Monday, August 12, 2013

Home tomorrow...and so it ends.

It's been several days of the ASA conference and I've been enjoying talking with people and going to sessions pretty much non-stop.  I've somehow reached the stage where I'm part of the community--and probably could have been there much sooner if I'd had more confidence in myself.
But even though I still haven't filed the dissertation, the fact is that going through the ceremony changed the way I thought about myself. Realizing that I have a place in Jewish Studies--as a competent sociologist--has allowed me to feel grounded. Developing the next project--which I'm starting to do--gives me a new focus (and yes, I haven't forgotten all that remains to be done, but being to think about that new project is exactly what I'm supposed to be doing at the same time I'm finishing other stuff).
And in the mean time--it's New York and, for someone like me, who loves to watch people, it's great.  I ran into a former office mate who said she's had a revelation: she realized that she feels the same way walking around New York as people who wax rhapsodic about nature feel about taking hikes.  Me too.  Put me in nature and I'll enjoy it, but it won't engage me the way people-watching in Akko, in Jerusalem, in New York does.  Which, given my field and interests, makes perfect sense.
And the food--have I mentioned the food?  I ate in a pretty basic way in Israel--eating is largely social for me (except for breakfast--don't get between me and my coffee and paper!), so it just wasn't that fun.  In New York though, there's food EVERYWHERE--on the street corners, in small shops, in fancy restaurants--and there are people with whom to share it. So, yeah, I'm making up for lost time.  And loving it. Especially the chicken-oxtail Puerto Rican stew last night...
That's enough for now--time to get ready for the penultimate day!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I took the A-Train

Yeah, could hardly help it since it's one of the major lines. And it's my birthday.  And I'm sitting in a really lovely place in New York.  Damn, this is nice (and expensive--I've gone from $24/night to $40/night to $70/night).  And yes, I'm getting what I paid for!
Trip to New York was relatively uneventful.  I did end up having a bad run-in with a taxi driver in Tel Aviv--he overcharged me (although, in retrospect, not more than $8, which really isn't enough to get upset about.  When he said my VISA card wouldn't work--as I'm about to get on a plane to New York--that was worrisome. Ten minutes later--after much yelling--he called his supervisor, who walked him through the process successfully.  In other words, the moron effectively accused me of being a deadbeat when it was his ineptitude. Did he apologize?  Why no.  He said "ain baya"--meaning "no problem."  To which I wanted to answer "yesh baya" meaning "uh, dude... there is a problem and it's you" (or literally "there is a problem" but I like my interpretation better).  Or "baya g'dolah" (big problem).  And no, I emphatically did NOT tip him.
After that had a lovely meal with Nurit and family.
Then to the airport, where I got through all the massive security in an hour (moving quickly but lots of checkpoints).  Two high points: I got to leave my shoes on and apparently I have a cute accent/style of talking--the woman checking my bag began imitating me a bit, which I noticed and commented on and we giggled together. (In fairness, she may have been laughing at me, not with me, but I can live with that.)
Plane ride was completely uneventful--I slept, as did the whole plane.  And then I was through customs, etc. etc. and on the A-train in under an hour.  Made it to my new place by 9 AM--early but they were fine with that.  It's grand.  4th floor in an area that's a hot new area.  So looks a bit grimy but inside, they've done a bang-up job of redoing kitchen and bath and the works.  Four bedrooms--two are offices; one for the couple (two women artists/graphic designers as best I can tell), and a tiny, but well-appointed room for guests.
Met Manoah for lunch and we went to a terrific restaurant in Harlem near Columbia called AmyRuth's.  Salmon cakes and fried okra and grits for me.  Waffles and chicken for Manoah--and a very long conversation that covered both our academic fields and our families.  And now I'm back and ready to get some work done!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Elul with Women of the Wall (edited: see italicized section)

