Onward and Upward

November 29, 2013

Nov 3-4

We were up early for a tour of Tel Aviv and Yafo.  We walked a lot.  I was still not recovered from the previous day’s adventure by any stretch of the imagination.  This was one of the few times I saw the beach despite the fact we were right near it.  It reminds me of Miami so much, but a Miami with little crime.   I yearned for Miami so much every time I looked out at the beach.  I don’t understand why there were signs saying no swimming though.

The lack of crime was one of the things that I was amazed at when I walked the previous day, everything was relatively safe.  I didn’t feel threatened, if I would have walked down Atlanta or Miami in this way I would have been killed!

The most important thing I saw was the Carmel market which little did I know would be the only real time I had to shop this entire trip.  Seriously we were given 20 minutes.  Luckily I was able to get almost all the gifts for my family in one store and was able to buy a bunch of kippot.  I wanted to shop more but since it took me 10 minutes to check out of my second store given one of the group members would not let others check out.  While I probably did overpay for some of the items (ie I am not going to haggle much), I also know how much I would have been charged back in the US which would have been a heck of a lot more.  I have no problem paying less than $3 for a kippah that would cost me $6 or spending $5 for a kippah that is closer to $15 and yes I did buy a kippah that was 20 shekels (about $5.70) that would have cost me literally close to $20 here… I know because it was on my wishlist at a Judaica store.  Next time I go to Tel Aviv, I am planning to just live in that market.  Why?  Because… kippot.

We went to the Rabin Center on a special arrangement.  Apparently only the IDF was supposed to get in that day or… something.  I don’t know.  So we saw the history of Israel.  I do not know how I am always the first one out of a museum but it seems that happens all the time.  Could be that I am impatient or could be that I can read 2500 words a minute.  I don’t know.

We went back to the gay center to watch movies.  It was the first wifi connect I was able to get in days so I texted a friend using TextPlus which could still work and told her I was ok.  Several people were worrying about me since I was out of communication.  Apparently the whole two texts I sent bothered the cantor and I was told to stop it.   I’m sorry people were about to send the US Embassy out to look for me, how embarrassing would THAT have been to the trip?  So I left in the middle of the depressing LGBT movies and sat outside and talked to relatives to assure everyone that I am ok.

This was to be our last night in Tel Aviv.

Next morning turns out Roomie brought someone home, shows how much attention I paid that night.   He was still there when we checked out.

We all loaded up and went off to the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa it was pretty but I was never was much of a garden person.

Then we went off to the Rambam Hospital.  Seriously.  I think I was the only person to really get anything out of that.  Do you know being gay and being a physician is completely ok in Israel?  No discrimination?  So unlike here.  When I was asking about that, another person on the tour complained that my experiences… you know as someone who is in the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and who has worked for two hospitals is not valid nor representative.  Ugh.  Because this person is such an expert.  I was actually asking this so I could bring home stuff back to my hospitals or potentially just move to Israel for medical school where there will be no discrimination.  I really don’t understand why during the lectures they didn’t actually get into details about what they were studying. And the only tour we were on was a tour of the underground part of the hospital where there is a parking lot that can become a “real” hospital in 72 hours.  I would have liked to explore more of the hospital!  By the way, the cafeteria at Rambam?  So much better than the ones I am used to, but still don’t recognise very much of the food items.

We then went to Zippori Park which really is an archaeologist’s dream in many ways I would love to stay there and explore, but no time.  Was certainly one of the most windy places we were at all trip!

After a busy day we ended up at Merom Golan Kibbutz which was the second niftiest place we stayed.  There was a jacuzzi!  I’d never even seen one before so really didn’t know they really existed!

We had a meeting after dinner where we talked about our Jewish journeys.  Honestly this was more than a little silly since we had already been together for several days.  This was supposed to be done the first night.  To me as well meaning as it was to be, I really did not want to have to spend time around certain members of the group whose presence was becoming annoying at best (example Temporary Roommate’s Real Roommate who had been annoying since the beginning).  We also had already told our stories at least four times previous.  At a certain point there really is nothing more to say.  At a certain point, I just went back to the cabin and let everyone else have fun.

