Thursday, October 11, 2012

Settling In

Moving In, Part One
After three wonderful weeks in New York, Arnon and I are settling into our new apartment in Haifa and setting things up. So far, it has been an adventure of mishaps and crazy situations. The first day, when I was moving things from the car, I saw this curlyheaded guy watching me through his window. Then, as I was hauling a heavy box, he popped his head from the window and yelled, "Bruchim habaim!" --welcome-- so loudly I almost dropped my load and disappeared as quickly as he had come.

I went through the gate and wound myself into the building and passed his apartment just as the door swung open. "Hello, neighbor, when did you move in?" a second guy asked. Arnon stepped out just as the man opened the door wider to reveal his full glory. Teetering beside us was a disheveled, scrappy-haired man with at least five face piercings, two in his chin, two in his nose, and one in his brow, a stained,  white wifebeater crumpled above his protruding, jiggling belly, and bare legs beneath white, equally stained underwear.  We're not exactly sure what the roommate situation entails and are guessing that the curly-haired one is no older than 24 and the underwear man is in his mid-thirties. They insisted we "tour" their ashtray-smelling apartment, which is three times bigger than ours, full of broken, dirty things, and hardly more furniture than their hookah, cigarette butts, and sound system. Above us are apartments of old people, Russians, people with loud crying children, and religious folks. That pretty much summarizes the neighborhood we have chosen. It is sure to be an interesting year... :)

We chose this exact location because we are trying to be accepted into a new community of young academics who if chosen, will be compensated with a large sum of money towards rent each month in turn for some hours of volunteer work in order to revitalize the area. If we're accepted, we'll have a new group of fascinating, passionate people to meet, only $125 a month in rent between the two of us, and the opportunity to do something good for others. If we're not chosen then we'll be kind of bummed that we had to limit ourselves to certain streets with old, broken-down apartments such as ours.

Moving into apartment also has revealed a myriad of "exciting" revalations. Things are not like in America, to say the least. Apartments don't neccessarily come with ovens, regridgerators, much less with an air conditioner or washing machine. We have some of those things ourselves but none of them exactly work in the apartment. In addition, there are hardly any electrical outlets, wavy walls that we only noticed when trying to hang things (yes, I said wavy), and strange knicknacks to be found in old furniture. When we hang things they keep falling, when we go to buy things we can't find them, and nothing fits exactly in the space that we have.

At the moment we have two unplugged ovens and no range, two tvs, a sound system, and speakers that are from the 80's, a wall that is so dusty that the shelves keep falling from their reinforced brackets (hopefully Arnon has fixed that situation), our washing machine is temporarily in the kitchen and waiting to be moved to the balcony however we have no electricity there to hook it up at the moment, we had to hang our shower curtain from a string, and we have cleaned hundreds of cobwebs, calcified bugshells and animal dung, and spent days organizing and trying to set everything up.

It does have its charms though-- there are two wonderful balconies, one that we plan to make a cozy sitting area with scented, climbing vines, flowers, cooking herbs, lanterns, and such; in our bedroom one whole wall is covered from floor to ceiling with storage. There are fun shelves, nooks, drawers, and ingenious hanging devices the like that only existed years ago, and in the kitchen is an old small window with a small ledge that peeps out to the hallway from the days when milk was delivered from home to home. And despite the lack of electrical outlets, a nonstop howling dog on one side and sounds of children and groups of prayer on the other side, our strange mishmosh of weird circa-70's furniture, and lack of ways to cook, we are very happy to be together. Now if we could just avoid the next disaster, we will be on our way to domestic bliss...

Our Work In Progress

I wish we had had the forethought to take before and after pictures, but just believe me when I say that these pictures represent a gigantic improvement:

Putting up the shelves, take two

The bedroom

Three pieces of fabric later, we have a new couch!

A peek at the balcony

Our bathroom- notice the googly-eyed toilet paper holder

The biggest work in progress, the kitchen

Here we are so far!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Year Two, Trying to "Lizrom"

There is a phrase that is all at once antithetical to an American perfectly normal to an Israeli that seems to pronounce itself in every strain of Israeli society, to creep up in the strain of a casual conversation, and make itself known at work, when making plans, and in every other aspect of typical Israeli life, and it is lizrom, to "go with the flow. " To the typical American, this phrase can already feel overwhelming, with our ten-year plans, schedules, and playdates, but to the super-organized, intricitely-planning, big picture envisioning type, with her handy, organized, and colorcoded planner firmly at her hip, synchronied and labeled calendar (once again, color-coded) on her phone, computer, and floating in the "Cloud" somewhere in cyberspace, the phrase lizrom, to "go with the flow" takes on an added apprehension-swallowing horror. Go with the flow??? Just go with it?? Don't plan ahead? Just see what happens next? NEVER! But this, indeed, is what I have been doing ever since I made the decision nearly five months ago to stay in Israel to live with my sweet, handsome boyfriend, Arnon.