I watched the sun rise over the Dead Sea this morning, then S. and I headed off in her car to the Wall to wait for the group to arrive. We were both nervous--she persuaded me not to bring my purse in case I lost it in a melee. We got there about 6:20 and parked, while buses passed us all filled with Haredi men and women.  As we left S.'s car, groups of girls passed us--long black skirts, bags with, presumably siddurim and maybe water.  They were chattering to each other, looking excited and purposeful.  I wore a shirt with 3/4 length sleeves and Grandma Ruth's flowing black skirt--so I could have sort of fit in--but my attitude wouldn't have cut it.  We followed the crowd of girls through security and into the plaza.  At 6:25, the women's section was completely full.  Women milled around chatting and waiting for something to happen.  Nothing. No one who looked remotely like a Jewish feminist. And more and more of Haredim arrived.  It was very strange to watch them gather--an exercise in collective effervescence (look it up) if I ever saw one.  It was strange to think about this enormous gathering in response to the much smaller one that would take place later--the hardening of an ideology. I'm also sure that, while most of them went from interest, excitement, and the genuine belief that they were standing up for their vision of Judaism, I suspect there would be social consequences for not attending--it's a closed community; people notice.  And--depending on where attending ranks in the community--absences would be noted.
About 6:50, we saw an Orthodox man (dressed in a brown suit, so perhaps not ultra-Orthodox) buttonhole a young couple (brother and sister, as it turned out) who were clearly waiting for the WoW service. First, he insisted that the young man put on a kippah.  Then he explained gender roles to the young woman who wore a T-shirt with one of the Hebrew phrases used to replace the line in the morning blessings "who has not made me a woman." (There are two replacements: one is "who has made me in God's image;" the other is "who has made me according to God's will." Both can be said either men or women. Another option, taken by the Orthodox, has been to reinterpret the gender roles, emphasizing that the reason for the "has not made me a woman" is because women's nature is so much better than man's nature.  Given the wording of the blessing, this general response is...problematic in this specific case, but in general has been a fairly effective way to rebut egalitarian Judaism.) The couple listened politely without trying to respond and, having said his piece, the man left.  And we immediately attached ourselves to them. And waited some more.
One group of teen-age boys--very long payess, hats, satin coats, smoking (at a very young age)--stood by and listened with that look that teen-age boys have that says "I'm really still a kid, but I want to be tough--give me a reason to be tough." It was incongruous to see it on faces framed by hats and payess, but I noticed--these were the kind of kids that could start trouble (although neither they nor anyone else did).
Eventually--a bit after 7:00, someone pointed out that they were just outside the gates.  They had brought a Torah, but could not bring it inside--the Rabbi who administers the Wall will neither allow a "non-Wall" Torah to be brought in, nor loan one to the women.  No surprise there. As they debated the point, S. and I joined the group.  And just as we got there, it began to move, with us right near the front.
We walked to the back of the plaza--as far from the Wall as possible and behind a double row of barricades, with police patrolling the "no man's land." Women donned tallits, some put on tefillin. They asked the men to stand back and the service began.
It was a fairly traditional service with a lot of singing and enthusiasm. The women surrounding me largely knew the prayers; the service leaders led with strong voices and much kavannah (feeling).  We were not able to read from Torah, but four women, including a Bat Mitzvah and the mother of a Bar Mitzvah, read the text from the Siddur. Praying out loud with a large group of women facing east as the sun rose over the Kotel, as I wore my grandmother's skirt and felt her with me--because she would have been with me if that had ever been possible--for the first time, I felt the Wall was holy space for me, as well as for the Haredim.  If I lived here, I would come back again and again--
And yet..
The Haredim outside began to blow whistles. Initially it was a bit distracting, but really much less than I would have imagined.  I--and the other women there--actually were praying. And when I pray, I don't much care what's happening around me (as long as the community I'm with is praying too). So the whistles became a buzz much like the buzz of insects on summer day.  I don't mean this to be rude--I also felt for the Haredim.  I do understand that challenges to ritual are just hard--ritual really does embody deep values and threats to ritual and authority challenge community.  So I was surprised to find that I bore them no particular ill will.  Although I was not sorry when they grew silent as they grew tired and their voices grew hoarse.
When S. and I left her house, the other guest wished us well for our "protest." I corrected her, saying it was a service.  But here's the thing: she wasn't entirely wrong.  And, in many ways, I found the Orthodox buzz much less distracting than men, particularly photographers, pushing through the praying women.  I saw women taking pictures of their friends at key moments. Sorry, but you can't both be in the moment and noticing how cool it is to be in the moment. (Look ma--see me pray!) So, yes, I did feel that it was more of a protest and show than I would have liked.
I would have liked the same boundaries around respectful behavior that are set in shul. Photographs do not trump prayer.  Ever. And if this is supposed to be a women-only service, see that those boundaries are observed. I'm egalitarian in practice, so I have no personal stake in this, but if you insist--loudly--that you are conducting a women's minyan, and then allow men to wander in and out, that sends a very mixed message, calling the seriousness, if not the integrity, of the group into question.  To be clear, most of the people who attended are were serious, but actions (in the aggregate, not only by the leaders) are how that seriousness is demonstrated.
Edit: One more thing--and I'm adding this later (on August 9): I really wish that the baalot Tekiah had been able to sound their shofarot more clearly, tunefully, and (above all) correctly.  When shevarim and teruah are confused (and they were), it's embarrassing and provides ammunition for those that would discredit WoW.  More importantly, hearing the shofar is a mitzvah--those who enable that mitzvah should be well-prepared. And, as the mother of a baalat Tekiah, I can tell the difference between well-prepared and not!
I don't really want to conclude with the negative--it leaves the wrong impression.  Despite the Haredim on the one hand and the photographers on the other, the experience was a remarkable way to begin the month of Elul.  And one more incident: as S. and I made our way to the exit, a Haredi woman came up to the barrier, pulled out a whistle and blew a long blast.  Then she smiled a genuine smile and waved pleasantly.  Which makes me wonder how much this event divides and how much it unites.  One way or another, it's increased the prominence of Rosh Hodesh--the women's holiday--and, whether Haredi or Reform--that can't be bad.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Last night in Israel--and tomorrow morning, I go to the Wall...

