Posted in Life

Hello New York!

Even though the heat makes it feel like Jerusalem in the middle of the summer, it does not sound like Jerusalem, ever. Throughout the day I heard the beat of Latin music, with the added sounds of traffic passing by. Walking on the streets, instead of people speaking in Hebrew everyone was speaking in Spanish. There are cross walks, people walking, people sitting on the sides of the street with friends and family, people trying to sell things…

Even now, as I sit at 9pm music is blasting. Now it is rap instead of Latin. The streets are still filled with people and cars. I know it is the city that never sleeps, but this is something.

I can’t help but feel small and lost. It is nothing like moving to a brand new city to make one realize they know nothing and they need to relearn everything. Where to go grocery shopping, what prices should be, which stores are worth going to, which are not, and even how to get places.

I know that this is just the first day and I know that this is only for a month- so I am pretty sure that I can get through. But it definitely makes me think about what next year will bring when I have to be here for an entire year.

Tomorrow is the big day of starting the new school…I am still in shock that this is all really happening.

Here’s to hopefully not feeling so small and alone. Here’s to hopefully having made the right decision. Here’s to new beginnings.

Posted in Cross Country by Train

Cross Country by Train: California to Seattle, WA

Day 5 on the train!

This was the first time that I was getting on the train in the middle of ride and in the middle of the night.20150820_073922 Everyone also warned me that Amtrak is known to be late- always. So it was no surprise that the train was supposed to arrive at midnight, did not show up till 1am.

(As an aside- the weather of Sacramento reminded me of Jerusalem. It was hot, not humid during the day. And as soon as the sun went down it was really cold outside. I was really happy that I had a fleece with me so I could stay warm waiting for the train).

I was excited to get back on the train and that I would get to see my brother and sister-in-law soon, but also a bit sad knowing that my trip was almost over. Getting onto the train in the middle of the night was also different. I needed to organize my stuff, but at the same time I felt bad because there were people around me trying to sleep- but you do what you gotta do.

20150820_084945This time I was also put next to another person. I didn’t mind too much. My friend that I was travelling with told me the next day that he felt bad that I had to sleep next to a strange man, and that he almost woke me to tell me about empty seats a bit further up the train. The guy I was sitting next to turned out to be very nice, and most of the day I was in the observation car so I didn’t really care about my seat in the back.

The people on this train were a bit different then the past two trains. There were many more people who lived on farms. I met one guy who has his great-grandfather’s sweet potato farm. His great-grandfather came to the US from Scotland, met a Chilean woman, took a covered wagon west, was part of the Gold Rush, and then started a sweet potato farm. He also searches for metal. What I found funny was the end of our conversation, he told me he had one son (who was with him, a cute 6-year-old), and had one on the way, but his mom thinks the woman should be tested to make sure it is his. His question to me was, “do you have kids”- not are you married. 20150820_085338

By chance (as happened through out this trip), I met a Jewish woman. She is Reform and originally from Ohio (who I bizarrely know someone from her community). We had a long conversation about the decline of some Jewish communities. We also ended up talking about Miriam and reconciling her sin/punishment, as well as the point of prayer in Jewish life. She too was shocked that I could become an orthodox rabbi- although she was quite happy about it.

20150820_105515I also met a rancher from Missouri, who owned a limo business. He took a private jet to Vegas, and then was going up North somewhere.

There was a guy from Arizona, who is currently studying business. Although his dream job is to work with Ringling Brothers. He saw the circus when he was a kid and decided that is where he wants to live.

Before the trip, I read a lot of blog posts and articles, and basically every single one says that you must do at least one meal in the dining car (they are right) even though it is a bit expensive. It is true, that it is 4 people to a table, so you never know who you are going to meet. I planned it out before the trip, that I could eat the Haagen Dazs ice cream and get a beer. It would be a funny meal, but it would allow me to get chance to have this experience. 20150820_182122

And I am very happy to have had it. I was seated with a very friendly British couple. Not knowing of religion, when they asked where I am from, I said I live in Israel- then the woman asks me if I made Aliyah, so I knew that she much be Jewish. Talking a bit more, she is from Manchester, and we actually have a friend in common…oh the world is so small.

