Emly Oren left Israel with her family at the age of four, but in many ways Israel never left her family. At school in Orange County, Emly was the only Israeli student; but her family continued to speak Hebrew at home, and they only watched Israeli television programs. The Orens would travel to Israel every summer to visit all of their relatives, and they would sometimes stop by other locations en route to their main destination.
As a child, Emly drew no distinction between being Jewish and being Israeli. Her traditional, secular family would remain at home together on Friday evenings for Kiddush and Shabbat dinner; and every year they would attend services at Chabad for the High Holy Days, but Emly felt no connection to that environment because it didn’t reflect the rhythm or culture of her family life. When Emly somehow decided to have a bat mitzvah, she chose to hold services at a local public library… and of course, her bat mitzvah party theme was ‘Israel’.
This was a pivotal point in Emly’s childhood, as she soon joined USY, and was exposed to other young Jews for the first time. She came to realize that Continue reading →
Hannah Grossman is an explorer. Her Jewish journey has taken her from the farthest ends of the earth to the deepest corners of her psyche. Yet the further she has traveled from her native New Jersey, the closer she has come to finally finding her Jewish home.
Hannah grew up in West Orange, NJ to an observant Conservative family. She describes her neighborhood as “very Jewish,” and between her neighborhood and her twelve years spent in a Solomon Schechter day school, “growing up I pretty much knew only Jews.” For her, a large part of what that Jewish environment meant was a commitment to social justice in her home, synagogue, and school, a Jewish value that would remain constant through all the journeys life would later take her on. Continue reading →
Sometimes, a simple touch can make all the difference.
Hugging one of my best friends.
In the Jewish world, some girls don’t touch boys. Some girls touch some boys. Some girls touch only one boy, and everyone hugs their mother. As a part of this world, I have become especially attuned to the presence and absence of human touch.
In high school, I thought nothing of it. I hugged my friends (girls and guys) and high-fived with abandon. The one time I was asked to go out of my comfort zone was when playing Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank. Every knows about Anne and Peter, and my director had the specific idea that the kiss had to be long – very long. Continue reading →
Sydni Adler (Year ’13) and Ben Gurin (Year ’13) met during the Summer of ’10 in Washington DC, as participants on the Mechon Kaplan program of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Together with their cohort, they took classes on Social Justice and Judaism, and each interned for an NGO; Sydni worked on campaign finance reform at ‘Common Cause‘, and Ben worked at ‘Jewish Funds for Justice‘. Over the course of that summer, the two of them gradually became best friends, as they found themselves constantly gravitating towards one another.
Unfortunately, the young duo had a geographic problem: Ben was a Midwesterner, a third generation legacy student at Indiana University; and Sydni had grown up on the West Coast near L.A., and attended college on the East Coast at Swarthmore. For several months after their Mechon Kaplan summer had ended, they spoke by telephone daily, even though “they weren’t in a relationship”, and then Ben came to California to check out HUC in L.A during Fall Break in October. He visited for several days with Sydni and her family, and then asked her out while she was behind the wheel on the perilous 101/405 Interchange… to which Sydni responded, “Could you just give me 10 minutes?”Continue reading →
Ben Barer (Fellows '11-'12) tackles the issue of
Jewish prayer as an Atheist in this blog post:
One of the toughest questions for me, as a religious atheist, is what do I gain bydavenning (praying). Alain de Botton, in his fabulous book Religion for Atheists; a Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, offers a number of answers that apply well to the Jewish context.
“If we have managed to remain awake to (and for) the lessons of the Mass, it should by its close have succeeded in shifting us at least fractionally off our accustomed egocentric axes. It should also have given us a few ideas which we could use to mend some of the endemic fractures of the modern world.”
