Beaches, Part II: Hilton Beach

As we approached the beach, I suddenly became hyper aware of the amount of clothing I was wearing.

In Jerusalem I almost always wear pants. Something about the mountains and the feeling of conservative modesty make jeans more comfortable for me than the shorts I used to wear in Texas. I joke about tzniut, the religious concept of modesty that has come to refer mostly to women’s dress in certain Jewish communities, and how I insist on “being tzniut” when I walk around in Jerusalem. Joking aside, I like dressing conservatively, and given the cooler-than-usual summer temperatures in the city (which tend to be between 10 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than San Antonio) wearing collared shirts every day with jeans is something I can do year-round. Along with my kippah, summer hat, and sunglasses, only my arms are exposed, but the tattoo sleeve of my left arm feels to me like an extension of my clothing. And I love it.

The morning I got dressed for the beach in Tel Aviv, however, I gleefully pulled my shortest shorts from the closet and stood before the mirror. I have nice legs—they’re the only part of my body that I really like—and they have become very muscular since living in such a pedestrian-friendly country. I liked the way my shorts showed my progress, even though they rise well above my knee and felt oddly “foreign.” I couldn’t remember having purchased them, let alone when I thought I would be comfortable putting them on, but on this day I was going to show myself to the world.

On my way out the door, I took a horrible fall down the stairs. I bumped down the last seven steps to the ground, bruising my left femur from my hip to my knee. A combination of embarrassment and pain broke out across my face as hot tears stung my cheeks in the presence of some horrified neighbors. “Ani b’seder, ani b’seder.” I’m okay. I’m okay.

I had not been on a beach in a social setting for years, so I am embarrassed to admit I assumed my short-sleeve button-down with its tropical flowery pattern and shorts would fit in. I felt simultaneously strangled by my abundance of clothing and yet naked in the presence of so many people in bathing suits. Hilton Beach is a lovely place, but like other Tel Aviv beaches that are littered with gym equipment and showers, it socially reinforces a certain body type and presentation of the perfect physique. I showed up to the party having missed the memo.

When I’m nervous I twist my wedding ring around my finger. I looked down at my hands, let my ring finger go, and took a deep breath.

“Alex, will you help me with my sunscreen?”

He never pressured me and instead met my eyes with a sweet “are you sure?” I was as sure as the ring around my finger—I wasn’t there to impress anyone. I was just looking to have a nice day relaxing with the person who loves me enough to help me love myself, and if that meant pushing myself a bit, I was willing and ready.

And so I slowly unbuttoned my shirt, glancing around to intercept the looks that I was sure my ghostly white skin would attract. But nobody cared. No necks craned to gawk at my body or how awkwardly I disrobed. I put sunscreen on my stomach and chest, conscious of how my flesh jiggled as my hands grazed my curves. But Alex’s hands on my back comforted me. This was the first time in as long as I could remember that wind and sun had touched these parts of my body… and it was thrilling.

When you resign yourself to the fully-clothed sidelines, you forget what the water feels like. I had expected some reminder of a bath, but the salty, cool water splashed my thighs and I yelped. Had it really been this long? Had I truly forgotten what the ocean felt like? Beneath the sky with just a pair of tiny shorts and a kippah, I walked into the blue waters up to my waist. My toes dug into the bizarre sea bed and I shivered with excitement.

To my left and right, magazine models splashed one another as paparazzi snapped their photos. On the beach, Greek statues lay side by side as the sun glistened in the perfect droplets on their perfect skin. But in the middle of the shallows, a powder-white, 27-year-old child was loving the ocean for the first time.

I headed back to the beach, dizzy and giddy with excitement. On my stomach on the blanket we spread across the sand, I wiggled my hips into the soft earth and briefly closed my eyes. The sounds of the people around me continued uninterrupted. I slept.

Late that night I painfully walked back up the steps to our apartment, still dressed for Tel Aviv. I examined my leg, already developing its triumphant blues and purples, and rinsed myself in the shower.

No need for pajamas tonight.

Beaches, Part I: A Realization

I never liked the beach as a kid. I was probably the only child I knew of who felt a hot disdain for a day in the sand and water. Inevitably I would find sand in my molars, and a disgusting mixture of sunscreen and sea water coating my body. It wasn’t until I moved to Israel and sat on the beach in Tel Aviv that I realized the truth: I learned to dislike these things to protect myself from a reality that scared me.

