Friday, July 08, 2011

Corn Flakes Are So Much Better In Israel

Notice anything about the cereals depicted on these boxes? Evidently, "corn flakes" has gone the way of Xerox, Kleenex, and Coke (for Southerners) and become the generic word for its industry's products. But I'll tell you this right now, I've never enjoyed Corn Flakes so much. Since I've been here, I'm finding that I'm cuckoo for corn flakes because theyyyyyy're grrrreat! And luckily I didn't listen when one young shopkeep tried to warn me off a purchase, saying "Silly rabbi, Corn Flakes are for kids!"

To be fair, this is not generally what the cereal display looks like here. In most places, they have all different kinds and the selection looks similar to its American counterpart. I have found, however, that it is a particularly expensive item in a lot of stores. I expect, sadly, to eat less cereal this year than usual.

In other news, things are going really well here. I'm enjoying meeting and hanging out with my classmates, and discovering Jerusalem and how to do what, just a few weeks ago, were the simplest of everyday tasks with them. Most have now arrived, with a few more to go as we officially begin our program next week (the work/school week runs Sunday through Thursday here - that's a difference).

The other night, I played basketball at a park near my apartment and confirmed, first-hand, that there is quality cadur sal (basketball) to be played just about every night there. Was fun to meet some other people whom I'm certain I'll see there regularly. And it was fun to try to use my Hebrew on the court and to learn some of hamilim shel cadur sal b'Ivrit (the words of basketball in Hebrew). I learned, for instance, that to call a foul, one would yell out "fah-ool!" To call a travel, one would summon up his inner Middle Easterener and yell, "trah-vell." I also learned that they call fah-ool a lot! That's when the real Hebrew discussions start and, for now, I just kind of have to let the calls go as I can't hold my own in the heated conversations, but I believe the poor self-refereeing I wintessed the other night will serve as great inspiration in my language studies. Until I can argue calls, my Hebrew is clearly useless!

Tonight, I will put down my Hebrew studies as Shabbat will fall on Jerusalem, once again - my second one here. There is a siren late in the afternoon (reminiscent of our civil defense/severe weather warnings - I expect to turn on the tv and see Dave Brown, Jim Jaggers or [insert your local meteorologist] tracking storms via live Doppler radar) to warn that it is time to stop doing business and prepare for the Sabbath. This bustling city does get very quiet, reawakening on Saturday night. I may visit a synagogue for services tonight with classmates before Shabbat dinner at a friend's apartment. I could go to a different one every time the whole time I'm here and not hit them all! I'm probably not really looking to hit them all, though. Some will not likely appeal to me, but I do plan to experience a wide variety of worship while I'm here. Looking forward to starting the tour.

Shabbat shalom and have a great weekend, Riders!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Old And New

It occurs to me that people who've not visited must have a lot of ideas of what Israel and Jerusalem, in particular, must look like. I have found it, so far, to be an incredible mix of old (VERY old!) and new. The 21st century's prints are all over parts of the city, which is constantly developing, while the prints of centuries BCE (Before the Common Era) have not worn. In fact, those old prints are, perhaps more evident now as a result of extensive excavations of ancient existence.

Within a half mile of my apartment, you are here...

Not 200 yards from the Gap stores, located in a beautiful, modern shopping mall, this view of the walls of the Old City greets you...

It really is an incredible mix of the ages, putting modernity side-by-side with antiquity, forcing a coexistence that seems comically unnatural, yet comfortable in a way that reinforces everlasting qualities of tradition, even as the present is continually reinvented.

Early this morning, I ventured with several classmates and two of our "upperclassmen" summer interns, who are helping us acclimate to school and to life in Jerusalem, to a Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month of the Hebrew calendar) service at the Wall. You know, THE Wall! My classmate, Marc, has posted an excellent account of the special circumstances of this worship experience on his blog. I encourage you to read it.