de Botton here, while talking about the Christian context of prayer, hits upon some of what makes prayer universally important. Continue reading →
Here being Jerusalem, a city that many nations hold dear due to its history and importance in relation to their people, their culture, their religion. As a proud member of the Jewish religion and culture, I find this place resonates with me on an impossibly deep level. I feel the ties to the land, not magically or mythologically, but rather in a historical sense; with understanding and awe that my ancestors have considered this land sacred for longer than I can truly comprehend. That this land has served as a place of refuge and of tragedy, of life and of death. And that the experience I have today while living in Jerusalem is inextricably tied to the experience my ancestors had in this land so long ago. Continue reading →
Jerusalem is redeemed by her ordinariness
By the wait for tardy buses
the fear of meshugeneh drivers
the lines at the bank
In rows of clothes hung out to dry,
I see ordinary people, with habitual concerns
Petty, of this earth,
utterly familiar and utterly commonplace
Jerusalem is elevated by her extraordinariness
By Arab women in hijaab and heels
And distracted, bearded men in tall black hats
By churches so beautiful that you could weep
And a blurred fog of fact and memory
inhaled with every other breath
Jerusalem, ordinary and extraordinary
becomes an almost-home by means prosaic and immense
By the whistling of the koomkoom on a cool evening
And the taste of fresh figs found nowhere back home
In waiting for the change of the traffic light
And the casual Shabbat greetings of the pierced convenience store clerk
dressed in faded blue jeans
I recently learned about Women of the Wall and their struggle for equality at the Kotel, the Western Wall, the most significant religious site for Jews. Every Rosh Chodesh they go to the Kotel to pray together in a minyan (technically, a group of 10 Jewish men, but for them, 10 Jewish women.) They have been facing a lot of hostility from police/government. The Rabbinut, Orthodox rabbis, controls the Kotel and what is allowed to happen there. So this morning, was Friday and we didn’t have school, so I wanted to go and show my support…
I came early before the other women entered and filmed a little of the men’s side. They get to read Torah, dance, wear tallit and tefillin. All things the women aren’t allowed to do at the Kotel yet. Continue reading →
Maybe it’s because I grew up feeling like one, or maybe it’s just some genetic Jewish thing, but for whatever reason, I’ve always sympathized with the outsider. When I went on the Tale of Three Cities tiyyul the two weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect, except that we were going to meet three very different women—one Muslim, one Haredi, one a secular kibbutznik—on their home turfs, less than a mile away from each other in the foothills leading up to Jerusalem.
I don’t think you can understand something unless you understand its “opposite.” I put “opposite” in quotes here because the more “opposites” you encounter, the more you come to realize that opposites are defined more by their similarities than their differences: The opposite of “down” is “up” and not “lip balm” because “up” and “down” are essentially the same thing just going in different directions, and sometimes this difference is only a matter of subjective perspective, while others, such as when you’re drowning, you can’t even tell which is which. Put differently, in moments of crisis, sometimes subjective categories cease to exist altogether and along with them the whole concept of “opposites.”
Visiting a Hareidi woman at her home in Telz Stone
Over Sukkot vacation, I got to do some relaxing and some traveling. Sam and I spent a day at the beach in Tel-Aviv, and another day exploring the Old City of Jerusalem. On previous trips, I spent a lot of time in the Old City’s Jewish quarter, which has a very touristy, Disneyland kind of feel (this is partly because the area is a magnet for Jewish tourists; and partly because it was razed to the ground by the Jordanians prior to 1967, and is therefore much, much newer than the rest of the Old City). While I did spend a little bit of time in the Jewish quarter on this trip, I spent much more time in the Christian and Islamic quarters.
The main goal of the day was to visit The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As it turns out, the church is very easy to find, but its entrance is not. Sam and I got a pretty good tour of the Christian quarter just searching for it. The church itself was mobbed; apparently Sukkot (“Tabernacles” in Christian terminology) is a very popular time for Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem. We didn’t even bother trying to get into the innermost area, where Jesus is believed to have been buried. What we did see was beautiful and interesting enough. I had to keep reminding myself that I was not in a museum but in a real, live holy site of a real, major religion. I actually have this problem even at Jewish holy sites. I think it’s a result of growing up in America, where we don’t have our own religious holy sites; museums are the closest we get.
From there, we followed to Via Dolorosa backwards into the Islamic quarter. We spent a bit less time here, but still got to wander a bit through the narrow alleyways and see all of the little shops. From there, we finished off the day at the Kotel.