I was the first kid in my fifth grade class to hit the 100-pound mark on the scales. I remember how ashamed I was when I looked over my belly and peeked at the round number. For a while I could move slightly side to side or stand on my tiptoes to make it go back to 99.8, but eventually I lost that battle too. I had been aware of my chubby face and rounder body for a long time, but my fuller chest is what earned me the hurtful nickname “moobs.”

I have carried this hatred of my body with me my entire life. Even though my medical issues with my ears prevented me from diving freely into the water since first grade, the real reason I made my peace by the pool with a book rather than a bathing suit is because I could never handle the feeling of people’s eyes on my chest. As time went on, the body that never saw the sun grew whiter with age and only added to my humiliation. When puberty came about and my friends’ bodies began to even out and become more firm, my womanly curves stood out no matter how tight the tank top I wore beneath my school uniform clung to my skin.

I spent my life carefully avoiding spaces that required me to undress in front of others. I double checked the lock on every fitting room, carefully noting how far down anyone would have to stoop to see me through the slats in the door. I peeled my clothing off as if I were on fire when I had to change after football practice. Luckily I could run home immediately after football practice to shower rather than joining my friends who casually disrobed the second they entered the locker room. I successfully hid my body from the time I hit puberty until my early 20s.

My husband was the first person to see me without a shirt for nearly fifteen years. Even then I was uncomfortable. He told me he loved everything about me, including my body. For the next five years I struggled to love the parts of me I had tried to ignore my entire life.

When Alex and I moved to Israel, we met our best friend. He decided to take us to the “gay beach” in Tel Aviv where he assured us there would be lots of eye candy sprawled out on the sand and enjoying the waves.

I felt a cold sweat developing as five years of self-love washed away.

“I don’t need to worry about a bathing suit,” I stammered. “I can’t swim anyway. You know… my ears.”

Yom HaShoah as a Jew-by-Choice

In October I went to Yad Vashem, the museum and research institution dedicated to the remembrance and study of the Shoah, (the Hebrew word for “Holocaust”) with my parents. I always break down at some point in the numbing barrage of testimony and have to excuse myself, but I noticed that with my non-Jewish parents by my side, my discomfort was heightened.

Nobody tells you when you convert to Judaism that dealing with the Holocaust is going to be one of the hardest things you ever do. Jewish communities express their pain about the  Holocaust by remembering it as an event that either happened to themselves, their families, or that could have happened to them if they had lived in that time period.

What if it couldn’t have necessarily happened to me? What about the morose part of my Jewish identity as a Jew by choice that guiltily wonders if I would have escaped the Nazis since my Jewishness comes not through blood but rather through religious conversion? An equally dirty thought: would I have been worthy of the suffering of my people? Is it worse to be lumped in with your people or to be passed over and separated from them?

Tonight we sat beneath the night sky at Yad VaShem together with survivors of the Shoah as Israel began its national day of remembering the Holocaust, its victims, and its survivors. We heard their stories, wept together, and sang HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem, at the end of the event.

At one point in the ceremony, Israeli actor Adir Miller read the last letter that a man named Gustav Jacobson wrote to his daughter Ruth before he was murdered by the Nazis. In October, when I stepped out of the museum to catch my breath, I nearly collapsed as a thought occurred to me. While I may not have been “Jewish enough” for Nazi selection and persecution, my children most certainly would be simply because their names will be Hebrew names and their lives will be Jewish lives.

Jacobson wrote to his dearest Ruth that she should live her life without bitterness. He, after all, knew that his was ending and all he could do was focus on the love he felt for his daughter. Through my tears, I found my own way to remember, mourn, and feel my people’s suffering. Tonight, beneath the stars of Jerusalem, with members of the Israeli Defense Forces and Holocaust survivors sitting just rows away from me, I saw my children.

Tonight I saw my people. May they never again suffer.

A Buzzfeed quiz made me angry about misogyny

Do we reinforce misogyny (and heteronormativity) by forcing it onto young people, thereby sabotaging their romantic relationships?

This quiz popped up on my Facebook feed. Sure, why not? It’s a silly quiz and it could be fun. I really enjoy confusing these “based on your taste in men, which stereotypical white girl thing do you like?” quizzes. As a nearly-30-year-old, married gay man whose hobbies include cooking, knitting, and taking care of birds, I knew there was no way this quiz was going to be even slightly revelatory, but perhaps hilarious.

Instead, one of the questions completely blindsided me. I wasn’t expecting some “woke” quiz with an evolved sense of gender equality and intellectual understanding of feminist theory, but I found instead a quiz that was aware of that world without actually being part of it.

