i s r a e l : part two

This trip, in many ways, felt like sleepaway camp. As opposed to the simple “free trip to Israel” many of us imagined before landing halfway around the globe, this Birthright experience allowed me to develop several strong emotional bonds. I connected with my fellow travelers, who live across the US from New York to Laramie to Provo, in conversations spanning from introductory small talk to intense queries about the validity of relief when natural disasters reduce population size (Halley is a superb thinker.)

When traipsing around Israel, I felt a novel sensation of being intensely and barely Jewish at the same time.

Standing atop Mount Masada at dawn to witness the sunrise, looking out to the Dead Sea, surrounded by a mixed, mixed assortment of fellow Jews was astounding. Then, to hike over that mountain and imagine the thousands of years’ worth of events that had transpired atop the fortress, ranging from daily dove-tending to heart-rending massacres of Jews against Jews… this was so much more than a free trip. It required you up at dawn the first morning after a two-ish day day of travelling across the globe to get on your hiking boots and walk up a mountain. You were allowed the gift of meeting Bedouin nomads, drinking their coffee, and meditating on more stars than you’d ever seen while cloaked in the darkness of the Negev desert evening. Seven young Israelis ranging from soldiers to students to engineers accompanied you for five days. At first you were doubtful about their value, but after just a few days, you found yourself making silly faces with them and sincerely sorry when they left.

Even now, I’m not sure how Jewish I feel, or how to sort out the web of politics, history, and sorrow that the Jewish state has both endured and waged. However, I do know that because of this trip, I see Israel in a new light that’s framed with more understanding, support, and pride. I’ve strengthened my Jewish identity by holding onto the aspects of the religion I truly cherish such as universal respect, love, and the belief in education.

For the first time since high school, this trip gave me a huge community of young Jews to befriend. (I tried to enter the Wes group but it never felt right.) One of my favorite parts of going to Temple has been and will always be the multi-aged, family-filled community I can’t help but grow to love. Even though I’m far from most of my tripmates here in Connecticut, the idea that they’re all over the country is comforting, leading me to the thought that, when I do find a job and live somewhere, I can find another Jewish community to integrate myself into. Another home. To a lesser extent, I also now feel that Israel is another home for me if I wish it. That’s another incredible takeaway from ten days in a place steeped in meaning.

Second Semester Senior Year Realization #1

I wasn’t invited a get-together yesterday and my first reaction was feeling left out. Which, technically, I was. But then I realized that, had I been invited, I probably would’ve been kicking myself for going. I don’t like having to fangirl about Harry Potter all the time, or hyperbolize my homework load, or complain with the rest of my peers as they do so often. I feel a closer kinship with my professors, my home friends, my boyfriend and his older friends, and even my parents and family. Wes has been unspeakably wonderful for me in several regards, but after studying abroad, my lack of patience for being someone I’m not has proven fatal for several friendships. Although it’s an exercise in honesty I’m proud of, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that I have a readily available second friend group to turn to.

At the beginning of last semester, I was invited to a nearly identical gathering. When I arrived, I was excited to see the friends I hadn’t talked to since pre-London. But after being offered a G&T and settling onto a couch with a quasi-friend who almost made it but was decidedly too busy and cool for me, everyone started talking about what seemed like trivial topics. I became frustrated that I was wasting my time listening to my peers try to one-up each other with prideful stories that lacked substance. So I left, disappointed, visibly bored, and distraught.

I’m grateful for these moments where I internalize reluctance to stay in college. They act as boosters to get out into the real world and thrive. But it’s tough love.

i s r a e l : part one

How do I begin writing about a ten-day trip across a country with as much history, conflict, beauty, scents, and sights as Israel? Well, I’ve gotta start somewhere. How about

Before landing in Tel Aviv, I was so wrong about many aspects of this trip.

I prepared myself to fight the various types of Judaism-related brainwashing they’d attempt on us all. On the right (0) to wrong (10) scale, I was wrong by 8.

I imagined the Israelis who’d accompany us for five days would be difficult to interact with and mostly sent by the organization to make us fall in love and settle in Israel with them. I was wrong by 9.

As someone not intimately involved with current events, I imagined Israel would feel something like a war zone: safety not guaranteed. However, with our two personable medics/security guards and itinerary that took us mainly to rural parts of the country, I hardly felt unsafe. While we were hiking close to the Syrian border (still many miles away), we heard four distant booms akin to those from the Hunger Games. A bit unsettling but barely. We later learned from UN peacekeepers that those sounds were from Israeli military exercises. So in the end, I don’t think I was ever very close to danger. Wrongness level: 9.25.