I'm packed.  I have my travel documents ready (but for checking in, which I can't do yet).  I've checked baggage weight--and hope it's right.
I have my clothes ready to go for tomorrow's trip to the Wall.  That, by the way, may turn out to be a problem. I'm going with my host, who has a gimpy leg and walks very slowly.  She wants to drive and meet the group.  They want us to go on a bus for safety.  But the bus meets far away from where my host lives and it's one-way. So we drive, then have to make our own way back.  Which I think would be very difficult for her.  I would probably do it, but I really don't want to go alone.  So...we're doing it our way, which is what two stubborn old Jews would do anyway...I really hope there's no trouble.  And I'm wearing Grandma Ruth's skirt, just because she's like it--and like to be there! (It has the added benefit of being black, so I may unnoticed.) I really hope I'm over-thinking this...
I went off to the Hebrew University Library today, where I worked on the bibliography. Which Word makes remarkably easy to manage--this may be a case where something takes less time rather than more.
But the best part was randomly deciding to see if Hebrew University has some of the books/journals I simply haven't been able to find in Berkeley.  And...they did!  This was actually a day when I did things right.  That is, I took the right turn to get to the main library.  Then I followed directions (meaning I randomly took a path to where the conference had been last week and apparently I remembered correctly), then went down a long hall, where I looked lost enough that someone volunteered to help me.  Found the library and got help from a librarian--the Education library is mostly on a second floor--I'm looking around the first floor which is mostly seductive children's books.  So she writes a call number on a slip of paper is doubtful whether I can find it.  All I can think is "honey, it's call numbers.  I can do call numbers."  Which, of course, I could.  I could also navigate the online system for journals pretty competently--better than either librarian.  Just couldn't do the language...So I'm feeling really good about getting the articles.
And then had one more falafel--aka Middle Eastern burrito.  I insisted on lots of hot sauce, which made him raise his eyebrows.  I thought about saying "Hey, I'm from California.  We got hot sauce there too," but didn't.  And it was toasty, but not unpleasant--just right.  Oh and the falafel balls had just come out of the cooker.  Man, it just doesn't get better than that.
One note about the rides back and forth to the National Library.  I spent much of the time watching the many, many Orthodox families with tons of kids all over.  I have a very mixed reaction--on the one hand, it's clear that in many ways the dress is simply that--dress.  That is, whether people are wearing jeans or head-scarves or sheitls, movement and conversation looks similar--the way women walk, move their heads, and so on. At the same time, I got a bit tired of black.  Black suits for men; black skirts for women. Not a lot of color.  Not sure what to make of that--it wasn't like the color really mattered in way they lived their lives: the little girls still scampered around, even the big girls did some scampering.  And frankly, they looked better and happier than the skinny woman wearing tight-fitting pants with a camel's toe (look it up if you have to...). But I wonder about tomorrow--how many of these people will be there tomorrow dictating terms, not only of their practice, but of mine?

