If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem

13 Jun

I’m 25% of the way through Moby Dick, so you know summer’s on. You also know I’m on a Kindle because I can’t tell you the page number. An actual snippet from this e-reader’s digest:

Friend: So, what page are you on?

Jess: Twelve percent.

Back in the States: Jess and Dad!

I love me some early June. School is over, work hasn’t started. Each day of rest and exercise and family unfolds another flap of academic origami until you are left with a piece of paper as wide and open as summer. Unfortunately, courses end a solid week or two before due dates. Reminds me of grilling burgers when you’re hungry. The meat browns on the outside and you so want to believe they’re cooked through. You flip that poor dizzy patty over and over again in an attempt to coax it into done-ness, you poke it with your slotted metal spatula, you even cut into it a bit to reveal – sniffle – this season’s hottest shade! Inedible Red. I always do eat that first burger a little rare. Such is the flavor of early June. But don’t worry, my last paper’s almost done… and while I stake no claims for my meat, I would never turn in an undercooked paper.

Rest those doubts! I am officially studious.

So I’m back in the States and missing Israel. How do I miss Israel, and why? It’s a love story, really, one full of passion and drama, devotion and distress. We went days, even weeks, without speaking to each other only to make up on the most tender and loving terms. We faced tremendous criticism from those who challenged our commitment to one another, from those who at times seemed to willfully undermine our relationship in an attempt to turn our story into a stylized soap opera. This isn’t daytime TV folks! Spotlights might burn bright, but they also burn out. I’m not looking for a flash in the pan, I’m looking for a Ner Tamid. So Israel and I, we worked on it.

At Ben Gurion's Grave

We realized that in order to make this partnership last, we have to grow together, accept that the other perhaps is not exactly who we want them to be. I know I’m not perfect. Israel isn’t either. And it’s ok to say that. Is your partner perfect? Is your spouse or best friend or parent or child or colleague or mentor or student perfect? No. It’s ok to want them to be better, to continue to work with them as they strive to reach their potential, just as we constantly seek to better ourselves and achieve or personal goals. That doesn’t mean I don’t love Israel. In fact, it means quite the opposite. It means that I love Israel enough to want to be for this State that all-too-rare partner, one who listens as well as she talks. Because Israel… Israel has a lot to say.

Israel tells stories from her soil to her ceilings, from her roots to her roofs. My last six weeks in Israel were weeks of travel and exploration, a time to remember what it feels like to love, and why we fell in love in the first place. It began, as so many good love stories do, with a grandma.

Jess and Goobie - Sunset in the Golan Heights

My Goobie came during Pesach, we rented a car, and spent the whole of Chol HaMoed crossing the country from the limestone grottoes of Rosh HaNikra at the Lebanese border and the dazzling vistas of Machtesh Ramon in the Negev to the tiny artist’s colony Ein Hod in the Carmel forest and a swampy beach on the eastern edge of the Galilee where Jews and Arabs camped side by side. The following weekend, I headed back up north with Matt and Ariel Russo, Megan Goldman, and David Minkus to hike the legendary Nahal Yehudia, one of the best and most challenging hikes in the country – and current home to David’s glasses, our only casualty as we swam across one of the frigid natural pools that make up the trail. Finally, the entire class along with the Rabbinical School students from American Jewish University in Los Angeles spent a Shabbat weekend together at Kibbutz Hanaton in the northern Galilee. There, we went on one of the muckiest, muddiest, and most fun hikes of my life. The sight of twenty or so future rabbis and their spouses, soaking wet, trudging through the rain, ankle-deep in dirt and knee-deep in happiness is one I won’t soon forget.

David and Matt grilling for Yom Ha'Atzma'ut - Israeli Independence Day

Along the way Israel told me about her past, her childhood, her joy and her pain. Israel showed me her most beautiful side, and, because I love her, she also let me see her flaws. Israel shared some of her secrets, even some of her hopes and dreams. Israel also let me hear her anger, her sadness, and her fear.

Always reach for the stars... here in Machtesh Ramon.

She introduced me to many of her children – brilliant, fun-loving Israelis, Jews, Arabs, Christians, and Druze – the men and women who hope and dream alongside her. I am changed because of this relationship, because of this love. I like to think that in some small way, Israel is changed to, and will continue to be.

We often talk about reflecting on “The Rabbinical School Year in Israel,” but to reflect implies that the experience has passed, that we are looking back at something that was. As a Jew, I am rooted in the extraordinary power of the past, the power of tradition, history, and a shared narrative. I am equally bound to the future, to a vision of possibility that includes a rabbinate that embraces both the universalism of my progressive outlook and the particularism that frames my Jewish life. But what is most important to me now, in this moment, is this moment. Today is a gift – that’s why they call it the present. Israel taught me that, and that’s how I hope to honor our relationship – not as a memory upon which to reflect, but as a framework in which to live.

 

Golan Sunset

Thank you for letting me share my year with you. A special thanks to Rabbi Nevins, Rabbi Gelber, Rabbi Levy, Jeremy Willinger, and everyone at JTS who puts up with me even though a timely blogger I am not. I am also indebted to Rav Shlomo and Rav Moshe at Machon Schechter, Ada for sticking with my mucky, muddy Hebrew, Anat for being Anat and therefore being amazing, and dear dear Moti for making what must have been a difficult year for him nevertheless an amazing year for us. Rabbi Matt Berkowitz is a saint and should have his sneakers dipped in bronze and preserved in a special room in Schocken. Lastly, I must thank my classmates. Thank you for being my chevrutot, my confidantes, my celebrants, my critics, my teachers, my gym partners, and my friends. And (last thing, promise!) thanks for inviting this single gal to Shabbat meals every week. It really meant a lot to me to be a part of your families.

Ten measures of beauty descended to the world -- nine were taken by Jerusalem. - Talmud Bavli, Kiddushin 49b

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