would that i had the proper habit of annotating my peculiar life herein
but for now


foam soap. So unsatisfying in assuring me of a proper handwashing! I want to self-lather, not have my soap pre-lathered. Why is the darn stuff everywhere overnight? When did the silent revolution happen? Is it just because it's cheaper to whip up air than to buy the regular pink industrial stuff?


the Obamas make tuna salad (old-ish footage). Finally! In my adult life, a president who's smart and liberal, and can cook Indian food. Housies and I have been speculating about whether presidents and their families miss doing everyday chores when they move into the White House. Can you imagine not getting to pick out your own produce? Corollary: does 1600 Pennsylvania Ave belong to a CSA or purchase local foods?


neckwarmers and cute winter hats. it's been so lovely around here, weatherwise, that I can almost imagine myself having the time to knit up some of this stuff before the cold sets in.


jews in a box
chag sameach, again, yeesh

Tuesday afternoon, for the first festival meal of Sukkos, Will and I met up with two friends of mine in the BZBI sukkah at 18th and Spruce. For those not phamiliar with the Illadelph, 18th and Spruce is right near Rittenhouse Square, the toniest downtown 'hood. In Boston, think Back Bay. In New York, Union Square. In DC, Dupont Circle. Smaller and relaxed-er than those, cause this is Philly.

Their sukkah is a charming three-sided metal-and-tarp affair, gaily bedecked with dried corn stalks and mums and gourds (America's great contributions to the harvest festival!) and awesome Shrinky Dink ornaments of apples, stars, and Israeli flags. Hung in the sukkah were a big sign saying "chag kasher v'sameach*/Happy Sukkot!" and a plastic-encased building permit. We spread out a beautiful pink silk quilt on the sidewalk, and as if we were a living diorama, feasted on homemade bread, quinoa salad, pesto, and lentils, to the great amusement/confusion of the many passers-by. Cars, trucks, construction workers, ladies of leisure, dog-walkers: we provided spectacle to all comers.

Only two people asked what we were doing. One, a woman named Ann, had been in Turkey recently with her husband, and apparently to her we looked like we were in Turkey. Will's theory was that this resulted from the combination of bright-colored-patchwork 'rug' and grain/lentil dishes. Ann consented to be our guest, as ritually significant during Sukkos, and to eat a few slices of delicious pear.

This is the first year that I've had my own lulav and esrog, the four species of plants that are brought together and ritually shaken in the weirdest pagan holdover in Judaism. (The shaking is supposed to bring blessing--and rain.) It's nice to feel not like a hanger-on or an adjunct, waiting to share someone else's ritual objects, but large and in charge, with my own bundle of rustling palm fronds and fragrant citron.

*'happy and kosher holiday!' which I appreciate, because who else would wish you an appropriate ritually fulfilled holiday? "enjoy your parties, and DON'T FUCK UP!"


unholy alliance?

Lately I've been complaining that I can't get through a day without a conversation about Sarah Palin. Blah blah blah, she's so terrifying/awful/hilarious. So, hoist to my own petard, I'm blogging about her--after three months, I know I know it's ridiculous.

But not as ridiculous as this: sheitel.com is now selling a Sarah Palin wig. Yes folks, now you in the modest-haircovering Orthodox world can look like Our Sarah, lovin' Jews for Jesus and hatin' that mean old goverment (shoo! git back on the side of the American people!) and stylin' the bouffant. I loves it.

In other news, I am now an official amateur wedding organizer. I stage-managed Ken and Zoe's beautiful wedding yesterday (a few nice photos here) and bridesmaided too.


poetry and radical theology at a mental health treatment facility
[cross-posted at the Hadar blog...which you probably can't see, as I think it's private]

[This is from a post that I wrote with my yeshiva buddy Sigal for the internal Hadar site where we all discuss, supposedly, our social-service projects. For those who are not keeping up, I'm in summer yeshiva in NYC with a fabulous posse of smartass yids. 14-hour days = no blogging.]

