Monday, July 29, 2013

Catching up after a few days--it's all about me and my newfound awesomeness

I'm sitting in the living room of my new place.  Eight floors up on French Hill, near Hebrew University.  Out my bedroom window, the Dome of the Rock is framed by tall, stone buildings.  And I get breakfast in the mornings.  So it's mostly really good.  The not so good is that my hostess (a down-to-earth woman who made aliyah decades ago) smokes--only in her bedroom (and while I'm here, only outside), but there's a residue.  Which I'm putting up with because the rest is so nice. I expect to be here until I leave the night of August 7.  I'll spend a bit of time exploring Jerusalem, but mostly--more writing. It seems almost criminal, but I can deal with that.
Saturday, I tidied up my talk, packed completely, made sure I'd finished all the food I came with, and checked bus fare, route, etc., including walking the route to make sure I knew where to wait. And I planned my schedule for the first day--after that, I'd have a conference book to use.  I was ready to go two hours ahead of time and tried to work on the dissertation while I waited to leave.  And then I left.  And waited at the bus stop.  And waited as the departure time came and went.
Israelis seem to know exactly where you should go when you've done something wrong--they are happy to help you can fix it.  In Akko, that has meant not only fixing my mistakes, but also the mistakes of half the people--the other half actually do know something.  So it was here.  One man insisted he knew where the right stop was.  He didn't, although he was very certain about his knowledge. Finally, I just walked down to the Central Bus Station--it was all of a block away (and where I should have gone in the first place) and asked people there.  This time, I asked one person who asked another (neither spoke English), and determined that when the route said 501, it meant 271.  Which got me to Haifa in time for the next bus--half an hour later than I expected.  That was successful; got to Jerusalem at 9:40 and decided to spring for a cab--I was done and paying 50 shekels instead of 6.6 was just worth it.  Especially since I had the first real conversation in Hebrew I've had since I've been here. We actually talked about places.  I was able to tell him I liked Israel and the US and that it was hard to be religious here because I'm not secular and not religious.  His face lit up and he agreed--it is the same for him. 
My hostess knew she would be gone and her neighbor showed me my room--and the well-stocked refrigerator. So that was nice.

