About Me

I'm the Rabbi of B'nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield, MI, a highly-participatory, traditional, egalitarian synagogue.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Beginning, of the End, of December

If ever a moment encapsulates what I chose to leave -- and what I want to embrace -- this was it.

It was not grand, but rather pedestrian. Very pedestrian, in fact.

Let me take you back a “step,” to Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov train station. We’re leaving the station, amused by the vendors hacking their wares. Like magnets, my eyes are drawn to the red, green and white puppets sold by one rather quiet vendor.

“What are they doing here?” I feel defensive. I take a brief, close look and feel even more defensive.

But within seconds the episode is over. I’m back in Israel, helping to chase 4 Chanukah-wild children down a leafy, blessedly-undecorated boulevard in the heart of Tel Aviv.

I’m doing my child-centered best until we pass another red, green and white display. This time in the window display of a fine chocolateria. My blood boils. “They must be catering to the diplomatic crowd here in Tel Aviv,” I comment to my cousin Lila.

“It doesn’t bother me, Mark. Here it’s just an amusement. There’s no threat. What, is everyone all of a sudden going to become Christian?”

For Lila, it’s painless nostalgia of her life long ago in America. For me, it’s just painful, the ever-present bogeyman who, I must remind myself, is no longer trying to get me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Adina and Coby "Germs"

Adina and Coby germs?

Last night brought back the vivid memories of welcoming non-English speaking immigrants to my classroom when I was a first grader. It could not have been “welcoming” from their perspective. We looked at Boris (name changed) as an exceedingly tall freak who couldn’t speak our language. We branded Shira (name changed) immediately with her own “germs.” Not as bad as those of Jason (name changed), undisputably the class dogpile. Bug getting “Shira germs” would not make you happy.

It took Boris and Shira years to emerge from their stigmatized status – and until they spoke English well. Until they looked the part of Americans. Said goodbye to the Russian sweaters. Until they separated enough from their parental culture to fit into ours. Thank God they don’t seem to have been scarred by the experience, but who am I to know?

Back to last night. Moments of realization that Coby and Adina are now Boris and Shira. Adina walks into her class Chanukah party and is greeted by 2 persistent nemises as an American figure doll, to be touched and played with at will. She knows what she wants to say to them, but cannot say it in Hebrew. Later, the kids sit on the floor, buzzing around each other during the lighting of the candles. Except no one is buzzing around Adina, and she’s not buzzing around the others. She sits alone, amongst the pile of children, in her own world. She can’t yet quite manipulate the finger food of her new world.

I was sad. My child was alone. And there wasn’t anything I could really do about it, except wish away the rest of the tekes, ceremony.

At the same moment, I stood in awe of her. Here she was bearing by herself the weight of our move. Day after day – 5 ½ hours one day, 8 hours the next. Hour after hour, with little letup. Thrown into the language, into the culture, without yet knowing them. Me – I engage them at my will, and then return when I want to my English cocoon.

I have never and will never do something as difficult as she and Coby are doing now. I told Adina so, as I rested the seat belt around her tired body. “I am so proud of you.”

Coby bears the weight a bit more easily – thanks to youth; his blessedly na├»ve, pre-elementary disposition; and the relative pressurelessness of the gan environment. But it’s still an enormous weight.

I hope there are no Adina and Coby “germs” in their classes. I have my doubts, no matter the upbeat evaluations of their teachers. Who can follow the nuances of childhood interchange with 36 or 37 kids in the classroom?

Adina and Coby germs?

Monday, December 7, 2009

I'm Back

I’m back. I can’t promise I won’t take other hiatuses. But I’m back.

So why haven’t I blogged recently?

Trying to get over the self-promotion thing, which is not my style. I’m also not a from-my-mind-to-the-airwaves kind of guy. I choose my words carefully. I’m repelled by the orgy of words in the blogosphere, and don’t want to contribute to that. If it’s under my name, it will be good, concise, and well thought-out.

I want to create thoughtful communal discussion, not pat myself on the back.

I’ll tell the truth as I see it. I’m here to offer candid observations about the ups and downs of aliyah to Israel, to enable you to experience it vicariously, and to hopefully better prepare those of you considering taking this crazy ride. And it will certainly be a forum to celebrate/wring my hands over whatever victories/challenges aliyah brings next.

That very candidness that has scared me away from “these pages” for a while. I turned 42 last week (If you want to send me a present, how ‘bout a copy of a recent Sports Illustrated?). I’ve left career, economic security, family, and language mastery behind. For a wobbly, unsecured ride with my wife and kids that may lead to a dream. But also not.

And I’m managing a transition more difficult (at least for me!) than any of the above. Living the life of a full-time dad. Yes, let’s say it, full-time dad. It’s taken me a long time to “get into the groove,” to embrace the role, to validate it, to do it capably – and to then carve out the time for my other endeavors.

No need to ramble, which I am getting close to doing.

It’s also almost time to leave for Adina’s class Chanukah party. She was literally jumping out of her skin after school today, just bursting with excitement about the festivities of the school day – making liveevot and sufganiyot (latkes and donuts) in preparation for tonight. The kids are off school next week for Chanukah, so the school festivities happen now. Then they’ll be back in school to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s…..