Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Voting in Israel

This morning on the street was quite like a chag/holiday. No one was working because it was election day. Most of the people who were out were on their way to vote, just like me! I didn't actually know where the place was that I was suppose to vote, but when I arrived, I knew that I was in the right spot.

There were banners from most of the parties hanging outside and there were reporters setting up their spots. 

I went in, everyone has a number. My number was 965. It really just directed me to a room. And probably to this list, below.

They found my name on this list... אנדריאה לאה וייס. I told them it was my first time and I didn't know what to do. Everyone (there were three men and one woman sitting at the table) was very excited that it was my first time. I gave the first man my ID card. I brought my Israeli passport, driver's license, and ID. I was too excited. I really wanted to be prepared. I just needed one of them. The second man found my name on the list. They gave me an envelope and told me to put only one piece of paper into it. 

These are all the slips of paper that were available to choose from.  I picked mine, put it in my envelope and came back to the main table. I said shehechiyanu (a prayer you say when you do a new thing) and the people at the table really liked that. The third man offered to take my picture.

 Obviously, I said yes!  This is me voting!! =) 

It was a really wonderful moment in my life to be able to vote in Israel. I have lived here for almost four years. I am so proud of living in Israel and being part of a Jewish democratic state. It was a very emotional experience for me. 

Now...it actually gets exciting, we'll see who makes a coalition. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

a new struggle i didn't see coming

“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

I know this sounds naive, but I really didn't see this one coming.

Just some clarifications before I start. I love being Jewish. I love not using electricity on Shabbat, I love keeping mitzvot, I love davening, I LOVE Torah. I choose to believe Torah is from Sinai. I like dressing conservatively, although I don’t always wear skirts. I often think about being orthodox and marrying an orthodox man.

I grew up in a place that I didn’t have anyone to raise me Jewish, to answer my questions, or help me become the Jew I wanted to be.  I grew up in a predominantly farming community in Indiana, where there weren’t any other Jews. My dad is Catholic. My Jewish education is also about survival. At this point in my life, I wouldn’t choose to raise my family there, because I want to them grow up more Jewishly observant, but I did grow up there, and there weren’t people who could teach me. But what if someone had taught my mom how to read Torah, lead davening, to have a Jewish home, etc. She is also a woman, (I see the flaw in my argument, that she should have married a Jewish man, but that’s not what happened, and my dad isn’t Jewish, but I am.) Woman today must be educated fully in all aspects of Judaism and must have equal rights in Israel and abroad. I must be prepared to give my children a Jewish education even if my husband can’t do it. (I also see the flaw in this, I find my Judaism to be very important and I will marry a man who can help educate our children. It’s only hypothetical.)

I was brought up to be strong. Maybe too strong. My mom grew up playing sports, usually with boys, because there weren’t other girls to play with. She grew up when not all schools had sports for girls, or where they only let girls play basketball on half the court, because obviously they weren’t strong enough to play full court. She went to university and played volleyball and badminton. When she raised me and my sister, we played all the sports we wanted to. I was younger, and my dad didn’t get a boy, so I also grew up playing football, (not on an actually team, just in our yard) and I was in karate, softball, tennis, golf, basketball, swimming, volleyball, and I did shot put on the track team. By the time I got to high school, I focused just on tennis and golf. I wasn’t just raised to be strong, I was raised to be better, to perfect what I was doing.  When I beat all the girls in the school, I started to play against the boys, and when I beat all the boys, we went to another state to play.

This isn’t really the point, but the issue is equality, and being raised to believe and feel that I am equal at anything I choose to be equal at. And this is my dilemna. As much as I would love to be orthodox, I don’t believe there is real equality. Even though I don’t believe that “separate is equal,” for the sake of prayer and kavannah/concentration, I really prefer not sitting with men. (I will be the first to tell you that I get easily distracted by the opposite sex.) It’s rare that a prayer space is equally divided. Sometimes women are in the back, or squished on the side. When the spaces are more equally distributed, women aren’t allowed to participate, and definitely not allowed full participation rights. There are some unique minyanim in Jerusalem that allow women to lead/participate in parts of the davening.

I truly believe that God thinks I am equal to any man. He/She/It created us. How can one voice be more than another? How can a small biological difference make this large of a difference? This Shabbat, when I was in one of the most beautiful communities in Israel, with a group of people I have the utmost respect for and truly love; only men participate. Only men read Torah, only men can lead shachrit, musaf, mincha, maariv, etc. Because women sit up stairs, they can’t even touch the Torah. Do they think the Torah will become impure if a woman touches it? (I’m not being sarcastic, if this is the reason, I want to know.)

