Monday, September 17, 2007

Unstuck in Time

More on Beth getting involved and dealing with 'separation anxiety.' Meaning, adjusting to what I 'left' and what I've 'gotten.'

I've been mulling over my feelings about this matter. What it means to leave a place, what it means to be a newcomer and what it means to trade one set of variable for another. Moving has exposed one truth of life. You give up one thing to get another thing. I gave up my community in Brooklyn for my family here. And I have them - we celebrate birthdays (the wallet is constantly open for gifts), we go on hikes, we plan ski trips (I hope this winter), we talk about family problems, we support each other, we laugh together.

In Bklyn I had one set of constants and they were not perfect but they were mine - the shul drove me crazy (yes, this is true), I missed my family and was lonely, I needed different support systems in my life. There were the good points too, the shul community, the homeschooling community, directing the theater group, friends, neighborhood, subway, Sahadi's (ok, I have the shuk here) short my life of 20 years in Bklyn. My new set of circumstances here continue to improve and develop but that doesn't change the fact that that which kept me moored in life, no longer exists for my everyday life. The shul experience most exposes that here - it's different here. You go to shul, it's not your social life, it's the place where you pray. Yes, you have friends, yes, you invite people for lunch but you have friends who daven elsewhere and maybe you too daven elsewhere so it's not pivotal to your life to make it work.

I've decided that the main issue is that I feel 'unmoored' in terms of synagogue matters. I've gotten used to anonymity this year and had felt more connected in to places slowly. We've invited and been invited a bit...but it's hard. I have barely read Torah anywhere - just Mayanot, too uptight to offer myself up at Shira Hadasha yet. Davened once I think at Mayanot the whole year. Have davened at a whole host of places but feel connected to none really, although I smile at people and can survive kiddush although at times it's tough. I prefer to sit on the side with Akiva as he munches on pretzels and chips. (Actually, did very well at kiddush at Shira Hadasha this past Shabbat, which pleased me as Ira and Natan were with me as well.) None of the shuls calls to me as my home. One aside here - it's interesting how many of my Bklyn compatriots are quite put off by davening in an Orthodox shul when they come to visit. Too me, while it's not a perfect solution (men and women sitting separately), it's not a deal breaker, it's just a readjustment to something that I used to know and do (friends while in school, etc and even in JTS in the old days) but haven't done in a long time. Moreover, I know so many cool Orthodox feminists here, who continually think of how important it is to be an Orthodox feminist and to teach their children accordingly, while the Conservative jewish women I meet, are still thinking through what they do or don't do in shul. Look beyond the mechitza - it's just a barrier and it's what they're used to. Don't let it stand in the way of understanding and t'filah/prayer.

Since 1983, I have felt a particular tug to this place. Actually, I started feeling the pull in 1982/3 when I was here for the year after college (forgetting the brainwashing towards Israel and living here that was a major part of my life). Then, Jonathan and Barbara moved and the rest is history. Tug, tug, tug. It was the line from Maurice Sendak's book, 'Where the wild things are,' that really brought me here - "And Max the king of all the wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all." That messy, unconditional love of parents and sibs. And even if it meant leaving so many dear to me on the other side of the pond.

So, here I am and I discover that now I have to feel a tug to what I left. I feel the tug to the familiar. To the mundane - brownstones and trees changing colors, the grit of Atlantic Ave (it's fast disappearing), the subway, the tall, tall buildings that block out the sky. To the less mundane - my friends, my reputation (I know it's shallow but it's true), my sense of belonging. Recently, 2 women (only women would say this to another woman) made some comment to me that 'I don't work,' and I thought, only someone who knows me for a very short time would actually say that to me - and then I realized, they only know me for a very short time. They know very little of what has driven me for many years, even if I didn't follow a tradional career trajectory that reads easily on a CV.

What to do about all this? Nothing, I realize. Thing about it, talk about it, but not dwell on it too much. Let this 2nd year here unfold, with whatever surprises good and bad will come our way. Maybe we'll find our moorings and fasten the tent posts to some community and maybe we'll continue in this peripatetic way - the 'wandering Jews,' in our homeland but not at home yet.

Shana Tova

Blogging vacation the past month or so. It's been the calm down from Jess's adventurous summer, the end of the 'big vacation' as they call it here - day trips with the big boys and a few smaller trips with Akiva and the big boys. The final visits of the summer - Penny and Sarah Owen, the Chevan family. Excellent archeology moments with the big boys - Herodian, Beit Guvrin. A very long, but enjoyable walk through the Old City with Penny and Sarah. Meals, scotch, chitchat, enjoyed with the Chevans and both boys had more opportunities to hang with the kids.

As Rosh Hashanah approached, though, I felt concerned about the whole shul issue. Where would we go, which place would satisfy our needs during the holiday period? High Holidays are different than regular Shabbatot. I, for one, as does Ira, have a desire to hear a certain kind of prayer/davening during the high holidays. I want to hear Ashkenazic litergy, I want to yah buh buh in the way that I have for many years. While I wasn't expecting to be back in Bklyn, and I knew that Kane Streeters weren't going to be hearing Ray this year - although having met and heard Boaz, I had a feeling that people would, for the most part, be pleased - but I was looking for something that would at least have a familiar feel.