To some, after a hair longer than a month of meeting him, a decision this astronomical would involve some sleepless nights and wagging "what-do-you-think-you're-doing" fingers in the air, but to me, this decision was the only one I could make. And I knew it was the right one when the second I made it my tense shoulders loosened, my spine lengthened, and my worried frown softened into a glowing smile. Yes, all my friends had joked that I would meet someone in Israel and stay there. And yes, I had joked with them. But I honestly never really believed that it would actually happen. And then, on the same day that I definitively decided that after this ONE-year fellowship I was indeed proving all the jokesters wrong and began planning what I would do once in New York, I met him.

We met on a crowded festival street one night after I came for a day of work to the Haifa Museum of Art. I climbed the stairs through the alley from the museum with my friend Adi to Masada Street. Crowds of people walked in between jugglers, food and beer vendors, flashing decorations, and small children chasing after twinkling toy trucks that zipped around their parents' feet. Adi and I walked around chatting and looking at the food. In the middle of the street, a little way up ahead we saw a large circle of people dressed all in white surrounding two others also in white who seemed to be performing some sort of tribal breakdance mixed with karate. Behind them in part of the circle sat five people playing different foreign instruments made of gourds, wood, and strings. They were playing and chanting a monotone yet rhythmic song as the two performers circled around one another. Adi tugged on my sleeve and pointed to one of the musicians, banging happily on a drum. 'That's my neighbor,' she explained. I stole a second glance, took in a clump of shining curls on the bobbing head, and shrugged. 'What are they doing?' I asked her. She pursed her lips and said that it was capoeira, a type of fight dancing. She said they were from Portugal. We watched for a bit, she waved good bye to her neighbor, and we moved on.

A few minutes later, the same curly-haired guy came over to Adi to say hello. He had a sweet, happy smile and kind blue eyes. 'How do you say hello in Portugeuse?' asked him, very fascinated in what had drawn someone from Portugal to come to live in Israel. He looked at me quizzically and said, 'I don't know,' and smiled his sweet smile again. I searched his face confusedly as he began to answer my questions about capoeira in flowing, fluent Hebrew and it slowly dawned on me that he was Israeli, not Portuguese. I laughed at my misunderstanding and we strolled through the streetfair, our surroundings slowly dimming into a light buzz in the background as we became more engrossed in conversations. Eventually, we lost track of Adi and disappeared into the crowd, laughing, talking, and sharing stories. I have no idea what we talked about but I remember the immediate connection I felt and the way he threw his whole body into the dance when he pulled me into a salsa circle, my face hot and red from all the eyes watching me dance with this stranger who had already become a friend.

About ten minutes later, a frantic Adi finally located us and we all made our way to the other side of the festival to join a clump of jumping, shouting teens in front of a loud punk rock band up on a platform stage. As we danced, the songs vibrating through our chests, I was suddenly taken up with a chill and hugged my colorful purple shirt tighter into my burgundy courduroy coat. Arnon looked at me and asked if I was cold. He reached out and gently touched my hand and pulled it between his two palms and slowly rubbed it warm. At that instant an electric tremor charged through me and all the noise, music, drumbeats, smells of food, and the crowd fell away so that all I saw were his warm, shining blue eyes and handsome face.

That was six months ago. Since then all of my original plans have been carefully placed back in their puzzle box and instead I have taken on a life that is forcing me to "lizrom." In the span of a mere two months, I packed up my Jerusalem apartment, moved to Haifa, made aliyah, set up an Israeli bank account, went on job interviews, chased connections and ran from meeting to meeting to try to find a job, been shaken by my Saba's funeral, flown to Paris, planned an elaborate gallery show and play as a culmination with my students in the moadonit, finalized the curriculum I created for JDC-Israel, flown to Sweden and Norway, searched for a new apartment, gone home to New York for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, moved and begun setting up the new apartment, and continued on my job search. Every day I have woken up with one set of expectations and gone to sleep with a completely new result, perspective, and path for the next day. What I think will be one hour changes into a completely different situation in the hour that follows, and everything that I seek out leads to a completely new reality: each and every day.

