The freedoms within (ask me about what I mean)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Life!

New years.

I cannot express this thanks I have to G-d for giving me what he has given me this year. I try everyday during the Amida to thank Hashem so much in the 'modim' prayer. I bow and close my eyes and smile every time and say all the words with sincere heartfelt expression. I can't beleive that I finally got the chance to turn the leaf back over; I got what I always craved.

The past five years have consisted of new years nights celebrating the right to party. I found clubs, yachts, cruises, and house parties to have some un-remembered moments with some friends. This year, I'm going to be in the Golan Heights, northern Israel, with a new group of amazing people. At 11 PM we are going to have some sort of learning, and I imagine singing that is going to lead me in the right direction for 2011.

I hope everyone gets some sort of inspiration this new years. If not from this, maybe from something else you encounter. Ein Od Milvado-everything Hashem does is intentional, and I hope you see the beauty in that statement.

Happy new year everyone, I'm glad I'm wishing my self a happy new life!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jennifer is like Yaakov round two?

It's been nine days. Nine long re-living, re-learning, and re-experiencing emotions I haven't felt in a while. I've kept my cool here the first three months taking in a new lifestyle that I truly do genuinely enjoy. I disregarded emotions because of the spiritual high I've been on and it probably wasn't the wisest of choices. But it is what I was used to, crying on the inside. I know that I'm slowly working past that and soon will overcome the fear of 'feeling' to others rather then just to myself. but I had a weird block of de-motivation and I couldn't understand why.
I like that G-d gives us a new day every day. According to the Jewish religion, when you go to sleep you are technically 1/60th dead so when you wake up in the morning, you say a 12 worded prayer thanking G-d for returning you to this world and giving you another day of life. He also gives us a new week every week with the cycle of recharging on shabbat, a new month with rosh chodesh and the moon cycle, and a new year and clean slate on rosh hashanah/yom kippur. Really, he gave us free choice allowing us to change whenever we want. All in all, I'm dusting my self off and trying again.
I posted a blog a while ago about paralleling myself to Yaakov. Well here's round two. Remember when Yakoov and Esav had their meet-up and Yaakov was scared because he thought Esav would try to kill him since Yaakov stole his blessing? Well, he was going to try and kill him (since he brought that army of 400 men with him) BUT he saw that Yaakov was tired. No, not tired like physically, emotionally tired; Esav saw that all Yaakov's hardships were slowing him down, he saw that life had finally gotten to him. Leading to a embracing reuniting, the two finally were known to the other. I guess what I'm trying to get at is, life is going to slow you down, but G-d has his intentions and his intentions are right. I hate to be cheesy, but the glass is half full. Life is only just beginning...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

living and learning?

So I'm walking through a mall. There are so many stores, so many different things for me to choose from that fit or don't fit my life, I have to make decisions. I choose stuff and am heading up to the next floor. I'm on the escalator going up, playing with a yo-yo. It's going up and down and up and down and up and down, but the escalator is going up...

On Thursday night, my new activity is to go to Bnei Brak (one of the most religious neighborhoods in Israel), get cholent on the house from our program, then head to our activities director, Meir Balofsky's house to sit around his table, make some L'chaims, snack some more, and give out blessings. (Quite a different 'Thirsty Thursday' college experience...)Meir gave me a blessing that entailed a part saying that I was going up the escalator-but I'm playing with the yo-yo on the way up. Basically saying that I'm going up the right path, but it's going to come with many ups and downs. It's really nice to know that people are finally starting to see who I really am, over who I tried to make myself be in the past.

Friday day was a fast day for the remembrance of the beginning of the seize on Jerusalem. It was an easy fast despite that our program decided to take us to Yad Vashem-the biggest Holocaust memorial in Israel. I just recently found out that my grandfather-who passed away when I was younger-had a late wife and a family that perished in the Holocaust. Made me much more emotional there-hard to describe the feelings.

For Shabbat, we were in Nof Ayalon- a religious community- for an all girls shabbaton. The best part about it was on friday night we had a panel of four women that lived in the neighborhood that were American that talked about there life there and answered any questions we had about them. I took it upon myself to talk to a women that was going to go to Barnard for college, but decided to go to Stern in the end. She is a psychologist, so I got a one and one session discussing how much I want to go there, what I can do to get there, and how to approach people about it. I'm really lucky I got to encounter such a strong and sweet woman.

