These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Week 31: The Incoming Tide

Posted on April 6, 2012 by Derek Kwait

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Long story short, I was accepted to be a Pardes Fellow next year, charged to be a leader in the community and run the blog while getting paid a generous stipend. Of course this is what I wanted to do, but the question keeping me up at night was whether or not it is what I should do. The deadline for deciding is when we come back from break, but I was determined to make my decision by Pesach so I could actually enjoy my holiday. This combined with anxiety over buying, cleaning, preparing for Pesach, cast two long shadows of anxiety over the start of the first full week of Pesach break. Sunday and Monday, as I weighed my options what are you just sitting around for, you can barely walk in your room without getting chametz all over your socks! You really think you’re going to feel like doing it all in one day! You’re not going to be prepared at all in the back of my mind, I longed for the seder Friday night, when I would be free of all this worry.

Sitting in my room, alone with the pros and cons of whether or not to stay next year and the chametz in this room that would be visible from the moon! Some people start cleaning at Purim, maybe your life would be easier if you tried to be more like them—you know, God-fearing, the kind who takes this stuff seriously. I guess watching The Daily Show is just SO much more important than preparing for Pesach, procrastinator! protruded into everything else I tried to do. Going outside made things much better—spring is finally here in a big way: the weather is as consistently hot, the skies are the same pure, cloudless blue, and the nights are as perfect as they were when I first got here, the rainy season is now officially over. Going for a walk, or sitting in the park reading, taking in fresh air under the limitless sky with a song in my heart expands my mind and reminds me of why I’m here, why I’m alive, in the first place and I can breathe again. But then I go back inside my room, and it’s so cramped. There’s just not enough space in this room for you an all this damn chametz! I sure don’t envy you on Thursday!

Thankfully for my sanity, I’ve actually gotten plenty of respite from my chametz apartment. Monday evening, while out for falafel and a walk, I bumped into my friend Kyle, and we spent the rest of the night together reading Jonathan Sacks’ Haggada, eating pizza, and watching a movie with our friend Naomi.

Tuesday, Naomi, our friend Andrew, and I went to the beach in Tel Aviv.

While this was technically my third time in Tel Aviv this year, this was my first time going for fun, and this trip made one thing crystal clear: Tel Aviv is 45-minutes and a whole planet away from Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, restaurants have signs out front saying “Kosher for Pesach, no kitniyot,” in Tel Aviv they say, and this was a real sign, “Open during the seder and on Saturday.” In Tel Aviv, buildings come in colors other than Jerusalem stone, and self-expression comes in the form of tattoos rather than knitted kippas. It’s a little hard for a yeshiva student to get used to. But laying on the beach with your friends on a nearly perfect day, listening to Phish, getting sand in your toes and hair, watching the people and the sailboats go by, it was hard to worry about much other than breaking up as many sand clumps as you could and when you would be ready to brave the cold water and go for a swim.

After a few hours, Naomi and I (Andrew had left earlier to get lunch with friends) decided to look for food. It was a hot day, and we were tired. We walked for blocks searching the Tel Aviv beach front in a increasingly desperate attempt to find a kosher dairy restaurant. Tens of minutes went past with nothing. Then, finally, just when we were about to lose hope, I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, a word on the sign of a pizza place across the street that looked vaguely like it might possibly have said כשר. We ran across the street to see for ourselves, and, sure enough, there it was, in the window, a real-life kosher dairy certification. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I’m not sure if I would have believed it.

If it had only been a kosher pizza shop, dayenu, but it was actually a real Italian restaurant. If it had only been a real kosher Italian restaurant, dayenu, but it was also very reasonably priced. If it had been only been kosher, Italian, and reasonably priced, dayenu, but it was also really good—I got the one of the best pasta pestos with cream sauce I’ve ever eaten. If it had only been kosher, Italian, reasonably priced, and delicious, dayenu, but there was also—at this Italian restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel in view of the Mediterranean Sea on a gorgeous, hot spring day, curling on TV. If it had only been kosher, Italian, reasonably priced, delicious, and had curling on TV, dayenu, but God also gave us a real-live Canadian to watch it with, when our friend Laura from Toronto, in town to visit her 90-year-old cousin, came to meet us there. Some say there are no overt miracles anymore, others choose to see miracles in all things.

After lunch, Laura led us on a small walk around town to a wonderful frozen yogurt shop for dessert. It was like Razzy Fresh in Squirrel Hill, except without the self-service and with persimmon and halavah as toppings.