I found it meaningful, touching, and inspiring to participate in the service and to stand beside my fellow Jews, whose wish it is to be able to fully embrace the tradition in which they share. It aroused in me prayers for unity, understanding, and tolerance within my faith family. Surely those would allow us to do better the work we were meant to do - the work, according to Elie Wiesel, not of making the world more Jewish, but of making it more human. I pray those same prayers for every faith and nation, with the hope that each and all can be united by our profound commonality rather than set apart by our often miniscule differences.

As the Fourth of July, my first outside the U.S., draws near, I am committed as ever to the right of each voice to make itself heard, and to the responsibility each of us can take - and effort we can make - to replace chains that restrict with ties that bind, and barriers that divide with connected hearts and helping hands.

May we remember and embrace the ability of our traditions, like our ancient structures, to stand amidst modernity, so that the fear of losing what we are may be supplanted by the hope - and then the reality - of becoming what we are meant to be.

Jump back on the Ride tomorrow for July 4th fun, including some early observations and opinions of life in another country and a celebration of our 15,000th visitor. Was it you???

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bayit, Bayit M'tukah (roughly "Home, Sweet Home")

Shalom m'Yisrael, Riders shel haBack shel Ziggy! (Hello from Israel, Riders of the back of Ziggy!)

Okay, that's enough "Hebrew" for now. I'm sure we'll get to plenty more of that as I learn it. Just went to dinner with one of my roommates, an Israeli law student and a bunch of his classmates. Didn't understand much! I'm getting the feeling that I'm going to be feeling like an idiot a lot in the coming weeks*.

Here are some photos of the neighborhood and apartment that I share with the law student and an architecture student, who I've not yet met and whose existence I can not confirm with any certainty. Of course, I've only been moved in for about seven hours.

Back home, I used to complain/joke about how long and complicated my address was. Here is my new street sign. As soon as my Hebrew improves, expect the complaining/joking to commence anew!

This is my building. Good ol' Smolenskin 3! My room is just inside the open door on the 2nd floor, far left.

This is the entrance to the building. You walk in to a normal apartment building lobby, except that there's no door to/from the outside! It's not an outdoorsy place; it's indoorsy, yet nodoorsy.

Evidently, the current or former owner of the apartment in which I live is a Dr. Pechthold. Or that is the name of the door on which this plate appears. I've not yet been here long enough to determine whether doors are named and some awarded doctorates.

The view upon crossing the threshhold that Dr. Pechthold protects. (I've decided to go with the named doctor door unless I find out otherwise.)

My room. View number 1 is from the door, facing the desk and door to the mirpeset (balcony). Okay, really, no more Hebrew today! View number 2 is from the mirpeset toward the bed.

I'd show you the closet, etc., but I don't want to wake my jet-lagged roommate, who is napping in the bed....

Well, of course he's here with me! He's going to be a rabbi, too!

And finally, the view to the southwest from my balcony...

The Prime Minister's home. If you look closely, you can see a security car with flashing lights in the foreground, and a metal barrier behind it. There are always soldiers patrolling. I live on a safe street. If you're going to mess with me, I recommend doing it elsewhere!

Sorry if the spacing of this post is a little crazy. The photos seemed to have overwhelmed blogger!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

How Unsurprising The Important Lessons Are

About 26 hours from now, I'll be at Memphis International Airport, out of which I've flown scores of times, but almost never for an international journey. This time is different. Not only will I be leaving the country, I'll be staying gone, if all is well, for almost a year. Personally, unprecedented.

This has required me to fully move out of my condo, in which I have lived for almost nine years. The few of you who've been over can imagine the unbelievable adventure that cleaning it out and making it ready for a new tenant or owner (interested? It's available!!) has been. As I've made (tried to make, at least) the condo clean and clear, while also spending time with friends and family before I go, I've been struck (actually struck! Right over the head! Okay, fine. Figuratively.) with renewed recognition of long-established priorities.

