Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Kotel

Yesterday morning, I went to the Kotel for the first time since May. The last time I went, I had the realization that the current system of gender segregated prayer disallows for people with gender-variance to pray comfortably on either side. This time, I wanted to go to Robinson's Arch, which is deemed an appropriate alternative where the Conservative Movement (Masorti) had been allowing anyone to come and pray. While it used to cost money to enter after 9:30am, I read that they changed it recently. Also, if you have followed the story of the controversy at the Kotel, there is now a new platform that is supposed to be okay. However, there is no actual access to the Kotel wall from the platform. I wanted to check it out and see what it is was like for myself.

I walked through the Jewish quarter, eventually arriving at the Kotel. The last few times I've gone, I haven't felt anything specially spiritual. I have become a bit frustrated at the whole situation, that is to say, there is only one type of prayer that is acceptable for men and women at the Kotel. Those who don't fit neatly into skirt-wearer or pants-wearer with the socially acceptable genitalia to accompany that clothing, can't really go to the Kotel and pray comfortably. I didn't think about this issue before, but now it's glaring at me.

When I arrived, I asked a girl if she knew how to get to Robinson's Arch. No, she had no idea and was one of the volunteers for the organization that gives shawls to women to cover their shoulders. I was a bit annoyed at that. Then, I sat in a chair in the shade and just looked at the other women praying. I wasn't in the mental space to be able to concentrate. There was a young girl, maybe 8 years old, to my right with a prayer book - standing and sitting and bowing and praying. Her mother was next to her holding a baby and also praying. There were older women in wheelchairs, and of course Greek tourists. There were many frum girls around praying. From the other side of the wall, I could hear the men chanting and singing the morning service, following by the call of the shofar. A few women were looking over to the other side of the separation wall and taking pictures.

I looked up at the Kotel. I often feel like this is just a wall. What's the point? I don't know how much I connect with the Kotel anymore. It's hard for me to feel something in this place. Even so, I come back again and again, hoping to feel something.

Maybe I need to rethink my relationship to the Kotel. Learn more about the history of it and what it means, and find out how I can connect to it in my own way, rather than in the way we are told to. I'm not sure how, but hopefully over these next few months, and as long as I live in Jerusalem, I can explore this further.

Today is the first day of Pardes. At the meet and greet last night, one of the teachers spoke about how coming to Israel and finding yourself (of course more eloquently than that), and I really felt moved by it. In my last year here, I have experienced so much and changed so much. I feel like I'm growing so much more than ever, and it might be because I'm putting myself in very new situations or because it is Israel and things happen here in a different way than in the States. Regardless, I'm excited to be learning and growing. May this coming year bring joy, challenge, and growth.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Back in Israel

After a few weeks away, I've returned to Israel! During July, I was lucky to able to see a lot of my family and generally hang out in the States. I experienced some reverse culture shock when I first arrived to New York City to see my sister, but after getting over jet lag, I was okay. I stopped in New York City first and spent a few days there as a tourist. We walked the Highline, ate some very good Thai food, saw cousins and I met new babies in the family, and saw "Annie" on Broadway with Jane Lynch. Then, we traveled to Baltimore and visited my family there. Again, I met a new baby in the family and spent time with my grandmother and aunt. From there, I took the train to DC and stayed with a friend of mine. I played tourist again, and I got to catch up with a few more friends who live in the area. Finally, I made it down to Atlanta, where I spent the last few weeks before returning to Israel. I ate lots of Mexican food, hung out with friends, and went shopping!

One of the things I noticed in NYC and DC was the number of people who were homeless and jobless. It was very depressing. People were trying whatever they could to get some cash or a job. I was really moved by what I saw, and I didn't know how to respond to it. When I interned in graduate school at an organization that provided services to the homeless, I learned that giving cash is not going to break the cycle, but at the same time, real change is much more difficult. It doesn't negate the immediate need, but I don't know what is best. We spoke about this topic during my year in Gedera when we discussed the Rambam's Eight Levels of Charity:
There are eight levels of charity, each greater than the next.
[1] The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .
[2] A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.
[3] A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.
[4] A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.
[5] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.
[6] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.
[7] A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.
[8] A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.
Just because they are given levels, it doesn't mean that those at the bottom are not good. It just means that there are some types of charity that are better than others.

In a few weeks, I will begin to study Jewish texts more in depth and I will be able to analyze especially how social justice is discussed in Judaism. I look forward to learning and growing and eventually being able to utilize these ideas in my professional and personal lives.

This week, I will move to Jerusalem to an apartment just around the corner from Pardes, in a great area. I will be living with two women in a shomer Shabbat and shomer kashrut apartment. I am starting to make a commitment to keep kosher and Shabbat. As this year goes on, I'm so excited to learn more! Keep reading my blog to follow my Jewish journey!