In terms of company, I didn’t think much about the others joining Elior and I on our trip through the holy land. I purposefully chose to join the 22-26 group over the college-aged groups because I thought they’d be more mature and better partners to explore the controversial, highly complex land that is the birthplace of humanity. Turns out I was right- this was a CRITICAL choice in elevating my experience. However, I didn’t foresee how much I’d bond with them on a level approaching that of sleepaway camp.

One aspect of the trip that I wish I hadn’t been wrong about was the food. I didn’t anticipate the daily buffets of plentiful cabbage and schnitzel, but had been hoping for more colorful and place-relevant dishes. True, we were offered roasted eggplant, various forms of sub-par shakshuka, and some okay hummus at these buffets, but it was at the markets and stands where the flavors really burst forth. Dare I admit that the hummus I tasted in London was better than the vast majority of the Israeli varieties I sampled? Reality check: I went with a group of 39 other young adults, on a practically FREE trip, for ten days. There’s no way I could’ve asked for higher quality food on the regular. Ultimately, I did expose my little tongue to some wonderful Middle Eastern flavors and for that I’m grateful.

At this point I’m still overwhelmed with the amount of information I wish to write and explore, so I’ll ease it by providing some pictures.

Nudge of Inspiration: Style as Anti-Violence Activism

In the words of the extraordinary Jender Anomie,

“There’s this really good quote I found online about being ‘femme’ that is totally relatable: ‘Every morning, getting dressed is a process of quantifying an apathy to violence, potential, mediated, or openly hostile, for the day.’ For me, coming across the public every day can be quite a dehumanizing experience because people think I’m somehow obscuring myself with costume, which often incites insults or comments. I really feel, however, that the opposite is true. If I were to attempt to blend in, that would be the true obstacle. I would struggle to remember just how unique a person I am. ‘Dressing up’ means all I need to do is just look at myself. It’s right there where I can see it with my eyes and feel in my hands how today I created something beautiful. It really means I have to believe in myself, even if I want to give up because people are gonna say things and I am gonna have to deal with it.

Colorful and frivolous clothes are my main channel of communication to the world, and they say, ‘Warning, I don’t back down!’ It’s the only language I’m confident at speaking.”

 

Check out this brief yet stunning piece of art on Rookie.

How do you embrace a damaged person?

I’m talking about Woody Allen. Of course his comedic genius requires no explanation. However, it’s known that he abused his daughter. How does one reconcile these extreme facts and the vastly divergent emotions that they evoke?

Obviously, something transpired in his past that broke some part of him. Many assailants are not simply “born evil”, but are the products of their environments. This is why I don’t feel capable of hating anybody: there is too much evidence that a tragic act is rooted in another broken person or event.

So, how do you embrace someone with a huge mistake in their past? Yes, it varies considerably from case to case… but I’m just wondering.

List: Heartwarming Quotes for October about Moss

All of the quotes below are from a botanist I just heard about named Robin Wall Kimmerer. She studies mosses, a group that I am lucky enough to also worship and find so much magic within.

This inspiration brought to me and you by this Brain Pickings article (BP IS THE BEST.)

I want to live for a thousand years studying mosses and biology and concurrently dissolve within the magic of it all. I’m bursting.

“Life [exists] only because of a myriad of synchronicities that bring us to this particular place at this particular moment. In return for such a gift, the only sane response is to glitter in reply.”

“We poor myopic humans, with neither the raptor’s gift of long-distance acuity, nor the talents of a housefly for panoramic vision. However, with our big brains, we are at least aware of the limits of our vision. With a degree of humility rare in our species, we acknowledge there is much we can’t see, and so contrive remarkable ways to observe the world. Infrared satellite imagery, optical telescopes, and the Hubble space telescope bring vastness within our visual sphere. Electron microscopes let us wander the remote universe of our own cells. But at the middle scale, that of the unaided eye, our senses seem to be strangely dulled. With sophisticated technology, we strive to see what is beyond us, but are often blind to the myriad sparkling facets that lie so close at hand. We think we’re seeing when we’ve only scratched the surface. Our acuity at this middle scale seems diminished, not by any failing of the eyes, but by the willingness of the mind. Has the power of our devices led us to distrust our unaided eyes? Or have we become dismissive of what takes no technology but only time and patience to perceive? Attentiveness alone can rival the most powerful magnifying lens.”