We've been having a great time, despite feeling exhausted on the way there every week. There isn't much servey service to do, so we mostly chat with the clients and the staff about whatever folks are thinking about. All the lead staff there seem to be some variety of Buddhist, many of them very learned and into talking about their texts and their experiences and their questions. Sigal often shares little snippets of Torah with them. We've discussed the meaning of "darshan" in the Jewish and the Hindu/Buddhist context, and speculated as to shared etymology...

Today we ran the second in our highly experimental three-part poetry series. After a few weeks of basically just hanging around--with the staff, as noted above, and with the guys, who love Judge Mathis and would do quite well on Family Feud--Sigal and I asked the director, Carlos, if we could lead a little poetry workshop. Or rather, if there would be interest from the clients. They have been quite variably interested in our presence, some wanting to chat every week and some basically ignoring us. As you'd expect. Carlos said, of course, we have some poets already! We envisioned this as a small but pleasurable activity/skill that matters to each of us and that we could share with the clients.

In each week--this and last--we brought a Mary Oliver poem (Wild Geese and A Summer Day) to be discussed, and planned some writing prompts, and basically just sat around with a couple guys eating cookies and writing stuff and discussing. We had to do a lot of reassuring and encouraging, but not so much drawing-out as we expected. That is to say, these guys have produced some amazingly forthcoming and soulful work. The poetry is great to hear and the conversations great to have. Next week we're going back for the last time! Boo.

One month to my birthday.


peep this

I uploaded a bunch of new photos from the last year. More coming. Hooray for new computer!


off my game
backward glance navel gazing

One big writing deadline upcoming and I have to move to New York (just for June+July) on Sunday. After April and Josef's wedding, for which I am somehow the announcer/crowd-control gal. What to wear? It's been gangbusters since Miriam's memorial, too much going on and too much work to get done. Beautiful weather, a lot of jaw tension and pain. I have a lot of dreams of Miriam, night and daytimes both. I'm nervous that Greg is probably showing up here sometime to read this. Hi, Greg.

I was talking with a couple of folks today about ND, the aftermath of our relationship, the patterns and shapes that were in it from early on. That's not to say 'I should have known' or to bind up my regrets, but rather, to name the topology of what I want to have learned. I hope.

We had been together for about five weeks (so, we're talking late May 2006) when ND said to me, I'd like to marry you. This wasn't your typical bended knee/ring affair, but I wouldn't have liked that anyway. I told Alyssa and Ross the next day,
feeling sick with pleasure and confusion on someone's stoop at 12th and Chestnut, and they were all, huh? And, happy. Sort of. Everyone was still trying to understand our weird whirlwind romance at that point. I was.

I had told him, yeah! I'd like to marry you! but maybe in a year! He agreed this was a good time frame, citing Pat Allen--one of his relationship-psychology gurus. We had already argued about Dr. Allen's conception of gender dynamics in straight relationships, etc etc: men want to be respected, women want to be cherished. I had event planning nightmares, and spent the next couple of weeks, no joke, crossing the street to avoid walking past fancy bridal shops. Also, drycleaners'--those hideous sequined lace gowns in the window.

This could be a simple story of ready vs. not-really, but I think not. ND has a vision of life in which dramatic risks and bold action have big payoffs, and love happens between wildly polarized people (masculine men and feminine women--how many arguments about gender did we have to have?) even though of course everyone's functionally equal when it comes to power. I simply don't experience life as a series of suspension bridges to be crossed, burned, or jumped off. I like things to feel right before I do them. Giant pansy.

The other thing is, and I don't want to be unkind, that I think ND wanted/wants a partner to be in the passenger seat in his life. Not sure if you're reading this, ND, and if so, I'm trying to be fair and clear here. As I said to you in Jerusalem, there are lots of smart, wonderful women who do want their male partner's leadership, who do want to give support behind the scenes and run a life primarily in their homes and for their families. Not me. I need to drive sometimes, or have my own car or whatever. This is a terrible metaphor given that I don't have a license, but there you have it.