After asking me which mid-2000s romantic comedy I would watch while “eating popcorn and drinking wine” with my ‘boyfriend,’ the quiz threw a curveball.

“Pick an issue your boyfriend won’t really understand until you undertake hours and hours of emotional labor explaining it to him.”

The choices were intersectional feminism, LGBT rights, institutional racism, capitalism as the enemy of human rights, capitalism as the enemy of the climate, and internalized misogyny.

Here’s my problem: if the young woman Buzzfeed assumed was taking this quiz would find it necessary to invest “emotional labor” in explaining an issue that is important to her that her boyfriend wouldn’t understand, why are we pretending like it’s okay for them to be together in the first place?

Today is my first wedding anniversary. Alex and I have been together for 7 years. We met when I was 21 and he was 19. We dove in and got serious after only two months. One of the main reasons is that I fell in love with every part of him, including his mind, his sensitivities, his worries, and his ideals. I can’t remember the last time anyone ever has told a young woman in my presence that you have to fall in love with your partner’s values. Why isn’t that a red flag?

We are doing a serious disservice to all young people when we don’t stand up and demand that they carefully vet their partners. Is it important to you that the person you love understand that misogyny, institutionalized (and more direct) racism, homophobia, and transphobia are real, present dangers in our world? Then why would you ever not know those things before you were in too deep?

We do not tell young people that their feelings matter equally in their relationship. It should go without saying that we place more pressure on young women specifically to find a man and settle down. From television and movie tropes of spinsters to the butt-of-the-joke “ugly” girl to the neighborhood “bad girl,” we have been instill this garbage into everyone’s head for as long as I’ve been alive. Now that people my age are starting to get married and have kids, we are just as likely going to continue the pattern if we don’t work to solve it.

Yes, this rant is about a silly Buzzfeed quiz about which Starbucks drink you would order based on how you “build a boyfriend,” but it’s also something that I see way too often in the world. It is not your job to train the man in your life to be a good person. No man is your project. Taking on a “project” instead of falling in love with someone who complements your soul is actually kind of a horrible thing to do.

We cannot and should not “train” someone to be the person we deserve. If nobody is truly perfect, we have to work that much harder to find the right person for us, but we often tell young people to instead settle with red flags in the name of finding love. It is not only unethical, but completely dangerous to tell someone to put aside their gut feelings or to smooth-over a significant relationship conflict just so they won’t be lonely. “Oh, maybe they’ll change! Maybe they will understand!” We are not here to fix someone’s flaws, but rather to grow together into the best people we can be. That’s a relationship.

Maybe the real problem is that we never took our own messages about “loving ourselves” seriously enough. I hope (and truly believe) that we will right this ship when it’s time to teach our children how to love, but I can’t help but feel bitter that it hadn’t been done before now.

In the end, the quiz told me that I probably “just go to Starbucks for the bathroom,” which oddly enough, ended up being completely true. So let’s fix that other question, then, and enjoy this delightful quiz.

Eighteen Minutes (A Passover Story)

Making your own unleavened bread for Pesach forces you to really pay attention to time. Alex sets out the bowls of flour and broth, the dried fruits and nuts for his pan de semita, an unleavened Passover bread eaten by Jewish families in Mexico for centuries, and checks the time. He carefully organizes the ingredients so that he can reach them, because as soon as he mixes the flour and water, the countdown begins. One extra second means the whole lot of dough is rendered chameitz: unfit for consumption during Passover.

Perhaps that’s what this holiday is about: as we reflect on the story of the Exodus from Egypt, whether through retellings of the tale that recall literal slavery in a foreign land or through an interpretation that calls to mind slaveries both real and metaphorical, time is a central consideration. The Hebrews acted quickly. They made bread in haste, they set out for a destination they had never known, they traveled to the edge of a sea they had never seen without stopping to consider if their path even had a destination at all.

Today while my husband rolled out the pan de semita that adorns our table every Pesach, we talked about our own fascination with time-bound laws. Setting the timer for the halachicly-permitted 18 minutes between the time the flour meets water until it must enter the heated oven is stressful, he said, “but then you realize 18 minutes is a lot.”

As Jews in Jerusalem (and next year in New York City) we have it pretty easy as far as our Passover restrictions are concerned. Sure, we make our traditional Mexican Passover bread that Alex kneads by hand and mixes carefully until the last minute that Jewish law permits, but we also can walk to restaurants with Kosher for Passover options, find storefronts with treats made especially with our seasonal dietary restrictions in mind, and even visit neighbors whose homes are free of chameitz and brimming with food options should we need a meal.