“Learning to see mosses is more like listening than looking. A cursory glance will not do it. Starting to hear a faraway voice or catch a nuance in the quiet subtext of a conversation requires attentiveness, a filtering of all the noise, to catch the music. Mosses are not elevator music; they are the intertwined threads of a Beethoven quartet.”

List: I’m becoming nostalgic for college in the present moment

Luxuries I’m actively enjoying and reminiscing about while presently engaging with them:

  1. A meal plan. If I choose, I can spend about 16 points per day on pre-made food. That’s usually pretty good. And somewhat healthy. And readily available. All day. The next time this happens may be if I ever enter a nursing home… or camp (let’s hope for the latter.)
  2. A house with heat that I can crank up without worrying about expense (room and board covers it.) This is not to say that I don’t wear copious layers or go to sleep bundled up like an infant, but compared to my experiences in other places (e.g. home), the ability to saunter over to the thermosdat and effortlessly raise the heat above hibernation-inducing is absolutely divine!
  3. A residence that’s four minutes from my science classes, three from the grocery store, three from the gym, four from many other classes.
  4. A campus whose grocery store is a yuppie’s dream: practically all organic or local or cruelty-free or vegan or gluten-free or without preservatives or a big mix of those factors. Of course, that means that natural peanut butter is eleven dollars, but the fact that I’m practically required to indulge myself in these culinary treats is quite a luxury. How can I complain?
  5. Professors who are practically celebrities. My friend’s advisor is a climate change econ advisor to the president. A professor for whom I’m devising a project and was a former lab assistant was the advisee of Richard Lewontin and TA’d for E.O. Wilson. Two other evolutionary bio profs were at Harvard getting their grad degrees at that time as well.
  6. A student body that struggles to contain their exuberance for life by constantly breaking the Rule of 7 and using their non-existent free time to manage musicals, clubs, movements, volunteering, bands, projects, companies, you name it… I know that each person I pass while walking from my house to Usdan has a fascinating story and set of passions that led them here. I wish I could get to know them all. But because that’s not really within my time limit, I’m satisfied with knowing the stories of a portion of them and dreaming about those of they who remain.

A confession of aspirations

Is it my duty, as a Wesleyan-educated alum, who has been the recipient of countless privileges and good fortune, to pursue academia and high-level knowledge? There’s so much stress and comparison and elitism that comes along with that. It’s also obvious that having a minimum-wage or middle-class job has its own stressors.

I just finished Ruth Reichl’s utterly consuming memoir, “Tender at the Bone”. When I was younger, I flirted with the idea of becoming a chef. I adored cooking, and still do. Now I realize that I don’t have the passion to relentlessly refine a tart recipe nor have the emotional tenacity to produce multiple recipes every day, as so many foodies do. However, I would just love to explore the field of terroir, because it is so intimately linked with my passion for evolutionary biology and nature/nurture, aka how the environment affects one’s genetics and phenotype (very much a run-on sentence… Just trying to get these ideas out). Terroir: “the conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics.

Ruth’s book recounted her adventures around America and the world on her journey from a child to celebrated restaurant critic. I greedily swam in the words that structured the retelling of her colorful, character-laden path full of loneliness, talent, luck, and bravery. Such is the luxury of reading.

It also reminds of of last week’s psychology class, where we divulged our secret desires that we’d act on if not for fear of arrest, guilt, or other societally-influenced constraints. Some were to-be-expected: walk around naked, cheat on tests. But one that drew much interest and confusion was along the lines of, “I’d be a high school math teacher.”

My immediate reaction was of shock: Of course they can do that! Why is it such an issue? But after a few days’ activities including reading, altering mental states, giving blood, and subsistence upon mostly carbs (molasses-oatmeal bread, two homemade types of granola bars, beer pancakes…) new perspectives emerged.

Whose judgment matters to us? I’m fortunate that, at this moment, I know of no one who has objected to my dream career path. But I’m worried that those I haven’t met yet, who will be implicated in this career path, will care and will negatively view my choices.

I want to go to grad school for biology, get a PhD, and do research. But before I do that, I feel the urge to capitalize on my tender, sweet, twenty-something years and travel, have experiences, and enrich the rest of my life. How can people just go from school to school to school to job without travelling or exploring? Leaving their bubble? Comfort zone/zone of familiarity?

