Saturday, June 26, 2004

even from thousands of miles away my friends nourish and sustain me. they keep me floating a few inches above the ground at all times. i can think of fewer better ways to end this birthday than receiving the emails that just arrived and crying in front of my computer.
my weekend with family was marvellous--restful, oscillating mildly between brooding, contemplative, and playful.
I got to spend more time with my grandmother that at any point since I can remember. I was first frustrated, caught in the tension between wanting so much to connect with her and being almost completely incapable of communicating with her. Language barriers played a big role in this--although she understands Hebrew, she will only speak and respond in Arabic or French or some combination, and it is often difficult to anticipate which she will pick at any given moment. Compound that with a quiet, reserved personality and diagnosed schizophrenia, a lifetime of virtually no mutual contact, and a boy with the most inept stumbling French one could possibly imagine, and you are sitting on the string of my frustrations. But my French returned to a surprising extent, and I grew to enjoy immensely just being in her presence and sharing shabbat with her. She exudes a sort of quiet, meditative wonder that is counterbalanced by occasional moments of sharp directness cutting into the details of this world. Our conversations mainly concerned food--she was very concerned that I was skinny, and curious about my eating habits and whether I thought my mom was a good cook. Sharing her presence this shabbat proved an enormous gift.

Some sage (I think it was Zach, but I'm not sure) once taught me that everyone has a mitzva that is theirs, their gift to the world, their life's focal work. The mitzva of my mother's family is no doubt Hachnasat Orchim, the welcoming of guests. To give you an uncle Teddy would not let us leave the house until we were carrying in our arms a package of every kind of food we had expressed even a passing enjoyment of over the course of the weekend. As we exited the door, he was stuffing a bottle of sweet-and-sour-sauce into one of these bags, to accompany several bottles of wine, fresh olive oil from a neighboring village, several boxes of desserts, and many more of such delicacies. And, while we weren't looking, he managed to wash my cousin's car. This is my family. What a doogma.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Those who hear Hashem's voice in light streaming through clouds would have been deafened by last night's sunset over the Galil. Standing beside the fluttering chupah, they would have been knocked to the ground. The setting sun cut a cone of light that descended through the clouds into the valley below us, just as Mitch and Tali, two holy souls I had never met before, exchanged rings and received their first seven blessings together.
How grateful I am that two people connected to me only be a number of secondary associations welcomed me so wholly into their simcha. And it was that--the intensity of the Simcha--which made the experience. The catering, the music, the unmatched view from the ruins of an ancient for atop the Galil--all these were potent pleasures of the evening, but it was the simcha, so open and loving and raucously joyous and unashamed, that filled the evening.
This was only the third wedding that I can remember going to. The other two were long ago. This wedding was such an intense joy for me, that I don't know how I'll be able to handle it when my friends start getting married, and I get to start going to weddings of people I already know and love.
My cousin, who designs and makes bridal gowns and other custom clothing for women, has told me that weddings are an enormous institution in Israel. More than five hundred people is typical, making the crowd of under 200 last night intimate by comparison. Couples often take out loans and go into debt for their weddings. A wonderful Palestinian scientist in my lab, who studies epidemics spread by sandflies, confirmed that this phenomenon is not confined to Jewish circles, that every summer practically someone in his family gets married, and over 1000 people attend.
My new roomate Shir Yaakov and I sat and discussed our visions of great weddings, and found that we had a strikingly similar vision of many people coming out to camp in a large open space, maybe a farm, and bringing instruments with them. My recent education in Simcha has given me some clarity on why the many bar mitvahs I attended in seventh grade rang so hollow. No amount of crystal-chandeleir-guilded-china-inflatable guitar-15-piece electric-slideband--novelty photobooth bought arrangements can fill such an experience. All that is truly needed is Simcha, unrestrained communal celebration, carried with a spirit of awe and love and praise.
Oh, and a funny note on the connectedness of this great earth. Both bride and groom just graduated from Brown, and though I had managed to know neither of them, I did know Mir and Yaniv and Katrina, all recent graduates who came from the states just for the occasion. The last place I expected to encounter them was atop an ancient fort, overlooking the Kineret.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

