Saturday, July 28, 2007

gone to israel

why am i so scared?

i don't understand myself. i don't understand at all. britain, japan, hawaii, france...sometimes it seems like i would rather be going almost anywhere than israel.

and it's always been this way. ever since i was in elementary school, which is about when the first of my peers made the trip. the prospect of israel did not excite me, did not make me swoon with love - it formed a knot of dread in my stomach that even then i could explain to no one.

i thought about it in high school, before stern accepted me. that was the thing to do, right? everyone went to israel for seminary. seminary was where you became truly grounded in aidelkeit and judaism, where you sprouted roots to the holy land, what gave you strength to live your life, proudly, as a jew on G-d's path. but i did not want to go. not even a little. i was paralyzed by images of the prim, powedered seminary graduates who made life miserable for me in school, by news videos full of carnage and blood, by the sweltering heat, the language...and, i think most of all, the fear of the unknown. as much as i hear people speak about it and look through their photo albums and study their tongue and listen to their radio, israel remains an unknown quantity to me. i'm convinced that i could make it on my own if i had to in the u.s. or canada, or even england. but israel inspires in me nothing less than panic.

everyone tells me i'll love it there, and for years i have been trying to convince myself. i think of jerusalem, close my eyes, try to see king david sitting on cobblestone streets, composing tehillim to Hashem. but my notion of jewish history is so vague and blurred - and my grasp on the heroes of the tanach even more ephemeral. they were always so much beyond me, on such a high pedestal - we weren't even supposed to formulate an image of them in our heads - and i failed to connect to them as a child. they were faceless angels, immortal in their purity...not people who really lived and breathed like me. as much as i tried to conceive of it, i never succeeded. moshe rabainu, avraham avinu, rachel mother grew up with a very different style of teaching, to the point where she felt as though she knew them all. my father's mother sees such a human side to everyone in tanach that she weeps every time she takes down the chumash. but to me they were an abstract math theory i knew how to apply yet never understood. the beliefs in my head never made it to my heart.

strangely, my view of G-d is nothing like this, perhaps because we were encouraged so much by so many different teachers and rebbetzins to think of G-d in very personal terms. one speech that has stayed with me everywhere spoke of G-d as a father coming home to us, and us being little children standing in the window straining to see. we were told to tell G-d everything, even the littlest things that troubled us, nothing was too petty to ask Him for help with...and the rabbi of my community in particular is known for his uncanny ability to speak of G-d in terms that have meaning to anyone, that even someone as uncertain as I can internalize. so while i have my own struggles in that arena, G-d is, incredibly, easier for me to deal with than the country that has been the birthplace of my people and the sanctuary of my Creator.


i dearly hope that this trip, like a shove into the deep end, will banish my fear and clarify my emotions. i don't want to be afraid of israel, i don't want to feel like an impostor in a world full of jews. i guess i want tanach to be real to me, i want to believe that moshe and avraham and david were people too. so far, king david is the one i grab onto wholeheartedly - because he wrote tehillim, and tehillim sounds so much like my own prayers and feelings. they say king david understood every kind of pain there was in the world and wrote a psalm that dealt with each. if he understood what it is i'm feeling, then he must have been human, too, in addition to being brilliant and righteous.

i just wish everything in judaism could be so tangible to me.

Friday, July 27, 2007

the chef's secret

the pt (pulling up a stool): whatcha making?

me: blueberry muffins.

the pt: i think you mean blueberry cupcakes. you do know you're using cupcake holders, right?

me: er...right.

the pt: well, it's a good thing i made secret cupcakes too!

me: ...secret....cupcakes...?

the pt: yeah, sure. you don't need to bake mine.

me (growing alarmed): i don't see any cupcakes.

the pt: of course not. they're secret.

me: what's in them?

the pt: i'll show you!

(hops off stool, returns carrying four foil cupcake holders with mashed up oreos in them)

the pt: here! have a secret cupcake!

me: those are your secret cupcakes?

the pt: yup!

me: but those aren't cupcakes. those are just smashed up oreos.

the pt (exasperated): no they're not! they're smashed up oreos in cupcake holders! that's what makes them cupcakes!

me: i guess i can see the logic in that.

the pt: sometimes i run out of cookie cream. then i have to put yogurt on top.

me: ah.

the pt: get it? that's the secret part of the recipe.

me: great. er... how many of those have you got?

the pt: i don't know. eight, probably.

me: the pt, who's going to eat eight cupcake holders full of stale broken oreos and liberally handled yogurt?

the pt (matter-of-factly): you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

which would you rather....

one late night in wisconsin....

SCENE: a disarrayed living room. an 11-year-old girl, IGUANA, is nestled in an arm chair, playing video games. her older sister, FUDGE, reads a Norton Anthology on the couch. next to her, a teenager, RAFIKI, sits with one leg over the armrest, eating an oreo pudding. in the neighboring arm chair sprawls another teenager, MOE, snoring.

RAFIKI: Iguana, get off already. You've been on forever.

MOE (eyes closed): Haven't you been on for like 20 hours?

RAFIKI: I haven't been on since this morning.

FUDGE (eagerly abandoning the Norton): Are you going to play that game that's set in Peru? Can I watch?

RAFIKI: Not if she keeps playing.

IGUANA: Fine, fine! I'll get off as soon as my cheese is ready!

RAFIKI: Yeah, fine. (pause) What?

IGUANA: As soon as my cheese is done.

RAFIKI: Your cheese?

IGUANA: Yeah. You just have to gather some fresh milk and fire peppers, and you get spicy cheese. I just threw mine in the crock pot a second ago.

(Off-stage, a child's voice): I DON'T HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!


(He hops off the couch and vanishes immediately)

MOE, blinking: Fudge? Did you just hear the PT?

FUDGE: I hope not. It's past midnight.

(Child's voice sounds again)

MOE: I think I hear her.

FUDGE: Can you go investigate?


IGUANA: Yay! My cheese is done!

MOE: I thought Rafiki went to investigate.

FUDGE: You know, he did, but then he went the other way. I haven't seen him since.

MOE (grumble grumble)

IGUANA: Now I have spicy cheese!

FUDGE: Whatever.

(A moment of silence. IGUANA continues her game. FUDGE turns back to her anthology. Eventually, MOE returns, looking suitably irritated.)

FUDGE: Well? What news?

MOE (shaking his head): She's fast asleep. I don't know how anybody could sleep in the position she's in, but she's asleep.

FUDGE: Huh. Weird.

RAFIKI (returning breathlessly): Where is it?

(All turn to look at him)

MOE: There you are!

FUDGE: Didn't you get up so you could find out what was going on with the PT?

RAFIKI: Something's going on with the PT?

FUDGE: Well, you jumped up so fast, I thought you heard her sleep-talking...

MOE: Yeah, we were waiting for you to save the day, but it didn't happen.

RAFIKI: Huh? No, I got up because she just put cheese in the crock pot! The same one we use to make chulent!

IGUANA: No I didn't.

RAFIKI: You just said you put cheese in the crock pot! Where is it?

IGUANA: In the game, moron! You think I have fire peppers in real life?

(A moment of clarifying silence)

RAFIKI (suspiciously): So you didn't put cheese in the crock pot?

FUDGE: No. Her game has alchemy in it. (dawning) You've been in the kitchen all this time looking for a crock pot with cheese in it?

RAFIKI: The crock pot is fleishig! Cheese is milthig! Something had to be done!

IGUANA: See? The cheese is done! Now I can feed it to my characters, and they'll breathe fire!

RAFIKI (cautiously): It's done?


RAFIKI: Ok, Iguana. My. Turn.