Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Last, the Very Last--Final Sabbatical Thoughts

I can not believe that my sabbatical is nearly over.  In about 30 hours we will be on our way to the airport.  One minute we're lying on the beach in Fiji with nothing but time and adventure ahead, and the next we're going to our last Shabbat service in Jerusalem, visiting the Western Wall one last time, eating the last felafel, schwarma, etc.  I appreciated almost every moment of this incredible adventure, but one can't live a life of just leisure and learning forever.  Time to go home, as the many songs in the video below say.  Here's the slideshow of our trip packed into nine minutes of pictures.  It's long, but the music is great.  Click on it to view.

Concluding Thoughts About Israel
First, I realize that we were not living in reality.  Spending four months without having to work in the holiest city in the world is not the same as grinding out the reality of life.  It's time to wake up, but that doesn't mean I don't get to appreciate the dream.

Second, we were lucky enough to be here during one of the quietest periods in Israel's history.  We weren't sure that was going to be the case.  When we went to pick our kids up on the first day of their Ulpan the road was blocked off because of a bomb scare.  For a moment, we were not sure if a bomb had exploded or it was just a suspicious object, nor did we know exactly how close it was to the school or, in our worst nightmares, even inside the school.  It turned out it was just a suspicious object (a backpack or something that was left unattended).  We walked 4 blocks out of the way, but our kids didn't even know about it (until now).  We did not want to traumatize them, and as with all terror, the best way to defeat it is to get on with life.   Despite the auspicious beginning, there was almost no terrorism or even action between Israel and the Palestinians during our 4 months here.  That is likely about to change, however, with the upcoming Palestinian declaration of Statehood at the United Nations in September.  It is tragic that we can't somehow freeze time and appreciate and maintain this quite status quo with the economy booming in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.  But, ultimately, I believe that a Palestinian State is both necessary and inevitable, whatever the borders may be.  Unfortunately, the declaration  without a negotiated settlement will likely bring great disappointment and much bloodshed along with it.  As Greenday says, "wake me up when September ends."

Third, the biggest issue while we were in Israel was the housing situation and the gigantic tent protests that continue to occur throughout the country. Israel's transition from semi-socialism to semi-capitalism has come at a cost.  There are no easy answers to be found.  The protests are non-violent, the government is as responsive as any in the world, but any solutions will demand .significant change by the government and self-sacrifice by the people that I'm afraid neither are willing to make.  The change it has to come, we know it all along, but the people who seek the change want smart phones and cars and cappuccinos, not Kibbutzim and cooperatives and plain black coffee.  Still, this was all fascinating to watch as an interested observer.

Fourth, I am not good at Hebrew.  I try really, really hard, but I just do not have the skill.  All told, I had 12 weeks of Ulpan, and 6 of them were only one hour a day four days a week, but my progress was slower than my peers.  In almost every class I took, I had the largest vocabulary, could conjugate verbs with the best of them, but was still amongst the worst at speaking and understanding.  Since I have a "good ear" when it comes to music and accents, this is surprising, but we all have learning "differences," and this is one of mine.  This means I will likely never achieve spoken fluency.  Still, I am not as sad as I might make it sound here; I enjoyed the classes and learning what I could.  In light of this, however....

Fifth, if I had to do it again I would take more text learning classes, probably at Pardes (where I found the teachers to be the best) and at the Conservative Yeshiva in lieu of Modern Hebrew.  The classes I took were very valuable, perhaps for future teaching but certainly for Torah lishma, Torah learning for its own sake.

Sixth, my kids are Zionists, at least for now.  They both told me "they are considering making Aliyah when they graduate college" as well as a "gap year before college."  I know that they are kids and that they live in the moment, but they are attached to Israel, which is all we could hope for.

Seventh, making Aliyah is no longer as exotic as it sounds, as Israel seems to be filled with twenty somethings post college, from America, most of them very modern Orthodox, having a great time meeting one another, working in a variety of fields, and enjoying themselves.  It would be a great option for my kids, but this is now, and who knows what will be with Israel in the world in 10-15 years.  Again, "wake me up when September ends."

What will I miss the most?  The two things that I was able to take for granted in a good way, loving Israel and observing Shabbat.  People can argue about what is best for Israel, how they should negotiate, what should be given up or not, etc., but it is all done from a basic perspective that Israel has a right to exist and defend its citizens.  This is often not the case in discussions about Israel and Northern California.

I love our Shabbat services back in Oakland and our neighborhood Havdalah services, but having the entire city quiet down, having nothing to do but rest, read, play and hang out with friends, and greeting complete strangers in the street with "shabbat shalom" is a special, sacred feeling that can't be replicated anywhere else.

Yes, loving Israel, Shabbat, and really good and plentiful Kosher meat.  These are the things I will miss the most.

Concluding Thoughts About Travel
First, thank you, thank you, thank you, Temple Beth Abraham.  What a precious gift this was for me and my family.  I will appreciate it forever, or at least for the next 10 years, im yirtze Hashem, God willing, until my next one.  I'm hoping for two or three more in our time together.

Secondly, we chose a great itinerary.  We could have gone to Europe instead on our way to Israel, but the combination of relaxation in Fiji, old friends in Australia, and adventure in China and Dubai, two places we never would have gone to without good friends in both places, was perfect.

Thirdly, we brought the right amount of clothes, stuff.  Other than forgetting to bring shorts, we packed surprisingly well.

Fourth, almost all went smoothly.  A couple of broken suitcases, lost electronics, and the lack of a proper visa in Israel were almost the only bumps.

Fifth, the kids were mostly the right age for travel.  They both learned a lot and appreciated what we were doing.  It was tougher on Micah than on the rest of us..  I'm not sure if it was the age or the personality, but he really, really missed his friends and complained about it often.  He did learn an extraordinary amount about Israel and the Hebrew language, despite all that.  Jonah just loved every minute of regardless.

Sixth, what did we miss most?  Our family, our friends, the synagogue, the dishwasher, the washer, the dryer and vegetarian burritos, thought not necessarily in that order.

Seventh, we did not miss the cars.  Sure, sometimes we did, but it was wonderful to walk everywhere.  We rarely even used taxis or buses once we were in Jerusalem.

Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu melech ha'olam shehecheyanu v'kiamanu v'higianu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, O God, who has given us life, sustained us, and enable us to reach this season.


1 comment:

  1. Dear Rabbi, your blogs in the past 4 months have brought tears to my eyes. You have shared your experience in Israel that as a born and raised Israeli I have never experienced. It was a pleasure reading your entries and yes most definitely sharing your views: there is nothing like Shabbat in Israel and I must add the Jewish holidays too. And yes, the right for Israel to defend its citizens. Yeshar Koach and we are all waiting for your safe return home!
    Liat Porat