Also seated at our table was a man born and raised in Seattle. He was a special ed teacher, and now works as substitute teacher even though he is retired. He too said that his grandmother was Jewish and from the Ukraine, but his other grandmother was from Norway. His grandparents lived out in Seattle, and that is where he stayed. He even told us about his Norwegian grandmother who fought with the suffragettes and got a university degree because she said she was from Wisconsin, and no one checked her citizenship.

After the meal, I assumed that we had about two hours left of the trip (I asked in Portland what time we were supposed to get in, and that is what the conductor told me). I sat down next to a guy in the observation car, so look out until the sun went down. The areas between California, Oregon and Washington were beautiful and green, with some water on the side. We ended up speaking as well. He is from PA, but has been living in NYC for the past 10 years. He works for MLB and was filming in all 30 stadiums for the past six weeks and Seattle was his last stop.

20150820_183227While talking I said something about getting to Seattle in two hours, and he looked at me as if I was crazy. “Nope- we should be there in an hour.” And after talking for a bit, the next thing I knew the tour guide was sending us to our seats to get our stuff ready because we would be in Seattle in 30 minutes. Like that, the trip was almost over. (And we got to Seattle and hour early!)

I am so happy that I was able to take the train cross-country. I would do it again. I got to meet some really interesting people along the way. I got to see some of the most beautiful places I have seen. I got to see a lot of the US, which I had never done before. And it was so relaxing. Anyone who has this dream (and a bunch of people have told me they have it, I never would have guessed) should do it. It is totally worth it. Fly back to where you need to go to save time if you want, or take a different route back and see something new. 🙂

Some train tips if you decide to go on a long-hall trip:

  • Pack comfortable clothing that you can sit in for long periods of time. But also pack PJ’s. It changes so much when you change your clothing.
  • Make sure to bring your own pillow and blanket, as Amtrak does not provide them (unless you are in a sleeper car). Also bring a sweatshirt – the trains can be quite cold.
  • Bring food and snacks. Food on the train is expensive (and if you keep Kosher there is very little that you can eat). But also know that you can pick stuff up in grocery stores on your long stop overs.
  • Check out the cities that you will have your stopover in. One of the perks of train travel is that the train stations tend to be in the center of the city so it is quite easy to go around and see stuff. Talk to friends or find a gym (you can usually get a day pass) to find a shower along the way (also unnecessary if you get a sleeper car).
  • Talk to people on the train- you will learn so much. Also if you befriend the people who travel often (or the conductor) you will be told of what places to make sure you look at and which side of the observation car to sit on.
  • Go to the observation car! Just stay there, it is the best place to see things and meet people. Also the tours are done in there, so you can learn a bit about what you are seeing too.
  • Go to the dining car once. There is something exciting about sitting with random strangers and having a conversation with them over a meal. 20150820_155019
  • Whenever there is a smoking/fresh air break, go outside. It is nice to be on the outside every so often, see what the weather actually is like. Just stay close to the car or know when you are leaving (sometimes you might have 30 min break) so you don’t miss the train. These trains only go once a day.
  • Bring a book or two, a journal and a pen. There is no internet on the trains (for the most part- apparently on the California line, if you were in a sleeper car then you had internet). You won’t be reading or writing till the sun goes down, as there is too much to see beforehand. But you will want something to do, and a way to keep your memories/thoughts from this journey.
  • Bring a camera (your phone can work well too). There is just so much beauty. [also just know that you will never be able to photograph everything, and many times the picture won’t do justice to what you actually saw…]

Just go to have a fun and relaxing time and enjoy the adventure!

Posted in Cross Country by Train

Cross Country by Train: Nevada to California

Day 4 on the train!20150819_075503

By now being on the train actually just feels normal. It is crazy to think that in a couple of hours we will be in Sacramento. When planning this trip, it seemed like it would be a much longer journey than it actually has been feeling.

