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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Around the World in 80 Days (minus 59)

So we're back from America. I wouldn't call it a vacation. I would say it was more a sweaty Rambo-esque mission to both visit all our relatives and to save Jewish America from an exilic demise while frantically scouring the increasing, suffocatingly abundant "consumer opportunities" available in the Land of Silk and Money for the necessary 12 baby presents we needed for babies who have recently been born or will be born here in the Land of Milk and Honey.


Now, understand - this was my first time back in America since I made Aliyah a year ago. I was raised my whole life in America, I was educated in America, I am a native English speaker - heck, I ate beef every week for 17 years (thanks, Mom). I was never outside America for more than 6 weeks at a time until - now.

So I arrive, white scarf tied blithely, crimson skirt flowing in the early Jersey morning, so far so good. Except the coffee at Starbucks cost $3.00 (13.50 shekel!!!).

First stop: The Chabad House of Wayne, New Jersey, it's good to be back. I LOVE CHABAD. But I don't relate so much to Israeli Chabad, who seem more focused on the meshichistic aspect (that the Rebbe is the Messiah) of Lubavitch than on the Kiruv part, Hashem bless them. So it's good to be back with a Chabad I recognize. Can't wait to go to Queens to visit the Rebbe.

Wayne Chabad House

Then back to the ol' home front - Yishai's mom's house, Wayne.
We say our happy hellos, we give presents from the Holy Land, we retire to our room to rest... and suddenly I find myself in a rather sour mood. And it's not going away. And it didn't go away for about a week. I was constantly tense, often annoyed. What's wrong with me? This isn't me! Why can't I just relax? I only realized after I returned to Israel what had happened, seeing as I was so elated immediately upon stepping onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion - I missed my soul. They say that you get an additional soul when you're in Israel. I realized that I'd grown used to having two souls, and that when my other soul was ripped from me when I left the Land, it had a marked effect on my state of mind. It was like operating on 50% CPU.

So we did the family visit thing - we saw grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, old landlords, we swept the place!

Then one day we went into Manhattan. Manhattan, the ol' stomping grounds. I can crowd a Subway platform with the best of them. I had to brush up on my jaywalking (they give tickets in Jerusalem!), but I was there, I was in there like a pro. My mission: buy baby presents, buy boots for winter, buy souveneirs for friends in Israel, buy whatever else I thought was cool that I could get in the US easier than in Israel. The place: 34th street and 6th avenue. I'll spare you the sortid story. The end result - 2 hours later, I had in my hand a package of Reeses peanut butter cups, and eyes more glazed over than John Kerry's plans for fighting terror. Yishai met me at our predetermined location and looked at me in disbelief. "WHAT HAPPENED?!?" How could I have spent so much time and gotten so... well, nothing? "I just couldn't handle it," I told Yishai. "There's just too... MUCH. There's too much of everything, too much STUFF."

Hey - I like sheffa just as much as the next girl (sheffa means abundance ;-)). I wouldn't call myself a slouch in the shopping department. I don't feel the need to only have ONE pair of shoes like some of the Sarah Eemainu-like girls of Israel. But it was just overwhelming. What for? What do we need all this stuff for? I like stuff. I use stuff. I was obviously looking to acquire more stuff. But this wasn't shopping. This was a world, a mentality, a way of life.

Eventually, Yishai soothed my nerves, and we walked, hand in hand, to attempt to find those infamous Ugg-style boots which would be gracing my settler feet this cold Israeli winter. At his behest, I entered a store, then another, then another. On every corner I saw beautiful Jewish girls (I can still pick a Jewess out of a throng in Goyland at a hundred paces) bedecked from head to toe in the latest and greatest: sparkly hairclip, denim or leather jacket, cowlneck sweather, funky skirt, black tights, long black boots (or even Uggs - hey, it's a new world!), Fendi/Louis Vuitton bag, Nokia. And man, were they shopping.

Now hear this: It is every Jewish woman's right to shop. It's practically in the Ketubah. But I was... I don't know.... embarrassed by the way my sisters were living. And believe me, sisters, I mean this with love, I don't mean to hurt feelings, I just was shocked at how frantic, how determined the effort was by these young women to live in, to embody this consumer culture, the Culture of Purchase. What for? What could you possibly need? What void are you trying to fill? And I really feel that this Culture of Purchase attempts to do just that - to give people a purported way to fill a void in life - a lack of self-confidence, a lack of love, a lack of meaning. This culture propels you to sift and sift and sift through oceans of things you want, to seek out this time-consuming activity, and then to finally come out, wartorn and weary, with the few things you really need (that you actually really don't).

Before leaving Israel, I tried to prepare myself for the existential questions that inevitably come up when you confront your past. And I also warned myself against any condescension that might well up in me as a result of my decision to make Aliyah. I'm not sure this preparation helped much. I couldn't shake the feeling that my good brothers and sisters were living in something equivalent to the Twilight Zone. There is so much good Torah that comes out of America. Good shiurim, good rabbis, Artscroll and Feldheim. So much good Torah, so much dichotomy. WHAT ABOUT ISRAEL? What about a more wholesome, more meaningful way of life? Why not fill the void with something real? I left Manhattan in sorrow and confusion.

I know, I know, not such a pleasant blog this time. But tune in next time for part two of Yishai and Malkah's trip to America!


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