Monday, March 28, 2011

Bombs and Bedouins

Where to begin. So much has happened in the last few days! Between the bombing in Jerusalem, my weekend retreat, and all the learning I'm doing in class everyday, my mind is completely full. I'm loving (almost) every minute of it.
As I'm sure you all know, a bomb went off last week in Jerusalem at the central bus station injuring
many and killing one woman. This is scary on so many levels. First of all, it was the day I moved into the Shirat Devorah apartment (about a 7 minute walk from that bus station). Second of all, I heard the bomb go off from my class/apartment (which happens to be the same place right now!). The class I was in at the time is a writing workshop (which is amazing, by the way) and we were reflecting on our Purim experiences - most of which were filled with simcha (joy). When we heard the blast, our class of 5 girls all got very quiet. We thought of all the possible explanations for the unsettling sound and tried to go back to work. Then the sirens came.
And didn't stop. At this point, we needed to stop class and figure out what was going on. We got on our computers and took out our phones and within maybe two minutes, we were all receiving texts from our Madricha (house mother, program manager) asking us where we were and telling us to stay inside. You know that full body feeling of dread you get when you know something terrible has happened? That totally happened. As our news pages started loading and we scrambled to find a radio station, the shock started setting in. The news came in pieces. Bomb. Bus. School dismissal. Maybe more. Sirens sirens sirens. I've never really experienced this feeling before. It was one made up of fear for my safety and the safety of all those I care about in the area but more than that, there was a deep sadness. My thoughts immediately went to "How is it possible that people can do this to each other? What is this world we're living in?" As we started getting more news and phone calls, it started to set in. I knew this news would make it to America in no time and wanted to contact home and let people know I was ok. The thought of any of my friends/family seeing this news without hearing from me first was terrible to think about. Our phones weren't working, because so many people in the area were trying to make/receive calls. The news wouldn't update quickly enough. We cried. And held each other. One of my roommates realized that had she gone to a meeting she had planned for that day, she would have been on that bus. I realized that I had stopped at that bus station every day for the past week and a half. The idea of our safe space being shattered was so very real. Then the questions. Why are we all safe and others are not? Are we really safe? Why am I choosing to live here right now? What a day. Talk about being forced to bond really quickly! I feel so lucky to have been in this supportive community with these wonderful girls. Our program director and madricha came over as soon as they could. Our hugs lasted so much longer than usual. Our appreciation for seeing each other was so genuine.
After a while had passed and we got more news and had talked to our families, we realized we needed to take our minds off of the news stations and all the possible"what ifs." We ordered pizza and
made popcorn huddled together to watch happy movies. Even though I was so happy to have these girls and this community though, it was the most homesick I've felt since I've been here. My honeymoon period was certainly ended abruptly and I was forced to really examine what my connection is to eretz and am yisrael (the land and the people of israel). To test out my (up until this point) theoretical position of nonviolence and overall belief in the good of humanity. Faith in something greater. If I have all these things, then I won't be afraid, right? I wish it were that simple.
The next day, like nothing had ever happened, we went on a field trip to Tel Aviv. Leaving the apartment for the first time was surreal. Having been locked inside this imaginery safety bubble, with nothing to scare me but my own thoughts, I hadn't really thought about what it would feel like to go back into civilization. Into the center of a city (where I happen to live) that is constantly targeted. I felt this feeling of persecution welling up inside me - one I have tried to separate from my Judaism at all costs. I kept thinking, "Am I going to succumb to this? Live in fear? Breed hate of those who are different than me?" That feeling was more terrifying than any idea of physical danger. Our field trip to Tel Aviv was cold and rainy and all of our heads were elsewhere. It was amazing to watch life keep on moving like nothing had even happened. Israelis are tough. They wont let anything stop them. I