20150819_095639Between Nevada and California, there was a lot of desert. I actually really like the desert. This area also reminded me of Israel, like the way going down to the Negev. I really just wanted to see a camel or ibex on the side of the road, but that obviously did not happen, as they do not live in this area.

As we entered California, there was much more greenery. But one could also see some of the burnt trees from some of the fires (I don’t think from any of the very big ones). It was very sad to see so many trees down. 20150819_102559

This was also one of the areas that there was a tour by a parks and recreation person. The tour guide is a volunteer position. They both work at the Sacramento train museum, and do the ride about once a 20150819_103458month (going back and forth). The main guy that we spoke to started do this because he loves trains. He has model trains at home, and so this is his dream job. In addition to working at the museum he also is a waiter.

He told us that all the work on the trains at the museum are done by volunteers. Not just taking tickets, but also the people who fix the engines and do rail maintenance. It is quite amazing that they are able to work that way and still be under federal regulation. Also the fact that people are willing to volunteer their time to help the trains is pretty interesting.

In Reno one of the people of the group leave20150819_110140s, and we all say good bye.Then came Sacramento and two more of us left as well. It is funny to think that a group of people can just meet randomly and become friends.
We had 9 hours in Sacramento. Sacramento is actually a really boring and quiet city. There is Old Town (which is very near the train station), and it is a touristy old town. There wasn’t much to do if you didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

I was walking around with the guy I met on the train, and we went to the Capital Building. 20150819_153147We even went on a tour, which was actually fun (it was also nice to be inside in the air conditioning). We learned about the history of the building (that it was modeled after the White House). Or that when it was renovated and the artists redid it, they were told they couldn’t sign their names, so hidden around the building are signatures (both of their names and some inappropriate figures…). They also hold a picture of George Washington that should be in the Smithsonian, but the State of California was gifted it (way back when) so they would not want to secede from the US.

Around the Capitol Building are orange trees. My friend decided to climb into one to pick some oranges – they were all pretty dry on the inside and gross.

After we walked around a bit and went food shopping. My friend learned to check for Kosher symbols which was actually very nice and not necessary. For some reason the grocery store we went to had matzah- but in the organic section. And then Osem Kosher for Passover muffin mix, in the muffin mix section–that was just so weird and sad. 20150819_153343

The main takeaway I have from Sacramento is that they do memorials really well.
They are very meaningful and thoughtful. My favorite was the lost solider memorial, while opposite it was a woman and child crying, and saying under them that they too sacrificed.

Sacramento was also the first time in a while that I was in a town that I did not know anyone. Although friend’s of mine put me in touch with some people, in the end it did not work out for me to meet them (or shower). It is pretty amazing that even when I don’t know anyone somewhere, I can find some people who are more than willing to help me.

After walking around, having a picnic dinner by the water, it was time to get back on the train for the last part of the journey!

States Visited: Nevada, California

Posted in Cross Country by Train

Cross Country by Train: Colorado to Utah

Day 3 of being on a train. We wake up and we are at the end of Nebraska. I slept through most of the State- and from what I was told, there really isn’t much to see. Soon we are getting to Denver, CO- which from what everyone says is where the real beauty begins.20150818_091540
Something that I have been realizing on the train is that time and space stop having significance. You lose the sense of time, mostly because you don’t need to go anywhere or do anything. (I have been waking up around 630, got dressed, brushed my teeth, ate some breakfast, and then would head out to the observation car). Also space stops having meaning. Most of the time (well, until you get to a station stop) you don’t necessarily know where you are. You might be able to guess what State based on where we just stopped, but there aren’t signs along the way that tell you that you have crossed the border. (Although at times the conductors will tell you). 20150818_092803~3

Denver was the first time that I got out of the train. We had about 10 minutes, so I figured why not. I learned (TRAIN TIP) whenever there is a smoking/fresh air stop that you should go outside. There might not be anything to do, but it does help with feeling stuck in a metal box for a few days.

Everyone was right- Colorado is where it starts to get beautiful. The mountains, the water, the trees. So often I was looking out the window in utter amazement. There are no words for the vast beauty that is out there (and that goes for a lot of the places that we passed through).

