Saturday, July 14, 2007


Yesterday, I went to the market with Laura, my roommate who is from Holland. She was quite intent on making Shabbat dinner and I was pulled into the plan, although homework nagged at me. I wore my hat, slathered myself with sunscreen, and decided not to mind the sweat. And I didn’t—somehow it’s becoming part of the environment. The market is like Livermore’s farmers’ market, only with lots more food and open every day (except Shabbat). Fruit, vegetables, sundries, dried fruit, challah and more challah, falafel. It is alive with people engaged in living in the physical world, in contact with that world. Whole families sell food. I bought a couple of items at one store and a ten year old boy handled the transaction with great competence and confidence. I saw mothers with several children shlepping bags of groceries, each child carrying something. The children clearly felt a sense of belonging in a way that I don’t think our American children do. If I am needed to make the business run, to help in some way, then I matter and am real in the world. The activities that our children engage in—homework, sports, music, and so on—matter to them, but do not contribute to the well-being of their family. There is no reciprocity—even when we create it (you will do chores, for example), it is hard to create a real sense of need. There is a big difference between weeding the yard, for example, which can remain weedy without affecting the family’s well-being and not helping in the family business. What I am saying here is hardly new information, but the marketplace demonstrates the issues with particular vividness.

When we got home from the market—many bags shlepped onto a sherut, which hauled us up the mountain—we cleaned the refrigerator. It was a necessary task—that thing was seriously gross—and had the effect of making me feel at home in the kitchen. Then homework and preparation for Shabbat.

About ten of us went to the conservative shul for services last night. Very interesting—similar to the conservative services in the US, which is not surprising since that’s where conservative Judaism began, but nice to see a vibrant congregation that is doing some Judaism other than Orthodoxy. Last night was the send-off for the group of young adults going into their military service. I could only understand a bit of the speeches that were made, but the absolute seriousness was clear. I have heard the saying that Israel can’t afford to lose even once—the way the young people moved showed that they knew that as well. Just to be clear—this was a ritual of a sort, so I was only seeing one bit (and understanding less!) of the complexity, nevertheless, it made concrete that one aspect.

Then home for dinner. Six of us sat around a table with the night above us and Haifa below us, singing the Shabbat blessings. My first real Shabbat in Israel—Sheheheyanu!

This afternoon I went to lunch at Dina’s, who was one of my professors in Jewish Studies. Her daughter, who was just a baby the last time I saw her, is now a very cute, very feisty bi-lingual five year old, by turns adorable and obnoxious. A army friend, with her family—husband, son and one of two daughters—also came. It was a lovely, long afternoon, but completely exhausting. I spoke Hebrew as much as I could, but my understanding was so minimal—I think I get about 10% of what is said in normal conversation. But I can feel the language getting easier—the words are distinct, not a mishmash; it’s now the vocabulary I lack.

One interesting point came up in course of (English) conversation. I am realizing how complete as a Jew I feel here. I don’t feel split; I don’t feel the need to explain myself. I described that to Dina’s friend, a woman who has spent time with an organization connecting American and Israeli Jews. She commented that what she thought was interesting about American Judaism is its consciousness. Her children simply swim in the sea without thinking about why the weekend is Friday-Saturday, not Saturday-Sunday. The larger issue, of course, is being a minority versus being a minority. I think it is really important to know both feelings. As a member of a minority, one is always questioning without ever feeling completely at peace. As a member of a majority, one gets a sense of being grounded. The immediate response, by the way, is that everyone is, in one way or another both majority and minority. True enough, but I have to say, this feels different. And for all of those who said I would love Israel—indeed I do. Indeed I do.

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