Living History

I am still in shock over these experience, but knew that I needed to find a moment to actually write about it, so I am going to attempt to encapsulate two of the most amazing experiences of my life in words.

1) Maccabean Mikvah!

The 8th day of Chanukah, the women of Tochnit Alisa (the English language college and beyond program at Nishmat) had a lovely tiyul. One of our instructors live in Modi’in, just down the road from a relatively recently discovered archaeological site – a Hashmonean era site for Jewish ritual life. For those of you who might not be making the connection, the Maccabean revolt was in the Hashmonean era, so visiting the site on the last day of Chanukah was a pretty amazing way of connecting to history, both religiously and physically.

Post by Melissa, who appears here in the mikvah!

Post by Melissa, who appears here in the mikvah!

As we approached the site, it became clear that this was a unique find. The group gravitated towards the large space that was once the Beit Knesset (area where they prayed), however I was distracted by a series of steps leading into a hole in the ground. Could it be? Was I really seeing an ancient mikvah? Our guide began to speak about the space and referenced the mikvah and as quickly as I could, I scurried away from the group and back over towards the mikvah to investigate. I walked down the steps and just stood there – soaking up the moment. Here I was, standing the space where women (and men) had immersed thousands of years ago, in an era where ritual impurity had a meaning beyond what we can imagine.

I have a personal tradition to always think about my ancestors upholding the laws of taharat hamishpacha and immersing in the mikvah around the time of my own immersion. I always take some time in the waters to reflect upon their living nature and that of the history which they inherently tie me to. Now, that will take on a whole new meaning. I can connect to this phyiscal space as well and the emotions of really feeling that connection.

2) Holy of Holies!

Last week, Tochnit Alisa again had an outing. This time, we went to the Generations Center and on a Kotel Tunnel tour. (It was a nice touch that our guide for the latter was my Nach teacher!) One of the first things we saw on the tour was another ancient mikvah! Though this one was through a piece of glass on the floor because it was so very deep compared to where the “floor” of the tunnels is, it was still an amazing thing to see.

Women pray continuously near the Kodesh Kodeshim

Women pray continuously near the Kodesh Kodeshim

As we walked along and stopped to learn about the history I kept noticing religious women bustling past. At one point, we looked at the various archways and discovered that just ahead of us was an archway, directly underneath Wilson’s Arch – which is the closest place that men can pray to the Kodesh Kodeshim, the holy of holies from the time of the Beit HaMikdash, the ancient temple in Jerusalem. It turns out, there is a place directly under that in the tunnels where women can also pray. However, unlike the men’s area – there are always women there and anyone who knows how to get there can go at almost any time they want. We stopped in this place and our guide/my teacher allowed us some time to daven (pray) there. I stood in place and sung my favorite meditative line to myself and was almost in tears. I felt so connected to the history of the Jewish people and the plight of the temple eras and its destruction.

While I am the first to say that living in Israel is not an idyllic thing, these moments of being a part of the living history of the Jewish people is what makes the experience so important and profound. I am not going to start saying everyone needs to move here or make aliyah, but I do think it is important to take some time to get to experience the places which connect us all on a deeper level than we can cognitively undertand or expect.

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Apartment Hunting Across a Cultural Divide

I know I’ve been quiet lately on the blog, but for those of you follow along with my journey elsewhere on social media, you’ve seen whats been dominating all my free time: apartment hunting.

I have been bogged down in it, using every moment of free time to scour the main websites and sending dozens of emails each day, only to met with increasing frustration and losing my mind. I was discussing this with my new rebbetzin friend (Hi!) and she said – put it on your blog! So, here I am! Sharing my insanity, what I have learned thus far, and looking for your insights on how to cope. Oh, and if you happen to know anyone renting a 1 bedroom (aka 2 room I have learned) furnished apartment in either Baka/Talpiyot-ish (the area near Pardes) or Nachlaot, shoot me an email (melissa at redefiningrebbetzin dot com) – you may become my new second favorite person! (Sorry, but regardless of anything else, D stays at the #1 spot.)

Things I have learned so far:

– There is a distinct difference in Israeli postings between the number of rooms advertised and the number of bedrooms. I have to reread postings regularly to try to see what they are telling me, because often what it says in the subject and what it says in the body appear to be different.

– Israelis (at least in my rental experience, and crowdsourced for validation) are not such big email utilizers. They’d rather talk on the phone. Given the time difference and the fact that I work two jobs right now, thats kind of tricky. However, they more prefer to deal with people in person, so if the choice is between me in America trying to email them, and a person who can meet them at the place now – guess who gets the follow up?

– They also tend to be non-responsive if the place you are inquiring about has recently been rented. I work in donor relations, so customer service is super inherent to me and this is just so not how I operate that it floors me. (Add it to the general dislike of email and I can rant with the best f them.)

– No one has more than like three photos! Seriously, whats up with that one?

– Apartments tend to be available immediately. So looking 6 weeks in advance is almost futile. (The last time D spent time in Israel, he looked for a place and moved in that night! I cannot wrap my brain around that.)

– Even though it is really hard to navigate through them, it is important to try to use Hebrew sites where possible. If you have to use English sites, don’t trust anyone listing in USD, they are most likely taking advantage of you as a “rich American.” (Related: find out if you are dealing with an agent or the renter, this is often pretty clear on the posting, especially as you see the same names over and over again.)

– In the past few days, I have found out that listserves are my friend, even though they really make it hard for me to keep my clean inbox. Getting stuff emailed to me is way less stressful than constantly monitoring every website. (If you are looking, search for yahoo groups for the areas you want to live in and also join flathunters.)

Questions I’ve learned to ask (with much gratitude to Ronit: @rgoldstand*) which work for anyone who is apartment hunting in Israel:

– What furnishings exactly are included?
– Are the bedroom and living room separate?
– What is the kitchen like?
– Is there a washer on the premises? If not, where is the closest laundromat and what are their prices?
– What size are the rooms?
– Is there an Arnona or Vaad Bayit payment? If so, how much?
– Are any utilities included in the cost of the rent?
– Is it a solar heater?
– Are there markets in walking distance?
– Is it an area you feel comfortable walking around?
– What is the bus accessibility like? (or if you plan to drive, if there is parking)
– Do you have any more photos you can send?

So, anyone have any more things I should be asking or learning? (Not that I’m sure my brain could handle much more at this point!)

Oh, how could I post this without the most important thing of all to learn in this process: yiyeh b’seder, it will be ok. Repeat after me… Yiyeh b’seder! (I think I might need one of these shirts from Benji Lovitt and the Nu Campaign in order to keep reminding myself of this important mantra over the next si weeks.)

*Ronit is truly inspiring if anyone is looking to make aliyah. Not an email goes by where she doesn’t slip in subtle plug for how amazing it is to be an olah. She reminds me that she hasn’t given up on us yet, so for those of you who think its in our cards, you should know someone is working on it – and for anyone interested in aliyah, she’d be an awesome person to talk to – she’s real and rational, but totally loves living the dream.