Thursday, November 15, 2018

reflections on a trip to Israel

I came back from Israel from Women's Reconnection trip. It was a trip designed for all of us (nebachs) who did not qualify or otherwise were not able to go on JWRP. In a nutshell, it was an amazing trip and I do recommend it to open-minded seekers. Here are some more of my jumbled jet-lagged thoughts before they escape and become not important.

I was the youngest of the group, by a decade at least. However, I had no problem connecting and participating and interacting with other women. I know that we were a self-selecting bunch of those open to new experiences and new connections. I also know that being in the presence of so much wisdom acquired through age and trial and error was humbling. Also, I noticed how many women were divorced or on their second marriages. I wondered how many of them needed this trip at a different, earlier point in their lives. I was grateful to take it now instead of waiting another twenty years to "focus on myself".

The trip and the participants made me feel normal, like I belong, that there is no problem with being myself, feeling what I am feeling, observing what I am observing, learning Torah and practicing the way that I do. There was no sense that there is a need to investigate anyone's kashrut or check anyone's tzitzit. I marveled at that because the trip included a few rebbitzins and I even noted it to them explicitly. We were all just Jewish women, enjoying the hospitality of other Jews.

I got a confirmation that my connection to Hashem is intact. I davened at the Kotel and kever Rachel and at Shiloh, and had no problem pouring my heart out in heartfelt prayer. G-d's presence (shechina) was there, and I could feel approaching it, focusing my thoughts, letting whatever burdened me to flow from my lips. I was not ashamed to cry. I was not limiting my thoughts, wondering if I am asking for too much, or whether it is my place to ask. I am not mad at G-d, or questioning his existence or ability to influence the events. I am mad at the people on the ground, who are committing evil in his name, denying me access to the Divine by their hypocrisy.

I was truly happy and content in Israel. Maybe it had to do with the lack of responsibilities. Maybe it had to do with a distance from my children and being able to be defined by something other than an overwhelmed mother of five. Maybe it's because the caregiving for my extra-needy child was not in my hands. Maybe it was because everything was simpler. Maybe it had to do with being able to move, walk a lot, not have to spend hours sitting in the car driving carpool, driving to activities. Perhaps it had to with having a loosely set schedule, where at any given time there was only one place I was supposed to be and only one thing I was supposed to focus on instead of the constant barrage of preparations and anticipations and things that I forgot to do that I experience in the States. Maybe it was being physically removed from the trauma that is my current shul and rabbi and alleged child molester and no ability to bring this all to light. Maybe it was being surrounded by so many women who simply bearing no ill will towards me.

I am a self-defining introvert, normally hanging back, reserved, not social, not seeking to reach out, needing my own space and craving peace and quiet. In Israel, due to the nature of the trip and the comfortable supportive atmosphere, I found myself seeking the company of others, reaching out, disclosing personal details, volunteering answers, and being "out there". Yet that felt like a very authentic part of me. There were a few times that I did feel overwhelmed and overstimulated, but nowhere near as much as I feel in the States on any given day. I wonder whether I am not just an introvert, but I simply try to minimize draining and cursory interactions so that I do not end up with extra pain.

Finally, as far as the learning aspect of the trip, I felt that the bigger messages of gratitude, recognizing and acknowledging the Divine, being G-d like in my actions, and being vulnerable with our pain and with the pain of others made me feel like I am on the right track. It took me many years and many uncomfortable twists and turns to arrive at the place where I stand but to find the classes that reinforced and deepened those themes was affirming.

From the very first time I went to Israel to this trip (my third), I felt that in Israel there is a continuum of observances and beliefs rather than discrete groupings that are taking place in America. Some of them are way out there, and some of them appear to be most like familiar American divisions, but the unity of the Jewish people somehow trumps over everything. We had a kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel (my first Shabbat in Jerusalem) and, as we were signing with our small group, we formed a circle. All of a sudden, other women joined in: frum, not frum, in skirts, in pants, with hair covered and not, and even quite a few tourists who I am pretty sure were not Jewish. Somebody was recording the whole spontaneous scene with a cellphone and nobody was waiving for her to stop. A few days before we explored the theme of feeling a touch of the Divine. Joint experiences in the multitude of others came up. At this moment, singing and dancing together, like one person with one voice and one heart, I felt G-d's fingerprint in the world. I am not a mystical person, I am very rational and logical by nature. However, the way that this trip spoke to me was mystical and mysterious. For some reason, this is what I needed to take away.

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