Saturday night, I decided to go out for the first time in a while-and realized something-alcohol is a serious depressant. Obviously I knew that that was a fact, but never really encountered the experience completely. I drank with my friends but when I cam home-found myself in an unstable emotional purge of tears. I could not stop for hours. I was replaying every bad thing that has ever happened to me, beating upon my self, my decisions, my family, their decisions, and thought of impacts many people have made on my life. This led me to today, on a day trip to Casearia, a beautiful cities ruins and an amazing ocean site-to be able to reflect and try to dig up what brought up all those emotions. I stared into the ocean, watching the waves, and couldn't understand where it came from...well, here's to living and learning...I'll figure it out soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lifes waiting to begin

On thing different that I've been doing here more is reading. I always liked to, but before I always thought I found something better to do. But now I'm actually picking up a variety of books and seeing what I can get out of them. I like to get inspiration, humor, and happiness out of books, but the one thing I love most is when I find something that relates to my life.
"The Return to Zion" from the Popular Judaica Library is something I've been reading lately. I picked up this book because I'm in a class-Arab-Israel conflict and I sometimes find myself lost knowing that my background on Israel isn't so strong. One would think that I wouldn't get anything the relates out if since it is basically a history text, but I found something pretty close. There was a guy Moses Hess (1812-75), who was the first assimilated Jew to turn to Zionism. Basically he wrote a book called "Rome and Jerusalem" and this book had its opening paragraph. I feel the need to quote the whole thing:

"After twenty years of estrangement I have returned to my people. Once again, I am sharing in it's festivals of joy and days of sorrow, in its hopes and its memories....a sentiment which I believed I had suppressed beyond recall is expressed once again. It is the thought of my nationality, which is inseparably connected to my ancestral heritage, with the Holy Land and the Eternal City...For years this half strangled emotion has been stirring in my breast and clamoring for expression, but I had not the strength to swerve from my own path, which seemed so far from the road to Judaism, to a new one which i could only envisage only vaguely in the hazy distance."

wow. Reading it and now and writing it myself; it's like I am a re-incarnation of the guys soul! Well not really, but it really mirrored my feelings right before I came to Israel. If I didn't like writing so much I may have used this as my admissions essay! Just kidding just kidding. But really,I was 19 when I got here and really felt that I was finally returning back to surrounding myself with Jewish people. I pledged to keep all the holidays and so far have done quite well. The emotions I felt when I was younger, when I was in my orthodox phase growing up, are finally begin able to be released again. Some of my family, all from Europe, immigrated here in the times of the Holocaust and started anew in this amazing land. My heart was sore when I was living out of the Jewish loop, and I didn't know how to rekindle my Jewish identity-I only envisioned it, and it was only in my wildest dreams...

Mirroring scenarios really help someone in any emotion. It reassures them that there is light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how hard the situation is. When I was around 17, I was really into this band called Angels & Airwaves. There songs were centered around inspiration. They made airplanes their logo,just like life taking off. I made them my hideaway. Every time I would feel helpless I would drive my car to a random spot, sit, listen to the music, cry, and try to find a way out of the life I was in. One song called "The Adventure"-really hit my heart's home run. Here's why:

"I wanna have the same last dream again
The one where I wake up and I'm alive
Just as the four walls close me within
My eyes are open up with pure sunlight
I'm the first to know
My dearest friends
Even if your hope has burned with time
Anything that is dead shall be re-grown
And your vicious pain, your warning sign
You will be fine

Hey oh here I am
And here we go
Life's waiting to begin"

Find inspiration out of everything you encounter-it's here for a reason, and the reason is you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I'm amazed that about one year ago, I was already planning my 21st birthday and how excited I was to finally be legal. Even though it didn't matter since I had a fake ID. I couldn't wait to reach that point in my life. Now, I'm thinking of what good school I want to go to, probably Stern, where I want to be after, my goals on traveling the world and learning and growing. These thoughts were always in the back of my head, but I never actually tried to pursue any of them.
I remember when it was right after passover at UCF when I decided I needed to give the rabbi in charge of this program a call. I realized when I was at the seder table at Chabad, with everyone not really even paying attention to the haggadah, that it was not the place for me. I was speaking to him for a while about the pros and cons of my staying or going. That was when he gave me a d'var Torah about the slavery during pesach. He said if the Jews were never actually freed from Egpyt, in time society would eventually let them go. However, they wouldn't have been able to receive the Torah and been declared the Jewish nation if Moses never asked to 'let his people go'. Modernly, we would go on with life and not have that inner freedom that we received, just as if I never connected with my spiritual self, I would be in chains. He told me your freedom is within your beliefs...and now I see that :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Negev and the wonders and the change