Finally, here's what I'm thinking as I'm summing up the trip.  I still haven't been to Caesarea.  Or Masada. Or the Dead Sea--although it's just out my window, mocking me.  But I've been to Tel Dan and Dag al Dan for some of the best fish I've ever had.  I've had a Shabbat in heaven at Hanaton with a wonderful family.  I've navigated the post office and making copies and jogged by the Mediterranean and Akko's Old City.  And regularly gone shopping at the shuk and grocery stores.  And taken buses.  I've found a rhythm to writing and work that is very satisfying and I'm finding my literal voice as a scholar--having real conversations with other scholars. There's more...but that will do for now...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Another day at the Library

Yup, today was rinse and repeat.  Not quite as focused as yesterday--but I was close to done with Methods.  I ended up sending it off with a few questions--as in "duh, I don't know how to conclude." I mean that quite literally: I'm not really sure how do methods as an appendix.  If it were chapter two, it might be clearer.  But still--do I conclude with "here's how I'd do it differently next time"?--if so, most of that was written in the chapter.  Do I conclude with "here's thoughts for the future"?--I'd  rather put that in the actual conclusion.  If not either of those things, then what?  So time to send it off for comments...
Slept badly last night, so I took a nap in the gardens adjoining the Library--lovely and brief and just enough.  Then began work on conclusion (of the whole thing); didn't go well, so I started the bibliography
Had another falafel for dinner--this one in pita, which is the small size.  Tomorrow I get one at noon, so I have time to digest it!
On another subject, one of the Tablet columnists wrote about some good Jewish children's books (of the older child/teen variety.  So I downloaded them.  One was dreadful; the other had a pretty good plot, but that was it.  It was set in "Jewish" summer camp--but there was virtually nothing Jewish about the camp--nor was the camp itself very interesting. But the third book was golden!  It's Watcher in the Shadows, by Chris Moriarty (careful if you get it--there's another book with the same title by a different author).  Set in an alternate universe of the early 20th century, it's place of immigrants and magic all a bit slant--J. P. Morgan is Morgaunt, for example.  The Astors are the Astrals.  And so on. I didn't twink to it being the second in a series until about a third of the way in, at which I got the first one: The Inquisitor's Apprentice.  Which does need to be read first. Both have gotten good reviews--except for the one from School Library Journal which complained because kids in grades 4-7 wouldn't get the jokes, there was too much ethnic fighting (umm, have you read about the early 20th century, dork?), and too many Jewish words that weren't defined.  All of which recommends it for me.  It's not, by the way, written for 4th graders--too much specific history is assumed.  I'd say middle-school and above and there's no reason adults wouldn't like it a lot--especially anyone who likes well-done alternative history with a touch of magic--well-grounded magic.  I'm hooked.  But you knew that.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Two days of writing hard and I'm still not quite there.