But is 18 minutes really that much time? This year in Jerusalem, Alex and I have had to make our way with only two thirds of the money around which we formed our year’s budget. Without going into specifics, after rent and utilities, we have lived off of a little more than $100 a month for food. To put that into perspective, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, what used to be known as “food stamps,” sets the minimum food cost for two adults in the United States at $357 a month. Even this is low, as it reflects just what the government pitches in as “assistance” to your food budget, meaning that the typical American food allowance is a bit higher than $200 per person in a country where food prices are among the lowest in the world. We are living on a quarter of that (in Jerusalem no less!) and we have done so masterfully this year.

However proud I am of our kitchen creativity and thrifty ways, I have not been able to shake an awful feeling of anxiety this year. I didn’t know where it was coming from until one night when I was stressed out about having to throw out a tupperware of soup that had gone bad.

“We just don’t have the money to waste food!” I said through tears.

I realized that every day I spend at least three hours planning, preparing, or cooking meals for the two of us. Three hours. That does not take into account the daily worry about if I am saving enough here and there for the end of the month, let alone money for emergencies if (G-d forbid) something should go wrong. No matter where I am, I shop out of the corner of my eye for the best price on staples like eggs, flour, vegetable oil, and salt—things that I completely took for granted when prices were better in Texas.

When you’re mixing dough for 18 minutes before popping it into a hot oven, you feel each agonizing second in the tensing muscles of your arms. When you’re running across a desert to a sea that may or may not be the end of the line for your entire nation, you feel each agonizing second from the sun against your neck and the fatigue in your legs.

The Hebrews did not have three hours in their day to plan delicious meals on a budget. They couldn’t afford to go to bed late to make sure that their privileged, food-blogger tastes were satisfied through alchemy with beans and grains in the kitchen.  They couldn’t spend hours each week walking to shops and markets to get the best prices on chick peas and pita. Preparing for Pesach reminds me that pieces of what I have relied on this year have to be removed from my kitchen for just over a week. The barley, pita, oats, and pasta that we have used to fortify our meals are being wiped out for the sake of remembering our historical narrative. While we are certainly not going to go hungry, we have had to keep our budget in mind and plan ahead for the days to come while living in a country where our options for additional income are limited at best.

Next year in New York I will have steady employment in addition to my student loans. So will Alex. We will still cook frugally and maintain our thrifty lifestyle, but we will not have to spend as much time preparing each meal. This Pesach I reflect on just what exactly time means to me. This year in particular, time has meant survival. How appropriate as we begin to set our tables for the retelling of our ancestors’ survival in days past.

May your Passover be full of family and blessing, and may we hope for a future when 18 minutes really does seem like a lot of time, no matter our circumstances.

Rain, Part IV: Thunder in Jerusalem

The rain is over. The forecast continues to tease me with the possibility of rain, but the Jerusalem spring prefers to bring brilliant gray clouds and blow them away just as they grace the horizon beyond my kitchen windows.

Today I heard thunder for the third time in Jerusalem. I looked to the sky and said the traditional blessing we recite upon hearing thunder: Blessed are you, Adonai our G-d, ruler of the universe, whose strength and power fills the earth.

This is one of the few short blessings in Judaism that I feel an affinity for in both Hebrew and English. It never falls flat for me–this idea that G-d is represented in the thunder that rumbles above us, reminiscent of the roars at Sinai.

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶל־הָעָם֮ אַל־תִּירָאוּ֒ כִּ֗י לְבַֽעֲבוּר֙ נַסּ֣וֹת אֶתְכֶ֔ם בָּ֖א הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וּבַעֲב֗וּר תִּהְיֶ֧ה יִרְאָת֛וֹ עַל־פְּנֵיכֶ֖ם לְבִלְתִּ֥י תֶחֱטָֽאוּ׃

Moshe said to the people: Do not be afraid. G-d has come to test you so that the fear of G-d may be with you so lest you go astray [lest you sin].

English tends to render Torah in more absolute terms than the Hebrew of the Bible. I imagine that today’s Moses would tell us that G-d wants us to be mindful rather than fearful. Fear is one way to help us remember a significant event, but perhaps the feeling described here is a sense of wonder potent enough to encourage us to pass this story on to our children. That’s not to say that such “wonder” might not also be terrifying. Undoubtedly for some the Hebrews, the thunder was amazing. We can simultaneously fear thunder and lightning with their powers of destruction and admire their beauty as acts of creation.

