Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Block is Back

I'm sitting in my living room on a Sunday night.  A quiet evening with my brother.  He's making dinner.  A miss-match of leftovers reheated to perfection.  There are so many things that I want to write about.  The middle east is like a pot of water about to boil over.  Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Egypt... Prisoner X... the new Knesset and what the new governments and coalitions will look like... rock throwing... adverted terrorist attacks... Hamas... rocket drills... kids playing with fire crackers... the list goes on and on.

Enter my profound writer's block.  With an endless list of topics, I am left with nothing to write.

Thankfully I've been lost in the simchot (happiness) that the Hebrew month of Adar has brought me.  I have been overjoyed to have my great Aunt and great Uncle here visiting from America.  We spent wonderful time together in Jerusalem.  My friend gave birth to a beautiful little boy.  The brit milah (ritual circumcision) is on Wednesday.  I am likely to spend time in America visiting family and friends that I have not seen in over two years.  I will probably get to spend Passover with all 3 of my siblings in Portland... the first time we will have all been together in over three years.  I'm beside myself with the idea of spending a chag (holiday) with them.

I'm insatiably excited about the idea of seeing my family and friends in America.  I can't wait to see the Pacific Ocean, a Laker game, my friends, my Grandparents, my Dad, my sisters.  On the other hand I'm incredibly nervous about this trip.  Time, life, experiences change people.  Living in Israel for the better part of the last three years has changed me.  I'm surely not the same person I was four years ago managing a Starbucks Coffee house.  I'm surely not the same person I was 10 years ago living in Los Angeles, working in Beverly Hills.  My nervous excitement to see familiar faces makes me want to count down the days until my flight leaves.  The days until I make it to Grandparents dining room table to sit and talk and reminisce.

It's an amazing feeling to move 10,000 miles away, fully immerse in a culture, learn a new language, choose a new career, start a new life, be a new person.  No preconceived notions.  No history.  All future.  Bad habits have been kicked and new ones started.  Priorities and passions have changed.

Here, in Israel, I am so American.  I'm told that people can tell I'm American because I say "please" and "thank you", along with the fact that I actually slow down for speed bumps.  I just know that in America, I will feel so Israeli.  My struggle over the past three years has been embracing change while keeping my own roots.  I know who I am and where I came from.  Without the familiar faces and conversations, memories tend to fade and get stored away in a file called "a different life".  I have trouble melding them all together.  

Thank Gd, for the most part I really love my life.  I have a roof over my head, food in the refrigerator, and a few shekels in my pocket.  I'm good to go.  

It's all part of the adventure.  All I can do is hold on tight and enjoy the ride.  

Although my writer's block's grip is chocking back the words I truly want to express, I don't think I have much more to say.  I am excited about what the future has in store.  The holiday of Purim is in a week, plane tickets are being bought, and travel is on the horizon.  

Have a safe Purim, and enjoy the Hebrew month of Adar... a month of happiness!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Going Up

This week, in honor of the two year anniversary of alliyah (immigration to Israel), I would like to share a piece of writing that I did for a creative writing class I'm taking in Tekoa... Enjoy!


It's been two years, as of today... February 9th, since I stepped off that El Al flight into Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv.  Two years since that completely anti-climatic first day as an Israeli citizen.  "Here you are, Miss Neal.  It's your Teudat Oleh (new immigrant card).  You're now an Israeli citizen," the woman said in a 'matter-of-fact' way.

There was no one dramatically kissing the ground like I was told there would be, blessing the holy ground of Israel.  Although my dad said they did on his trip to Israel, no one sang "Hatikvah" (Israeli national anthem) as the plane landed.  I was 29 years old and traveling alone, moving alone to the other side of the planet.  As if some sort of Divine tweezers picked me up out of Bakersfield, California and plopped me down in a West Bank village in Israel.  Now, two years later, I find myself sitting in my cousin's living room listening to friends and family play music.

It's in moments like these, when I find myself lost in the beat of gypsy jazz, Israeli folk songs, and classic rock that I take account of both my blessings and how much my life has changed.  In my cousin's living room with people who less than three years ago I didn't know at all, I feel at home.  The wood burning stove and peach colored couches fill me with familiarity and a sense of belonging.  The roughly 20 neighbors and friends all crowed into the living room singing along creates a feeling of intimacy and love.

"L'chaiim!"  To life.  Another round of shots are poured as toasts are made to a new week, a good week, a week of peace.  May gladness rain, and joy increase.

This picture, this love filled living room reminds me of why I picked this place to live.  My yishuv (village) is a mixed community of religious and non-religious Jews; Ashkenazim (those of European decent) and Sephardim (those of Middle Eastern decent); French, Russian, North American, and Australian Jews; Israelis of several generations and new immigrants.  The common factor is a love of Israel:  Zionism.  My kippah (skull cap) wearing tarbuka playing friend sitting near my secular guitar playing cousin illuminates some of the many reasons I choose to live in a "settlement".

I never knew how lost I was.  I never knew how much I longed for a Jewish community.  I never knew how badly I wanted to forge a new life.  It's impossible to know how lost you are until you are found.  It's impossible to know what was missing in life, until that void has been filled.  It's impossible to know how desperate my need was for a drastic change until I made one.  Now, to the beat of tarbukah (African drums) and the melodies of the piano, guitar, violin, mandolin, and harp... I am found.  Now, as I sit together with new friends and family I know that this is where I'm meant to be.  That Ha'Shem had a plan for me all along.