Since we had decent wifi, I called some friends thank you again Vonage.



Shabbat in the Holy Land

November 26, 2013

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!

And the journey begins

November 22, 2013

Oct 30-31


In Judaism, it is the number that represents life… chai.  However, it was also how many hours I spent in Ben Gurion airport.

People asked what I did during that time.  Certainly going to the restroom 246 thousand times occurred… the fact I already have to go to the bathroom all the time and that increases when I am nervous does not help!  Divided my testosterone into smaller containers (I used cheap contact lens containers), repacked my medications.  Was harassed by security because sitting in a seat looking innocent is apparently a crime in Israel.  I also looked in the bookstore, they had some English books and was considering buying one for my grandmother but then decided to wait until maybe later.  Found the shul but did not daven as it was too late for maariv and too early for shacharit.  Uploaded things to Facebook as, unlike Istanbul, Ben Gurion had free wifi once you were able to figure out how to connect to it.  Called half of the United States or so it seemed proving that I can in fact call the US for free over wifi (part two confirmed!) thanks Vonage!   Wrote in my journal.   Took video of the model of the Temple.  I think the only thing I did not do was sleep.

I learned that one of my friends from bookmooch, a book trading website, was actually going to be able to flying out that day so we were able to meet briefly.  It was the first time we ever met in person despite the fact we grew up near the same location and her brother lives not terribly far from me.  She gave me good tips on how to keep kosher in Israel.  Basically in the supermarket everything is kosher ingredient wise so that isn’t a problem.  She said restaurant wise, most restaurants are fine to eat at and the only reason they aren’t labeled as kosher is usually because they are open on Shabbat.  Some of course do mix milk and meat so I just need to be careful of that but I shouldn’t worry too much.  This information would come in useful later.

I waited for one of the group members who was supposed to come in early that morning.   Apparently despite the fact I emailed him telling him what I was wearing, BRIGHT TIE DYE with a black/blue frik and tzitzit, he apparently didn’t get who I was.  He originally approached me, said my name, I replied and asked his name and he ignored me and walked off.   He said he later figured I didn’t speak English… despite the fact I responded and asked his name.  We later did assess that we were the people we were looking for.  So that was it and then it was the never ending wait for the rest of the group.

Finally after a zillion hours, we find the rest of the group who all show up.

What a cast of characters.  I think we had almost every type of Jew and type of LGBT person on this trip.  Jews by birth, Jews by Choice.  Orthodox to completely secular.  We had a serious lack of women though… one female group leader and one female Orthodox participant… since Orthodox people generally don’t touch the opposite sex I was wondering how that was going to play out.  Our group leaders consisted of the director of the non-profit, a cantor, another person who was on the trip last year, and our tour guide.  We also for a time had a rabbi briefly but he would later disappear, then come back, then disappear again.

I would grow to be quite fond of the tour guide, Hillel, who MADE the trip for the overly observant “Reform” (I use this phrase loosely) LGBT Jew like me.  If it weren’t for him… I don’t even know.  Let’s just say that.  But of course at the time I didn’t know that.  At this time he was still some huge strange dude in a kippah whose English was far too good in comparison to the Israelis I had already met.

After various weird introductions and such which I cannot stand that type of thing, we venture out of the airport.  My first actual look at Israel.

And… there was a puddle.

Apparently it rained.  Now my partner claimed that rain does not occur in Israel so I took a photo to prove him wrong because I am that weird.  If I had been thinking clearly, I would have taken photos of the bus because there are none of those in Israel either.   My world traveler partner says we will be traveling by camel.  OK dear.

So the drive to the desert was long and we were advised to take a nap.  I tried.  Really I did.  Outside of that one hour nap on the plane, I had been up for what was about 48 hours at least.  It was a little difficult with all the noise and the music.

We still have things pointed out by the tour guide.

Eventually things get very… desert-y.  Which is actually good when you realise we were kinda in the desert.  I would be concerned if it turned into a swamp.