It helps to rehash the breakup in these terms because I ache, now, over losing my future with ND. I don't regret it--it was looking like a hard future with a lot of irreconcilable arguing. If it was my fiance and not just boyfriend who left me, though, it's clearer to me what the loss is really about. I thought I had something figured out about the future. Were we engaged? I probably should have done a Nancy Reagan and just said, no.


two months later
...sorry, mom.

Some sad closures to relate. The echoing sentiment in my head, for the last six weeks, has been: This is not how I wanted things to end.

Right, so I'm back in Philadelphia. The end of the Israel adventure wasn't sad, just melancholy--I was pleased to be returning stateside, and feeling frustrated with the things I was and wasn't able to get done while there. I didn't become fluent in Hebrew or, you know, end the conflict. So there's that. I did come to understand a lot more about identity and culture and what-have-you, and got pretty clear on where I fit in with all that. Working at Encounter was fantastic.

All of this experience of clarity and growth, blah blah, was rather overshadowed by having to sign a lease/pack/move in the week immediately after my return. Complicated by: ND broke up with me two days after I got back. In a manner that was not how I'd have wanted things to end. Most of you will have heard about this already, and/or predicted it for a long time, and there's not much I can or should say in this forum. Six weeks later the wound is still open, but beginning to itch as it's scabbing over. Ugh. Well, I guess I just meant, I don't have any regrets and I think it was the right thing for us to separate, and it'd take a while to recover from two years of anyone.

So recovery has its ups and downs.

We moved because of our psycho landlady (wanted to sue us, evict us, prevent us from moving out...honestly) and true to form she changed the locks on us and therefore captured/detained a goodly chunk of our possessions. We'd been trying for amicability in all kinds of ways and to be yelled at by her and called immoral, etc, was actually quite upsetting. At some point, though, the high moral path climbed above the treeline and it got cold and rainy fast up there on the bare rocks. We've since then returned to the cozy den of correspondence by lawyer.

The new apartment is great. We have lovely wood floors and wide windowsills for the cats to stare down the cats-across-the-way. We have a funny little fire escape balcony overlooking the lavish Swim Club. Secreted within an ordinary city block lies a multi-pooled oasis of delights, replete with chaise lounges and teenage lifeguards. The pools, in mid-April, were swathed in tarps and empty of water, but since then there have been many crews of rubber-booted technicians unswathing, un-debrising, and un-emptying. Or rather, filling. Those pools look deliciouser by the day.

The worst by incredibly far of things that ended all wrong.

My aunt Miriam Goodman passed away last Sunday after a long hard cancer. I tried to come up with a verb in there--battle, defense, fight. I don't like those words in general because they are violent (not just aesthetics: how can you battle your own body? it's so sad when we must) and in particular because Miriam so engaged, so encircled the medical and illness world--she transformed it, in art and in her mind, it seemed to me. She was a writer and an artist and I feel it's not right to use these sort of Susan G. Komen bravery verbs about her. It was a long hard horrible cancer and I wish to heaven that she was with us now. Not how I wanted things to end, and defininitely not when.

Anyway. Please do check out her work. I'll be collecting the speeches that people gave at her memorial services shortly. It was stunning to hear the words of her many collaborators, friends, and family: mostly women, many writers, smart as hell and openheartedly grieving the loss of Miriam's mind and love and presence in our lives. There's really nothing I can properly say.

Feebly, though, I'm reminded to write. She read this blog avidly and cared about people making time for their writing. So, it's to the grindstone for me: deadline for a big draft coming up in two weeks. And I'll try to be back here as well.


never a dull moment

I’m just now back from an unholy sickness of five days’ time. I thought it was flu, I thought it was ear infections, then I thought it was a dybbuk infestation—the latter after struggling awake in the middle of the night, because unreadable flying disembodied Hebrew words were stuffing themselves down my dry throat and suffocating me. (Can a word be disembodied? They were silent, and out of context. Dis-envoiced/dis-ensentenced.) That little hallucination happened two nights in a row. But I’m again among humanity, and enjoying my plain crackers and applesauce. Um yum. Eternal gratitude to my suppliers of sympathy and instant soup, ND hugely first among them.