don't know how they do it (although I am starting to think there is a lot of internalized trauma going on...).
While we were on the field trip, my friends/roommates/co-students Viktoria and Verity finalized some plans to go on a Non Violent Communication retreat with Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Nothing sounded more appealing than getting out of the Jerusalem to be in the desert and under any other circumstances, I would have been SO down with that environment. But I definitely hesitated. I was so charged with all these new emotions and trying to sort them and figure out how to process them that the thought of being immersed in an atmosphere where I would have to directly confront these newly informed feelings was definitely scary. I checked in with myself about what my hesitations were, what the reality of the safety situation was (traveling to the West Bank during a time of rapidly increasing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians), and what the benefits would be of staying or going. After probably too much deliberation with myself and my roommates, we decided to go. We met up with Viktoria's friend Yonatan and headed - where else - to the central bus station to start our journey.
The second we arrived to the EcoME village and I took a deep breath of fresh, desert air, I knew we'd made
the right choice. This place is incredible! All the inclinations I had had about this being exactly the environment I needed to be in at this moment were realized very quickly. Let me back up a second. EcoME is a newly established community based on the idea that everyone and anyone is welcome. It is a community that aims to foster peace between people from different places and between people and the environment (compost toilets - so awesome). Since it is relatively new and not in a permanent location yet, it is made up of a bunch of bedouin style tents right now. The people who started it are incredible and beautiful people, of course. As were all the people who attended this workshop. Right - a word about NVC (nonviolent communcation). This is a conflict resolution model developed by this guy Marshall Rosenberg in the 60's. It teaches people how to both express their own and hear others' feelings and needs in order to reach common goals. Makes a lot of sense, but there are certainly drawbacks. I won't go into any detail here but definitely ask me more about it if you're interested (or read more here: I'm very biased coming from being an AVP (alternatives to violence) facilitator because I am such a believer in that model. Nonetheless, I definitely gained a lot more skills and more importantly, made amazing connections with the other people there. I'm still processing the whole weekend (after being immersed in full days of classes starting Sunday) but some snapshots of great moments for me were: lighting Shabbat candles and singing and dancing with a whole group of people from all different backgrounds (Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals) to welcome Shabbat; sitting around a campfire under the stars telling stories of transformative life experiences; being in a role play involving Israelis and Palestinians discussing the recent violence and figuring out ways, together, to talk to people about the conflict and hear each others stories; falling asleep in the sun after eating the most amazing dates of my life; AMAZING organic, vegetarian, meals; compost toilets; having fresh tea during workshop breaks; sunsets; stars; transcending boundaries (whatup goucher) of religion and culture; singing in english, hebrew, arabic; sleeping on the ground and being so happy about it. And so so much more.
Some not great things about the weekend: IT WAS SO COLD. I'm not that great at dealing with cold. Also, it POURED the first night we were there. Is it supposed to pour in the desert? Nope. Was I prepared for freezing weather? Nope. (Although I did wind up wearing all the clothing I brought at once, pretty much. I was still cold.) Also, I had a very unfortunate encounter with some ants/fleas/bugs on the last night in which they decided to eat my face. No, I will not post a picture of it. But picture chicken pox. All over my face. Not cool! And itchy. So not cool. Once I thought I had finally made peace with my disfiguration (which, trust me, was a process unto itself) and we were back in Jerusalem, I went to the shuk Sunday morning to get some breakfast and as I was buying an apple, the guy was like WHATS WRONG WITH YOUR FACE. Oh dear. Only in Israel.
Much more to come about all the incredible mind blowing realizations and connections I'm making to what I'm learning in my classes! And how my hebrew is improving by the hour. And how at this point, it is already difficult to think about leaving in 3.5 months. I have so much more to learn! Until next time...


