Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Understanding Yourself and Others

The course is starting to fill up! People are enrolling, the plans are coming together, the instructors arrive in Israel in just another week and a half, and I am practically giddy with excitement. It's a lot of work, but I'M SO EXCITED.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Kosher Bar

A few nights ago, I went to a bar for the fourth time in my life.

I should emphasize that have nothing against bars or alcohol per se. It's just that when it comes to meeting guys, bars don't offer much for me, as I'm looking for the type of guy who is more likely to be found at my local synagogue than in the local pub. When it comes to hanging out with friends, I prefer to be able to see them, and to hear them without shouting. And when it comes to drinking . . . well, maybe the "problem" is that I don't get "buzzed." I go straight from sober to sleepy. Getting drunk is not something that seems fun for me. My idea of fun is a ruthless game of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, or a day at a good amusement park, or talking to my sister when she has lots of funny stories about my nephews. Bars are just not my thing.

The first time I ever went to a bar was the night before my graduation from Barnard. For four years I had lived, studied, and worked at a secular college, surrounded by people for whom bars were very much their thing. A place called the West End Gate is a particularly popular draw for most Barnard and Columbia students -- but not for my immediate circles of close friends. During Senior Week, when the undergraduates have left campus while the Seniors stick around to celebrate their upcoming Commencement, I was mentioning to some friends that it seems wrong, somehow, to graduate from college having never been to a bar. Going to bars is such a quintessential part of the American college experience. I didn't regret my lifestyle, but felt that it was somehow un-American to let graduation come and go without going to the West End Gate. They said "we've never been to a bar, either! Let's go!" And so, the night before we graduated, I went with my friends C. and J. to the West End Gate. The place was empty -- the undergrads were gone, and the seniors had free on-campus parties to entertain them -- but we each ordered one drink, sat at a table, and were "yotzei our chiyyuv" (fullfilling our "religious" obligation) of going to a bar while in college.

The second time I ever went to a bar was a year later. I was living in Cambridge, and once again the tension between being a young, single American in an urban environment and also being an Orthodox Jew for whom bars meant nothing was starting to boil to the surface. What was I missing? I mentioned to some other Orthodox friends that I'd never been bar-hopping, and they said, "well, let's go!" So one night I went with B. and J. to a bar in Cambridge . . . and then to another bar in Cambridge . . . and then to another one . . . and in each place I thought "what exactly is the point of this?" At the first bar I ordered a kahlua and cream. After that I stuck to Coke. In one place, B., who did not grow up religious, suddenly pulled out a cigarette -- I have no idea where it came from -- and indulged in an old habit. I think B. felt a little guilty for exposing me and J. to the vices of alcohol and tobacco. After the third bar, I felt that I'd wasted enough of the evening, and we left.

About 6 or 7 years passed. I went to UYO, and made some friends who, it happened, were more into bars than I am, including my dear friend E., who was working as an actor in New York. A few months later, E. decided to move to Atlanta, and invited me to his going-away party, at some bar in downtown Manhattan. I don't remember what it was called, just that the windows were completely covered by red velvet curtains, and that there was no sign over the door telling you what it was; you either knew there was a bar in there, or you didn't. Despite getting there a little late, I was still there before E. and his other friends. So I ordered a Coke and sat down. When E. came in, already a little buzzed from some pre-party partying, he looked at the glass in my hand and exclaimed "Sarah!?! You drink?!?" I replied "E.. It's a Coke." He sighed and looked relieved, as if the idea of Sarah drinking alcohol had been spinning the Earth off its axis. Of course, in a way he was right. I stuck around for a couple of hours, talking to E's other friends, who all seemed very nice, when I could hear them, and then went home. That was about four years ago.

Last week, my friend L. sent me an email, inviting me to O'Connell's for her 30th birthday party. I looked up O'Connell's on the internet and discovered that it was a bar. I sent her an email saying "What does one wear to a bar? And if I don't drink will I be totally geeky?" She wrote back that it's a KOSHER bar (that is, it has certification that all the food and drinks are kosher), and does not attract the typical bar clientele, and I could wear and do whatever I want.

Indeed, the place was not packed, and the people who were there were deep enough into their 20's and 30's that the atmosphere was fairly subdued. There were two guys at the bar itself. Only one person was smoking in the entire place. The music was loud but they played songs that I like a lot. And since it is kosher, I could order food! I ordered fish and chips (and a Coke) at a bar! Wow! Israel is a great place. Yeah, everyone else in our birthday party was having beers or tequilas, but I realized, while I was eating my meal, that they don't care whether I'm having a Coke or what, and also that I don't really care if they think I'm geeky. I am geeky. And I like it that way.

I guess I've matured enough to realize that not only do I not need bars, but I also don't need to not need them. I could hang out with other people, note that having to shout and not being able to see them is quite annoying, enjoy my fish and chips, and then go home, pleased that I'd made my friend happy and met some new people. I know myself better now, and I don't have to prove to myself or anyone else that I'm frum enough, or that I'm American enough, or that I'm Israeli enough, or that I'm cool enough. I'm a cool chyck who does not like bars, but will gladly go to one if that's where my friend wants to celebrate her birthday.

The kosher bar, and me. We are what we are.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I feel better . . .

. . . but am incredibly busy, trying to catch up all the work and errands etc. that I didn't do when I was sick. The good news for you, my dear readers, is that now I have a backlog of topics to blog about, so, we can hope, there will soon be many new posts.

Thanks for sticking with me even when blogging is light. I appreciate you all!