Fortunately, biologists tend to be pretty open-minded. They might understand why I took off a year or two or five to create myself. But will the admissions counselor? Will my PI? Will future employers?

After writing down these three gatekeepers and noting their possible influence in my entire life, I feel a little better.

I’ve been told that, if I want to take time off in between college and grad school, it’d be logical to get a science job. But I want to travel, volunteer, and do somewhat non-sciencey things. Will I be condemned for this? It’s not to say that I don’t have a passion for science (what an utterly silly thought!) But does it implicate that I don’t have passion for academic science and therefore enough motivation to attain a doctorate?

I’ve been neck-deep in biology-based learning for over over six years. I’ve loved it since I was young. I’ll keep loving it forever. But will it reflect harshly on me if I take a hiatus of biological learning? And at this relatively young age of 21/22?

Maybe I’m just tired of the system through which I’m learning. Indeed, one of my volunteer ideas is to work on a farm. That’s an extremely biological activity. It’s just not through the traditional ideas of experimenting and publishing results. This would be about engaging with biology in a more spiritual, wholesome, blue-collar way.

Sidenote: Recently, two friends and I were talking about our dreams and one who I won’t name mentioned that all she really wants is to find a husband and have kids and be a mother. As reproduction is our ultimate goal in this life, what she wants makes total sense. But I’m judging her. Doesn’t she want more out of life? It’s brave of her to say that (at least, putting myself in her shoes.)

By forging an alternative, volunteer-laden path now, will I be able to avoid a mid-life crisis? If I embrace the difficulties of having to stray from society’s principles and regularly remind myself of my true autonomy, will I be better off in the long run? It’d be so easy to just siphon into the system after college: get a job or go to grad school and assimilate into a typical American lifestyle. To passively jump into the forceful and alluringly predictable economic system. But I don’t want that. I want to move around too often and meet people and struggle to communicate in different countries. It’s tough because people don’t understand the pull of wanderlust. One cannot conceptualize/understand its colossal personal impacts. It’s an addiction most people just can’t fathom, like imagining a novel color or feeling a type of prejudice that’s foreign to you.

And now, an excerpt from a blog post written at the tender age of sixteen, which strikingly resonates even five years later.

9.12.2010

I change shapes just to hide in this place but I’m still, I’m still an animal.

