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.

My Second Favorite Chili (and a lesson on beans)

When it’s rainy and cold, all I want to eat is hearty, warm food. Since it pretty much remains rainy and cold all winter in Jerusalem, I find myself working on food like this quite often. Given the high cost of groceries in Jerusalem, I rely heavily on dried beans and grains, which serve as the basis of just about every winter meal I make.

Beans. Buy them dry or fresh. Canned beans are great, but rarely hold up to cooking, and tend to be way more expensive. If you’re in a crunch for time, canned beans make a great addition to any soup or chili, but if you know a day ahead that you’re going to get your bean on, it’s not as scary as it sounds to cook from dry.

For this recipe, pick 2 or 3 types of beans. I stick with black, pinto, and white beans. Kidney beans also work well. Don’t forget to sort your beans and pick out any pebbles or beans that look gross, old, or broken. Rinse them well. Put one cup of each bean in bowls (I don’t mix them) and cover with at least an inch and a half of water. Soak overnight or six hours.

Rinse the beans and combine in a large pot, covered with at least an inch of water. Bring to a rolling boil with a bay leaf and two cloves of peeled garlic. Lower the heat to a constant simmer. You want to see it boiling, but not going wild. Do not add salt. This will make the skin of your beans tough. Depending on how old the beans are and if they were stored properly (grocery stores often don’t care about or pay attention to humidity levels or quality of beans) they can cook for anywhere from an hour to three hours until they are to your liking.

I prefer to boil different types of beans alone since they never seem to finish cooking at the same time. When the beans are done, let them sit and reach room temperature. Don’t run cold water over hot beans. They don’t like it and I don’t know why. Just go do something else and let them cool down (you can drain the water if you want). If your beans were properly washed, you shouldn’t need to rinse them after boiling them. Always taste the beans and see if they’re good to go.

Pareve Chili #2

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Shabbat Mejadra, My Pareve Potluck Go-To

 The most incredible part of living in Jerusalem is watching everyone rush around on Friday morning in a frantic jumble of to-do lists and grocery carts and then seeing it come to an abrupt halt before sunset as everyone returns home to light the candles as shabbat starts. The stores close early and the traffic dies down. The lights start flickering on in houses and you can hear people singing from their synagogues and living rooms.

You can’t miss it. Shabbat sets on you here whether or not your observance means putting your lights on timers or opening wine and enjoying some Netflix. Shabbat is a feeling in Jerusalem of ultimate surrender to your body’s need for rest, and there is nothing better in the world than holding the people you love as you prepare to recharge your batteries for the next 25 hours. Continue reading “Shabbat Mejadra, My Pareve Potluck Go-To”

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.

Deleted

I lost my blog and all of its content and I am devastated. And I’m kind of relieved. I don’t have to try to fit any of that information into who I am today. There is nothing to retrofit into my sense of self, nothing to explain or contextualize.

I will be piecing some of the things I’ve written back together for this blog. In the meantime, this blog officially (re)begins today.

Vegan Curry Shepherd’s Pie

I will be completely upfront about this one: it’s not the simplest recipe. I used a bunch of different spices and it does take a while to cook. However, this is an extremely flexible recipe (when in doubt, just throw in a spice you like and add salt!) and it really feels like you’re spoiling yourself when you first slice into the cooled pie.

Think of this recipe as a basic outline. Use whatever soup, broth, root vegetables, etc. you have on hand to make the lentil filling the consistency you prefer. The second time I made it, I had a bunch of leftover roasted pumpkin and sweet potato soup, so I mixed that in with the lentils and mashed the filling with a fork before baking everything together. You can always add in a cup of pureed pumpkin or a canned soup that has a rich, savory fall flavor to mix with your lentils after they have stewed for a while. It is also a rather flexible recipe. Turnips, beets, and celeriac would all make wonderful additions if they are available to you. If you want a meatier texture, add some soy crumbles in with the mushrooms in the dutch oven and brown them.

The main depth of flavor will come from the red wine and fresh herbs, and when the mashed potatoes mix in the oven with the lentil filling, they will create a really wonderful combination. In this version of the recipe, I roasted thin slices of sweet potato with olive oil and some salt and pepper and pressed them into the bottom of my glass baking dish. The slight sweetness was a wonderful complement to the anise and cinnamon, but a tiny bit of brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey could easily do the trick. If you would like an extra rich flavor, put a thin layer of techina (tahini) on top of the lentils before adding the mashed potatoes.

Vegan Curry Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

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