around 4:30 in the morning. This is the Muslim call to prayer. I’ve always liked the sound of the mu’ezin. Sunday morning, I wasn’t up for the mu’ezin but I did get to hear the bells from the monastery in the park next to my parents’ house. And, of course, I could hear the prayers through the open windows of my bedroom from the Safardik synagogue one block down from our apartment. On the second day of Rosh Hashana, when it wasn’t Shabbat anymore, one could hear the shofars blowing all morning, into the early afternoon.

There is religious freedom under Jewish rule because no matter how religious a Jew is, we do not believe that anyone else needs to practice religion as we do. We expect the world to be moral but we don’t care if Muslims or Christians pray differently or believe in different things. As long as they are peaceful. Israel can never be what it is under the rule of any other religious group. Um, not that Jews are exactly a religious group. But that’s a whole other topic.

All of Rosh Hashana the streets were quiet besides people walking to and from shul and to and from holiday meals with family and friends. Especially immediately following services at the millions of synagogues in my neighbourhood, the streets were full with people walking. There was only the sporadic car. Did I mention peaceful?

Despite all the excitement and beauty I see around me, I’m scared. Last night, when the holiday ended, I felt like then was the real start to my new life in Israel. Then begins the building. I was able to hide behind Rosh Hashana and enjoy the quiet of the holiday. And yes, it is real, but now I need to start confronting real things like figuring out how I’m going to make a living and dealing with the things here that are difficult for me culturally.

I drove two of our guests to the central bus station last night after the holiday ended and I always find that when you drive here, you really connect to Israeli culture. Oy. :) I almost turned onto a street that was reserved for buses and taxis and so I stopped when I realized this, considering if I needed to back up in order to turn back into the regular traffic or if I had enough room to just manoeuvre my way back. Of course in the two seconds this took to contemplate, the taxi driver behind me honked at me.

I’ve had a few other typical Israeli experiences already, one even before my arrival in Israel!

While flying from Toronto to Tel Aviv on El Al, the Israeli airline, a flight attendant was walking by me and I stopped him to ask him a question. The personal lights kept turning off. So, I asked him, “Lama ha’orot ha’ishiyot nichba’ot kol hazman?” This means, “Why do the personal lights keep turning off?”

His answer? “Nichba’im.”

Instead of answering my question, he corrected my grammar. I spoke about “light” as if it’s feminine when indeed it’s masculine. Only once I repeated the proper conjugation did he answer the question. The especially amusing part of this story is that I have told this story to two Israelis and they both pointed out to me that the whole conjugation is wrong.  It’s not nichba’im but kabim. :) So, he was wrong anyway. I laughed to myself about this experience and decided that maybe El Al is more expensive because the flight attendants also function as Hebrew tutors. Tutoring can really add up!

When we arrived at the airport, we all stood in line for passport control. Really this is not a fascinating story. All I know is that the woman was about as miserable as they come. She didn’t make eye contact, first totally ignored me, while she finished having a little conversation with her friend in the booth next door, and then when she finally took my passport and stamped it, without looking up, she said, “Lechi.” That just means, “Go.” I cannot say it doesn’t irk me at all but it’s OK.

Another experience, or lack of experience (because it was all about my own perception) was when I arrived in shul on the first day of Rosh Hashana. I came very late and I could swear I was getting dirty looks from the women sitting there. But then I realized that it wasn’t necessarily dirty looks. It’s just that from Vancouver I’m used to everyone smiling at me. If I’d walked into shul in Vancouver, anyone who made eye contact with me would have given me a smile, whether they knew me or not. Here, that is totally unaccepted. If they look up to see who you are, there is absolutely no reason for them to smile at you if they don’t know you. So they look up and then just look back down. To me, that felt sort of rude until I realized it meant nothing at all. It’s just cultural.

Also, I must say there is something way easier about that. In Vancouver you always have to be ready to interact with people. Even on the street or the bus, with strangers, you will very possibly have to say hello and give a smile. It’s very hard to just let yourself go into yourself and be in your own world. Here, if you need to squeeze through a space in the café and someone else needs to get through the same space coming in the opposite direction, it doesn’t have to be a joint experience. No need to say a word, no need to try to be extra courteous. It’s really just not a big deal.

Someone dropped something on the floor while I’ve been sitting here in the café, and it didn’t matter. Who cares? So something dropped. In Vancouver I imagine that becoming a topic of conversation for a couple of minutes between the strangers in the café. How wasteful!

The culture here is at once separated, like when it comes to mundane interactions, but at the same time so connected. Especially this time of year when people don’t have their air conditioners on anymore, it’s amazing how you can sit in your bedroom and listen to other people’s lives out your window. Kids running by talking loudly to each other, adults conversing in English and Hebrew; you don’t feel like things are so segregated. I don’t know if I’d get sick of it but right now I find it nice. We’re living similar lives. In Vancouver it’s so polite that it feels very separate. I have loved living the polite life of Vancouver. It can be stressful but for the most part it’s just nice to know what to expect from people and, specifically, that you can expect people to treat each other nicely. But I hope I’ll be able to appreciate the togetherness and intensity of Israel.

There are a few specific goals I have here. I want to study Arabic, krav maga (an Israeli self defence) and learn a ton about Israelis and Israeli culture – the way we act with each other and the actual arts, especially Israeli music. Oh, I also want to work on my Hebrew.

But I wonder if I’m an intruder. From spending a substantial amount of time outside of Israel, I’ve been able to give myself a new perspective. I was so caught up in the culture before I left, feeling angry and hurt by so many things here. I am yet to see how it is truly being part of it again – I am terrified I’ll find myself again just angry and hurt. I hope I am strong and mature enough to feel much better here than I did three and a half years ago.

As much as I feel somewhat like an outsider looking in, I also feel very at home. I have noticed that I haven’t been disoriented at all since I arrived. You know how when you travel to a different place, especially when it’s in a different time zone (let alone 10 time zones away), you sometimes forget where you are? This just isn’t happening to me here! It’s so natural for me to be back here. It’s crazy but natural.

I barely prayed on Rosh Hashana. It was extremely uninspiring for me at the Shtibelach, but in general I’m really praying that I’ll be able to bring good things to this country which, it seems, I care about so deeply. When it rained on Rosh Hashana, it felt like a blessing. According to Jewish tradition, if it rains in Israel before Sukkot it is some kind of curse. It almost never rains until after Sukkot. But I don’t care. I think that the rain this year was a sweet message, a communication with us, from “above,” that we’re being blessed. And the fact that you don’t actually have to go to shul because you can hear everything out your window while lying in bed, now that’s a blessing!