I also study at an institution that employs the most knowledgeable female Talmud/Torah scholars. These women blow my mind. Their love of Judaism, Torah, Talmud, mitzvot, is simply beautiful. They are women who even being in their presence makes me feel like a better person because they are truly following Torah and God’s commandments. But they don’t seem to have the same struggle that I am facing. Do they also not want to read Torah, and lead davening? Do they believe that their voice isn’t equal?? Do they think that a man isn’t fulfilling his mitzvah if he heard her voice instead of another man’s? They teach men Talmud, but they don’t participate in an orthodox service. I don’t know the answer to these questions.

A more concerning issue for me is the kotel. The closest wall that Jews can pray at to the Holy of Holies. It’s a hot political issue in Israel right now. I love the kotel. I get chills when I go there. I love praying there, I think so much Jewish history, worship, prayer, took place there. I am part of this. There is a permanent separation barrier at the wall, woman on the right, and men on the left.  There is even a covered section for the men so they can be even closer to the spot.  Not only do women only have about a fourth of the space at the wall, it’s farther away. Also, women aren’t allowed to have their own minyan. And it’s impossible to be close enough to a man’s minyan to hear a Torah reading. So a women couldn’t fulfill this mitzvah at the wall even if she wanted to, since it was deemed illegal for a woman to touch a Torah scroll, let alone read from one. How can someone think that this is normal? I know this is completely vulgar, I apologize in advance, but how can the difference between a penis and vagina, create such immense divisions? Because men were the people writing the rules? Do orthodox men/women see their children differently? Why do the boys get to do certain things that their daughters aren’t allowed? I don’t have answers and I don’t understand.

I really didn't see this struggle with a desire to keep more mitzvot and live a more observant life would come with such a struggle for equality, trying to find a voice and a place where I feel comfortable. I truly have no desire to insult anyone’s way of life, I only desire to understand, do more mitzvot, and to be closer to God.  B’ezrat Hashem, I will raise my daughters (and sons) in the same way.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Snow day = best day of my life.

We were all awake long before we finally received the email from Pardes to tell us that school was canceled. We all knew, there was a blizzard coming down outside our windows! The city had already shut down the afternoon before because of some hail. We quickly rallied and got a group together to head to the kotel. We were told that we couldn't miss a white kotel. 

We trudged down Derech Hevron all the way to the Old City...actually, it was sunny and we were throwing snow balls at each other! We went to the overview where the following picture was taken. Then we went to the kotel. 

Our brave and AWESOME group! 

My friend, Ilan, so excited to be praying at the kotel in the snow! 

Dome of the Rock...I know many people don't like your location, but you're still gorgeous. 

Two soldiers taking pictures of each other as I walked down to the men's side. Yes, you heard correctly. I asked my friend AdAm, what he thought if I would just walk all the way down on the men's side of the kotel. Obviously it was an exceptional day, and there weren't guards at the kotel at 9am in a blizzard. And most off the men were inside for the Torah reading, since it was too wet to bring the Torah's outside. I asked him if I liked like a girl because I had a hood on and a scarf covering most of my face. He laughed and said yes, but if you keep your head down, no one can see your face anyway.

So I slowly made my way to the men's side. I stopped and watched men dancing, then once I felt that AdAm was close to me. I headed for the wall. My heart was beating fast and my legs started to shake, but then, I was there. My lips and forehead on the wall and...it was amazing. Prayer easier flowed from my mouth, and then I heard a nigun (song without words) start a little down the wall...obviously men were singing, but I felt like God was singing for me, and so happy that I was there at the wall. The nigum was beautiful, and I heard AdAm chime in and I saw my roommate Joseph close on my left from the corner of my eye. I relaxed a little, knowing I was surrounded by my friends. I prayed a little more, took in the nigum, held back some tears, felt the snow falling heavily on my shoulders. I felt the world was perfect in this moment. And so not to overdue it, or take the moment for granted, I lifted my head just enough to see AdAm, and we walked out together. It was by far one of the most amazing moments of my life. 

I am so happy living in Jerusalem, studying Torah, and loving life! 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


My cousin, Hannah, came to Jerusalem on a Birthright group! Our grandfathers are twins. Do we look alike?

We just might Saturday night for an hour. We have only seen each other a few times in my whole life, the last time was at my sister's wedding. But I can tell that she is a beautiful young woman who is going to do great things! I love when family is in Israel!

Rain in the holy land

There has been more rain in Israel in the past three days than my entire four years in Israel. I am so grateful for my rain boots. And warm smiles from everyone who is miserable being wet and cold, but understanding that we need the rain.