I hear the shofar in the shabbat alarm that blasts from the Old City, alerting all Jerusalemites that it’s time to light the candles and bring in the day of rest. Beneath this thunder, though, I am not trembling. Rather, I hear the thunder as a subtle undertone from a G-d who has grown since the Exodus.

Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, ruler of the universe, whose strength and power fills the earth.

And then I continue: Blessed are You who gives the blessing of growth and peace to all inhabitants of the earth; the One who hugs us with Her tears and gives us to blossom with Her hope. Who gives this beautiful act of creation to my loved ones.

ברוכה ששנותנת לכל יושבי תבל ברכת גדילה ושלום. שמחבקת אותנו עם דמעותיה, .ונותנת ללבלב בתקוותה

Today no rain fell. Instead, when a rainbow arrived, I released the stress and fears of my week from my mind and received shabbat.

Listen: “Love Is All Around”

When I was a kid, I would stay up watching Nick at Nite long after my parents told me to go to bed. I loved seeing the old shows and laughing at the jokes that I didn’t really understand. I remember making up my own reasons to find them funny, to find the characters compelling, to find their sadness sad and their happiness happy.

I loved “Three’s Company” because it was easy for an 8-year-old to follow. “The Facts of Life” was hilarious to me because my mom said I laughed like Natalie. “The Jeffersons” was great because Flo was a badass and the theme song gave me an excuse to belt about fish not frying in the kitchen.

The Mary Tyler Moore show was different. I was 8 years old and I knew that there was something unique about a show in which a single woman wasn’t a side character or the butt of the joke. I knew it was important to my grandma, and even to my aunts who are the strongest women I have ever known. I knew it was important because as a young queer kid who knew he was gay but didn’t really know what that meant, it just felt like there was something to this Mary.

Today Mary Tyler Moore passed away. I have been singing this particular theme song for many years. Today I share it as I celebrate the women in my life who have made me the person I am, even when they had no idea I was watching.

Rain, Part III: Scribbles on the Temple Mount

The rain returned as I stood on the Temple Mount today. Would you die to protect your mythology? We could see a day in which our children do not fight wars for our spiritual history; we could see a day in which no child need study war. Would you send your children to die for your mythology?

I stand now before G-d and say I would forsake it all for the thought of my children. I would lead and fight wars for them, bend my own morality in shapes to suit their needs, but I will not see them stand in line for guns. I will not see them lift swords, challenge nation; I will not allow it.

Today my head felt naked beneath my beanie. Israeli security asked us to surrender our religious items in the interest of maintaining the shred of peace we call “status quo.” Nobody is fooled: I am a Jew wearing a heavy beanie when it’s barely cold out. I agreed to give up part of my costume so that it wouldn’t look like I intended to pray where the Temple once stood.

Seven years. It has been seven years since I’ve left the house and stood beneath the sky without a kippah on my head. My beanie does not feel the same on my bald head as the tight crochet of a kippah, and today I felt such shame up there with my naked head.

As long as I don’t look Jewish, I guess. I almost cried as I handed over my kippah. Even the guards were ashamed of their collection of religious items, ashamed for asking us to hand over pieces of ourselves. And I have so little that makes me Jewish beyond my own soul—no family name that connotes Jewish roots, no long-lasting tradition, no stories of summer camp, no great legacy of Jewish scholars, no rabbis, no cantors. No Jewish birth. Hardly an acceptable Jewish pedigree short of allowing me to immigrate to Israel, but G-d forbid I should want the Jewish state to recognize me as one of its people as a Reform convert.

You take my kippah and who am I? Am I the text on my arm, Devorah’s song? Am I the song I can’t even sing here on the Temple Mount?

Here where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to build a mythology is where I doubt my own conviction. If Abraham is a hero for listening to G-d’s word, who am I for wishing to openly defy it? I want to stand here and lift my soul at the spot where Abraham failed G-d’s test. Yes, I believe he failed it. Perhaps our prohibition to pray here stems from the fact that if we were to right Abraham’s wrong—his willingness to sacrifice his child rather than to sacrifice his belief in G-d—we would undo Isaac’s binding.

But where would we be without our mythology? Do I want to untie Isaac’s hands?

The sun reflects off the glistening gold dome. Its reflection is confusing given the cloudy sky and intermittent drizzle. I look around me at the tourists smiling for photos before the Dome of the Rock. Are we raining or drying in the sun?

