Shabbat in the Holy Land

Nov 1-2

We had an early morning wake-up call, but I was already up early to daven.  I could not have slept in if I wanted to due to the sun’s placement.  How does the sun get so high at 6:30 in the morning?  The sun needs to sleep in!

My roommate was not feeling so hot so he stayed at the hotel while I and the rest of the group went to Independence Hall, which I would later learn nobody in Tel Aviv knows where it is!  That is where the Declaration of Independence and such was signed.

Then we walked to the Tel Aviv Gay Center which we had to walk past a silent vegan protest.  I had no idea vegans could be silent!  I have to admit I liked the Israeli version better… much less annoying and no one throwing fake blood that I saw unlike in the US.

At the center, we heard several speakers talking about various volunteer groups they worked with.  Then we all had a picnic.  Saw the tour guide’s kids in person (again, most adorable kids ever).  I wanted to talk to the transperson but there seemed to be a conspiracy which had more to do with another trans person on the trip thinking they were the only person with the right to talk.  This was not good and a little selfish in my opinion.  But what do I expect as an invisible transperson that no one realises is trans as I was not wearing it on my sleeve?

I had to leave the park much earlier than everyone because I was going to go to shul in the taxi as people realised I try to be shomer shabbat which means whoops, I cannot ride the bus on Shabbat and had to leave to go to shul much much earlier than everyone else.   That meant I had to prepare to go to shul earlier than everyone else.  So I walked back to the hotel freaking out about the possibility of getting lost in a strange city even though in theory it was a straight shot.

Roommate was feeling better but after I got ready for Shabbat, I found out I needed to temporarily room with another shomer Shabbat Jew due to difficulties that were occurring with a secular Jew (who most of the group that I spoke to had problems with at some point or another).   It was a woman who I was to room with and despite the fact that I feel this violated various laws of modesty and was very inappropriate based on that, it was better to violate that rule than to force her in a position where she had to experience excessive and antagonistic Shabbat violations.

We, me, the woman, and two other shomer Shabbat Jews (one who is Ortho and the other who I think is converting Ortho), went on a quest for a cab to go to shul.

The shul we went to was Yachad Minyan which was very… interesting.

First of all let me state that when I learned we were going to go to a gay Orthodox anything I kinda snickered to my friends saying we probably would make the minyan.  As I found out later, I should not have snickered at all.  Second, I did ask the tour guide, it’s his shul after all, where should I sit.  I learned they had a three way mechitza so I had to either sit with the men or could sit in “mixed.”  Third he told us to bring our “English” siddurs if we had them.  Um… I have Mishkan T’filia for Travelers which is Reform.  Very awkward to bring to Orthodox services but I did.

So the four of us showed up, I luckily somehow still had a wallet with money in it although (I thought I didn’t as I purposefully set it down in my bag so I would not be tempted to violate Shabbat) so I paid the taxi driver since the person who was supposed to pay wasn’t there.  I was in Israel how many days and finally made my first purchase, the taxi!

So I sat down (the section was going to be the women’s section once the mechitza went up) although I swear normally the left section is the men’s?  But what do I know?

I ended up in the men’s section near the front.  Near the front was probably not the best place for me actually.  Since a Reform service is VERY different from an Orthodox one and it was all in Hebrew including the dvar, I didn’t know when I was supposed to be standing or sitting.  Plus of course the prayers are different and aren’t even in my book.  All I could think was “Where the heck are we in this book??”  I recognised one LINE of Lecha Dodi which is one of my favourite tunes which is amazing when we have nine verses, how do I only hear the chorus once?  Finally I gave up and I basically followed my shul’s normal pattern of service.  Out of the corner of my eye I was watching more experience members of the congregation sit or stand.  When they stood I sped through reading anything we were supposed to normally stand for (aka Amidah).  You probably could have seen the question marks over my head.  I did recognise a small part of aleinu.

We then had dinner with the congregation.  If I recall it was multi-course.  I am not actually used to that.  We all reintroduced ourselves and it was here that I actually introduced myself as a convert but said I feel like the “Orthodox Jew in the Reform synagogue” as I was more observant than most people at shul.  Later I would be complimented on my choice of words since that is exactly how I appeared to others.  That I was traditionally minded but was in a liberal shul because it is more welcoming than a traditional one.  (LGBT Jews normally abandon Judaism completely.)

I was asked by my temporary roommate if I was coming back to shul in the morning and going to lunch.

Apparently one member of the shul was selectively inviting people back.  I said no as I was not invited.  I was actually fine with that.  But she insisted that she was going to talk to the woman about getting me invited back even though I said I was fine.  So even though I said no… no… no.  All I wanted to do was to go back to the hotel which would have been difficult as I did not have the Shabbat key or know my way back.  Else I would have left then and there.  But too late.  And the whoever she was at the shul came up to me and said she might not be able to find a host and I said that was ok because I was ok with spending Shabbat elsewhere and had plans (I actually had food in my fridge and wanted to walk to the kosher McDonalds to LOOK at it or was going to finally go to the beach as I have not been to a beach in over 20 years and that was my plan, to enjoy Shabbat after I davened in the morning with my little Reform siddur… the siddur that made me very self-conscious in that shul as it was a sign that I did not belong there.)  But she absolutely insisted while saying “We were told there were only two Shabbat observant Jews not four,” as if that was my issue.  I kept saying where I come from it would be rude to appear and to assume an invitation and also it is just not appropriate and again I had plans and to not worry.   Argh!  But I finally said I will come back but I am not worrying about lunch.  I was hoping anyway…

We started the walk back.  Surprisingly Hillel (Have you noticed so far he is the only person who I have addressed by name?  It is probably going to remain that way so he might get more business as he was pretty cool) asked how I felt.  I was honest, I felt very strange.  He pointed out I was in the men’s section.  And yes I was, but I also did not have the foggiest idea of what was going on!  And that it was going to take a long time to process.