So I am learning to "lizrom." And lizrom I will try to do, but I will still keep my colorcoded planner hidden safely in my bag.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tying Up the Ends

It has been a long and interesting two months since I last wrote. My life has been turned upside-down, with all the excitement and sadness that goes with it. With the passing of my Saba, a chapter of my life has ended and with it a large piece of the childhood I have always known, but with it new beginnings have lit my way and I am in the tumult of great transition. One nice solace are the pictures I snapped photos of from the years gone by. Here are a few:

With my Savta, wearing her roses for my birthday

On my Saba and Savta's steps

Baking with Savta


My beautiful Savta when she was younger than I am now!

My first painting to be displayed in a gallery show
 While Israel will never be the same as it once was when my grandparents were alive, I will always have the experiences I shared with them embedded on me, in me, within me. Maybe it's better that way. All things must end, isn't that what people say? And after my experience as a fellow with JDC, I have seen different prisms in the spectrum of Israeli society; the good and the ugly, the profound and the silly, the crazy customs and in-your-face feeling of family you can't find anywhere else and the happy tranquility of gazing at the dusty white stones of buildings thousands of years old. I have learned about immigration issues, population problems, the dire situation of youth at risk from all colors of society--Russian, Ethiopian, Arab, Religious, Secular, American, French--we are all one piece of the fabric of this land. I have seen great goodness in the simple gesture of a young teenage boy helping an old man climb onto the bus and witnessed the ruckus and tumble of impatient drivers honking their horn at the air; I have been on lines that crowd into one steady spilled pulp on the sidewalk and navigated my way to the front, learning how to knock some elbows shamelessly on my way; I have felt the power of a strong family unit, one that holds each other up during the hardest and happiest times; I have learned to open my mouth and risk saying something stupid rather than not saying anything at all because I am scared of making a mistake; I have learned to laugh off the feeling of always being 'other' in a land where I am surrounded by my own. I have seen, breathed, smelled, witnessed, felt the energy of thousands of lives swaying together on one collossal ship that is the Jewish people and all of the noise and pinching and poking and laughter and smiles and good energy that comes with it. We are sailing through a sea of sharks, one of rough waters that is nonetheless sweet with the smell of rose water wafting through the air and good times ahead, always looking forward, looking back if only to learn, and planning for the moment not for tomorrow. I still use my schedule and I still have trouble rolling my r's but I do so with the pride of being one more piece in the puzzle that makes up the country of the Jewish people.

I have made friends with my family and created a family of my friends, picked my way closer to the rough and grit that is real life and continued to try to make those lemons into sweet lemonana (lemonade with mint, a popular delicious drink). But here despite the fact that the sabra plant has its thorns, it is also already so sweet and ripe for the picking. That's how I feel here in Israel. Always on the cusp of something great and standing on the grounds of history that have built us up before. Each story is connected to the other and every Israeli knows the other's friend. I don't know where my particular story will end but I know where it began, and it was here, started with the simple dream to establish a Jewish State, that took my grandparents across a war and camps and battles to finally realize their dream of a proud, accomplished, Israeli, Jewish family. And that we are. We will see where we will go from here.

And now for a glimpse of the past two crazy months (and an excuse, I hope, for why I haven't written until now). The dust has finally *begun* to settle:

-Sat shiva with family and friends, talked, laughed, cried, reminisced, and been touched tenfold by the outpouring of love and affection that graced me during this difficult time.
-Learned to be a little more Israeli and simply invited myself over to the homes of those I care for.
-Begun a journey of greater flexibility and going-with-flow attitude, sometimes triumphing and mostly failing, but I'm hanging in there.
-Talked a lot more on the phone. Whenever my fingers itch to call my Saba, instead I am channeling that energy into talking more with others who I care about. So far so good.

-Spent a lovely distraction of four days in Paris with my grandparents, changing dresses every half day, strolling the streets, wandering through museums, eating delicious food, sharing stories, going shopping, taking lots of pictures, catching up with some family, and eating more really good food.
-Realized when I landed that Israel will simply never be the same again. It's sad. I will never have to rush to the bathroom in the Ben Gurion airport to freshen up so that when I see Saba and Savta's smiling faces, I will feel ready to greet them. It's also a new opportunity. I can create a new Israel for myself now.
Rooftop view of the opera house

At the Louvre, although you can't tell

Me and my crepe!