Of course there’s far more to report than the dramatic physical meltdown. Was supposed to facilitate with Encounter on a big trip to Bethlehem last week, but the trip was (turns out) wisely cancelled. In response to the Gaza incursions of the previous week, there had been demonstrations throughout the West Bank, also in Bethlehem, and stone-throwing in some of our spots-to-visit.

It’s an interesting problem: Encounter wants to give American Jews access to regular Palestinian Bethlehem life. Is it dishonest to want to visit in the best possible times, not in the middle of grief and pain and anger? We exist because our participants—mostly American Jews in Israel for a year, for rabbinical school or other leadership training—don’t have access to Palestinians, and come largely from a culture in America that fears and blames Palestinians for the conflict. We’re trying to increase mutual understanding, and it’s hard to work against the inculcated image of violent, mobbish Palestinians when they’re (however justifiably) hanging out in angry crowds.

Fearless leader Ilana decided to postpone on Monday. Thursday afternoon, when we would have been enjoying the gorgeous weather in the Bethlehem Hotel, the Encounter staff instead enjoyed each others’ company for a festive lunch on the patio outside our new office. Thursday evening—when we would have sent our participants off with their Palestinian host families—was the terrorist shooting spree in the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva that left eight young men dead. It was desperately hard for people to process this horror while relatively ‘at home’ in Jerusalem. I can only imagine what it would be like to facilitate 50 people dealing with this while in Bethlehem, amidst Palestinian hosts.

Last week the IDF bombed and invaded civilian areas of the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of 40-100+ Palestinians, depending who you ask. This was calculated to stop Hamas from launching rockets into Sderot and Ashkelon, two Israeli towns bordering on the Strip. I felt sick and depressed. Others did too, both here and in the States.

And this is the part where some people think I’m justifying terrorism. For the record, I deplore violence and pray for all parties to the conflict to renounce its use. But, and this is the really painful part, did the Gaza “incursion” hit much of Jerusalem in the gut? The front-page photos of flag-draped coffins—the few Israeli soldiers who died in Gaza—were sad, and the anguish of their families real, and many of us also supported negotiations, not attacks. However, there is something much more shocking about hearing sirens and helicopters, getting panicked phone calls from neighbors, friends, and overseas family about your location and safety, worrying whether there’s other terrorists running around your city.

Thank god that I was born a relatively safe and free person in America, hostage to neither side of this bloodbath. Thank god I don’t have to listen for sirens and helicopters every day in Gaza, waiting for the next member of my family to be arrested, jailed, or shot. Thank god I have no relatives in Sderot or Ashkelon or, shudder, Hebron, to fear for.

This is what it takes to make Israel hurt. It doesn’t help anyone, but when your people are killed and there’s no end in sight, well, marginal people are pushed into sociopathic actions. Israel hurts, and it strikes back, but retributive attacks don’t work. You can’t stop terrorists with maximum violence. (Without unacceptable collateral massacre.) As my esteemed colleague from Jewish Dialogue Group writes, the only remedy for extremism is moderation.

So my friends and I went out dancing on Thursday night, as we had planned. It was beautiful. Totally random crazy Israeli DJing, from “We Go Together” to Bollywood hits to “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu”?! Typical ultra-casual hippie-ish gaggle of Israelis and Americans (this being Jerusalem). The dancing concluded with a lanky, lank-haired guy helping us channel our beautiful energy for peace. This involved linking arms and chanting “shaloooommmmm” with other sweaty people. Ended up home late and tired—perhaps why I got sick Friday night?—and standing by my own belief that the way to deal with terror is not to be terrified.

Since then it’s been a blur, honestly, of hot drinks and aching joints. Briefly, also, last week I chose fatefully to remain in my ulpan, which continues to be too hard and a bit of a madhouse, rather than switch to one that had smaller classes and nicer students but met only twice a week instead of five times. I am reassured that no one learns to speak Hebrew in ulpan, only grammar and vocabulary. This week I have practiced key cultural idioms such as “do you have applesauce?,” “I am very sick,” “a large glass of orange juice,” and “please, another orange juice.”