We pull up to this little village thing and we see these rather large brown animals… with a hump.  My mind is saying “You are hallucinating.  You are not seeing a camel.”  Well my mind was right.  I didn’t see A camel.  I saw a BUNCH of camels.  So I stand besides these things… camels… and it dawns on me that they expect us to actually RIDE the camels.   So… my sleep deprived self actually keeps saying “Camels.  Why are there camels?  They don’t seriously expect us to ride a camel?  I can barely walk or see straight.  And you want to put me on a camel?”  The answer of course was yes.  At least I had the good sense about me to actually take a video of the camels as well as several photos.  According to my camel-mate, I said “I cannot believe I am on a camel” a bunch of times.  In all fairness I never expected to ever see a camel much less ride one… in the desert… in Israel.   Actually I’m sure if I had memory of the event, I probably would have loved it.  Next time can we do this while… I don’t know… I’m awake?

The Kfar Hanokdim accommodations were very cute.  We called it the Treehouse because it was kinda was built like one and this is what was outside the room.  I was just too tired to fully love on the room (48+ hours remember!), but really that was probably the prettiest place we stayed.

I can’t describe the village to be honest.  It felt so oddly familiar that it was almost insane.  Maybe it was because I like themed hotels.  Maybe it’s because I used to find all the little hiding spots when wandering the Mai-kai’s Gardens.  Maybe it is because my parents used to summer out west when I was little.  Maybe it is just because I like to camp.  Maybe it is because I do a lot of medieval history reenactment, I don’t know but I do know that the village felt right.  I want to go to Kfar Hanokdim again.

We did a little listening to one of the people who lived on the village, then did various text studies and I think I came out as a lunatic when I pointed out what words spoke to me and how they reminded me of HaShem telling me I was His.  Then we did dinner.

My stomach, always highly suspicious, decided to try the food as I realised I was going to have to eat something and certainly neither the bamba nor the weird pop-rock chocolate that Hillel gave us killed me so I would have to trust people and be adventurous.  I do not like adventure.  I am the most boring eater on this side of the planet.  It wasn’t bad, just I don’t know how they expected us to eat everything as they never stopped serving!  I would learn later this is one of those Israeli things, you are going to eat until you burst then you are going to have to take one more bite.  After all your mother (and if not your mother someone’s mother) worked so hard to prepare all this!

We went out to wander under the desert.  I can’t light a match to save my soul but that’s ok because no one who had matches could light their candle either.  Generally if I am going to communicate with HaShem, I do need the dark and silence.  I didn’t get silence because of the nigguns being sung.  I was actually surprised and how much light there was.  In the middle of nowhere I would have expected to see lots of stars but I just didn’t see them.  That made me horribly homesick for my skies in Georgia where I could see the galaxies and it was so easy to talk to HaShem.  I just didn’t feel Him and that scared me.  I couldn’t talk to Him in that desert.   I felt very lonely right then.  Maybe HaShem didn’t want to talk.  Maybe He just wasn’t there.

I slept quite well and the next morning after a really weird breakfast, we started to head out.  I didn’t even notice that it was my favourite American holiday, Halloween, which of course is not really celebrated in Israel.

We were supposed to take a hike (Go Take a Hike!) but we instead went to Masada.  When I heard that, my ears perked.  This place is known to studiers of Jewish history although I admit in my studies of classical antiquity I had never heard of it.  Basically the Romans tried to squish the Jews, a bunch of Jews went to Masada, the Romans camped out and built a ramp up Masada and eventually all the Jews were found dead except for a few women and children who basically had no one to kill them.

That was one of those places I wanted photos of but my camera decided to die on me and I left my cell phone in my several pound travel vest in the bus.  So I have no photos of Masada.  Waaaah!  We went up the Roman ramp which really looked nothing like a ramp so who knows how it got it’s English name.

The park was very interesting.  Remember I am a history buff and this was my first time wandering around something so ancient and places where ancient relatives of mine once were.  As I touched the stones, I could sense the Roman army and I could even sense the Jews present.  I could not help but get a little seasick knowing that my ancestors (the Italians) had a hand in this.  Just another time when my ancestors killed Jews for no real reason.  I think this was my first time being present at the location of a mass suicide.  Our tour guide dressed up and put on a very convincing persona as he told the story.  I wish I had recorded him.

