I have been fortunate enough to live abroad several times in my life; each time I have noted an imaginary line in the temporal sand. It is a line that separates what was from what is, a moment when one ceases visiting and starts staying. It is the Eight Week Mark.
This coming Monday will mark my eighth week since leaving the States, but I passed through the liminal Eight Week Mark at the start of November, earlier than usual I think because Israel is a place I have lived before, and because this is my third year, albeit not consecutively, living abroad.
How do I know I hit the Eight Week Mark even though it hasn’t been eight weeks? The Mark is about settling in… and I am settled.
I know my schedule without checking. I have friends outside of school. I have a regular makolet (corner market) and regular stands at the shuk (open air market) where I shop.
I study at my coffee shops: Nocturno on Betzalel – sorry Jason, it’s mine – and Shosh Cafe, the one in Rechavia not the one in Katamon. I buy bread at my bakery. I know that the best sweet challah in Jerusalem can be found at Ugat Chen, second bakery on the left in the uncovered section of the shuk,
and I know that the best savory challah comes from a nameless, dark, not-so-friendly-looking bakery you would never wander into if you didn’t live in this neighborhood. It’s on Agrippas, near the shuk, but not in the shuk proper. This challah literally melts in your mouth.
Nachlaot is my neighborhood, Micha is my mailman, Machane Yehudah is my post office. (Thanks for the care packages Mom & Chuck, Dad & Bonnie!)
If I didn’t do my laundry in my sink, I’m sure I would have my laundromat. I definitely have my park and my running routes.
I registered for the Jerusalem Marathon (March 25, 2011!!!) and spend enough time pounding pavement to know the other runners in the park, including Salt Lake City Fire Department Guy, whose name turns out to be Joe and who works at the American Consulate.
He has a cruel pace, but slows down every time he laps me to tell one of his seemingly inexhaustible store of Biblical jokes. I try to laugh but I’m, you know,
r u n n i n g
so my laugh comes out as a honking wheeze-heave —
I sound like an asthmatic goose
— which I find embarrassing and he seems to find funnier than the joke.
In the world of Professional Judaism, we often talk about empowered ownership, about being stakeholders in our faith. How often to we take time to assess whether or not we our empowered owners of our daily lives?
To reach the Eight Week Mark is to become a stakeholder. I care about when the garbage gets picked up, who delivers my mail, where I buy my groceries, and how often the throbbing spin cycle of my upstairs neighbor’s washing machine pounds against my ceiling at 10 o’clock at night.
If Shabbat separates the sacred from the secular, the Eight Week Mark separates the special from the mundane. Whether it’s New York, Paris, Stockholm, or Jerusalem, after eight weeks, the place ceases to be the Big Apple, the City of Lights, the Capital of Scandinavia, or the Holy Land, and becomes, quite simply, the place where you live. What is remarkable about this process is that I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything, rather I’ve gained something – a sense of belonging, a sense of home, a sense of ownership.
And with these things, I am beginning to develop in this new, now not-so-new, place, a sense of what was lacking:
a sense of my self.