Sunday morning, I was up early--not enough sleep, not enough water, too much anxiety about the talk. Breakfast was heavy on dairy with no guilt.  I met the other guest, who is a Biblical literature scholar from the LA area, and will be speaking on the composition of the Psalms--which apparently were put together somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle.  My metaphor, which he liked, but it occurs to me it's more like Tangram.  You can put a jigsaw puzzle together in only one correct way, but a Tangram has many possibilities using the same pieces.
Then off to the conference, which is an easy 15 minute from my place--about the same distance as the summer students have to walk.  This is a big-deal conference and they didn't stint on what they give the participants.  I got a very nice padded case, perfect for computer, wallet, and notes, an invitation to the opening ceremonies, and 10 vouchers (2/day) for snacks--aka breakfast and dinner, since one of the snacks can be a sandwich or croissant.  Not bad. After I figured out the rest of my schedule--which turned out to be harder than you might think because half of the sessions I wanted to go to were in Hebrew and two that I wanted to go to were at the same time--I ended up with a patchwork that was just about right--and one free day in the middle (that's tomorrow).
Then I wandered past the registration line and met my old roommate from the AJS and also someone I'd wanted to work with for some time--a fairly big name, let's call him Professor Aleph.  I've finally gotten to the place where I'm ready to speak up for myself--what have I got to lose?  At this point, much more by shutting up--my work is done (ish); it's either good or not, but without talking about it, it might as well not exist.
After catching up with my old roommate, I approached Aleph and asked if he'd have time to talk.  He thought right then would be a good idea.  I didn't (not having collected my thoughts), but what can you do?  And we had a very good conversation indeed--we talked about work I could do with him on a project I'm interested in and he gave me advice on places to get funding for a different project. 
As we're talking, Professor Bet comes up to talk to Aleph.  I make a comment or two, then Bet leaves.  When Aleph leaves to prepare for his talk, I stay at the table to check email and Bet (who has just won a nice award, btw) comes by and introduces himself and asks about my work.  We are having a lovely chat, when Professor Gimel comes up to talk to Bet.  The three of us have a long-ish conversation, then it's time to go to my first session--chaired by Nurit and with Aleph as one of the presenters. 
Very interesting presentation (and I didn't comment; too much to process, but asked him for his paper afterward). I did comment after the second talk and that comment shifted the discussion in a good way.  So I was feeling pretty good about things.
Nurit and I got lunch and she called her friend, who was to respond.  The three of discussed the panel, including Professor Dalet--who was an addition when our third person backed out--then went to a room with about 40 seats.  We got there twenty minutes early and fiddled around, checking power point stuff.  About five minutes before starting time, the room began to fill up.  And kept filling. And the people who came to hear were top names in soc of American Judaism, as well as a couple of people from the Van Leer Institute.  I know that most were there to hear Dalet--but I'm not complaining.  I've NEVER talked to a full house before with that many big names.  Quite intimidating, but once I got going, I went.  And I did a good job (it would be better if I hadn't read, but I needed the security of the text).
Then Nurit presented and her material just beautifully dovetailed with mine--her's from psychology, mine from sociology--both presenting a coherent picture of Bay Area Judaism.  Then Dalet spoke, providing some large-scale demographic context.  Then there were questions. Another first: I've never been part of a session where there were more questions than time.  And many of them were about the Bay Area--so while I still think that Dalet was the draw, we were heard by people who otherwise would not have heard us.
I made it through the final session (a presentation by Gimel with responses) barely--the adrenalin had faded and I was tired and dehydrated.  But following the session, I had a nice conversation with Dalet. And then it was time for the reception
That wasn't any cheese and crackers and celery sticks, but a full out meat meal--beef, chicken, fish, potatoes, rice, 5 kinds of salad, dessert (including parve ice cream), and several different (non-alcoholic) drinks.  I ate with Nurit and Professor Hey, whom I had met at a previous conference.
And there it ended.  I went to the opening ceremony, which was supposed to be simultaneously translated into English--it wasn't.  So I left, came back to my room, met my hostess, talked to my family, and fell into bed.
Today wasn't nearly as exciting, but still very good.  I only stayed for a session and a half and won't be back until Wednesday.  The half-session was on definitions of antisemitism, but more from a literary and philosophical point of view.  It was over-flowing, due to the topic, but really very boring and largely not useful.
On the other hand, the first session included a presentation from Professor Vav, who was making the case (based on New York, Baltimore, and Chicago) that when Jews were strong in one area of Jewish identity, they would be strong in other areas.  Two things: the places are not representative (large, but not representative) and, yeah, people strong in one area will tend to be strong in another--depending on general culture.  But the Bay Area is very different--although my guess is that some of the results will be right because it's not a terribly surprising result. If that sounds contradictory, it kind of is, although part of MY talk was dealing with these same issues from a qualitative point of view.  Anyway, I opened my mouth and was quite articulate about the problems.  Afterward, Professor Vav and I talked and exchanged emails, then I ran into Bet who said he really liked the questions I asked. Then Nurit told me that her daughter wanted to know where I got my tallit.  She was impressed that I had made it.  And finally I ran into one of the organizers of the Van Leer, who said he had liked my talk.  I was bowled over.
And I went to half the antisemitism session, left and came back here where I fell asleep for most of the afternoon.  I think I'm finally caught up on water, sleep, and this blog.
My hostess fed us a fine dinner to make up for being out of town when we were gone and we had a long discussion about what real dinner is. She articulated the secular/religious point of view and I explained the middle ground.  She was unconvinced, but it was interesting to push against her very blunt questions.  At one point, she--from the secular position--used exactly the same argument as the rabbi about practices that aren't halakhic being like playing a game.  So that was interesting too--someone said everyone in Israel is Orthodox, some just practice it and others don't.  But everyone (not quite) accepts the Orthodox definition of being Jewish.
Tomorrow I spend in Jerusalem looking for things to buy. 

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