Although I think some people in America think I've gone crazy, I know the truth.  They watch gruesome news articles depicting zealous hill top settlers, toting guns, at war with Arab neighbors.  That must be where they think I've moved.  To some remote desert outpost, plotting the demise of everyone who doesn't think like me, act like me, pray like me.  As the music continues to play, I laugh to myself.  They don't see what I see.  They don't know what I know.  Yes, now I live in the desert on the other side of the "green line" in a small community in Judea, called Tekoa.  I live simply and peacefully with new neighbors and friends.

As I sit together with friends in this room so far away from what I called home I flash back to what my life used to be.  Fancy cars, meeting celebrities and wearing high heels feels like a whole other life time ago.  Hitch hiking, wiping runny noses and sensible walking shoes is my new life.  My life has transformed from discussions over the latest trend or celebrity sighting to talks about the peace process and where I am finding myself "religiously".

Now, after spending the majority of the last few years in Israel, I find myself on a path of religious, spiritual and political exploration and enlightenment.  Although I'm still figuring it all out for myself I know that in a country of every type of Jew I could ever think of I can find what is right for me.  I feel as though it is our obligation as human beings, not just Jews, to find truth.  Truth, meaning and enlightenment for ourselves, not for anyone else... just for us as individuals.  I think it's enormously important to ask questions and find purpose in our lives.  To find a place within ourselves for openness and acceptance.  A place of love, peace and harmony even if it means moving to the other side of the world to do it.

As we enter the Hebrew month of Adar we should remember that this is the month of happiness and joy.  I bless you all to find as much as I have of both in the coming month! 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Anti Semitism

The rise in anti-semitic, anti-zionistic, anti-Israel, anti-Jewish rhetoric circling the web is nothing short of disturbing and disgusting.  Last Sunday, which is International Holocaust Memorial Day and the day that marks the liberation of Auschwitz, The Sunday Times of UK ran the following political cartoon.

As one can plainly see, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is depicted building a wall using the blood of Palestinian men and women.  Staring at this picture I am incredibly filled with anger and disappointment that only a short 72 years after the Holocaust officially began we seem to have lost sight as to what began this tragic time in history altogether.  A time when the world seemed to have lost all sense humanity.  What began as political cartoons in newspapers throughout Europe quickly turned into the systematic murder of millions of men, women, and children.  Families were sent to their deaths in concentration camps, like Auschwitz, where they were gassed and bodies burned.  Political cartoons such as this one, are echos of a not so distant past.  A traumatic, to say the least, time in history when the world went mad.  Will we ever learn?  Will we ever understand that to be part of the human race means to be humane?  To be caring and loving towards one another.  To stand up for what is good and right.  To have the fundamental right to exist.  

Auschwitz -where millions of lives were lost during WWII.

Tyrannical regimes like, Iran, Syria, and Russia (just to name a few) are consistently denying that there even was a Holocaust.  Denying that millions of people were enslaved into forced labor until there was nothing left but lifeless bodies waiting to die.  They call us the zionist problem of the middle east.  Us.  Israel.  The only true democracy in the middle east that fights for human rights, while defending her own right to exist.  The only place in the middle east that Christians, Jews, and Arabs can all be citizens and freely worship the Divine Entity that they call their own.  Christians and Jews have been driven out of nearly every Muslim country in the middle east, where religious freedom is unheard of.  Where elections are rigged and whomever has the most money can grab up power and call themselves "leaders".

Open your eyes!  Wake up!  What is happening in the world all around us is unacceptable.

"First they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist. 
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me."  -Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

We are supposed to be an evolved race, the human race.  We have technology at the tips of our fingers. We have modern science that can be used to save lives, stop hunger, and poverty.  Yet, still somehow the Jewish people are the focus of world events.  For what?  For nothing more than the notion of right to exist.  As the "chosen people", I have often pondered what we have been chosen for.  To be an international scapegoat?  To be a nation of people that are an easy target?  Why, because we look funny?  We wear little skull caps, have big dangling side burns, cover our hair, and dress modestly?  We pray in an ancient language?  We have the same rituals, traditions, and holy books for thousands of years?

Because I have blond hair and blue eyes, I was never personally a victim of anti-semitism.  I guess I don't "look Jewish".  Whatever that means.  I don't have a big hook nose?  My devil horn are hidden under my wavy hair that's not curly enough to be "Jewish"?  Not personally being a victim of persecution doesn't make it any easier to be around.  How do people stand by idly touting freedom of speech, which is truly freedom of hatred... freedom of incitement and ignorance.  This is not freedom.  This is what it's like being shackled to misinformation, misconception, and ignorance.  This is not open mindedness and tolerance.  This does not support the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Recently I came across a fantastic group called, Toldot Yisrael who are helping to get out the truth about the history of the state of Israel.  Much like CAMERA is doing to ensure accurate news reporting in the middle east, and Free Middle East are doing to create awareness as to the truth about Israel.

Educate yourselves.  Find your truth and stand up for what you believe in.  Stand up for freedom.  Stand up for humanity.  Stand up for justice.  Knowledge is power and believe me, those looking to brainwash you into a lemming like state of hypnosis will do so at every twist and turn in the road.  

A Bravery Fiercer than Death

After now living in Israel as an Israeli citizen for 2 years I am proud and humbled to be part of something as special as this.  Crawling out from the crematoriums in Europe to arrive here, in the promised land is greatest of all blessings.  Listen up world, we have every right to exist and we will continue to do so through every face of adversity.  Every confrontation only makes us stronger and more ready to stand up for ourselves and what is right.  Never again.