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Soul Bone

Once I said I didn't have a spiritual bone
in my body and meant by that
I didn't want to think of death,
as though any bone in us
could escape it. Maybe
I was afraid of what I couldn't know
for certain, a thud like the slamming
of a coffin lid, as final and inexplicable
as that. What was the soul anyway,
I wondered, but a homonym for loneliness?
Now, in late middle age, or more, I like to imagine it,
the spirit, the soul bone, as though it were hidden
somewhere inside my body, white as a tooth
that falls from a child's mouth, a dove,
the cloud it can fly through. Like bones,
it persists. Little knot of self, stubborn
as wildflowers in a Chilmark field in autumn,
the white ones they call boneset, for healing,
or the others, pearly everlasting.
The rabbis of the Midrash believed in the bone
and called it the luz, just like the Spanish word
for light, the size of a chickpea or an almond,
depending on which rabbi was telling the story,
found, they said, at the top of the spine or the base,
depending. No one's ever seen it, of course,
but sometimes at night I imagine I can feel it,
shining its light through my body, the bone
luminous, glowing in the dark. Sometimes,
if you listen, you might even hear that light
deep inside me, humming its brave little song.

- Susan Wood

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


This past weekend was incredible. I went to Tzfat, the place I spent most of my time last time I was here, to celebrate Shabbat and then Purim. What a magical place. The whole time I was on the bus ride up there, I was just in disbelief. I couldn't believe I was really going back. The place/people/feelings I had been yearning for! This place is what opened me up to so much. Before going on Livnot and being in Tzfat, I was so closed off to religion and spirituality. I was cynical and defensive. I had so many negative associations. It's taken a lot of work to undo that conditioning, which I couldn't have done without having the experience I had. I've developed so much of my spirituality since being here last. (Clearly - now I am voluntarily enrolled in a seminary!) To return, there in particular, felt so necessary. And a perfect way to spend my first Shabbat in Israel. The place that started it all. Returning to. So fitting.
I spent most of my time lying on this amaaaaazing balcony Livnot has, overlooking this beautiful valley, talking, reading, meditating, doing yoga, and just admiring the sky/mountains/air/birds. The weather was perfect. Sunny with a breeze. It feels like the air is hugging you. You can also sense the antiquity of the area (can you tell I have a thing for old cities?). The Livnot buildings were all excavated, built right into the side of mountains. The energy is unmistakeable.

I keep finding it difficult to accurately articulate what I'm going through here (despite how much I can pontificate), so here is an excerpt from a pretty genuine, non-censored, free association email I wrote while I was at Livnot:
this place. oh my god, this place. there are no words. and too many words. so much beauty, love, complexity. the singing. oh my god the singing. i've missed it so much. it's like a long lost sisters embrace. incredible to compare where i am now versus where i was last time i was here. mentally. i was shell shocked by the experience. i didn't know how to process. and now i can welcome it, with open arms.
the people who are here this week are a funny mix. some older, more mature, pretty cool people and then some spring break oriented people who don't seem to want to be here. the girls i shared a room with were worried about their cleavage, who was hooking up with who, and how to smuggle as much alcohol under their beds as possible (and drink it all day long). SO different than the group i was with here! but there are some gems, of course. i stayed up most of the night friday night sitting out on the street (and later hiking up to the citadel, overlooking the whole city) talking about the essence of life, the nature of man, suffering, contenment, god, and how its all possible.
last night, on purim, i went with some people to this guys house (away from the party happening at livnot that resembled a middle school dance) and we sat, under the full moon, and they played guitar and drums, with candles in the middle of our circle, and we sang. so beautiful. ive never felt like i could sing before. but it just came out of me. and we made the most beautiful music. and we sang hebrew, and prayers, and lalalalas and it was the most beautiful thing ever. i felt like we were singing directly to the moon/god/everything/nothing. my heart was totally opened.
friday night, a few of us hiked to this citadel and went in an old water cistern which is basically a cave. at like 2am. the most darkness ive ever experience. and silence. and stillness. such a fear of mine. but i did it. and i liked it. and we chanted and sang into the darkness and made our own light. i wish i had the words. i really do. ive found everything! and nothing. and its all the same.