Monday, October 16, 2006


The bad news: I am still sick. 80 percent better, but not entirely there yet. Still very tired and cant bring myself to eat normal food. I can basically function but will all of a sudden get a blinding headache, and my eyes are killing me. I have a (second) appointment with a doctor tomorrow. Seriously, this bug is a triple whammy. Its miserable. And, just so you know, spending Simchat Torah in bed with a fever and chills is not fun. Not fun at all.

(Also there are no apostrophes in this post because Blogger is annoying and opens the "find" bar everytime I hit the apostrophe.)

The good news: 13 people have said that they are coming to the "Understanding Yourself and Others" course in Jerusalem in November, which Im organizing, of whom 4 have completely registered and 2 found out about it from this very blog! Just 3 posts below, you guys! Come one come all! (If you live in Israel.) There is space left for 9 more people! Contact me at chayyeisarah at yahoo dot com if you want more information.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I'm sick.

Nauseated, fever, been in bed for 3 days sick.

I hate being sick.

I especially hate being sick on Sukkot, and it's happened every year since I came to Israel. Must be the change of the seasons - my body just doesn't know what to do with it. Next year I will start wearing sweaters every evening starting 2 weeks before the holiday and drown myself in Vitamin C.

I hate being sick.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Must. Get. Cable.
Really Good News

As my regular readers will recall, before I moved to Israel, my friend Rabbi Shimmy Trencher gave me a pre-Aliyah gift in the form of plane ticket, to take a 2.5-day self-empowerment course called "Understanding Yourself and Others." (See how Shimmy has made the course more easily available to Jewish teenagers, in a shomer Shabbat, completely halachic environment, here.) I'm not going to say that it "changed my life," because what does that mean? But it did help me, tremendously. It gave me a lot of tools that I still use to this day. Later, I attended more sessions of the course, in different locations, as a course assistant, an experience that gave me tremendous "chizzuk" (strength) for the ego-crumbling process of absorbing oneself into Israeli society. It didn't lead to discernible changes in my external life -- I still mostly make the same choices I probably would have made anyway -- but my internal life is much more positive. And, I must admit, there are small things I've done, such as attend singles events that I otherwise may have run away from, or instances in which I've stood up for myself, or just reacted more positively to something when my first instinct was to be impatient and negative, that can probably be attributed to UYO.

Anyway, finally finally, after planning this for only, oh, two years, and several false starts, I'm bringing UYO to Jerusalem-- in just a few weeks! I want my friends here to be able to benefit from it, and since it helps people to become more "at peace" with themselves and the people around them, I see it as a way that I can have a positive and very powerful impact on Israeli society. People are already starting to sign up, and I'm really excited.

The really great news is that, thanks to a VERY generous donor in Boca Raton, Florida, the cost for the course is now "Whatever you are able to pay." It costs us over $600 per student do the course, and very very few people in Israel can afford that, so this donation is what is basically making the course possible. Thank you, generous donor, you know who you are!

This is one of the reasons I haven't been blogging much; much of my "leisure time" has been used to find a location for the course (still tentative, but we'll probably "close" on a place near Old Katamon in the next few days), answer questions for people who are interested in coming, research accomodations for the instructors who are flying in, etc.

If you live in Israel and are reading this and want to attend (or learn more with an eye to possibly attending), here is the basic info: It will take place November 15-17 (including a traditional Shabbat meal on Friday night), and if you write to me at chayyeisarah at yahoo dot com I'll be happy to send you more information about the class, full registration info, etc. Priority is given to those who live in Israel permanently; those who are here, say, for a year will be put automatically on a waiting list (there is room for 22 students). The course will be given in English, but those who wish to express themselves in Hebrew or Russian will have people there who can translate. I'm also looking for people who speak fluent Arabic, as an investment toward the future. There is no other eligibility requirement other than living here and understanding English - secular, religious, not Jewish, rich, poor, native, immigrant, Jerusalemite, Tel Avivian . . . if you want to come, you are welcome. The course will be conducted under the halachic guidance of Rabbi Ian Pear, but no one will be made to keep or break any Jewish ritual that they don't want to.

If you live outside Israel and want to help, there are two ways: The first and most important is to spread the word to your friends who live here. The second is to provide scholarship funds for the students (or students in future courses; I plan to do this as many times as possible, hoping it will grow). Send tax-deductible donations to “American Friends of Holistic Healing,” noting that the donation is for UYO, and mail it to American Friends of Holistic Healing, 10 Harvard Street, Reading, MA 01867. If you have any questions about the program, you can also contact Beth Lefevre, teacher and motivator extraordinaire of the Global Relationship Center of Boca Raton -- she's going to be one of the two teachers of the course, and is helping me organize all the logistics (Thank you, Beth!) (Note: Despite the initials of Beth's company, this is not the Landmark Forum.)

Go, me!

Friday, October 06, 2006

We've got the shakes

Blogging has been light lately because I have so much work.

Thank God.

You can see one of the things I've been working on here.

Meanwhile, the people in Downtown Jerusalem have been shaking their groove thang:

To all my Jewish readers: Have a happy holiday.
To my non-Jewish readers: Have a good weekend, and if you want you can read all about Sukkot and shaking the Lulav with a simple internet search. Happy exploring.

Hat tip for the video: Dave Bender and Israelity

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Call to Prayer . . . and Tolerance

Check out my post about Israel and the Muslim "call to prayer" at Israelity.com. I've been meaning to write about it here, and now my work for Israelity gave me a good excuse.

Please leave comments! Over there or over here . . . preferably over there. Thanks.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's an Older Video but . . . very telling

Rabid Star Trek fans in Israel?

Yeah, we got that.