Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Trying to Kiss the Shore

Tori Maidenberg, originally from Houston, Texas, is one of Tikkun Olam's 10-month Social Action Track participants. Tori shares with us what her first month in Israel has been like, and what this Yom Kippur means to her. 

As Yom Kippur descends upon us tonight, I’m forced to look inward to reflect on the past year. Why did I come to Israel? What does Israel mean to me? Can I both love and criticize her at the same time? What does being Jewish mean to me? What do I want to get out of Yom Kippur this year?

The whole country will become silent on Yom Kippur. Cars, buses, and taxis will all disappear, stores and restaurants will be closed, and what I’m most looking forward to this Yom Kippur is answering all those above questions. This year, my Yom Kippur is a quest to find meaning and what better way to do it than to give back to a country I hold dear to my heart through volunteering? I wrote the below poem in an in-class exercise with Tikkun Olam. It represents my hopes and anxieties for answering these questions within the next 10 months:

Lost at sea, I am reflected in the sparkling, cold waters.
Still, silent—I am here lost at sea.
In the distance, a relentless wave never stops trying to kiss the shore.
I think to myself.
It is sweet to kiss the shore,
But even sweeter when you arrive just to be sent back.

I chose to join this program because every time I inched closer to a fuller picture of Israel, I was sent back once again—just like the wave trying to kiss the shore. Since we arrived here 3 weeks ago, we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly (and we only just begun). We run into paradoxes every day, some more comical than others: like the Tel Aviv Mayor making illegal the Kapparot tradition of swinging a chicken around one’s head in order to cast sins away, whilst no resolution has been found for the thousands of stray cats that roam Israel’s streets (but, hey, at least some chickens won’t die this year on Yom Kippur). And other paradoxes are a bit harder to grapple with such as the dialectic between a religious and secular state. Between safety & security on the one hand and racism & exclusivity on the other, and the survival of one people’s identity but in consequence of the uncertainty of another.

If anything, what I have taken away from our seminars and discussions in the Tikkun Olam program is that sometimes there are no solutions. Oftentimes, the world will give us dichotomies and it is up to us to go beneath the surface in order to find various shades of gray. Within these dichotomies we may stumble upon complicated paradoxes and instead of acting upon an immediate yearning to solve them, maybe it’s best that we sit back and first listen. Once we do, we can inch closer toward the shore—and maybe this time we won’t be sent back.

On a more lighthearted note… I love living in South Tel Aviv. Sure the Central Bus Station could use a good cleaning and might be rough around the edges but to me its ruggedness is precisely its charm. At night I return home to our apartment in Kiryat Shalom, a religious Jewish neighborhood, and between the Tallit and Yarmulke I feel both safe and uneasy. On the one hand, these are my people but, on the other, I feel so different to them. Something a Tikkun Olam staff member said in one of our seminars reminds me though that it’s not necessarily about reconciling these conflicted feelings so much as it is necessary to understand them.

Every day I’m getting the hang of what it means to be a Tel-Avivian more and more. With my shiny new (well used, but new to me J) bike, I feel a sense of freedom like never before, and I’m most excited to explore this city on wheels.