As the moments tick toward departure, I feel less and less connected to the stuff that has surrounded me in my home. What I saved over the years and carefully sorted weeks ago, I am now giving away and throwing away freely and gladly. Way too much stuff! Why did I save it? Why did I want it? Why did I care? And the things of which I am now in the final stages of ridding myself, when in disorder (which, let's be honest, was pretty regularly) often kept me from inviting friends and family over and spending time with them in my home.

As the moments tick toward takeoff, I feel more and more connected to the people in my life. To family and close friends, sure, but to others who've played smaller, even miniscule roles in my daily life, too. As much as I may love my telescoping fork (and I do really love it!), or my little plastic toilet that squirts you with water when you open the lid (caught it once at a Mardi Gras parade), or my approximately 1.7 million t-shirts (I was going to say billion, but I didn't want to exaggerate), I'm realizing again what I've always known deep down. My "valuables" are people. My friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances, each of whom brushes his own vividly colored strokes onto my life's canvas with her actions, words, companionship, humor, emotions, and thoughts.

Don't worry, wonderful people of my life. I do not plan to box you up and stack you in my parents' playroom/office like my Burger King costume and so many other ridiculous items that now reside there. I do, however, plan to continue treasuring you and being thankful that you choose to share some of the moments of your life being in mine.

Oh, and I plan to harrass you about coming to visit me in Israel this year. Book your flights! Oh, and if you're coming, can you stop by my parents' house and get that fork for me?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Ride Takes a Turn

The entire staff here at ZiggyBackRide is going to rabbinical school (seminary to become a rabbi). Here are the facts in a hopefully helpful Q & A format

Q: Where are you going?
A: Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, commonly referred to as HUC. It's the seminary of Reform Judaism.

Q: And where is this "HUC?"
A: There are four campi (I would usually say "campuses," but what if my high school Latin teacher reads this?) One is in Jerusalem. That is where I'll spend the first year. The rest will be spent on one of the three Stateside locatia ("locations" - I made that one up in case my gibberish teacher is reading.) They are in Cincinnati, New York, and Los Angeles. I have not yet been assigned, but if I had to bet, I'd put my whole stack of chips on Cincinnati.

Q: One year in Jerusalem and "the rest" in one of three places. How long is the rest?
A: The rest is four years. It is a five year program.

Q: How long???
A: Five years. So I should be a rabbi well before age 60.

Q: So you're moving to Israel for a year? When do you leave?
A: End of June. In less than a month.

Q: That's soon! Are you ready?
A: Not even close. I do have a plane ticket. Much more to arrange. Otherwise I may become part of Israel's growing homelessness problem.* In related news, if you know anyone that may want to rent or buy my condo in the greater Memphis area, let me know.

Q: Wait. Are you Jewish?
A: Umm... yes. Maybe this should have been the first question?

Q: Probably right. Sorry. So, why be a rabbi?
A: I think it's a good place to do a lot of the things I want to do, enjoy doing, and am good at. I think, too, that it's a way that I can help people, help the world, and live my faith.

Q: Where will you go after you graduate? Do they assign you or what?
A: No telling. When I am ordained, I'll interview with different congregations, etc. I could end up anywhere, but I have some say. You don't get "assigned." So we'll see.

Q: How's your Hebrew?
A: Etzi-ketzi (That's Greek for so-so, in case my Greek teacher... oh, never mind)! I've been studying and one of the first orders of business in Jerusalem is intensive training. Ask me again in six weeks!

Q: How long is this Q & A supposed to be?
A: Shorter.

Q: Oh. Sorry. Thanks for talking with us. Will there be a way for us to keep up with your experiences and adventures in the Holy Land?
A: Why, of course there will! The rabbinical ride will be chronicled right here. Visit often, especially if you can't actually visit me often!

*I don't know if Israel actually has a growing homelessness problem, but if I don't find an apartment there, I guess it will!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Eighteen and Eight

ZiggyBackRiders... Helllloooo!! (to be read as Uncle Leo* would have said it on Seinfeld). I hope this finds you well. It has been eighteen months and eight days since my last post. It was a good one and I wanted to let it linger with you for a bit, but this was not quite what I had in mind!