Ha ha! No really, I am so well prepared for this upcoming weekend, when ND and I will luxuriate in the bosom of his family in Katzrin, a lovely spot in the Golan. His parents are celebrating their 42nd anniversary (not really the point of the trip) and are hosting us in a charming B&B. The planning email was priceless: Yael (ND’s mom) responsible for nostalgic photo albums and stories, Irit (older sister) and her three sons bringing board games, Ilan (brother-in-law) finding the local pub, and ND and I giving a d’var Torah/sermon. Etc. At this point I will settle for being able to eat food and speak in sentences. English or Hebrew!

Missing you all terribly.


hebron again

It's been difficult to get internet this week--we had snow! Not much, but in a place where you don't have central heat, yikes. It rained and sleeted and was pretty much like that ugly April coldwet Boston mess. Anyway it was a 'snow day' which means nothing, just that the schools are out and the buses are on a restricted schedule. We visited friends and had a beautiful big lunch in a charming dairycafe. (Jerusalem is absolutely crammed with good veg food. It's unmanageable.)

Tomorrow I'm in Hebron again, this time with the bigger group. Our planning and orientation meetings went well. I even facilitated a small group at the orientation, and will continue to facilitate for them tomorrow. Meanwhile tonight I was at a session in an Uzbeki Sufi center in the Old City, hosted by the sheikh and his American Jewish peace activist counterpart, learning about their rather wide-ranging skills in bringing together the religious leaders of "the children of Abraham."

In my hopeful mind I am so pleased to see a Muslim and Jew loving each other so much and working together so hard. In my cynical mind I am frustrated by the "we are all brothers" theme of peacemaking. I suppose this has to do with my interest in justicemaking. In a way, actually, if we use a narrow definition of "peace" where it means 'loving each other and singing joyous songs to god' I'm basically doubtful that any group of people outside of a spiritual retreat are going to live in peace. But it is worth it to me that someone else is working on that vision.

Thinking back to Hebron last week, I'm not that depressed and angry about this trip tomorrow. I can turn off the shock-and-pain circuit in order to hold space for the group participants. I worry about numbness, I worry about effectiveness, and now I am worried about being too tired. Am drinking a nice Scotch, though, so what can be so wrong?


easy come easy go.

The bike, with the good story, was stolen. I had it for about 72 hours. Merde. The story is that I bought it from an ultraorthodox guy, and he was really nice, then some men on the street where I was test-riding yelled "whore!" at me and spat. As Laurel notes, it's clear that when a woman wears pants she must also sell sex for money.

Was in Hebron yesterday and it was maddening but also just numbing. Looking at maps of settlements it's hard to imagine that Israel will be able to get half a million Jews out of the WB. Crazy.

Meanwhile in Philly our landlord is taking us to court! Good times! And it's going to snow on Sunday. All in all, though, I'm doing well--in a rush to get out of this cafe in time for them to close for Shabbat.


kitchen blast-off, originally uploaded by Emmalen.

Okay, this photo is from back in Philly. I've been emailing in this cafe for six hours now and I think they're tired of me. Enjoy this wearable rocketship, created chez moi for the Pig Iron benefit Jan 25th. My favorite part is the stove-burner-cover windows.

As for news: I got a bike. Promptly began wearing out my knees on the long steep hills. Also I had to take a day off from riding because the narrow seat has been unkind to my butt. It's a nice mountain bike, lighter and zippier than the coaster tank I ride at home. No one here is ever going to get into riding fixies! (Fixed-gear bikes, popular with the bike hipsters of the world.) I also saw a R.E.Load bag strolling around the mercaz. (Hipster bag company I used to work for.) There's a funny story associated with the buying of the bike, but I haven't figured out how best to tell it. Stay tuned.

