I got up far too early but I did need to get up. I needed to move my stuff out of my room and into someone else’s as like it or not I had to check out on Shabbat. Plus no one said when we were going to services. Then there was the whole matter of the Shabbos key and how I was going to transfer it back without actually violating Shabbat. (Roommate, who was supposed to help with that latter, stayed in someone else’s room so I didn’t see him until long after we checked out. I did trick someone to turn in the key though, thanks!)
One of the Orthodox guys and I spoke while waiting and he made some really interesting comments to me that showed he was thinking about me. He said one of the things he was thinking about since I was going to so many services is how I must feel seeing the mechitza and knowing about the gender divide and how it must be really hard. I had to admit that it was very hard for me and that was one of the reasons I felt that as observant as I try to be, I have a really hard time sitting in a gender divided room. I know I still have girl-parts, but I know I usually pass as male. The issue of who I can touch is also very difficult for me. Do I touch men? Women? Who? The whole negiah thing is hard.
I can’t remember if I told him about a minyan I went to in Atlanta where there was male, mixed, and female and I was told to remove myself from the men’s section to sit either in mixed or female. At the time I had a beard and was walking with a cane, I could barely stand for kiddush! Oy!
A set of us went off to shul. Another Orthodox one, of course, but not a gay one. This was more standard. Just a section for men and for women. I was astounded by how many people just would get up, leave for a time and come back. I felt lost again but then I am not used to such things!
There was another marriage upcoming and people danced around the Torah, I was invited but didn’t know what I was being invited to do so I remained sitting and very confused.
We had the best conversations that I’ve ever had on Shabbat while going from shul. They were very naughty and a lot of ribbing about a mitzvah that is supposed to occur on Shabbat. One of them had an “overnight guest” as it were. The tour guide just could not stop being a tour guide, it was awesome! There are just times you need a tour guide who gets the culture of the group. And we got him!
After wandering around we went back to the hotel, picked up the rest of the group and went to HUC in Jerusalem where we had lunch with the dean of the campus and he spoke to us about Reform Judaism there or really progressive Judaism.
We started walking back to the Harmony Hotel where we had closing remarks. Positives and negatives. Like I said I was astounded at how awesome the orthodox were which I was always told was never going to happen, but was very disappointed in being treated so poorly by other members of the group who objected to me needing time by myself when I was having a breakdown. Others were just happy they had the ability to go on the trip. Some were happy to see people become more observant while they were there. The group leader even said while this was the youngest group, it was also the most observant group.
After we had Havdallah (over beer!) we did something called a jelly roll which I was at the center of (don’t ask me). We then filled out our evaluations, and went back to the hotel where I was expecting my cousin to be there. She wasn’t so I got my stuff and had to call her. I had Hillel talk to her and gave her directions and he helped me get to the pick up spot. I got a little bit of a blessing which was nice.
I met the Cousin and met the rest of the family. She is super nice and lives a little outside of Jerusalem. Good cook too. Very smart, undergraduate degree was in some form of biochemical engineering or something, then getting a PhD in some musical subject. Elder Daughter seemed curious about life in America and how the rabbinate was.
The next morning, was Mom’s birthday so I called her from Israel to wish her a happy birthday. Due to the time difference it was barely her birthday. Then we took Cousin’s younger daughter to school. Then we went to see the kosher McDonalds. Then we went to visit the Webyeshiva home office. It was intimidating to see a guy with a HUGE gun where we parked. We were not far from the President’s house and kinda parked in front of it.
The Webyeshiva people were pretty awesome but I expected it. Rabbi Saks gave me lots of advice on perhaps moving to Israel, medical school in Israel even, and gave me a gay Orthodox rabbi to talk to (do all rabbis know each other?)
Then I went back to Cousin and we went briefly back to the Arab market. Saw her haggling skills in action. Then she had to get to Hebrew University to take a class but we had lunch first on campus. I connected to the wifi to talk to another classmate which I was never going to be able to meet on this trip. Had dinner, then had dessert out.