My parents were coming to Jess's house (Daniel's in Toronto, doing a RH/YK gig). Ok, that meant that we were davening in part at Beit Boyer, sometimes called Beit Boring, an average Orthodox place of prayer. It has the sex appeal of an MK that davens there, Melchior, who also serves a 'Rabbi' of the community. This is a title of honor, but it does mean that he sets a certain tone and often speaks - but his tone is a friendly and open one. Beit Boyer is a friendly place, with a decent amount of Anglos, and we know people locally who daven there. Each day, my parents would be there, with a representative keeping them company. We bought our tickets and wondered what it would be like. Jess and I menu-planned. Boys baked. Akiva sang songs. Ira and I shopped and cooked.

The Friday before RH, we got the call from Mayanot - Conservative Egal. I was asked to read Torah on 2nd day and Ira to daven mincha on Day 1. We hemmed and hawed. Everything that Mayanot does, they do at the last minute. There's a certain beauty to their method as they always pull it off - just at the skin of their teeth. I had already sworn that I would say no to any last minute jobs, but gee, reading Torah 2nd day? Akedah story of Isaac? It's my favorite, literally sends chills down my spine to read it. We accepted. We were curious anyway to see how services would be for us this year, when we weren't as shell shocked as we were last year for the holidays. Setting up chairs on Tuesday night at Mayanot - rubbing the dust off with a damp towel, we wondered if last minute wasn't such a good idea but 'in for a penny, in for a pound.' Besides, the boys like the familiarity of Mayanot and it's very comfortable with Akiva. Anything goes at Mayanot - from the barefoot kids running around with their bags of bamba in tow, to the easy going friendliness of the constituents (a rarity in these parts we've found), to the interesting mix of Americans and Israelis (yes, real live Israelis) who come to daven there.

Shira Hadasha was out, at least for me, for RH. Jessica would get there on Day one though. Truth was, Ira and I had gone there last year and had been underwelmed. While the t'filah was, as always, delivered with meaning and thought, the style of song wasn't Ashkenazi enough for us. It was sort of 'Carlebach goes RH,' and it left us wanting more. Their shofar blower was nothing special, although Jessica assured me that they had someone new this year who was reputed to be quite good.

Natan and I went to Beit Boyer on Day 1. After feeling sort of unsettled for the first 1/2 hour or so - why was I in a shul that I never normally go to and how will I feel comfortable - I settled in and began to enjoy myself. I smiled at a few people (my good friend Karyn and her girls were behind me, and I know some other faces from the neighborhood, etc), chatted briefly with the nice South African lady next to me (she's been here 37 years), and began to enjoy myself. The davening was completely Ashkenazic and familiar. The shofar blower, while not approaching Rena's virtuosity, was good and his shofar had an interestingly mournful tone and his blowing style was quite assured. My mother and I liked the air-conditioning, which was its usual galactic temperature (in the Beit Boyer email, which arrives every Fri, they list what that week's temp will be so that everyone can come 'dressed for their comfort') and we liked the Ba'al Mussaf, who had a certain gravitas suited to the day. Turns out he's a Brit. Melchior gave a good drash, looking over at us ladies, as much as he looked at the guys.

Day 2, I went to Mayanot. Aside from the sound of the bouncing basketballs outside on the court, the tefillot were said with meaning and seriousness. The leadership suffered from a bit of 'atonality' but what can you do? The shofar blowing was marred by a problematic shofar with a small opening. No problem. By the end of the service, a runner had been dispatched to someone's home and returned with a better shofar and the final blasts were delivered with force and enjoyment - no more dying moose to serenade us with. We were hosting 'Nativnicks,' post High School kids here in Israel for the year with a program though the Conservative movement. Natan recognized 2 girls from his choir singing with Hazamir in NYC and happily trotted off to Alan and Lisa's for lunch - Gabe, too, so that they could sing/discuss their way through the repertoire.

So what was the problem? I don't know. Maybe it was too 'loosey goosey' for me. Maybe it was too small a minyan - Mayanot suffers from the Kane St problem of nobody around until Torah reading (shacharit is really the 'added service' not mussaf in the Conservative movement). Mayanot has plugged away at being a viable source of egalitarian Judaism for years and yet, they remain, unsung, without a permanent home, forever the forgotten minyan in the area. Sometimes, I think they like it that way - they like it smaller and more modest and with a definite emphasis on involvement within, otherwise they wouldn't be able to make it happen week after week. I feel that they deserve better, should want better, should demand better, from themselves, the movement, the local kehillah/community in general.

I hear you - get involved, Beth, you can do it, you can change things, shake things up a bit, etc. Somehow, I just can't yet. It seems scary and strange and I'm just not ready to expose myself like that yet. I would like to work to the development of the Cons egal community here - raise money, get us a perm home, etc. Ok, that's involvement but it's for a cause and a good one at that. More on this for my next post.

In short, Shana Tova to all of you. A year of health, fun, visits to Israel (if you can) or meeting in Europe (haven't explored this possib enough yet but am trying to work out a meet in Budapest idea with Erszi), and in general, life in all of it's complications.