These and Those

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

Week 35: Other Things I’ve Learned in Israel

Posted on May 7, 2012 by Derek Kwait

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(X-posted from my home blog, Yinzer in Yerushalayim)

I came to Israel wanting to learn Torah, and I have. Thank God, I’ve learned tons of Torah here and am privileged to learn more each day. But now that it’s May and I’m entering into the home stretch of my first year in Israel, I’ve gotten to thinking about some of the other things I’ve learned since coming here nine months and one lifetime ago, the bonus features of my Israel experience, those unexpected extra scoops of ice cream that have made spending nearly all my savings on this crazy adventure even more worthwhile.

While here, I’ve also learned:

  • That I am the type of person who will get excited about having a surprise lesson on Aramaic grammar, far more so than I ever was about a surprise lesson in English grammar.
  • That I look fantastic in women’s pants, even if I don’t quite have the butt for them.
  • That if God had wanted us to wait in line, He would not have given us elbows
  • How to cook. Specifically, how to stir-fry, make rice, quinoa, curry, lasagna, halushki, Israeli salad, and an infinite amount of other things if I choose to put the time and thought into it.
  • That Israelis aren’t big fans of leashes, for dogs (bad) or for children (good).
  • That I am not the only engaged, passionate, and observant non- or post-denominational Jewish freak (what Falynn calls “Baynim”) out there. There are more just like me, and they all find a home at Pardes.
  • That my arms have an above-average level of flexibility in their ability to stretch to touch nearly all areas of my back. I spent my entire life assuming I was almost certainly the most inflexible person who ever lived. So when my friend, a former yoga teacher, noticed this flexibility last week as I scratched myself, I was shocked, though I was also tremendously relieved since I can now rest assured knowing my long-standing fear that I was evidence of a physical devolution of the human species is groundless. Quite the opposite, in fact: I know realize that my ability to scratch my own back, something I’ve never thought anything of until now, is actually a pretty useful adaptation, ladies…
  • That the 9th-10th graders at Congregation B’nai Tikva – Beth Israel in Sewell, New Jersey are the most awesome Jews in the entire world. Or at least in New Jersey.
    • (Hey, there are a lot of Jews in New Jersey.)
  • That Shukophobia, or a paralyzing fear of the shuk is a real condition affecting not just me but hundreds of other overly-coddled, English-speaking wimps all over Israel.
  • How to play Settlers of Catan, or, as we call it here, Settlers of Canaan.
  • That not every Jewish resident of the West Bank is a right-wing religious fanatic.
  • What it’s like to meet and speak with actual, real-life Palestinians.
  • That FUBU is owned by a Jew.
  • That there is no institution more quintessentially Jewish than the breakaway minyan.
  • How to sing. While going to shul on Shabbat at first felt like missing choir practice, I’m now in love with being in a city that isn’t shy about joining together in praiseful song to its Creator. The best part is how the music on my (and, very noticeably, many other people’s) lips during Shabbat and holidays spills over into the rest of the week, infusing it with a special holiness and joy not found in most other places.
  • That if God had wanted me to meditate, He would not have given me dust allergies (though wait till next week…)
  • That I can speak in public.
  • That Israel had a woman Prime Minister (Golda Meir, elected 1969) before it ever had a woman bus driver. In the nine months I’ve been here, I haven’t seen one anywhere driving any kind of bus: public, private, school, shuttle, tour or otherwise. I guess it’s all about choosing your battles.

Quote of the Week: “I never want to dismiss the possibility of sarcasm, especially when reading Rabbinic texts.” – Leah Rosenthal

Hebrew Word of the Week: ללמוד (“leelamohd”) – to learn