“I’m sorry guys,” I thought to myself, “My ancestors really should have let you be.”

(Some part of me now wants to get a little cute and for my next SCA persona do a very very early period Jewish persona in Masada.  The outfit would be great for summer plus I am more of a fighter in summer.  My “real” Jewish persona that I am developing is better for cooler climates.)

After Masada, which I will go back to one day, we headed off to the Dead Sea.

A few of us ate first and when we went to change, it was odd that it was locker room only with no bathrooms.  One of the members of the group didn’t even think about the fact I really did need to change in the stalls.  To him I was just one of the guys.  How nice.  Apparently the only person who worries about my equipment is me.

The Dead Sea was… well… salty… and… well… dead… I don’t think anyone can truly prepare you for the fact you really do float… as in I could not even walk into or out of the sea because my feet could not touch the ground for parts.  Yet where there was actually mud, it was like quicksand.  Seriously.  I think the Dead Sea is bipolar.  I think this is listed as something to do in Israel so that the locals can laugh at some of us who keep ending up with face fulls of water.  So I was in it to say I did it and went out after a few minutes.  No mud for me and I’m ok with that.

So we head back to Tel Aviv and ROCKS were thrown at our bus and cracked the window when we weren’t far from a checkpoint.  The bus driver was less than amused.  (Honestly, I remember this happening on the 30th, but my notes say it was on the drive back to Tel Aviv on 31st).

We arrive at the Artplus hotel (and don’t let the website fool you it was not *that* pretty and I don’t even know where that photo was taken).  I don’t think anyone really liked the Artplus but the food was nice and but I am now officially addicted to rugelach because of them.  My roommate and I apparently had one of the bigger rooms since we had a corner and we did have a view, but that room was not that big at all!  About half the size of my bedroom and a quarter of the size of my bathroom.  Everyone commented on the size.  I hate to know how small everyone else’s rooms were!

Anyway we had a nice meal, but there was just too much politics being discussed before hand.  Politics makes me queasy.  I know I had something “different”… I want to say it was either duck or goose so my mother should be proud of me.  We learned the shul we were going to was going to the next day was going to be the tour guide’s shul and we saw photos of his family (his kids are just too cute) and we’d meet them the next day at the park.

Lots of other people went out but you know, everything goes on so late in Israel that it was way past my bed time.  Scary for a nightowl to say but hey I was tired!

Trip to Israel Incoming!

November 21, 2013

Oct 28-29

So I survive somehow through the first round of TSA security and get to the gate.  I of course look silly as all I am doing everything out of a carry-on and a travel vest.  I shake so badly that the TSA agent almost doesn’t let me go through and I had to explain the reason I am shaking so severely is that I don’t fly very well and am terrified of airplanes!

As I sat in the Atlanta airport at the gate, I already realised that how I rigged my phone worked.  I normally have my Vonage account and cell phone set to simultaneously ring if you call my office line.   I set my cell phone to forward to Vonage which would give me visual voicemail to my email address.  I also set up my phone so that I could call out on Vonage over a wifi connection anywhere.  And I found someone tried to call me.

As I called Steve back (I had left him a message begging for prayers) he reminded me that I was going home.  He emphasized that home part.


Throughout the rest of the waiting, and then the boarding on to American Airlines (FYI, I joined frequent flier for that trip and it lets you get priority access to the plane!), all I could really do was think about what Steve said.  How on Earth could I be going home?  I’ve never been out of my country.  Israel was just a location.  Yes in theory it’s my homeland now, which Steve also emphasized, but what connection do I really have with Israel?  I don’t even *speak* Hebrew.   All I have seen about Israel is what I read about in my history books and what other people tell me.  I turned this over and over in my mind even when I was looking out the window during takeoff.  (Yes I was actually looking out the plane window!)

At some point after I left Atlanta and saw the clouds underneath me, I just sort of stopped pondering what home meant as I had more important things to worry about like surviving Chicago.