The wonders of the ocean and the sky are endless. There are countless amounts of discoveries to be made in each regions and each one has a different awe aspect to them. Personally, both of them intrigue me. I find myself staring into the sky or staring into the ocean in amazement and marvel. They both lead your mind into thought. Not only about you, but also about everything pertaining to life. Why am I saying this?
For the past 4 days I was on one of the most amazing trips I have ever been on. I went with my program to the Negev. The Negev is the southern region of Israel that consists of amazing scenery, a variety of activities, hikes, and desert. A new wonder that has appeared before me is the vast sand world; aka the desert. This amazing part of the world has led me to dive down into the deepest parts of life; your mind, your soul, your heart. What makes each one go, what goes in and out of them, and my personal stories.
Day one. Departing Ramat Ef’Al at 7:15 AM, we were on our way to the gravesite of the Baba Sali. The Baba Sali was a Moroccan kabalistic prayer miracle worker. We prayed the morning prayers there where the one most important thing on my mind was rain. Israel suffered from a horrible fire in the North and no rain was to be seen. There were fast days and community praying services to try to get it but it still had not come. After we departed, the hike of Ein Ovdat was our next stop. This hike consists of amazing desert scenery where you start at the bottom of a mountain and work your way up. A few months ago, I hiked it with birthright, more importantly my brother. When we were on the top, I saw him admiring the amazing view and walked over to him to find him in tears from the site. A true sibling bonding moment when we put our arms around each other and both were just tearing (he was also telling me how much he was going to miss me when I moved to Israel in the next few months). Anyways, I was really glad I got to re-experience that sight that brought back that amazing memory. Camel riding was after that. We were probably the last group of the day to go, so the camels and donkeys were all disheveled and probably really tired. That is probably the reason why our tour was growling camels, screaming girls, and complete laughter. That night, we slept in the Bedouin tents. (Ben and I on our boring camel that didn't growl or do anything, still really fun though)This was my third time there, and the experience really never gets old. The biggest highlight this time though was surprising not the stargazing but the singing of the song that consisted of the three words “Ein Od Milvado” (there is no one else apart from him). The definition is not only saying that there is one G-d. The deeper meaning, explained by one of our Av Bayis (“father of the house”), is that everything that G-d does is with a motive. There is no luck, no coincidences, no mistakes. No matter how hard, or how amazing something is, G-d gave it to you because that is how it is meant to be. Repeating this phrase to yourself could save you from the simple question of why me? The song sounded something like this:, but a bit slower.
Day two. It was about 4:30 AM when we were woken up in the tents to depart to climb the Masada Mountain to watch the sunrise. Running up the mountain (or trying), we made it about 30 minutes early before we saw the actual sun. But when it came, of course it was beautiful. That came with morning prayers again. These prayers that are usually prayed 3 times a day, many times brings me deep into real emotions and decode my soul. I am constantly in deep thought that is training me to be real to others and most importantly to myself. After we were done on top of the mountain we went down the snake path which just consists of a lot of stairs. I chose to run most of it down so I could use my quads instead of my calves since they are stronger anyways. It was pretty empowering getting to the bottom and looking back up to see the people I was walking with way behind. The rest of our day consisted of the Ein Gedi hike and the dead sea, oh and how could I forget the amazing Chanukah gift and miracle of rain! We were departing from lunch and we walked outside and the desert was covered in dark clouds! One of the hikes was even canceled due to fear of a flash flood. (The photo is some of the people that were brave enough to go into the freezing water on a pretty cold day)Hearing this honestly sent chills down my spine. I was so so so happy. That night, we traveled to yerucham to sleep in a hotel for the nest two nights. One of the night activities that night was “In the Negev with Ari” (Our Av Bayit), where I got this wonder of the desert from. He brought up the concept of Mirages and where they come from. Essentially, when you are at your lowest, when there is nothing else around you begin to create; building up images of hope. I paralleled this to my coming to realization at UCF, when I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror because I couldn’t stand who I was. That was when I decided to come to Israel. When I couldn’t even bear to look at myself is when I made the best decision of my life.
Day three. The most amazing hike I’ve ever been on called the Nachal Peretz hike. We started the day on a small hike in the desert that ended in rappelling. Of course this was fun, but it didn’t top the hike that followed. It was about a 2 and a half hour amazing opportunity to climb up mountains, see amazing scenery, and test your fears. There was a group of guys on our program, I think that called themselves ‘the mountain men’ that literally got up so high on mountains they looked tiny from afar. Maybe I’ll build up my physical endurance some more and go back because I climbed up a small hill and saw an amazing view. I can’t even imagine what it looked like from up there. After that we went back to the hotel, ate dinner, and had an unexpectedly high profiting charity auction. This is how it worked: our activities director came up to us and would ask us what we could offer in order to raise money. People offered things like making home-made dinners, a personal chauffeur for the night, a piano lesson, being able to be followed by two of the built kids for the day in black suits sunglasses and ear pieces, and one that raised the most money, a kid offering to a do a mitzvah (good deed) of the winner’s choice for a week. I offered to put someone in my blog who I will mention another time in order for it not to seem like I’m only doing it because I have to. Just about 9200 shekels were raised. I donated about 140 shekels to the causes and won two home cooked meals and chipped in for the weekly mitzvah bidding since it was about an 850 shekel bid.
Day four. Leaving Yerucham, we were off to Eilat for a few hours to enjoy some shopping and a 2 hour glass bottom boat lunch and cruise. Seeing everyone together smiling and happy was simply just amazing. I found myself reflecting, and maybe getting a little bit sad when I was staring into the ocean.But it’s ok to feel sad once in a while; don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
This trip all in all brought a lot of us closer, made some serious memories, and gave some real life learning that will stick with me wherever I got for the rest of my life. (Just want to add that I committed to doing all of these hikes in skirts. If someone would have told me to do that a few months ago, I would have laughed at them. It's really crazy how things change. I couldn't love it more)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How could I leave out the festival of lights...