My life in Jerusalem has become tuned to a remarkably unique frequency. So far as I know, my position at the Kuvin Center at Hadassah lies somewhere in the ethereal and near-ridiculous nexus of student, "visiting scholar" (for payment purposes), and lab employee. I am, in truth, neither wholly student nor scholar nor employee, and so I have my own little section of the ven diagram all to myself.
My commute, another 2-3 hours of my day, also lies at a unique frequency. My run from the heart of the city to its furthest western edge and back again, a path that I think no one else in the city chooses to run, places me somewhere at the joint of lunacy, perspiration, and meditation.
Besides my run, I spend most of my time with wonderful, interesting people, but I certainly feel solitary in the sense that no apparent community (Jerusalem seems more like a phenomenon than a community at the moment) circumscribes the whole picture of my days. This is perhaps a bit of what I wanted. Time to reflect. To step back a bit. To kick myself a bit loose of the earth I know and love and home myself in.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Not much time to write, so I will keep it to anouncements.
I found an apartment! I move in at the end of next week. It is beautiful and full of light. The current tentants are going to America for the summer to try to find the Rainbow festival, and I am so excited to be able to share their space with them.

I ran something like 40 miles this week! This kind of regimen for me is totally unprecedented, and I'm pretty pleased with the accomplishment, and encouraged for weeks to come.

I am settling into Jerusalem life, becoming a part of this living and breathing city. Shabbat is approaching, and I must go prepare.
Adi and Michael, my cousin and her fiancee, are truly awesome. Adi is teaching me a little bit about everything Jerusalem, from the best places to eat and shop to the workings of her design studio, which I have been sleeping in duirng my stay here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I am taking Jerusalem on my feet. Jerusalem rewards this approach many times over. Kittens wander the streets like squirrels might in suburban Maryland if they had the same indominatable self-confidence. Vines and flowers overflow off balconies and yards into the streets, and crazily parked cars overflow off the streets into the vines. Alleyways everywhere wind through markets and neighborhoods of dramatically different flavors.
My run to and from my lab at Hadasssah Ein Kerem has become a centerpiece of my experience here. I have been preparing for a schedule of running two and from the lab every day--I ran Sunday and Monday of this week, and took today to allow my muscles to heal. The distance is longer than I'm used to for one day, probably 4-5 miles each way, and it is also entirely hilly and in some places mountainous, so that my leg strength will have to increase significantly before I can run the whole way unarrested. In about 8 hours, I will set off again from my cousin's apartment, through an adjoining neighborhood, into a park a recently discovered, which will open me into the beginnings of a road that opens into a highway that leads up a large hill. From the top of this large hill I make a few turns, and within a block, I reach the very top, and the city opens clear out into a valley, rolling in mountains and mountains and hills, and I can see the hospital where my lab is sitting atop a distant hill, though it remains quite far away. I descend gradually into the valley and along mountainside paths, into the little village of Ein Kerem, home to Christian holy sites and monastaries and a few aloe plants of various types that are each several times larger than I am.
I enjoy this run for many reasons. It is beautifu, it gives me a sort of infamy, it makes me feel at home in Jerusalem, like I am part of it, because I run a path that I am pretty sure no one else does in the entire city...other reasons too but now I must go and finish this and many other thoughts later, because I need to get off my cousin's fiance's computer.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

I have a few entries hiding on my laptop, but I will coax them out into the light eventually.
In the meantime, this day was enormous. It began with a 5 mile run/hike/climb/bushwack from my cousin's rechavia apartment to my lab at the hospital, which is in the tuscanic hills outskirting Jerusalem. I got lost, and accidentally climbed the wrong mountain, so it took much longer than I had expected, but that mattered little, the views practically knocked me down from my climb the entire way. My day was mixed between learning about my project, studying the waking of an ancient bacterial community that had been asleep for millions of years in a piece of amber before being called out of dormancy in our lab, and an expedition to a vineyard behind the hospital, built on the ruins of an ancient Bronze Age City, which contained many types of grape species from all over Israel. We collected leaf samples for a grad student in the lab who is mapping the genetic tree of the Israeli grape, and, using seeds from archeological digs, maybe mapping it back to the grapes that made the wines of Jesus and Moses.
This evening, I davened and discussed openings and awakenings with shir yaakov.
I am diving into Jerusalem. My days are so full, I can barely keep up.