Shabbat has come and gone, and our summer term has begun. Last week was our orientation here at HUC Jerusalem and all my new friends seem to agree that it was somehow too short and far too long. I wonder if this is what people mean when they reference "the HUC Bubble". One day bleeds into the next, I can't recall how many times someone, even just today, has referenced to an event that happened only yesterday and I asked "When was that, again?" "The Bubble" is something we are commanded to break at least every so often, in order to really get a feel of Israel (as well as retain our sanity I expect). This is a commandment I intend to keep, because I can already sense how Jerusalem itself is a bubble with many smaller bubbles -including HUC -inside it.
Jerusalem is a world unto itself, where time exists only where and how he wants to. In the Old City you'll find the Jerusalem of two-thousand years ago, surprisingly in-tact, yet walk outside of the ancient walls and you can hop on the light rail that traverses Yaffo street. Yaffo street intersects with Ben Yehuda, which (as well as a swanky shopping strip) has become the turf of the various NFTY and Birthright groups that are constantly coming in and out of the city. Walk up Ben Yehuda, passing the intersection with King George street (going up the hill), and you will suddenly find yourself back in the Pale of 19th Century Russia in the Haredi neighborhood of Mea She'arim (translated as 'hundred gates'). You will also find yourself faced with dirty looks, scoldings, and possibly even stones if you are not up to snuff with their standards of modesty. Jerusalem is a place where many bubbles exist tenuously side by side, sometiems overlapping, sometimes jostling each other and never really merging together.
Commandment or no, for now I am content to live in my new-found HUC bubble (in fact I must be with school gearing up). It feels safe to me, and it contains within it the people that are my friends, class mates and eventual (God willing) colleagues in the field one distant day.
I guess I can say I'm adjusting. Day by day I feel a little better, a little more at home, yet I live with the fear that I'm lulling myself into a false sense of security. This land is not totally alien to me, yet the awareness that I'm in that limbo category -not an immigrant and not a tourist -weighs heavily on me at times. Some Israelis (the secular ones) are not friendly towards Reform Jews, and I fear I have already come face to face with this -even after barely a month being here.
When I look back on the past week, I cannot remember a sequence of days, not even events, but rather, I see a painting in which the only light source is a tiny, flickering candle. I remember being in the place of total darkness, stumbling, calling, crying out, weeping quietly to myself when I'm alone. I feel shattered, empty when faced with group gatherings because I have nothing to say, full of doubt. Why God? Why would you send me here if I am unworthy? Am I being punished, or -is there even a God in the universe at all to punish me? I begin to contemplate very deeply the vast nothingness of the desert that borders the city of Jerusalem.
In slow, sudden flashes of light, like the blinding brilliance of an old Civil War camera, I see faces illuminated before me. It seems like they are attached to arms and sometimes the arms brush up against me. Sometimes the faces speak, sometimes they are silent but they smile at me. Why? I'm not ready to be here.... but the faces won't go away. They speak in many voices, voices that come from somewhere beyond the words they say. Maybe this is God, I think to myself. The voice of many tones, melodies and timbres. The voice that calls to us in the wilderness, quietly, in ways we do not expect, the voice that will never go away.
I stumble, weep openly in front of people I barely know, and the arms reach out and encircle me. I feel like there are stones inside me but I don't know where they came from or why I'm carrying them with me. The flashes of light are becoming more frequent now, and the arms are attached to shoulders which become necks, heads, faces of my companions. How could I not have realized that we're on a road, nor that all this time we've been travelling together?
I step into the pool of candle light on the other side of the painting, blinking and squinting because this light is blinding compared to the darkness from which I have come. Realization dawns on me in a sudden flash: the voices that spoke to me, through the faces of those that have become my travelling companions, were the many voices of the Divine. Here, I was in the presence of God and I did not know it.
I feel like this is what my life will be like for the next year; maybe being disappointed when I don't find God in the places that I look, and then being surprised in the places where I do.