Went back to the hotel, I was going to talk to Temporary Roommate as she had said she had questions but the answers were things I did not want to talk about in public but she fell asleep when I was changing for bed.

Got up really early as that was easy.  Got ready for shul, ate breakfast, then went out to walk around to look at the beach only to start heading back.  Saw Temporary Roommate who was going off to Chabad.

Went back to the hotel, found the rest of the Orthodox contingent and we walked.  We had an interesting conversation about conversion and my Surinamese heritage and the fact my real destination should not have been Israel, but Suriname to find my Jewish family.  I had to agree with that.

I sat through another long service that I did not understand and read my Reform siddur in the back (third section) this time.  That was more relaxing as I didn’t have to worry since I could see the congregation and knew if it was time to sit or stand.  I just mostly looked around at all the frum people.  Saw more rainbow tallitot than I ever thought I would ever see in my life.  My brain just continued to explode as back home I am the traditional one in the Reform shul but this time I was the very obvious Reform Jew in the Orthodox shul!  Waited and did not eat, I seriously was waiting to just say I waited.  I wanted to leave.  Apparently the woman who was hosting people was right near the kosher McDonalds (and she knew I had an “appointment” right near there) but she decided that I had to go somewhere else.  I was actually going to just leave but the host found me before I could.  Just as I was getting ready to get up and leave actually.

It was good he did.  The people who invited us (me and Temporary Roommate) were very nice and I had a lot of good conversations.  I was not a freak with them.  Just another gay reasonably observant Jew.  That felt like home completely and absolutely and everyone spoke in English once they realised we didn’t speak Hebrew which was fine as English was the native tongue of most of the people there.  I would go back just to talk to those people again.

When we left, Temporary Roommate was going back to Chabad and I was to attempt to find my way back to Independence Hall.  The directions I was given didn’t make much sense and really there had to be a better way of doing it.  I ended up lost in Tel Aviv, on Shabbat, and I learned there are zillions of Israelis that do not speak English.  Great.  That was fun.  After finally tracking down someone who did know English and did know how to read a map, she looked at me like I was an idiot for wandering around lost on Shabbat.  She said as much.  Thanks random Israeli.  She did put me back on track, then I had to ask other people to get me closer.  One I should have been in the vicinity of the museum, I really got lost.  I asked 7 people who were literally within ONE and TWO blocks of the museum and they didn’t know where it was.  No… seriously.  I was at the point if this last person did not know I was going back to the hotel.  While the cashier did not know, the customer next to him asked his girlfriend.  She knew!

By the time I got to the statue in front of the museum, I had been walking for 2.5 hours through all of Tel Aviv.  Then we had a LGBT walking tour.  I actually wanted to just die right then and there.  I was just so tired and then I had to walk another HOW far?  I begged HaShem to put me out of my misery.  Then I realised I had jolt energy gum in my bag so mentally I was out of the tour because all I wanted to do was tear into that gum, but I couldn’t tear the paper because that is a Shabbat violation.  I kept looking up at the sky just counting stars to wait for Havdallah.  Had Havdallah which was beautiful.  Tore into gum.  Watched my epilepsy go into overdrive at the music concert and then decided to skip out on the gay Orthodox party I was invited to simply because I was so so tired.  Went to the hotel, showered, changed, talked, ate, went to bed.


I also did spend a lot of time thinking about the shul that night.  It was my first time really going to an Orthodox shul and I felt like I was cheating on my own shul!  LOL.  And yes, I did sit on the men’s side.  Because I am a guy.  Why wouldn’t I? I generally don’t even think about being trans unless I am in a situation where it is literally right in my face.

Going there reminded me of the time I used the men’s room for the first time, it was in an all-female school that I was visiting.  Few men so I could use it with ease.  And the Orthodox shul was a safe space for transgendered people so I could sit on the men’s side.  Certainly I never felt there was a problem and honestly that shul was probably more liberal in some ways than some of the Conservative shuls here in the US!  For the first time I saw other LGBT frum people and I was ok with them and they were ok with me.  Some were definitely feeling like extended family.  Outside of the prayers, is it really that much different from how I conduct myself?  I think at that moment is when I realised that if I were to move to Tel Aviv, I would probably end up going to that shul.  If I go Orthodox, it would have to be there.  No question.  And I always said if I moved to Israel, I would probably go Orthodox.  Maybe my future husband is a member there.  Either way, there were several cute guys there.   Nerdy which is what I go for normally but the ex-army guys… not bad either and I never go for them!


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