Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Day of Love - in Jerusalem and Jersey...

Tonight was the first time I genuinely missed my Home. Not Fort Wayne, Indiana, a place I once called home. Not Knoxville, Tennessee, the place my parents most recently began to call home after a 20 year exile... And not Bloomington or Washington, DC, either.

Beginning at sundown tonight is Tu B'Av - essentially like Valentines Day - a Day of Love. This day falls after a period of time in the Jewish calendar specifically set aside to commemorate various moments of destruction in Jewish history - such as the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem and in modern times, the Holocaust. On this day, Tisha B'Av, and in the preceding days, weddings do not generally happen in Jewish communities.

Tonight I was walking to a birthday party Beer-Luck (we're working on the wikipedia entry at press) and passed the courtyard to Jerusalem's "
Great Synagogue." You'll be shocked to know that "The Greatest Synagogue," the "OK Synagogue" or "Not as Great as the Great Synagogue" don't currently exist, so the superlative to describe this synagogue may be a bit unfounded. The shul faces a trafficked Jerusalem street and in the the courtyard was a beautiful Chuppah (wedding canopy) veiled in white lace, underneath which stood a Bride and Groom. The bride's face was covered with a heavy veil - which I imagine was stifling in the Jerusalem heatwave. My friend joked that the veil was so hardcore that the Groom would have no idea if he was actually marrying the right woman or not, a challenge of biblical proportions.

My friends ran ahead to the Beer-Luck but I hung around to see the rest of the wedding. I heard the rest of the
Sheva Brachot (7 wedding blessings) and finally the breaking of the glass - which according to one interpretation, reminds us of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The breaking of this glass was quite timely given the proximity to Tisha B'Av and the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem - less than a mile away.

This weekend, my parents, Ron and Leslie, are all gathered in New Jersey with the friends and family of our dearest friends from Fort Wayne to celebrate the wedding of their daughter, Alana. Many of my fondest childhood memories are a result of our close family friendship with the Sarratore family. While our parents chilled upstairs, Alana, Andrew, Ron G, and I would spend hours in their basement playing Nintendo (since our parents wouldn't let us have one) or throwing He-Man figures at each other in a game known as "RAMBOOOO." The games often ended with me crying and tattle-tailing on Ron and Andrew for one reason or another. Leslie spent her very first New Years at their home - merely four days after her birth (clearly my parents were uber responsible and awfully anxious by the time they had their third kid.)

Eventually, Alana and I started a jewelery "business" called "A & J jewelers." Expertly we molded hot plastic into less than desirable pieces of jewelery and attempted to sell them at various craft fairs in the Fort. As Alana moved to New Jersey for college and to start her own life, Andrew and I were sharing memorable experiences as we prepared for our Bar/Bat Mitzvah, traveled to Israel for the first time, and graduated from High School and IU together - true womb friends.

Ultimately, I ended up in DC, now Israel and soon NYC, Drew joined Teach for America (TFA) in LA, Ron G blazed TFA and hip hop trails in St. Louis, Alana represents Kenny G in Jersey, and little Leslie remained in the Fort, often vacationing down the street with the parental Sarratores, but soon will follow route 37 to Bloomington. The parental Sarratores reside in the Fort and the Gubilicious parents moved to the Mecca of TN - Knoxville.

Leslie called me after the ceremony, took her cell into the party room and I got to speak to Andrew, Daddy Sarratore, and the bride herself. It was touching to hear in each of their voices the joy they were clearly feeling.

Tonight was the first time I genuinely missed my Home. Not the Fort, or B'town, the District nor the boonies of Tennessee. Certainly it is not a specific place, rather those who made each part of my life special and secure. I realized that the breaking of the glass at the Great Synagogue was nearly simultaneous to the glass which Alana's groom, Greg, broke in the not-so-promised land of Jersey.

There are not so many people in my life who I can easily end a conversation with a casual but meaningful "I love you." Not even to think twice at the close of each brief chat - was refreshing. "Mazel tov! I can't believe you're on the phone all the way from Jerusalem! I can't believe you're married! Have some whiskey with Rabbi K for me! Did you know its the Day of Love in Israel? I love you! Be safe! I love you, too!"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I Guess We're Not in Starbucks Anymore...

