Friday, November 2, 2012
Wearing New Shoes...
From the drive to the food, from the people to the shoes, everything feels different. The world feels different. I feel different. This time, I know I will be back again and again and again, all year long. More than just a visit, this is the beginning of a journey to citizenship, back to the motherland, to the State, Land and People of Israel. What is most amazing though is that I feel the differences the most in the small things. Perhaps my senses are heightened or maybe, just maybe, I am different.
The drive from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem in a taxi is one I made a hundred times before. Like Persimmon Road in Clayton, Georgia or Buckatabon Road in Conover, Wisconsin, I can drive this with my eyes closed. On previous trips, I quivered with the anticipation of a tourist. Now, I look forward, excited, with the eyes of a soon to be citizen. Rather than visiting, I feel the pulse of coming to a new home. My taxi driver, Lazer, asks why I am here. I tell him about my new job and our Aliyah in August 2013. Like most Israelis, he wants to know why in the world I am leave America, The Goldeneh Medinah, to come here where everything is so hard. In fact, he tells me that he is thinking that 25 years in Israel, coming from Tajikistan, is enough. He is considering moving to America. By the time I am done with my personal, and perhaps naive, Zionist narrative, he is saying: "Kol HaKavod! Who am I kidding? This is my home. I can't leave."
My Achilles' tendons have been bothering me for months. A visit to an ankle specialist in the US, six months overdue, sends me to a physical therapist. At the end of my visit, she looks at my gym shoes, tells me they are not right and hands me a list of shoes and styles that will be better. She tells me that the more I can walk around barefoot the better. The next best thing, in her opinion, are sandals.
"Flip flops?" I ask, my arch-enemy as a camp director.
"No! Good sandals." She replies.
"Have you ever heard of Teva, Naot?" I retort, fully prepared for a "no" as the therapist is not a Hebrew speaker, an Israeli, or Jewish for that matter.
"That is exactly what I mean. They form to your feet. Great for your ankles."
I don't ever recall wearing sandals as regular shoes. In fact, other than wearing them on Shabbat at Ramah Darom making my way down to the pool, I cannot remember wearing sandals at all. I don't even like walking barefoot. Sandals? She might as well demand that I eat okra every day. But, as soon as I got here, I met our friend Zahava for coffee and she accompanied me to buy my first pair of sandals.
Now, I walk to and from the office more conscious of my gait and posture, trying to stand straighter and look ahead rather than downward. My heightened awareness leads to noticing small things along the way: how the flowers on Emek Refa'im/Keren HaYesod smell different in the fall than in the winter when I usually visit; the Eritrean weddings, replete with elaborate costumes, taking place in the park next to Yemin Moshe on Shabbat Mornings; and even the way my feet feel as they strike the floor in the Shuk Mahane Yehuda as I go eat at an Indian vegetarian restaurant that is giving up its kashrut certification rather than conceding to the near extortion mashgichim are demanding by forcing them to buy vegetables from only four stands in the shuk.
And, wouldn't you know it, in the end my feet feel better.
Coming to visit, to interview and, later, to train shlichim, I always felt the need to eat fleishigs (meat) as much as possible. While there are a few good kosher meat restaurants in Chicago, they are a schlepp from the city and the variety is limited. Here, however, I can eat kosher Indian, Thai, Moroccan, French, Italian and virtually every other cuisine you can imagine. As a visitor, I wanted to be so fleishig that upon return to the US, I would feel fleishig for months. Moreover, most meat restaurants in Israel have excellent desserts which I used to dutifully eat at the end of each meal.
This time, I find myself making different choices. I eat fish as often as I eat meat. I eat smaller portions. I am more conscious of what I order. I almost never eat dessert. I eat more vegetables and fruit and they taste sweeter and richer than anything I buy back in Lakeview. These differences may seem silly but for me, they represent the shift from tourism visits to home building, from guest to resident, from foreigner to citizen.
I walk past the Old City of Jerusalem, in my sandals of course, and see The Dome of The Rock sitting on The Temple Mount. According to tradition, The Beit HaMikdash was built on the spot where Abraham took Isaac, bound him to the altar and almost offered him up as a sacrifice. At the last moment, God intervened through the voice of an angel and Abraham spotted a ram caught up in a thicket and offered it up in place of Isaac. The midrash teaches that this same spot, on the top of Mount Moriah, is where two brothers bumped into each other to discover that they had been helping one another anonymously. Mt. Moriah is the place of brotherly Peace, of human-Divine connection, of שלימות and שלום. As I walk, looking at The Temple Mount, it looks different and I feel different. I won't have to take in the vision so that it will sustain me for another year. I will be able to walk by any time I want to catch a glimpse.
Today, Mt. Moriah looks different. It isn't different. The eyes that look toward it are different. I am different. I, and my family, are about to become part of the first experiment in Jewish sovereignty since 70 C.E. We will be part of all of the blessings and the challenges. Things that used to bother me but that I refrained from commenting on or working to change precisely because I was not a citizen will now be my problems to speak up about and act to try and change, like eating at the Indian restaurant. Laws that I found problematic in theory will now be problematic in reality. It will be my job to join others to insure that Israel is an אור לגוים, a light unto the nations. And the things that I love about Israel, that fill my soul, that heighten my spirit will be here every day to invigorate me with a greater sense of purpose.
This trip is different. And, more importantly, I am different too.