Rain, Part II: Grief in Jerusalem

It has not rained in Jerusalem in nearly two weeks. The weather report is calling it a “dry period” within this rainy season. I feel lied to by the weather, and I feel foolish for feeling as though a natural force would even recognize me beneath its periodically-gray skies. But I know the sky does not care about my angry, dry thoughts.

I have been in a funk since the rains stopped—perhaps since my little sister went back home after visiting me in Jerusalem. I spoke so much about the rainy season, made sure she packed water proof shoes and a raincoat, and watched as the moisture in the sky evaporated before our faces. Perhaps I took the weather in vain. Weather should just be, regardless of what I want.

There have been two unexpected deaths in my family since the rains stopped. I have said kaddish and submerged myself into grief in the wake of tragedy. The absence of my family has made my grief more complicated by the worry that their grief may be made worse by the distance between us. If I am not there to be the rock for the people I love, I crumble; if I am not there to cry on the shoulder of an older, wiser, stronger rock, will they crumble as well?

The outpouring of love and support from my peers, teachers, and friends in Jerusalem has been overwhelming. My husband has brought happiness into my grief and shared my tears with me when he broke the news of my baby cousin’s death. I was able to turn to the people here whom I love and share my grief with them, my feelings of uselessness, my feelings of being cut off from my family, my feelings of abandonment, my guilt.

Here in the arid winter of the rainy season, I am still moving forward. My absence from family is a dry period of its own, a back-and-forth of blame and guilt that we are not living under the same patch of sky right now. This dryness will pass, and the clouds will again burst upon us. Until then, the pressure in the mountains of Jerusalem will continue to build and crush against my skull, a bearing-down that equalizes the pain in my sinuses with the pain in my heart.

When the period of natural grief ends and the rain does fall once more, I will pray and thank the Universe for relief from these painfully dry days.

Rain, Part I

Rain for me is a religious experience. When I was still a struggling pre-med student at the University of Texas at Austin, I would run out of my apartment to stand in the rain. I was in the middle of a slowly-progressing nervous breakdown that ended my studies in 2008 and I had yet to come out of the closet. I spent most of my time in my bedroom listening to music or watching TV, and the depression crept up on me over time.

Depression does that. It does not like to rear its head in a timely fashion, rather, it builds slowly, slowly so that you don’t notice it changing the way you think and feel. Eventually one day, I realized I hadn’t left my apartment in nearly two weeks other than to get food, and even then it was usually under the cover of night.

It rained the day I shared this story at my interview for cantorial school. I could see out the window to the wet buildings across the street from the fourth story windows in the stuffy conference room. The panel of interviewers, mostly faculty, listened and laughed with me. I had been waiting for years to explain how this process led me to Hebrew Union College: how a college dropout who spent years riding around in his dad’s pick up truck with a guitar and a keyboard spent his time singing songs in bars to strangers decided one day to convert to Judaism. How I fell in love with Jewish liturgy after my first service and, with a push from my husband (“partner” at the time), decided to go back to school, finish my studies, and apply to seminary. How we spent years trying to make ends meet until we could finally move to Israel for the program.

During this time, I lost three grandparents. We got married. I graduated from university. We went weeks at a time living off of rice and beans and whatever I could throw into a pot and call “soup.” I sometimes feel myself getting worked up over how life can feel like a meaningless progression toward a finite end, and then I look out the window and it is finally raining in Jerusalem after 5 months of sadness for dry, beige stones.

Those five months were the longest I have ever gone without rain in my life other than one particularly hard year for San Antonio that saw a worse drought than usual. I spent my hours floating leaves and crude boats down small rivers in front of the drainage ditch in the cul-de-sac of my childhood home. I never felt more comforted than when the cold rain would run down my face on my way back to the warm house where my parents would laugh with their strange son. I’ll never forget the pruned fingers and foggy windows of that feeling.

The rain in Austin got me through the worst of my depression. That year was a particularly wet autumn, and had it not been for my excursions into its downpours, I am not sure where I would be today. Would I know my husband’s laugh? Would I have found Judaism? Would I be sitting in a warm apartment in Jerusalem as shabbat creeps over the horizon?

After shabbat this week, Chanukah will begin. And the rains will come again to Jerusalem. This is not a rain that will dampen the light of our candles, but rather the rain in which I will dance and celebrate my journey and my life. Stay warm this holiday, but make sure to enjoy the rain.