In Colorado through the hills there are a lot of tunnels (14 if I am 20150818_095123correct). When going through a tunnel everything goes black and even a bit colder (there isn’t the sun shining through the window). And then a minute or two later it is bright and sunny and seeing one of the most amazing views. It made me think that the tunnels felt like blinking. You close your eyes and it is dark, and a second later you are seeing something so beautiful and colorful.

There were a lot of people on the Colorado River (rafting, fishing, tubing). Something that I found funny (and I am assuming is something that is done), is that along the river people would moon the train. Now this wasn’t teenagers this was everyone. There were families out on the beach, and the entire family (little kids included) would turn around and moon the train. I guess every place has their customs.

20150818_103551~2Right before heading into Utah, we had a long stop (like 30 minutes) at Union Depot, Colorado. It was the first place that we have been that has a very tiny (very tiny) shop. But there you can get snacks, fruit, and souvenirs. They rely on the once a day California Zephyr. (I learned we were really on time, and that the owners were not used to that actually happening). There was nothing else around. The rest of the station was quiet and closed. Even the restaurant that was attached to the station wasn’t open.

Surprisingly (apparently Amtrak is known for being very late), we 20150818_124456got to Salt Lake City, Utah an HOUR early! So we had an hour to just hang out. unfortunately it was at 10pm, so there really wasn’t much to see or do (although I do have friends who took the risk and took the train to the city center, took a picture, and luckily made it back with 5 minutes to spare). From what I could see from the train station, it seemed like a pretty city.

It was this day that a group of us became friends. Somehow about 5 of us started to hang out. I was from Israel, there was the guy from Indiana, the children’s author from California, a jazz musician from Australia, and a glass blower from Boston- and we just started to hang out. We started to share meals together. sit together in the car. Play board games 20150818_124623(Sushi Go is actually a really fun game- or maybe it is just when you are with fun people, as is Farkle). In a way, if you looked at us from the outside, you would have assumed that we came onto the train together. It was really amazing how a bunch of strangers, travelling on a train together could become friends.

I met some other interesting people this time around. There was a Navy Vet sitting behind me. He was travelling to Nevada to help his grand-daughter move to Michigan (he would be making the drive the next day). Before he got off the train he found our group and told us to travel the world. But make sure that we speak slowly and clearly (if we are speaking in English), and to remember to haggle that way people won’t think us as spoiled Americans.20150818_144151

I was wearing an Indian dress that I got in Israel that day. There was an old Indian man who noticed, and I told him that I got it from Israel. 20150818_182734         He got very excited, and showed be a baseball card with a picture of an old man, and it said that he was from Nehariya. Both men were in Iowa (why Iowa, I don’t know), for a month-long meditation retreat. The guy from Nehariya is a          91-year-old Holocaust survivor who apparently still travels for meditation retreats. The Indian man has been living in Manchester, UK for the past number of years, and was in the US both for the meditation retreat, as well as to see some family.

Something that I have noticed is that people are friendlier on trains then on planes. It is very socially acceptable to talk to the people sitting around you- both in your car (I guess you might be sitting next to a person for 50 hours so it would be weirder not to say anything) and the people in the observation car. You just sit with people and you can start off a conversation. Or conversations are happening around you, and you chime in. 20150818_202605

States Visited: Colorado, Utah

Posted in Cross Country by Train, Uncategorized

Cross Country By Train: Chicago to Colorado

While planing this trip, I realized that I would be going on a train for 5 days, but there wouldn’t be a shower. I decided to reach out to friends in my stop over cities to see if I could shower in their apartment. My friend’s in Chicago mostly had work and would not be at home (who would be working on a Monday…), but one friend told me about the public shower at the bike place. That you can pay $3 to use their shower. So that is what I did. It was actually very nice, although it did take me a while to find it, as it was downstairs and in the back of the building. 20150817_095008

On my way to the shower, I just had to pass through Millennium Park- which was beautiful. There was so much interactive art. A beautiful garden that seemed like it should be out-of-place in a big city. A concert area that a broadway night was being rehearsed. And a great view of the water. I wish I had a bit more time there or that it wasn’t as hot as it was.