Oh Channukah. Honestly, my memories of channukah really consist of getting presents and singing Ma O'Tzur. I can't even imagine what it would be like if I didn't come to Israel. Channukah became a less and less important holiday as time went on to the point where I didn't even know it was happening last year. However, now not only am I celebrating it and doing the mitzvot I'm also getting a whole new understanding of what the holiday really means. Back in the day when the Jews were taken over by the Syrian Greeks, we kind of just accepted the fact that that was how it was going to be. We evolved into their life and got sucked into the 'modern' society'. Of course that was until the story of the maccabbes, when the family of Matityahu (and his sons Eliezer, Shimon, Yochanan, Yonatan and Yehuda-I only know them because of Morah Sheinkophs 5th grade class in Maimonides) overtook the Syrians. Also with the help of Yehudis cutting off the generals head (reason being why women get to relax after lighting the candles), the one miracle of winning the war happened.
Anyways, I think that the real miracle of Channukah (learned from one of our Av Bayis) was saying no to just adapting to a normed culture; freeing ourselves from only doing the parts of halacha and being OK with it as well. It parallels today when there are people that are living in a colorful Jewish world and still follow all the halachot (real modern orthodoxy). I take this lesson to heart, in now being freed from my blackberry and a public college society. I'm starting to appreciate the real things in life; happiness, love, truth, clarity.
All in all, this holiday is not about presents anymore. At least physical ones. Give yourself a spiritual gift by honoring G-d. He WILL pay you back, I promise. This Channukah, I was honored to receive a recognition from the "Guide to Online Schools" site for being one of the top 50 Jewish blogs. The site features different blogs that have a variety of Jewish topics ranging from Jewish parenting, to Israeli culture. ( I can tell you, receiving a gift such as that is truly spiritually uplifting. This month as well, I was featured as NCSY Alumni of the month found here: Getting this was also spiritually uplifting since NCSY always did and will hold a special place in my heart since it was my only connection to Judaism in my public high school.
Happiness goes a long way when you begin to understand what it really is. Chag Sameach! Happy Holidays! Enjoy this Channukah video: