Sunday, June 30, 2013

Made it to Jerusalem--but without a truly functional phone

So here I am--one day away from my workshop.
Yesterday I got my talk in order--still about 500-1000 words too long, but I don't speak until Tuesday, so I want to see how tomorrow goes before figuring out how to cut it.
Then Nurit and Colin and I went to the Tel Aviv boardwalk.  Filled with people--all ages, all kinds of dress.  We walked up and back, then ate some good food.  They went out and I continued to work.
Watched "Fill the Void"--see the review here:  It was terrific--the review says it better than I can, but it was a complex and sympathetic (but not romanticized) look at Haredi life.
This morning, Nurit drove me to the mall to get my phone recharged.  Then I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to get an internet plan.  Did not succeed--turns out that google nexus phones are not compatible with Orange sim cards.  Then I tried calling Dave.  No luck there either.  On Wednesday, after my conference ends, I'll find a store and go in.  Either they figure out how to get me what I need or I want my money back so that I can find another option (which may be renting an Israeli phone!).  I got the nexus so I could use it in Israel. Not sorry I have it--I really like it, but to be told that google phones just aren't common in Israel, so they can't help me--well, that's kind of bullshit.
In the meantime, I've managed to make myself understood in several stores with people who don't speak English.  My Hebrew is moving from execrable to merely dreadful.  Still won't be enough for the workshop tomorrow, but that's okay--the translator will either work or not.  Either way, I've prepared to the best of my ability and the rest is up to God--or fate--or what you will.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Shabbat with the Prices

Unlike the last time I visited Israel, as the plane taxied to the gate, I felt little excitement--too tired and too annoyed by the travel glitches and too worried about the next steps.  I got my new simcard into the phone while waiting to deplane.  Got through passport control, got my bag, got cash, and made it to the train, where I had to wait almost an hour.  In the meantime, I reached Colin, who offered to pick me up at the train station near Tel Aviv University, and managed to run my phone out of minutes--which I don't understand since I thought they were unlimited.  So I have to take care of that on Sunday--everything is closed today, it being Shabbat.
So I was feeling pretty down when Colin met me.  But the Prices are so wonderful--warm, loving people--and Colin got me settled in one of their girls' rooms.  After a shower and a nap, the world looked better.  And then Nurit had come back, as well as two of the three girls (Avital, the oldest, is away for the weekend).  We all headed off to Colin's brother's home for Shabbat dinner--a lovely time with three generations: Colin's mother, his brother and sister-in-law, the two girls, and of course, Nurit and Colin.  Good food, good company, and good wine.  By the end of the evening, the travails of getting here were over and I was very tired and happy.
This morning, I video-chatted with Miranda and Dan--how communication has changed in the past few years since my last trip!--and then had breakfast with Nurit and Colin.  Israeli breakfasts are magnificent: eggs and different white cheeses and fresh veggies and melawach (Yemenite pancake: and coffee.  Again--wonderful food and company.  It's remarkable how good food and company can fix pretty much everything.  Took a walk through the area with Nurit--too hot and humid in the sun, then shade and breeze and it was perfect. 
We came back, sat with Colin and the three of us continued our conversation in the backyard with shade and a breeze.  A wonderful peaceful day--Shabbat with good friends.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Airline woes

I’m writing this on the plane to Israel, which is the plane scheduled nine hours after the plane I was supposed to be on. And which left another hour and a half after that. But I’m on the way after much unpleasantness. First, the runway construction wasn’t supposed to affect anything and, in fact, up until I arrived at SFO with bags all packed, Virgin America showed its status as “on time.” It wasn’t. It was delayed by two hours. Which meant that I would miss the flight to Israel. Because they were booked separately (had to be, due to staying in New York at the other end), I was SOL—had to pay extra for another flight. Felt like I was talking to a used car salesman—they started out trying to charge me $700 extra, then $500, and when they got to $300, I took it. Probably should have held out for $150—but my sense was that $300 was it. Not that I felt I got a deal—just less ripped off than I would have been otherwise.
Here’s the lesson I got: I’m not flying Virgin America again—nice folks, but not good at communicating. I’m avoiding SFO like the plague. I’m always going to factor in an overnight if I have two separate airlines (I actually did that on my last trip—don’t know what I was thinking (or not) this time). And I am NEVER EVER flying El Al again. They were within their rights—but there’s being right and there’s serving your customers. I won’t think of them without feeling ripped off. That said, the people at JFK were very nice about getting me on the 7 PM flight, instead of the original 11 PM flight—so I am grateful to them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Turned out that another woman also had a Virgin America-El Al set of flights. Unlike me, hers were linked, so her bags could go ahead. (In my case, I needed time to get my bags, then go through El Al security.) And she spoke only Russian and Hebrew (not quite true: her limited English was better than my execrable Hebrew. Man, I remember nothing!). So I became her guide and she helped me with Hebrew. Coincidentally, we were seated next to each other on the flight. The pilot must have really put pedal to the metal—we got to JFK at 9:45, were rushed off the plane and escorted to the El Al boarding. So she made it—and I felt good to have helped.
And then I spent a day outside of security, meaning very few amenities at all. Most of the day was in baggage, which was cool and had chairs and was remarkably quiet. I read three books—I had debated bringing any; now I’m a bit sorry I didn’t bring more. Two very good books, one so-so. All will be helpful in my summer’s work. And I feel ready to go: I won’t get every bit of work I need; it’s clear that in focusing on sociology (and, let’s be honest here, putting off the bibliography), I’ve missed a good bit of work, but the good news is that my stuff fits right in.
I’m sitting next to an Orthodox man, whose brother was a Conservative rabbi (Leo Trepp; I read his work in college years ago). He began to say how the Jewish people are doomed. Which they are, by his standards. He was quite insistent that Judaism did not change and that Orthodoxy is the only path. I tried to bring up matrilineal/patrilineal descent and the role of practice and belief, as opposed to blood. There really was only one path for Judaism and it is exactly as it’s always been. Never mind the evidence that shows otherwise. It wasn’t disheartening—he is a lovely man and it was an interesting conversation, but it is very clear that there is no way to communicate. In particular, the child of a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman is not Jewish unless that child converts and lives an Orthodox life. This is as opposed to the child of a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man, who is Jewish and doesn’t have to do squat. I asked what if the first case the child did live a Jewish life and had been dunked in the mikveh. That didn’t matter to him—not enough and such a person is just playing games—or being inauthentic and fake. He wasn’t being unkind—it was simply black and white: you do it the Orthodox way or not at all. Where is pluralism in that? It isn’t there at all—that is, it can’t come from those who hold that mind-set. My view is that his approach to Judaism is important and valid and enriches Jews and Judaism. But so does mine. And I want Jewish leaders who can encourage that kind of pluralism. I’m thinking I might use this incident in the talk I give at the end of July…

The Preliminaries: Chicago

Saturday morning, while Jacob and Deborah slept, my folks and I went off to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. When I go to Chicago, there are several things that give me peace—I did most of them this trip, although that was not its purpose. Walking around the Botanic Gardens and listening to my parents is one of those things. They were neither of them in good moods. Mom had packed too much into the day; Dad was antsy because of the juxtaposition of leaving and company. But the sight of water lilies, the flowers in full bloom, the sound of birds—by the walk’s end, we were all calm. That afternoon, mom took Jacob to the ballgame, and Dad went to work. Deborah and I talked with Auntie Marcia and Uncle Larry, hearing tales of their trip to South Africa. That took the afternoon, after which we scattered: Marcia and Larry went to see family, Deborah went off to see a friend. I went to get Amy from the airport, which I accomplished successfully—it felt like no mean feat: an unfamiliar car, unfamiliar roads, and an unfamiliar airport. Good practice for the next day and the unveiling. The day began with my parents’ leaving for China—and my dad misdialing the phone and managing to dial 911 accidentally. Don’t ask. It just happened and a policewoman with a most distinctive Midwestern accent showed up to check us out—and wake us all up. But the main event of the day was the unveiling, which took place in a cemetery in one of the Western suburbs. I’d never been there. But all of my mom’s extended family is there: Bubbie and Poppy, Aunt Ruth, Aunt Lil and Uncle Maury, Aunt Loretta and Uncle Bernie. In some odd way, I felt I really was visiting family, not graves, but people. The unveiling was fine, but I was simply glad to remember these people who were so important in making me the Jew that I am. The Seders, the break-the-fasts, the Rosh Hashanah dinners. All with family, but with the sense of doing something Jewish that mattered. The men discussing politics; the kids (me and my sibs) wandering in and out. The bedroom upstairs with all the books; the small TV downstairs with its exotic programs (exotic for someone with no TV at all). I visited Aunt Lil and told her that her namesake is a cheerful and bubbly girl—so different from the woman whose middle name could have been Eeyore. But she loved children and watching joy gave her joy, so I think of her when Lily plays. We went to Gloria’s for brunch—the standard fare, which means delicious: lox and bagels, plenty of fixings, rugelach and coffee, and good conversation with people I hadn’t seen in too long: Nancy, Gloria, Ronna, the Blaser kids and Rebecca, Nathan and Judy, Sol and Seema. Deborah was pleased that she is now old enough to help clean up instead of being shooed out of the kitchen; I was pleased that I didn’t have to clean up until the end, when I was done schmoozing. Deborah and I gave Bernie’s brother and his wife a ride home and headed up LSD—not at any great speed, but it didn’t matter, we were in no hurry and the lake was on our right; Gold Coast on our left. I love Chicago. On Monday, Deborah, Amy, Jake, and I went into the Chicago to see the Bean and the Art Institute. I like the Bean fine—it’s such a shiny piece of sculpture and it’s fun to watch people play with it—but I really like the facing face fountains on Michigan Avenue: two monolithic blocks on which changing heads representing the faces of Chicago smile, yawn, wink, and laugh at either other. Oh, and spout water too. The space between was full of water and children splashing, falling, laughing, and running. Jake played in it for a solid half hour, at which point we decided we’d better get lunch. And see the Art Institute. Again, one of my touchstones: the Chagall windows, the Impressionists. That was all we had time for: Jake ran out of steam and began to fret and we decided to keep the mood light and head out to dinner with Jackie. Which was delicious. And that was more or less it: Amy and Jake took off for the train station; Deborah and a friend dropped me at the airport, where I waited for several hours for a flight delayed due to runway construction. Finally made it to SF at 1:30 and Dave fought a terrible traffic jam to pick me up—what airport has a traffic jam in the middle of the night? Got home and to bed by 3 AM—not a good sign for the next day. And speaking of bad signs—this was a practice trip of sorts. I got to figure out google-voice, which had some glitches (and then it turns out I can’t use it in Israel at all). And my VISA card was put on hold—I had used it online to pay a yearly bill generated out of San Francisco. Very strange—haven’t they heard of the internet? But it was fixed relatively painlessly and I hope there are no further problems—I’m just not paying anything that is where I am.