Israel is a funny place - most easily compared to the only coffee beverage I can successfully order. Cafe Ha-fuch - translated simply as "Coffee Flipped/Upside Down" - is neither latte nor coffee, nor espresso by its lonesome. What is it? Tasty. Caffeinated and cheap if purchased from the HUC lounge. Really, I'm not even sure what it is - but I do know how to order it.

I'm a huge fan of iced coffee - the beverage of choice that I injected into my veins via syringe in order to stay awake throughout my various post-college jobs - a true Starbucks rat, if you will. Alas, my desire for iced-coffee faces two extreme challenges in Israel. First, there's simply no ice in Israel. If you ask for a cup of ice water, you get a cup of water. That's it. It's so hot here that even if ice cubes did exist, they'd melt immediately in order to cool themselves down. (I'm envisioning a new pixar film.)

The second glitch frustrating my coffee habits: freshly ground, freshly brewed coffee is hard to come by in Jerusalem, so naturally, going back to the absence of frozen water, neither does ICED fresh brewed coffee. You can order "Cafe Kar" - literally "Cold Coffee" - but it consists of a shot of espresso poured into what my classmate Hannah refers to as 85% milk. If you can imagine pouring a cup of cottage cheese into your coffee beverage of choice, you can understand why Cafe Kar generally makes me nauseous.

In other coffee news, yesterday morning I took my first shot at Nescafe - instant coffee. True to its name, Nescafe was instantly bad coffee.

After taking a 6 hour recovery nap on Thursday afternoon coupled with additional bouts of Shabbat napping, I was sleep-drunk and needed to get out of the house this afternoon. When God created the seventh day for rest, he was gracious enough to exempt a few non-Kosher restaurants, allowing them to remain open for business and we eventually found one where we could purchase a cup o' Joe. What did I order, you might ask? After my diatribe about coffee which I actually started writing a few days ago while awaiting inspiration for my blog, the barista explained that the perfect cup for which I was searching was called "Iced-Americano." I was certainly grateful for her help. The anticipated moment arrived....and yes, you guessed it. The drink was PERFECT.

That is if you describe perfection as watered-down, instant coffee curdling with extra fattening milk.

And God said it was good, Ki Tov.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Officially a Rabbinical student...Holy Cow!

Today I finally reached my lifelong goal - or dream - if you will. I officially became a Rabbinical student - a true-blue card carrying member of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion. It should be noted that an HUC ID card has little value in Israeli society, will hardly hold court at a student travel agency and could be easily mass produced by merely drawing a smiley face on an index card (best wishes if you are looking to start a business to assist Rabbinical student imposters...)

It's wild to see myself joining in the long line of Rabbinic tradition of the Jewish people. At the end of morning services, we sang Shechiyanu to commemorate the beginning of the five year journey at HUC. I was surprisingly touched.

Who am I to stand in this line of tradition? I'm 24 years old. I still call my mom every morning before school in order to eliminate the pit in my stomach. I occasionally fight with my brother and sister and really hate unloading the dishwasher. In my designer shoulder bag which I bought so I could conform to the fashion style of my sorority sisters at IU, I carry a less than attractive red plaid button down shirt - which has served as my "security blanket" since I found that my parents had these matching shirts from a party they attended twenty years ago. In my zit filled, frizzy hair, grungy sixth grade year - I actually wore the shirt to look 'cool'. Tucked away in my bag, I wonder if my "security blanket" would look nice as a tallit to better fit my current phase in life.
I mean, come on! My dad still edits a lot of my writing - sometimes that which sounds like a meaningful biblical text or concept - actually stemmed from the great biblical authority of...Jeff Gubitz. (Thanks daddy!)

So they really let people like me be Rabbis?

In a taxi or a grocery store in Jerusalem, saying that I'm going to be a Rabbi is tremendously confusing. There's hardly a word in Hebrew which means "female Rabbi." Why? Because women aren't rabbis in Israel. I tell the cab driver: I'm here to study to be a Rabbi. They say: Rebbetzin? To be a Rabbi's wife? Me: No - Ani Rabba - I'm the Rabbi. Them: MAH? What? Ee Efshar! Impossible!

So what the hell am I doing here? And for that matter, Mi Anochi? Who am I? The name Jen, on its own, doesn't distinguish me from the next. The name Gubitz, on its own, is more specific but still opens the door to the question "Which Gubitz?" I'm a full name kind of girl: Jen Gubitz. Ah. Ok. Then I know who I am.