The Chicago airport was more than a little confusing especially since no one could tell me how to get from terminal 3 to 5, apparently the answer is you have to leave the airport, go on a tram, and reenter the airport.  At least that TSA agent was much nicer than the one in Atlanta.  At least in Chicago, unlike Atlanta and as I would learn later Istanbul and Tel Aviv, they had a few power outlets at the gate which really helped as my stuff was drained.   Little did I know I would not be able to charge things again until Wednesday night!  What freaked me out is that people started to talk to me in other languages in Chicago.  Duuude!  I can barely master English.

I had not eaten since noon and now it was very late as I sat at the Chicago gate.  If I would have known there was going to be almost no food at the gate, I would stayed at terminal 3 to grab something to eat then continued on.  Luckily I knew Turkish Air was going to feed us, I just didn’t know when!

It turns out I need not worry, not long after I got on the plane they started handing out little food things which I am still not sure what they are and then food was served about an hour after take-off so about 1 am.  The flight attendant kept looking at me funny, but that is when I realised that the sheet of paper he had in his hand had the weird dietary requests on it so I was the kosher person.  I actually was also the dork who took photos of all the food.   It was a meat meal and the chicken was absolutely wonderful.  Most of the food was quite good and they gave a lot of it.  They also gave tons of wine, beer, and whatever else you wanted.  It just kept on coming.  No wonder Turkish Air is rated very highly.  I had the wine as I figured it would help me sleep.

Their in-flight entertainment was pretty good, everyone had little personal screens with like 400 or something different options, lots of movies, shorts, games, etc.  You could keep yourself entertained easily.  I liked the fact they had ALL the Star Trek movies!  But instead I settled for trying to watch World War Z which I apparently fell asleep during the middle of.  I slept maybe an hour or two… just long enough that someone pulled down my window shade and my personal screen went to sleep.

A few more hours and yet more food!  Honestly I was still full from dinner!  The parve breakfast was wonderful although I could have done without the pineapple.  (Pineapple is one of my least favourite plant products!)

The one thing that bothered me about Turkish Air isn’t even their fault.  When we landed in Istanbul (Not Constantinople) they didn’t even pull up to a gate.  Seriously.  It was like in one of those old movies we had to use those portable stairways to deplane.  Actually that is exactly what it was!  We were then put on a shuttle, shuttled to a gate and then promptly did our best to not get lost.  Back through the security (this time with Turkish security) and we get to the new gate get asked about why I am going to Israel.  Um… pilgrimage?

Then they decided after we all went through Passport control (at the gate) that we had to change gates.  And not… oh from 215 to 214.  It was from like 214 (or so) to like 524!  The airline dude says “Anyone who wants to go to the gate follow me” and then he rushes off!  I am the only person in the entire plane that can keep up with him.   Something I learned, while it is well known that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, most humans will actually make small deviations out of their way.  The Turks on the other hand do not.  I still do not know how my little legs were able to not only keep up with that guy (who was kinda cute) but were able to climb the things he climbed.  Of course then we had to go through Passport control again.  So much fun.  Then get driven to the plane to go back up the plane for the hike to Tel Aviv.

On the trip to Tel Aviv, I did not get a window seat but we did get yet another meal (which was not as good as some of the others).  This time I had the beer they served which wasn’t too bad.  It tasted a little like Heineken.   The people on the plane were a little friendlier.  I caught a short documentary about terraforming Mars and then I spoke to one of my neighbours as we were approaching Israel.  He comes to Israel every year and of course it was my first time.  When we started to descend, I felt the tears threatening but I really don’t know why.  When we landed, everyone clapped which they didn’t do any other time we landed so maybe it was just because it was Israel!

Passport control was also a pain as Israel is really interested in why you are visiting Israel.  They want to know how many times you were here before, if you have family friends here, etc.  They don’t stamp your passport though which I found insulting.  Customs was easy, you just walk right through.  Then I had a several hour wait (only 18 hours) in the airport as I was waiting for my group.  Security came up to me after two hours and asked me questions in Hebrew and I was like “Pardon?” then they switched to English.