I almost didn’t sleep that night. I woke up early to get ready. Cousin already called and arranged for an airport shuttle to come and get me.
I really feared not going to be able to say good-bye to my cousin, but I had to get out and wait for the shuttle. Luckily I sent an email thanking her just in case. She was able to come out and wait with me. Turns out they had the address wrong or something. But I admit I was crying when I was waiting. I kept saying in a day I go back to being the freak. The traditional one in a Reform shul and one of the few transgender Jews. And being the only Jew in my county.
Going on the shuttle was an adventure. Almost no room and they said they would give me the change later, but I had to ask when I got at the airport. I don’t think anyone really spoke English there. How do Hassidim get on these things as there is no room and you have to sit near the opposite sex!
Getting to the airport was an adventure. They stopped me for additional security right after I got off the shuttle. Airport dude tried to steal my travel permit and said I wasn’t here legally. I pointed out that he had my paperwork right there. I was not pleased.
So go in for check in, I can’t find Turkish Air so I ask someone. They turn pale, ask if what I was carrying was it and then put me in heightened security. They took my passport asked me if I spoke Hebrew and I admitted that I only knew a few words. Young lady walked away with my passport to get her supervisor who while they were allowing everyone else to go through they grilled me for 45 minutes on why my family didn’t put me in Hebrew school (convert), what was my religion of origin (Roman Catholic), when did I convert (a little over a year ago), did I have friends and family in Israel (yes), where did I stay (I gave him most of the list), how did I learn about Judaism (Miami), what does the process involve (education, mikvah, circumcision), what was the curriculum of the education (gave some of them), tell him about Rosh Hashannah, tell him about Sukkot, what are the four Jewish new years (did three of four missing Elul 1), do I go to synagogue (yes), how often do I go (I end up there three times a week for one reason or another), what are my favourite services (rock shabbat which I missed as I was in Israel), why does my synagogue play music on Shabbat (Reform), he said “Oh I see you are married…” and I jumped in and said “Yes I am married to a man. He isn’t Jewish” and then I had to talk about his religious history.
And when I told Supervisor I could give him my rabbis numbers, he told apologised and said he thought I had a bomb. Really people? Eventually I was deemed not a threat but I had more screenings but none as severe.
So at the gate I emailed my rabbis!
The hop to Istanbul and the hop to Chicago weren’t too bad. They fed us more. And on the long haul (we got a cool tin from Turkish Air which I gave to my mother who collects tins), I was talking to a very nice grad student who just came back from a huge amount of fieldwork. I hope his dissertation goes well.
Getting into Chicago, customs was a breeze, another green light no declarations, but getting onto the next plane was hard. TSA decided to confiscate a corkscrew I forgot. I’m sorry I just went through the detainment from hell in the strictest security in the world and you are going to bust me for something that the TSA’s website says is legal for me to possess? Seriously?
Oh and then our plane was delayed by about two hours adding to a ridiculously long layover. Ironically I ended up getting so hungry that I had to hit up the McDonalds. I never got to eat at the kosher one but ate at the trayf one for the first meal back!
I felt so bad for my ride back home as she was picking me up and I was texting her with the delays. I was supposed to get in before midnight. I got in around 1:30 am and didn’t get back to my house until about 3 am!
Really the trip itself, with the exception of being told I was a terrorist, it really wasn’t all that bad. If Ben Gurion airport didn’t treat me so bad, I would say it was almost perfect. I think really it was an interesting trip. Maybe international travel isn’t as bad as I was thinking it was. I would certainly consider going back, but I don’t want that airport no way no how! Anyone willing to go to Israel by boat?
I think with the exception of going back to Israel (which again I would not object to at all), maybe I should start thinking of another trip. Australia could be nice. A cruise to Antarctica would be cool no pun intended. Plus I really should try to make it to Suriname to continue the genealogical research. Italy would also be neat.
If anyone wants to give me an international trip, I have no objections!