After spending the weekend having mind blowing conversations, making beautiful music, and creating new friendships, I am now back in Jerusalem and ready to officially start as a student at Shirat Devorah. I'm moving out of the Abramson house (even though they've basically adopted me as their daughter! so so sweet). I'll be learning in depth about Torah, Jewish laws, and (most importantly to me) where I fit into this world and how I want it to fit into my life. Who would have thought I'd be willingly living an observant Jewish life! I guess I don't really like to do things moderately. If I'm going to learn, I'm going to go all in. Who needs the in between?
I am welcoming each new person, experience, and idea with open arms. Trying to unlearn and relearn. Fall down and get up. How lucky I am to be doing this right now! I can't think of anything more necessary.
Love to all! Know that I'm thinking of you. Xo

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Thread

Something is very gently,
invisibly, silently,
pulling at me-a thread
or net of threads
finer than cobweb and as
elastic. I haven't tried
the strength of it. No barbed hook
pierced and tore me. Was it
not long ago this thread
began to draw me? Or
way back? Was I
born with its knot about my
neck, a bridle? Not fear
but a stirring
of wonder makes me
catch my breath when I feel
the tug of it when I thought
it had loosened itself and gone.

-Denise Levertov

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ebin's Wedding!

A few pictures from the wedding! Which was, of course, totally magical. Filled with simchas, nachas, and of course, dancing dancing dancing.

Reunited with some wonderful Livnot chevre
Tehila and Shira

The beautiful bride and groom with a hilltop view of Jerusalem behind them

Monday, March 14, 2011

Returning to.

I made it! After almost two full days of being in transit. Whoa. There is a weird time-space phenomenon that happens in airports, I've noticed. Being able to completely lose track of the day/time/week. Its like being suspended in water. I love watching how people handle this. Some try to cling to whatever order they can, frantically checking their watches and phones. Getting work done. And some (like me) totally surrender to the situation and allow themselves to be moved by the current of what's around them. I have to say, I am a huge fan of falling asleep in transit. Buses, planes, floors of airports. In what other kinds of public places is that ok!? So. Awesome.

Just to be clear, I have not gotten nearly enough sleep. I wish I was one of those people who could function on very little sleep, but I'm just not. I get so wacky, as many of you know. Someone said to me today, "Enjoy it! You're probably seeing things that none of us can see right now." Definitely true. I'm also feeling the strongest gravitational pull to just be horizontal. Ah sleep. I can't wait.

So, here I am. The promised land. I had this overwhelming feeling of being right where I'm supposed to be when the plane landed this morning. What a good feeling. I had this flashback of being at the airport when I was leaving Israel after Livnot. I was so so sad. I felt like I was leaving a part of myself behind. I knew I would be back but I didn't know when or how. The feeling of loss was crushing. Like meeting someone new and being forced to say goodbye too soon. But here I am. At last. Funny how life works, isn't it?

Since I couldn't finish this posting yesterday, I decided to come back to it after I slept (for 12 hours!). I am much more alive now. Now, for some actual news. When I arrived yesterday, I took the train to meet Shira in Modiin and she took me back to her house to shower (so necessary) and to feed me. There, I met another Livnot chevre who is currently coming to the end of traveling the world for a year. I love it how it is so normal to encounter people here who have just picked up and left their lives with no plans except to travel/soul search/find God. Makes me feel less crazy, for sure. After breakfast, the three of us got a ride to Jerusalem where I met up with Tehila, another one of my Livnot Bat Sheruts. Her family lives just outside the city in a beautiful neighborhood called Ramot. We caught up for a while before she urged me to take a nap and told me I'd see her at the wedding tomorrow (today). Let me backtrack for a second. It was SO incredible to see Shira and Tehila again. I was lucky to have seen Shira when she came to visit the states, but Tehila I haven't seen since I was last here. Amazing. Sogreat to have friends who live across the globe who I feel this close to.