We live in a world that is constantly changing, but in which some things tend to stay the same.

Evidence of the former: 1)The staff here at ZiggyBackRide was almost unable to access this blog because an email originally associated with the account is now defunct. Technological changes almost brought the Ride to (even more of) a screeching halt (than the lack of posts herein). 2) The Temple Israel Lady Rabs basketball team, whose victories and, more often, defeats, have been chronicled here, are now league champions. The mountain has been climbed. It's a different obscure Jewish teen basketball world than it's ever been.

Evidence of the latter: This glorious ride is cranking back up, just as it always has no matter how long the hiatus, to take you on journey after glorious journey. This time, though, the Ride is going to be going new places. Actual other places. You'll see. In the very next post, as a matter of fact, the stage will be set for our next chapter together. Stay tuned.

I hope you've had a wonderful eighteen and eight. I've missed you. It's good to be back. Let's ride!

*Among the many, many things that have transpired during the past eighteen months and eight days, the actor who played Uncle Leo passed away. Goood-bbyyyyyeeee. :(

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Welcome To Our Planet

I think aliens are joining the ZiggyBackRide.

Before I go on, let me make clear that I don't make a habit of assuming that anything out of the ordinary naturally suggests the presence or proximity of interplanetary life. I am not predisposed to blaming or crediting extraterrestrials for phenomena that I encounter here on our little planet.

So when I - or anyone else here on the ZBR staff - do say that aliens* are involved, Riders (of earthly descent) should take heed.

Evidence that we are not alone* has been provided to me right here on this very blog. Our neighbors have begun commenting, focusing their attention on this post from April of this year.

If you read through the comments (which pretty much all come in the middle of the night, ZiggyBackRide time - VERY different time zone, anyone???) you'll see that they are in the very beginning stages of learning to communicate as we do. There are very few recognizeable words peppered throughout the many comments. These include, but are not limited to:
"free sex"
and, most interestingly,

Why did this post speak to our brothers-from-another-species-of-mother? I can only assume that it is because of the discussion therein about the function and importance of the sun, which we obviously share with other planets. Why are our very distant neighbors so interested in connecting with Earthly ZiggyBackRiders? Clearly, they think Earth is the place to find sex. Maybe even free sex. How poodles and haman** fit into all of this, I don't know. And as an animal lover and Purim-enthusiast, I don't think I really care to know!

There is much more investigation to be done. For now, we know that this site has broken barriers that have long divided this universe of ours. We must proceed cautionsly, so as not to incite a negative interplanetary event. But we must be proud of the connection we have made with our neighbors and hopeful for a future that brings us all together to discuss important topics of the day like those explored in the referenced post. Welcome to the Ride. Welcome to Earth!

* Finally the question explored in one my all-time favorite ZBR posts has been answered, and the distances in actual space have been drastically reduced in cyber-space!
**Haman is the villain in the story of Purim, recounted in the Book of Esther.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Annual Texas/OU Post

It is right about this time every year that I write about the Texas/Oklahoma football game. Sometimes I write on the morning of the contest as I watch College Gameday. Usually, I chronicle, in some way, the orange-colored food and drink which I have ingested or will ingest as the day wears on. You know all that now. And I'm proud of you.

This year, I'll be watching the game in a different setting. The Texas Exes (alumni club) of Memphis and our OU Alumni counterparts will be watching together! We will turn a BBQ restaurant in Memphis into our own smaller, remote version of the Cotton Bowl. All that's missing will be Big Tex, Fletcher's Corny Dogs, and the ferris wheel. Oh, and the players, coaches, bands, cheerleaders, field, officials, and 60,000 of our closest friends.

To gather and enjoy the game together, fans of both teams will have to be nicer than our feelings toward the other team warrant. So I have to get some of my anti-OU venom out now and I shall do so by sharing the following photo, shared today on Facebook by a friend. Enjoy, and please send me a copy if you choose to create your own variation on the "It's _____ am/pm and OU still sucks" joke. They never get old!