From August 3: Mid-afternoon and I'm writing slowly.  I've moved to the section on observations and interviews in the congregations and spent a bunch of time trying to reconcile numbers. Finally managed it to some degree.  The problem is that some individual interviews count for two roles, so do I count individuals or roles?  The answer is both--depending on which question I'm answering.  But it does make it more complicated and the question is to what degree of accuracy does it matter.  I don't really want someone questioning my numbers, so I'm spending more time than I need to on this--more time than I really think it's worth.  So be it.
At this point, I'm trying to organize my thoughts for how to proceed in explaining what I did in the congregations.  There are whole sets of interviews that I need explain my thinking on.  I need to discuss what my observations were and what I found--well, I observed in lots of different places and circumstances.  How do I summarize what I did?  And then there are different environments--each congregation was more or less helpful. So I feel like I need to explain that as well.  The question is--how much and in what order. 
This is much harder than the leadership interviews--much more diverse data over many different places. I'm feeling really uncomfortable about writing this--all the missed opportunities, all the places where I wish I'd done it better.  I hate writing this down because I'm so sure someone will take the whole thing apart because I didn't get interview x.  Or I should have had 10 observations instead of 4--never mind that 4 was sufficient to get a sense of whatever I was looking for.  In fact, 10 would have been self-indulgent. Here's the reality: it's hard to set up interviews.  The fact that I got--by myself--over 200 is damn good.  Here's another reality: observing at different places also takes time to set up.  So again, I think I did pretty well. But writing it down--all I can see are the flaws.

August 4: I kept going almost until 9 PM yesterday and made it to the end.  So I felt pretty good.  I knew that the end stuff was really just placeholder material, but that was okay--it was done.  I wrote for a pretty solid 8 hours one way or another.
Today I was sure it would be done and gone.  It's not.  I'm not terribly upset, actually.  I wrote around 7 hours today--would have done more, but I went to the National Library to work and that's a 40 minute bus-ride each way.
It was a terrific day. I realized I needed to get out the door to avoid going nuts.  National Library is open to all, so off I went. It's on the campus of Hebrew U at Givat Ram, near the Israel Museum.  Beautiful library, great working space.  I found a spot and began working though the methodology again. Took a while to get to where I left off  yesterday, but in the meantime, I caught bits of stuff I hadn't thought through and did so.  Now I'm quite happy with everything up to where I just left off--the brain, she is kaput.  It's 8 PM.  I've been working happily (minus 3 hours for bus rides and meals) since 9 AM. So it really is time to quit.  I'm finding this an incredibly useful exercise and am really glad I've done it--it's clear that a bunch of this work will inform some of the rewrites.  So very good. And I'm completely over the "ugh, I didn't do enough in the MASSIVE project" blues.
Then I came home and FINALLY made it to French Hill Falafel.  And promptly died and went to heaven.  I had the burrito version of a falafel: made with a Druze crepe/tortilla/pancake (  That's my dinner tomorrow and Tuesday.  Without question.  With great delight.  Actually, tomorrow and Tuesday are both going to be repeats of today--hey, why mess with success?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Brief catch up on Shabbat

Back on the writing wagon: spent most of yesterday writing.  Also did laundry and baked challah.  First time I've baked challah since I've been gone and boy, did it feel good.  And it tasted wonderful.  My host's son and his family (wife, 5 yo son, and 1 yo daughter) came to dinner as well.  There's a furor about polio here.  Kids found carrying the virus (but apparently as carriers) have shown up in southern Israel--looks like the strain originated in Pakistan and appears to be spreading in the sense that more people show up carrying the virus, but no one has the disease, largely due to virtually all of the population having been previously vaccinated.
My host's grandkids have not been vaccinated against polio; her son explained that he is not anti-vaccine, but in this case, figured the problems with the vaccine outweighed the chance of the disease.  Over the past couple of weeks, he's rethought that in light of the outbreak and will be vaccinating his son (but not his daughter?) in the coming week.  Apparently another grandchild, who is 4 months old and does live in southern Israel, is not vaccinated--but (according to them) will be protected because his mother was vaccinated and he is breastfeeding.  Fascinating--and disturbing--conversation.  Comments on the subject welcome!
 With that, I'm off to write...