After napping, waking up for a few hours, and then sleeping through the night for 12 more hours, I woke up today ready to venture out. I definitely had a moment when I woke up thinking "WHAT am I doing here!?" Shira and Tehila are both at their yeshiva in classes all day and encouraged me to just go exploring. Makes sense. But still kind of crazy. I was only in Jerusalem for a few hours when I was last here and I was with an entire group. So different traveling alone! When I figured out which bus to take (and where to get off), I started wandering around the city. I don't have a map, nor do I really speak any hebrew, but for some reason I decided it would be fine. Based on reading some signs and intuition, I decided to head toward the Old City. A good place to start, I thought. Connecting to so much of what brought me back here. I somehow managed to take a route that I had been on last time I was here (though not intentionally) and walked by two places I had eaten! I knew I didn't need a map :)
For those of you who have been to Jerusalem, I'm sure you remember the richness of this city. So vibrant, full of history, and (unfortunately) so much conflict. It would be impossible to come here and not feel the intensity.

Speaking of intense, this is what everyone is talking about:

Only a few hours after arriving, I was having a discussion with Shira about this terrible incident and about growing up living in fear and how a community processes trauma. Although I certainly have opinions about violence and military presence, I can't even begin to understand what it must feel like living here. My goal is to talk to as many people as I can about their experiences, their views, and hopefully, instead of arriving at answers, I will develop better questions to be asking.

Tonight is Ebin's wedding! Another Livnot chevre who I've remained close to. This is a big deal because not only is he getting married, but making aliyah (moving to Israel)! I am so excited that I'm able to be here for this occasion and celebrate with someone so deserving of love and happiness. I also can't wait to see more of the people I know and love. And of course - to dance!

Tomorrow, I'm going to sit in on a day of classes and speak with the faculty/directors of Shirat Devorah ( to figure out if I want to spend some time learning there. I can't wait! Now I just need to figure out which bus to take again... When I spoke to the admissions woman on the phone today, not only did we realize we will both be at the same wedding tonight but she said "Welcome home, Jenna." Where else do people say that when you're visiting? (Stop worrying Dad, I'm not moving here.) It is impossible for me not to feel connected to this land and people though, no matter what my political beliefs are. On a pure human level and spiritual level, we all belong.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Endless numbered days

"I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the park through the soft twilight, but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes into my chair. Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I'm leaving for Israel in 3 days and I still don't believe that it's happening. I decided I needed to go back while I was still there, almost two years ago. As I said goodbye to the people and land I'd completely fallen for, I knew I wasn't done. Why am I going? That's a good question. The easy answer is that I want to take this time before I'm in school and working for the rest of my life to travel, experience new things, challenge myself, etc. The not-so-easy answer is that I want to learn more about myself, what's important to me, my relationship to the universe. I want to be immersed in the difficult questions about God, peace, violence, conflict, love. I want to figure out where I fit into this beautiful mess we humans have created and what I want to contribute. No big deal, right?
These last few weeks leading up to my four month trip have been surreal. I've been completely delirious from lack of sleep, exhausted from packing up my Baltimore home, going on interviews, waiting to hear the news from schools that will determine much of my next decade, pretending to pack the things I will need for four months in one backpack. I've been emotionally saturated with endings and beginnings, 'goodbye's and 'don't forget me's. I'm excited for this journey but also terrified because I don't know what to expect. I am usually a dedicated planner but not this time. The more times people ask me what I'll be doing in Israel, expecting that as they continue to check in closer to my departure date that I will have some sort of reassuring answer, the more I surrender to the fact that I, indeed, have no idea. No plans.
This blog is the best I can do to assuage the curious parents, friends, family members. I figure it will be good to hold myself somewhat accountable for the next few months and I'll try my best to update with substantive posts as often as I can. Its name came from some phrase I overhead once upon a time, and when it popped into my head, I decided it was fitting. Those of you who know me well are probably chuckling because despite my best intentions, I am incapable of not being intense. So, to all of you who have contributed to who I am today and who I will carry with me, I invite you to share in my journey. My intensity that I will carry around, drop off, and be transformed by around the world. I wouldn't have it any other way.