When you move, even when it’s to a place you know and love, it is difficult to start being there. To be in a new place, you must, in some ways subtle and in others dramatic, shift your sense of self, and your perception of self in the world. Instead of being a first year Rabbinical School student in New York, you are suddenly – for it is sudden no matter how many months you have prepared – a second year Rabbinical School student in Jerusalem.
There are around 30 students from JTS learning at Machon Schechter this year – the majority of the second year class, and about half of the third year class. Already, we have reached out to one another, shared meals, information, and support. To give you a sense of the spirited generosity demonstrated by my chevre: I arrived in Jerusalem towards the end of Chol HaMoed Sukkot with no plans for chag. By Shmini Atzeret, I was set for meals through the following Shabbat! And it’s not only JTS students who have reached out. Barely here a week, I have befriended many of my neighbors here in Nachlaot – students from Ziegler, Hebrew College, and RRC, as well as olim both new and old. We have shared hospitality and Torah, and I feel embraced, a part of something greater than myself.
It is easy to lose yourself in the narrow stone alleys of Nachlaot, the neighborhood where I live, situated just south of the shuk and north of Rehavia. Gan Sacher, the Central Park of Jerusalem, borders us to the southwest, the city centers bustles a mere ten minute walk east. Nachlaot is a diverse mix of Anglo olim and students, Haredim, Breslovers, and secular Israelis. I feel simultaneously out of place and more at home than I have ever been. Perhaps that is the crux of being an American Jew in Israel, that sense of comfortable discomfort.
Working on one’s Hebrew, especially at the shuk, will occasionally lead to the inadvertent purchase of 5lbs. of bananas. Such an incident might also lead to the Great Fruit Fly Debacle of 5771, which can be remedied only by the removal of said bananas long before their inevitable demise.
Three of the smaller laps around the northern section of Gan Sacher is about 5k, a perfect weekday run. However, 10am is too late in the morning to run in Gan Sacher without experiencing an unpleasant roasting sensation as the temperature bounds into the 90s.
Having no plans on Motzei Shabbat, and too full from Seudah Shlishit to join friends for sushi on Emek Refaim, I discovered that Daniel Gordis was speaking at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. Perfect. The lecture was packed; I was among the youngest attendees by 30 years at least. Gordis spoke eloquently about the dangers of the two most prevalent mythologies in the narrative of the modern State of Israel – first, the nihilist belief that destruction is inevitable, that we might lose Israel as a Jewish State, and second, that we are destined to be here, that Israel is a guarantee backed by God, and that we will successfully meet any challenge in order to maintain the Jewish State. Why are these mythologies dangerous? Because in the first, Gordis argued, there is nothing we can do, and in the second, there’s nothing we need to do. The bulk of the lecture went on to discuss the textual and historical roots of these mythologies. He ended by stating that we need to develop a new mythology, one of “responsibility and action,” in which we “train ourselves to be wise enough to see real danger, but also to see real privilege, and to be brave enough to do whatever it takes…”
I left the lecture mired again in that sense of comfortable discomfort, wondering what “whatever it takes” entails. The nights are cool in Jerusalem, and as I walked home, my sense of gratitude was overwhelming. Welcome to Israel! There is no other welcome like it.