Dinner by the Eiffel

With my grandpapa

Wandering into the Rodin Museum

My wonderful grandparents

A view from the carousel by the Toullieries Garden

Place D'Concorde

-Fallen deeper and deeper in love.
-Gone on a magical trip through Sweden and Norway with my sweetheart. Every small village was overflowing with crystal blue lakes, rising majestic mountains with waterfalls splashing from almost every peak, glaciers, rain that led to many a rainbow, flowing rivers with hints at the vibrant wildlife flitting among the waves, hikes, warm smiles, camping, woods, the midnight sun, laughter, and many piles of white plastic-covered (we think it was) wheat on every farm we passed. We slept in our cozy little tent (in the rain, cold, wind, and yet it was warm), cooked wild salmon outdoors overlooking a breathtaking lake that shifted colors beneath the late evening sun, and collected memories.
-Returned to a reality that overwhelmed me only to be wrapped up in the arms of good friends, colleagues, and my wonderful caring family.
-Met my boyfriend's friends and family, slowly but surely, and begun to partake in the sweet work of intertwining our lives.

(The following pictures are crazy out of order, but still nice for your perusing pleasure):

Yes, that is my boyfriend you see standing on his head!
Beautiful island in the Stockholm archipelago

The Stockholm Synagogue

Hold on to that rainbow!
We were just driving by, minding our own business...

Can this country maybe stop being so beautiful?

The longest tunnel in Europe, 1/2 hour long drive

Our fresh salmon meal

View of our hotel

My cousin's 100 year old grandmother's childhood home

Random stint in Warsaw
Skansen Zoo and Botanical Garden

Where the Great Synagogue of Warsaw once stood

The remainder of the Warsaw Ghetto

We made it to the top!!

-Undertaken the staggering challenge of job searching through connections and "protectsia" that rules the land. Connection led to connection led to connection led to maybes, interesting stories, some strange instances, and so far still just ideas. But good ideas.
-Learned how many people care about me and want to help me.
-Packed up and moved my life to Haifa.
-Searched for an apartment.
-Interviewed. Sometimes arrived at what I thought was an interview and it just wasn't.
-Tried to be accepted into a new community of academics that will revitalize the neighborhood of Hadar in Haifa. Been limited in apartment searches because of that.

-Made aliyah! I am an official citizen of Israel with the right to vote, her own bank account, soon to be Israeli credit card (and hopefully job that pays for said assumed future charges), an identification number, and new responsibilities.

-Planned my trip to New York! Soon, for the holidays, I get to see all of my friends and family back at home. What could be sweeter?
-Taken the capabilities of skype to a new level. 

Doors open and close. Paths change and divide. I am over-swept by new tastes, sounds, ideas.  I don't know where I'll be in a few months or what I will be doing. I don't know who I will still meet. But I do know that I will be somewhere warm and happy, full of color and fun, new ideas and challenges, and who knows what else?

Thank you for following me throughout this vivid year. This is only the beginning.

Shana tova to all! I can't believe we are here again so soon. 

This one's for you, Saba. I love you.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Saying Good Bye

What I forgot to tell you. In the midst of all of the tumult described in my last post, trips, mourning, new exciting plans for the future, and everything that came in between, I have wrapped up my year as a JSC Fellow in Israel.

At both of the moadoniyot where I worked, I have been blessed to meet a staff with hearts as big as the breadth of their smiles. These are warm, passionate, dedicated, hardworking, caring people who truly make a difference in the young lives of children who so desperately need them. For my part, this year was one where the old cliche rang true- I learned much more from those little people than they learned from me. I tutored many in ESL and math. I worked with all of them on their emotional awareness, coping skills, and future interactions. I opened their eyes to the history, people, and techniques that bring color to the world through art. Together, we worked hard, fought, laughed, yelled, went crazy, fell asleep, got squeezed into heart stopping hugs, and created beautiful things that made the world a bit brighter. And throughout the process, I learned more about my capabilities, instinct to help and learn and grow, and made many friends along the way.