I must have done everything possible to eat up the time.  I must have gone to the bathroom a million times.  I called people on my Vonage line through my cell which worked ok.   And the waiting begins!

I am back from my trip

November 20, 2013

I went to Israel and while I was hoping to do a travel blog, the wifi in the various hotels were either so poor or non-existent that it would have been nearly impossible to do.  Even the official travel blog for the trip isn’t getting put up until now that we are back.  I spent all my computer wifi trying to upload photos and youtube videos.  You can see youtube videos at my channel : http://www.youtube.com/user/melsmarsh

I will say that as light as I packed, I could have gone even lighter.  I find that to be something that is really disturbing.  Who would have figured that?  Apparently it is not uncommon to go to shul in sandals or regular clothing, so shul clothing was not needed.  I also practically just lived in two shirts, my black wool shirt and my Scottevest shirt on on top of the other.  I ended up leaving my hoodie in the car.  While I made a solar filter, I didn’t have enough time to see the eclipse.  Plus there were lots of toiletries that I didn’t end up using!  I will know this for next time.   My totals with my carry on and my Scottevest total were around 11 kg (and the vest did not count as a carry-on because I was wearing it.

The trip, for what it is worth was a pretty interesting experience.  I liked a lot of the history (we went to Masadah!), although not really any of the partying or music or movies.  I am just not that type of person.  I really enjoyed that it was pretty easy to keep kosher and even Shabbat.  Did you know the eruv basically goes down to the beach in Tel Aviv?  Seriously!  The only crappy things were in the Israeli airport where I was flat out told I was a terrorist… well that and having rocks thrown at us by Muslims.  That was always fun!

Va-yishlah 5774 Dvar

November 15, 2013

This week’s parasha is Va-yishlah, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43.  It is during this portion that Jacob attempts to return home with his family.  As he was fearful of Esau, Jacob divides his camp into two and sends gifts to appease Esau.  When this was occurring, Jacob was alone until a man or angel appears from nowhere and wrestles with him until morning.

I would like to focus on Genesis 32, lines 25-30 when Jacob is wrestling and becomes Israel.  If Jacob was left alone, who was he wrestling with?  While it is commonly interpreted as wrestling with an angel, the word “ish” means “man.”  Where would this man come from if Jacob was alone?  Some commentaries have suggested that Jacob wrestled with neither angel nor man, but instead was wrestling with himself.

Everyone has wrestled with themselves from time to time.  For some, it might be something very simple.  Arguing with themselves over whether or not to break their diet when they see their favourite dessert and hear it calling their name.  For others, the wrestling will be about something bigger such as their identity.  Certainly for people on the LGBT spectrum, the struggle with identity can be quite significant especially when one is in an environment where LGBT people are rare and LGBT issues are not discussed.   For many, there is an internal wrestling with oneself over what is wrong.  What is wrong with me?  Am I the only one?  What will my parents think?  What will become of me?  What if my classmates find out? For many LGBT youth, suicide is a way out.   Coming out is difficult for many people and recent studies show nearly one in three LGBT teens attempt suicide before the age of 15, and transgender youth, the percentage is even higher.  Many don’t survive and the news is filled with reports of their deaths.  For them, their struggles were just too much to deal with.

For those who come from religious families, not only does one have to struggle with simply being LGBT, but also about their level of observance and whether or not they can or should remain in their community.  They even might ask… Does G-d hate me?  Why would He do this to me?  Many religious communities are not as welcoming of the LGBT community so some might have to struggle and choose which of their identities, being religious or being gay, comes first.  Last year for example, I met a gay Hasidic Jew who was fighting over his identities and the last I heard, his gay identity won out and he has separated himself from the Jewish community.