I answered the questions I just posed in my HUC application which I started writing nearly 7 months ago.
"It seems not to be coincidence that I was born shortly after a new year began - and on the holiday of Simchat Torah. Although momentarily considered, I am eternally grateful that my parents did not name me simcha to honor the day on which I was born -- Jennifer suits me quite well. As it turns out, I am still able to honor that day by paying tribute to the second word – Torah. From the day I was born, it seems my path in life was laid before me - to bring happiness and Torah, Jewish learning and history, and Jewish custom and tradition to others, as a Rabbi."

I will continue to update this blog as often as I am able and am working on posting pictures, too. As you can see - there was already a week lag because HUC orientation has been quite busy. I tested into the appropriate Hebrew level and look forward to beginning our Ulpan (intensive Hebrew) on Sunday. Today is finally Shabbat and I'm ready once more for a needed day of rest.

From my HUC application - "It seems appropriate to conclude, “Blessed are you…Ruler of the universe, who has sustained me and permitted me to reach this season…” Being a Rabbi would honor and speak to the efforts of not only my goals and success but to those who supported and guided me to this point in my life. It is truly difficult to know where I am going in life, if I do not know from where I have come. I truly value and am committed to innovating Jewish education, strengthening Jewish identity, and sustaining Jewish community. As I live my life walking in the footsteps of those who came before me, I feel passionate about passing on to future generations what we have learned from our teachers and instilling in them a passion for Judaism and learning. In this way, a cycle will be unbroken and for generations to come, Jews will sing their song, create new songs, and never forget the songs that have come before them. Al regel achat - it seems easy - I want to be a Rabbi and the rest is commentary..."

Until next time - Shabbat Shalom and lovin' from Jeru!
Living the dream,

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Targeesh Tov - Feel Better: the Hadassah Hospital Pediatric Oncology Ward

At Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, Arabs, Jews, and Christians are united towards one common goal - becoming healthy again. This morning, I visited the Children's Oncology wing with a group of NFTY in Israel participants who have spent the past week doing Mitzvah projects throughout the Jerusalem area. We spent a morning with residents at Keren Or, a home for blind and severely disabled youth; visited with the elderly workers at Yad L'kashish - Lifeline to the Old - who spend their mornings creating beautiful and intricately painted Judiaca; and did craft projects with residents at a nursing home. The NFTY participants learned how to twist balloon animals and I joined them each day to help them sing with each community they visited. Lacking a common language, singing, smiling, and laughing served as our only means to communicate.

Spending time in the Children's Cancer Ward was particularly special. Most of the Israeli children who spend extended time in the ward were away at day camp - so the majority of children we met today were Arab Israelis. Each child was attached to a machine which provided their treatment for the day, but most seemed unphased by this lifeline. At sight of balloon animals, all of the children ran to us and quickly the NFTY participants went into action - twisting colorful hats and dogs.

I spent most of my time singing with 2 year-old Fatma and his parents. They live in East Jerusalem and he has 5 older siblings. His father spoke to me a bit in English and tried to teach me a few words of Arabic while his mother sat next to us silently, smiling on occasion. Mostly Fatma bounced up and down to the music - we were singing Old McDonald for a very long time and I made sure not to sing about the pig who might have lived on Old McDonald's farm. Another little girl, Maya - who had a severe heart condition and epilepsy joined us and for a moment, it seemed like a basic example of peace and coexistance -
until Fatma started innocently pulling her hair.

We tried to sing to the kids to distract and calm them when a nurse came over to give them injections. Surprisingly for the first time in my life, I wasn't squeemish.

My friend and classmate, Brian Immerman, joined me for the day and we spent some time talking to two brothers - Nati and Lior. Nati was receiving treatment through an IV while we hung out . I secretly hoped that Lior was just there to keep him company or maybe to give his brother blood for a transfusion, but it appeared that Lior was also receiving treatment through a similar IV line.

We had the opportunity to visit the synagogue in the hospital which houses THE Chagall Windows. We sang Mi Sheberach, a prayer of healing, and Modeh Ani, which is usually said in the morning to thank God for restoring to us our souls.

One of the NFTY participants reflected on the ways that Jews, Muslims, Christians were all existing peacefully in the walls of the hospital and noted "that's how Israel should be"

-minus the cancer.