The Festivities Begin

The end of the year was full of celebrations, parties, ceremonies, tears, laughter, emotion, pride, and the most important part, the fruits of the year's labor. It was incredible to watch parents and children's faces alike when they walked around together to view the completed artwork at each of the art exhibits that I helped to organize. The first was in Haifa, organized by the Museum of Art in Haifa where the program originated. They celebrated their success this year with a large ceremony with the families of 15 moadoniyot throughout Haifa and invited many public and municipality leaders and officials. There were presentations and speeches, refreshments, and a beautiful display of the work of every moadonit. I was taken completely by surprise when suddenly I was presented with a gift in front of the entire crowd thanking me for all of my help and hard work. It is a beautifully framed piece of artwork created by one of the children in the program. It now is proudly displayed in my apartment.

A patchwork of all of the monochrome color studies from 15 moadoniyot in Haifa

Still Life Color Studies

Pop Art work with complementary colors

A proud teacher

With Adi, who I worked with closely to write the art lessons

Back in Jerusalem to celebrate our work together, at both moadoniyot where I worked, I created a gallery of student work and also partook in their end of year ceremonies. Below are some pictures and videos that highlight how we celebrated together. I hope that they will warm you and touch you just as deeply as they touched me.

Moadonit Afikim
Bakka, Jerusalem
Our Last Lesson

To wrap up the year, I led the children in a culminating activity where they thought back to all of the techniques and schools of art they had learned throughout the year and chose their favorite in order to decorate a large mural to be permanantly hung on the premisice. Here is the process and the beautiful results.

Getting set up

Reviewing the different techniques we can use (Yup, that's my teacher face)

These boys decided to focus on line.

These girls chose to use the techniques they learned about color, collage, and spot.

Here you can see monochrome color study, pointilism, and still life

A finished section

Another example of pointillism

The finished product!

Moadonit Afikim
Bakka, Jerusalem
End of Year Celebration

Part of the art gallery show of student work.

The children danced, sang, played violin, and made many a presentation, all in front of their parents' proud gaze from the audience. We made a booklet of each child's exquisite artwork and a display gallery of choice pieces for all to see. All in all, it was an emotional evening to remember.

The books of student artwork that we prepared for each child.

O. looking at her year's artwork

A dance some of the girls prepared

Another section of the gallery display

One of my favorite pieces. Girl, 8 years old.

Another cute piece.

The whole group

One of the counselors at the moadonit
With the incredible staff at Afikim

Moadonit TalPaz
Talpiot Mizrach, Jerusalem
End of Year Celebration

During their summer camp, I worked with the children to deepen their skills and understanding of English. Often there is a large dip in learning over the summer, and I took advantage of my time with them to work on oral language, vocabulary, sentence structure, and reading comprehension by creating an all English play based on the book "The Rainbow Fish" by Marcus Pfister. The children participated 100% in the creation of the stage scenery, costumes, and play, which they proudly presented to their parents during our year end celebration. All the decorations were created using the techniques the children had learned throughout the year.

The book and vocabulary card
The stage all set up! (Everything you see was prepared by the children)

The Wise Octopus's cave home

The starfish waiting to give advice

The Rainbow Fish: each scale was created by one child, using the techniques they most enjoyed from this year. You can see use of spot, texture, line, color, and shape. During the play, the each scale was pulled off from their velcro attachments and handed out to the child who made it.

The Little Blue Fish

With the fantastic staff of TalPaz before the show

The first day we read the book both in English and Hebrew, learned essential vocabulary, and over the next few days, had book discussions to delve deeper into the main idea and lesson of the book. We had an interactive forum where children built on one another's ideas and deepened our understanding of the story. 

Then, over the next few weeks, we worked on vocabulary, sentence structure, and presentation skills for the stage to get the play ready. The results were a beautiful play that was both impressive and adorable. I ended up making a gift for each child of a DVD of the play and a slideshow of their art from all the lessons I taught. It made me feel like a proud mom. In addition, I also displayed their artwork from throughout the year in a beautiful gallery that children pulled their parents by the arm to see. It was a lovely afternoon that I will not forget!

Presenting a section of the gallery of student artwork from the year!

A proud teacher, as always

Parents looking with their children at the beautiful work they created!

Preparing for the Rainbow Fish Show
Some short presentations (the gift they gave me was a guide to Jerusalem, hoping that I'll remain in Israel)

Another view of the artwork
 To see the finished Rainbow Fish play, feel free to write me an e-mail and I will be happy to share! It was fantastic!