I've had a couple formal and informal meetings with potential dialogue hosts and I'm in the process of preparing invitations/enticements for them. People are tentatively interested; I'm finding that the issue of audience is a bigger one than I had imagined. JDG is envisioned as a project for Americans, and though we've had Israeli participants in the US in the past, there are major trust issues here. First I have to prove that I'm really nonpartisan, then I have to prove that I'm not going to ruin any institution's carefully crafted "apolitical" stances just by bringing students into dialogue. Mitch, JDG guru, has excellent ideas as usual.

Unfortunately the best opportunity I have--the closest contact in the most accessible institution--has been sidelined. The dean of Pardes lost his mother this week, and is therefore sitting shiva* so I assume it'll take some time to put this together. We did go to the funeral, which provoked me into a lot of thinking about the play I worked on last summer--set in a morgue, all characters dead. I learned a lot about death rituals and the treatment of bodies and so forth. Future post.

Also met with Ilana from Encounter, my major work project while here. She's wonderful. We had a very interweaving kind of conversation, talking about the challenges of nonpartisan work (beyond hiding one's own beliefs) and tactics and values. This over a lunch where I unfortunately ordered "couscous with people soup," as the word "lentils" is quite close to the word "people." They forgave me, and the soup was good. We're going to Hebron on Thursday to scout out some final arrangements for the trip there next week--which I'll probably be helping facilitate! I'm excited.

I'm thinking a lot about how to present myself here. It's a small city in a small world, of course, and Jewish geography-playing (where are you from? who do we know in common?) is endless. I can be "Nachshon's girlfriend" or "learning Hebrew for two months" or "journalist/writer" or "political work" or "dialogue facilitator" or "new progressive religious feminist Anglo" ad infinitum. The trick is to remind myself to be in the right mode for the right setting.

This is particularly important when it comes to work: in meeting with these yeshiva faculty folks, I need it to be clear to them--cutting through ageism and habit of course--that I am not in "student" role. I may be the age of their students, but I am in fact a professional offering a valuable program, and my job is to offer such that they see it as a vital learning tool and not some kind of fun social add-on.

Meanwhile in ulpan-land... hard to believe, but, I am slowly catching up. It helps to have a private Hebrew tutor--chaver sheli (my boyfriend)--in the evenings. It also helps that I talk to myself all the time. Am considering taking a less full-time class in March, because 4 hours a day is exhausting.

Now to go home and cook something in our little non-kitchen. I am trying to refrain from my ceaseless food-blogging, but wow, people, the food here is consistently great. Paradise for yerakot (vegetable) lovers like me. Everything is fresh, local, and in season.

*traditional Jewish mourning ritual where you don't work or even leave your house for a week



Ulpan got more manageable! I studied--the class is on page 156 and I'm on page 41. Just wait. By the scientific method of "how many people address me in public in Hebrew?" I am doing pretty well. It helps that I have long messy hair.

The weather sweetened considerably. No coat necessary, just hat and scarf.

Exchanging many planning emails and finding lots of political contacts.

Plus, hallelujah, Romney's out! Tally-ho. Shabbat shalom, y'all.


welcome to al-Quds/Jerusalem

I seem to recall it not being so darn cold when I was here two years ago in January… therefore, dear readers, a guide to the past (almost) week, organized around my freezingness.

the flight
Often it’s cold on planes. Not on British Airways. They’ve solved the problems of rude service, bad food, and even cramped spaces—my PHL-LHR flight was less than half full and I had a full row to sleep in. then, on the LHR-TLV flight, I got a fantastic greasy VEGAN British-style breakfast—potatoes, beans, ‘sausage,’ grilled mushrooms, etc. flying should always be like this! However, I arrived with a small sniffle. Nearly full marks.

the apartment
Prime offender: we live in a wee basement, with a window box and a door to the “garden” (grassy slope/alley next to our building); tiny “kitchen” with sink, toaster, water-boiler, and electric frying pan; closet-size bathroom; convertible bed-couch, and a big table. We’re working on the furniture situation. All heat not sourced by the body itself comes from the 18” heater box. You close the kitchen and bathroom doors in order to heat approximately 20 square feet less—and it actually helps. Needless to say, it’s effing cold. On the plus side, we don’t have or need a fridge—keeping stuff outside the window works great!