The other day at services I was watching the all the Rabbis on the stage dance, sing, and play instruments to celebrate the Jewish new year. As if I adjusted my eyes, I suddenly saw them as what they are- apes. I noticed the primitive way they moved their body in dance. I saw one of them banging a tambourine on their hand to make sound. I saw their mouths open, forcefully expelling air through their throats to make different pitched sounds. Then, everyone else who gathered that day voiced back lines written down to the rabbis. They did this because this is the “proper” thing to do- go to services. Sing songs that have been in existence for centuries seems right. But half-mindlessly repeat back sentences that are typed up? I feel like when I read those words, I’m half worried about staying in time with the congregation, the other half I’m trying to understand what I’m saying.
I think I’d rather pray on my own, with words that aren’t so rigid and are more understandable than the ones written in the prayer books. If there even is a god, I have a feeling that it wouldn’t matter if the words we spoke regarding this god were outrageously eloquent or broken english. Maybe it makes people feel better/like they’re fulfilling their obligation as a Jew if they just read these dry words and are attentive for those few hours at services. I don’t know.
I read the Alchemist. It’s really a masterpiece of a book. Not in the way where it’s really complex and everything connects (like Harry Potter), but the dialogue and events that occur are just spectacular. I don’t feel like explaining it besides commanding, yes that’s right, COMMANDING that you read it yourself. It’s excellent brain food for teenagers pondering life. It’s affected me really deeply and I look forward to reading it again at a different stage in my life. I think the contrast of how I interpret it then vs. now will illuminate many things I can’t see or understand right now.
Going back to the rabbi part though, I find I’m periodically entering and departing from two mindsets: one where I’m a citizen of America, a student, an aspiring scientist, a subject of immense high school pressure, a driver of a car. On the other hand, I live as an animal: a humble member of Homo sapiens, a monkey, an equal to all the other creatures in the forest and even the smallest of beings. Plants too. However, I’m “higher” on the food chain, so I eat them, although I still respect them for having that miraculous breath of life circulating their body and existing in a realm of unfathomable magic.
Here’s where my astrological sign comes in (yes, I believe that stuff to a reasonable degree, just not the newspaper columns [all they talk about is work anyway, which makes them seem really stupid.] I simply like to look at it for a possible fortelling of what could happen soon/advice of how I could react to things differently.):
My Aquarius sign stresses that I’m deeply intellectual, methodical, idealistic, etc. My opposite would be emotional, people-person, needy individual (nothing wrong with those people, btw.) It admits that I have an issue viewing things as they are in a combination of those two mindsets. I can clearly see pros/cons from each perspective, but it’s hard to decide what to do if I try to exist in both those mindsets at once. When I’m thinking about my future, I long to take the alternative path: to explore the world, to detach myself from communications, really discover who I am, realize the meaning of love. The rational/reality side of me defaults to thinking about college. I want to travel a path that includes both of these options. There’s so much that can happen. In ten years, I can’t give you an answer of where I’ll be, in some parts because I don’t want to imagine myself somewhere that I can name right now as a 16 year old. I want to be in a place I didn’t expect, with fascinating outcomes. I want to become a shepherd like the boy in The Alchemist and discover my Personal Legend; to establish a relationship with a God/spirit I truly believe in; to travel; to love; to complete my mission on earth. I also want to become a scientist and make my impact on the world. I suppose a mid-life crisis could really trigger a realization of my Personal Legend, but I don’t want to wait till I’m 50 and ailing from various things. I want to start now, when I’m aware of how naive I am, and I want to learn now.
But the world we live in now doesn’t support that. It supports suburbanization, “settling down” with 3 kids and a husband you met at a bar, working just to make money.
I have time, I’m only 16. But in two years I’ll be heading off to college (most likely) and choosing a path. I appreciate the conflict I have now because it means I have options. And I know that at college I’ll have options. But it’s not the same.
Or is it?
For the first time, after college, I’ll actually be the CEO of my own life. Not to imply that college was a forced decision- I embraced it and wanted it very much. But it was always expected. Now, no one, including myself, will be able to predict what I’ll do next. S C A R Y, yet oh so exciting.

List: I do like some material things. I admit it.

I feel very self-conscious publishing a list of material items I’d be happy to receive. However, as is the purpose of this blog, this post is also acting as a repository so that I may document ideas and find them at a future time. I’m not asking for any of these things right now. However, you might find this useful on my birthday or another similar time.

  • A Rumi book of poetry
  • Map-covered anything, especially pillows or blankets
  • A subscription to Bust magazine.
  • A ticket somewhere! Or a night at a hotel! Or a concert ticket!
    • All I want to do is travel. True story.

List: Minuscule Volcanoes Erupting all over my Heart

  • When you share a piece of music and the recipient struggles to reply out of sheer stupefaction
  • Getting a second wind
  • When the state of your cappuccino’s foam is both plentiful and high-quality
  • When you develop a positive habit and it becomes second-nature
  • When you and someone else simultaneously feel something so deeply that it incapacitates your speech but you just know that the other person is experiencing the same phenomenon
  • Experiencing a paradigm shift (of neutral or positive nature, hopefully!)
  • Finding out you were wrong about something negative you unconsciously accepted as truth
  • Noticing something you didn’t realize before: an instrument in a song, the facade of a building above the first storey, a new tasting note in a drink or food, etc.
  • The instant you finally feel sufficiently warm or cooled down in the case of inclement weather.
  • That moment of understanding when that string of unintelligible words suddenly looks like poetry. Or, when your perspective changes and everything that was old now looks new.
  • When all the thoughts that use your head like an airport, landing and taking off ceaselessly, pause for a moment and leave you with a nearly empty and totally peaceful mindset.
  • Being able to think back to a years-ago memory and compare it to current circumstances. For instance, the other day at klezmer rehearsal, as my three zany senior music-major fellow bandmates and I danced around in a circle, I was reminded of our very first rehearsal as freshmen in a subterranean practice room. Matt had a man-bun (before it was in vogue), I thought Angus was super cool (still do), and Matthew was doing his best to get us through pieces (still does, but he’s a lot more confident now.) I was much more timid, too. Blast from the past!
  • Finding a nugget of joy that comes out of nowhere and pushes all of your humor buttons at once, like this:
I crack up EVERY TIME.

I crack up EVERY TIME.

And now I’m just gonna pop some hilarious pictures here because laughing is good.