By the time we finished dessert, it was time to head back to Jerusalem. After trying and failing to navigate our way around the sprawling abyss known as the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, we snagged a shuttle home and 45-minutes later, found ourselves home once again among the hills, limestone, and It’s fine to take a day at the beach, but you’re going to be way too sunburned and tired tomorrow to do anything productive! You’ve still got to shop! You’ve still got to clean! How about next year? Got any plans yet? of planet Jerusalem.

The next morning I slept in and woke up knowing how the Pascal lamb must feel, as seen in this picture a friend took of me shortly after I got dressed that morning:

It turns out that while I may not burn easily, I still do burn—on my shoulders, my back, my thighs, and nearly on my elbows, too. It hurts, but it’s still less painful than paying 100 shekels for sunscreen, so I have no regrets. Later that day, I got most of my Passover shopping done. At first it’s exciting to go into a giant grocery store and realize nearly everything in it is kosher for Passover, until you remember how, in this country, with all it’s pesky eastern Jews, just because something is labeled kosher for Passover, doesn’t mean that an Ashkenazi like you who insists on clinging to the outdated and ridiculous custom of not eating kitniyot during Passover, can eat it, no matter how suntanned you are. Finding good-looking kitniyot-free food actually wasn’t hard, however, and, now that I’m loaded up with eggs, quinoa, cheese, matza, fruits, and veggies, I’m really excited to try cooking my own Passover food this year for the first time. Also while shopping, I bumped into friends and got a great idea for a kosher for Passover breakfast cereal for non-Ashkenazim called Kitny-O’s®, so it was an extremely productive trip. It’s spokesthing would be a kitten. That’s cute, but it doesn’t bring you any closer to knowing what you’re doing next year, and if you put your bags full of fruit for Passover on your floor while you still have Pizza the Hutt living under your bed, they’re going to get chametz all over them! What a waste of food! What a waste of money! Why not stop lazing about and get it over with already! That night, I went over my friends’ apartment to discuss the seder and get some new perspective on what to do next year. I left more excited for the seder, anyway.

Thursday, the day I had set aside all week for cleaning, I semi-accidentally slept in later than I had planned to the previous night. Oh, well, you’re never going to finish cleaning in time now! You know you have to finish it today, what were you thinking? As though you don’t have enough else to do, now you’re never going to finish everything in time, not to mention that you still have NO IDEA what you should do for next year…

Since going to morning minyan as I had originally planned was no longer an option, I davened the morning service alone in my room. For me, especially when I am alone, the silent Amida is the most special part of the service, it’s when I have the most focus, see things the clearest, and feel God’s Presence most strongly. As I davened the Amida, ideas about what I should do next year kept bubbling to the surface of my mind, interrupting my concentration. While I’m very used to dealing with unwanted thoughts during prayer, this time, in spite of my best efforts to suppress or ignore them, the thoughts were forming themselves into what seemed like sensible ideas for an offer I couldn’t refuse. But I couldn’t focus on it, I was praying; it was like getting an urgent phone call in the middle of an important meeting with your boss—as much as I’d like to take a second to answer the call, I’ve got to just let it ring, because I’m trying to talk to God over here and that’s more important. Ultimately, I did manage to complete my prayer with kavana, and afterwards, once I stepped outside to another perfect blue day, I was able to take the message my brain left before and piece out the details of its new plan as I walked to complete my errands. It turns out, it really was a good plan. By the time I returned to my apartment, there was little doubt in my mind that I should stay here for another year and be a Fellow. (For the record, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I get some of my best solutions while praying, though I attribute this less to divine inspiration and more to undirected thought, no less a gift from God.)

After I finished running my errands and eating a very chametzy breakfast, I cranked up the Moshav Band and commenced cleaning my room for Pesach. Yes, I finished and still had plenty time to do all my other necessary preparations before bed. Now I am You probably want to check that compartment in your backpack where the granola spilled one more time since yesterday it seemed like every time you came back to it, you found more chametz lurking in the folds done.

Now, at last, I have nothing left to do besides start getting ready for the seder tonight. I can’t wait, those four cups of wine can’t come soon enough.

Quote of the Week: “May all chametz or leaven that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, be nullified and deemed like the dust of the earth.” – The Siddur

Hebrew Word of the Week: לנקות (“leenkoht”) – to clean

Next Year in Jerusalem!!!