Yam ha-Melakh*
On Monday we took a bus to the Dead Sea to hang out with ND’s parents who are there for a couple days on some fabulously cheap package deal—nice hotel, several meals, passes for the fancy natural-sulphur baths, etc. We took a short hike, through desert canyon alongside a stream running with the recent snows (in the mountains—there it was hot and parched as a desert should be) and to a beautiful waterfall.

Tried after that to go swimming in the Yam itself and it was too cold. Instead we went to the hotel’s indoor heated Dead-Sea-water pool: awesome! The day dried up my sniffle, too. I could write about the bus ride through the West Bank, but I’ll save it for when I have something of more substance.

I don’t notice the heat situation at all, because my brain is running as fast as possible to keep up. I got placed in the second month of Kita Aleph (Class 1), which you’d think would work for a not-quite-beginner like me. Not so. These people have been in class four hours a day for a month, and whoa baby, am I behind.

My ulpan, Beit ha-Am, is known to be liberal and inclusive, which basically means that it’s mostly Arabs. (Palestinians? the people in my class don’t say so, but this may be self-censorship around the mixed crowd.) So 80% of the class has been reading Hebrew with at least phonetic fluency for 5-10 years, unlike yours truly. I hope I can get better fast, because the head of the ulpan told me that the beginner class is totally full. My teacher is constantly yelling at us to be quiet even when we’re asking each other questions in Hebrew about Hebrew. But she’s sharp and funny.

The conversation in the class—flowing to and from the teacher, not among the students—is hilariously random. Topics so far have included “what’s in Caesarea” (ancient ruins and modern city north of Tel Aviv), “do you know/like the Beatles,” and “Israel calls the Separation Wall a ‘fence’ because it sounds less permanent.” The textbook is includes an odd mix of quasi-Jewish themes: going to the beit knesset (synagogue) on Shabbat, and what’s in the Torah, and judgmental mini-essays about Herod.

Point being, though, that’s it’s a fascinating cultural space, but I can barely put on my sociologist hat because I’m frantically trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I do feel really smart when I can understand the teacher, and there’s a machine in the (freezing!) hallway where you can get a miniature cup of coffee/cappuccino/choco for 2 shekels! Warm enough.

and finally…
It is very sweet and close, and also of course ultra-dramatic, to be back in the arms of my honey. Us two being who we are, we had to have some spectacular conflicts within the first several days. I think things are settling in. It’s lovely to walk the beautiful neighborhoods (keeping warm through exertion) and talk about his studies and my work and our many observations and analyses of this crazy city.

I’m starting to set up dialogues—so far, the dean at Pardes (ND’s yeshiva) was tentatively interested but skittish about allowing any explicit political content to be part of their offerings. Ha, says I, your students are living in a bubble—and inside that bubble there isn’t a political vacuum, there’s a political message about silence and the status quo. But that’s a whole other ball of wax. My boss at Encounter is away for the week, so we haven’t started planning my work there.

It’s very hard to pray here—feels like getting lost in a shouting match, not just actually in a shul but in the whole atmosphere of intense religiosity. I promised myself I wouldn’t constantly worry about how I was dressed or who’s judging me, and so far, it’s only kind of working. The West Bank is a close and shadowy presence hanging over my prayers—it’s nearly impossible for me to ask god to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem given what I know about the actual ‘rebuilding’ that has happened and is happening. I do enjoy the opportunity to put on a tallis; it’s warmer.

Enough for now! I’m relatively unfreezing at the moment, being in a public library. Now to put on some layers and seek out some (hot) lunch.

*In Hebrew the Dead Sea is actually the Salt Sea. Melakh is salt. Melekh is king, as in the opening lines of most brachot (blessings): melekh ha-olam = king of the world. Following progressive Jewish practice I typically say ruach ha-olam, the spirit of the world, or chei ha-olamim, life of the worlds. However I am now inclined to say, melakh ha-olam, the salt of the world, for what is god besides that which gives flavor to everything? I am waiting for the Talmud reference on this.