During my trip to Israel through “A Wider Bridge,” a non-profit designed to build LGBTQ relations with Israel, I met several LGBT Jews who were raised in a more traditional manner and who, like my Hasidic friend, opted out of Judaism, particularly Orthodoxy, because it was difficult for them to be themselves within its confines.  Some of those group members returned to Judaism, some even back to Orthodoxy, but only after a long struggle with themselves over who they were.  Only after they were able to come to terms with themselves and accept their gay identity were they able to work on blending it with their Jewish identity so they could be proud LGBT Jews.  Others, particularly younger group members, were still struggling and I know there was at least one person who was very uncomfortable near the start of the trip.  He had previous difficulties within Judaism, being LGBT was just one small part and he also said he was the “wrong kind of Jew” and to make it more of a challenge, he is the son of an Orthodox rabbi.  When we visited a gay Orthodox shul, he became so uncomfortable that he had to leave during our first Shabbat service.  By the end of the trip, he seemed to become much more comfortable in every way.  Perhaps he realized there is no wrong kind of Jew and that there was a place within Judaism for him all he has to do is find it.  Almost everyone on the trip seemed to have a similar internal struggle at some point.

Of course, Jacob was not the only person in the Torah who was renamed.  Abraham and Sarah were both renamed and it seems we never hear the previous names again.  However Jacob and Israel are used interchangeably, perhaps to represent the fact all of us have various identities, some of which cause us to wrestle with G-d.

Flying out

October 28, 2013

So in about 3 hours I will be in the airport or on the way to it in order to pick up the first leg of my journey.  Heading out to Chicago to pick up a flight to Istanbul then to T*A.

I am sad that I was not given the traveler’s blessing in front of my congregation (the third rabbi didn’t have it on her calendar, Rabbi R was doing a service off-site, Rabbi B was in the other service).  I could go on about how disappointed I am but really that isn’t going to be very productive.  At least after services, I was given it by Rabbi B.  I am quite worried about the flight although I hear Turkish Air has good food and free wine.

I am doing all of this out of a backpack so people wanted to know my list.  Here is the list.



Bathing Suit / Shorts – NEED TO DO TRAVEL REVIEW on Scottevest Travel boxers


nice khakis (men) (for Shabbat/going out)

(1) nice shirt (for Shabbat)

(1) shirt for “going out” as if I will go out but this is short sleeve and falling apart

(3) packages of Onederwear – 15 – Youtube review

(2) pair of socks

(2) short-sleeved shirts (1 tye-dye tee, 1 wool base layer NEED TO DO TRAVEL REVIEW)

(1) long-sleeved shirts

1 pair of nicer shoes (for Shabbat)

Belt (for Shabbat)


nail clippers – can double as scissors

travel toothbrush – comes with cap

travel toothpaste

mini travel hairbrush/mirror combo

mini deodorant

set of earplugs

two individual packages of shampoo

hand soap sheets – NEED TO DO TRAVEL REVIEW

Interdental toothpicks/floss

Razors + shaving gel


Hair ties


Bobby pins


Face wash


Medications – Klonopin, Keppra, Testosterone.


Israel book plus Map of Jerusalem

Spiritual pilgrims guide

Mishkan T’fila for travelers

Jewish stuff




Laundry bag


Mini penlight

Emergency hooded poncho

Travel Towel – doubles as washcloth, light blanket, or pillow – NEED TO DO TRAVEL REVIEW

Travel umbrella – doubles as sunshade



Plug Adapter for electrical appliances

Passport + atm cards in holder

Shequels and USD




Camera, batteries, charger, USB wire


(7) Contact lens containers to use as Testosterone holders (13) plus 1 pill case

BORROWING from someone if needed

Multivoltage converter


Medical ID

(2) long sleeved shirts – one wool base layer, one Scottevest shirt – NEED TO DO TRAVEL REVIEW ON BOTH

(1) tallit katan – wear on plane, doubles as undershirt, can wash it halfway through.

(1) Diva cup – can wear on plane just in case

(1) set of sandals – doubles as water shoes / sturdy shoes for hiking / walking

(1) Cargo pants

(1) Scottevest travel vest – NEED TO DO TRAVEL REVIEW


Laptop + charger

Cell phone + cord + ear piece

I also learned that there is going to be a solar eclipse so I am bringing supplies to make a diy solar filter just in case: electrical tape, two cups, and an emergency blanket.