I had a chance to meet up with a friend I haven’t seen in a while. It was great to see him, and even though we might not have seen each other in three years, it almost felt like no time had passed. When researching for Kosher places near Union Station, I found one deli, Bebe’s Kosher Deli, so we decided to go there. It was in the midst of a really cool food court, so at first I thought that they weren’t actually Kosher, but surprise, they actually had a teudah. I had a delicious sandwich, and even got another one to take with me on the train for dinner that day.

Following lunch, my friend took me on a walking tour of Chicago, pointing out some of the beautiful buildings that make up the city. Chicago both had bits of a feel of London (beer at noon, the old but short buildings) and Paris (the walk way by the river). I really enjoyed myself, and I would love to find another time to get up there.

We walked back to Union Station so that I would be able to board the California Zephyr for the longest leg of my trip- 50 hours to Sacramento, CA.

Once again we boarded the train and they gave us seats. This time I asked the conductor for a window seat. I also had a seat partner- a woman from CA who is a children’s book author (she became a friend from the train in the end). This time I knew what to do. I knew that I would get on, wait for the conductor to scan my ticket, and then i would head out to the observation car.

As we were starting, the conductor said that we are heading East. This made for a lot of laughter throughout the train, as we all hoped that wasn’t true, and he just made a mistake. (Train tip- always listen to the announcements, the conductors make them quite funny sometimes).

This was the part of the trip that was said to be the most beautiful train rides in the world. So I was very excited to see what was to come up. On this first day, it was mostly corn fields. Well, that and a crazy rain storm. Like it was torrential down 20150817_155034pour. Some people also saw crazy lightning, and because the land is so flat they saw things they were not used to seeing (the lightning thankfully was on the other side of the train). Someone then started talking about twisters while one the train…thankfully that was not part of my adventure.

During the rain part I met a guy who takes the train East-West very often, as his wife doesn’t like to fly. So he was telling me some tips and suggestions of where to look (there is SO much to see). (Train Travel Tip- always make friends with people, especially those who travel by train a lot, it will help to know which side to sit on in the observation car).

20150817_175535As the sun set there is less to see in the observation car, so I decided to bring my book there to read. Instead of reading I met two people, this time around my age. A guy who just graduated from Indiana State and was heading to Vancouver-he was also going through Seattle and we tentatively planned to walk through Sacramento together (we did in the end). And a girl who is from France, but living in San Diego at the moment traveling to CO to do some hiking. As we were talking, and I said that I was from Israel, she told me that she was just in TLV for a medical app conference, and that she plans to be back during the up coming year (I obviously invited her over if she comes back to the country).

It was interesting to tell people that I live in Israel. I don’t sound Israeli nor do I look Israeli- so it was not the thing that people expected. I had no negative reactions to that fact of life, at all. People were also    fascinated with the fact that I was studying to become a rabbi, and an orthodox one at that. There were some who didn’t know women in general could become rabbis, and then there were others that were shocked that the orthodox movement was starting to allow women to have this role.

It is very strange to be the first (and maybe only) type of person that someone meets. I constantly was thinking about if I was dressed ok or said the right thing. But I realized the more that this happened on this trip (and it happened at least once a day), that I just need to be me, and that is all. I can’t be the representative of everything, and be “perfect”. I need to be who I 20150817_201846am, and dress the way I want to dress, and have the opinions that I have. I think that was a good lesson for life in general.

States Passed Through: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska

Posted in Cross Country by Train

Cross Country by Train: NJ to Chicago

20150816_170253 One day in the car on my way home from camp, I had the random idea of going to Seattle by taking the train. I looked into it, and even though it would take me five days (instead of maybe 8 hours), I really wanted to do this. I had visions of seeing the country and talking to people, and to be honest that is exactly what I saw and experience.

It was interesting to pack and get ready for this trip. I needed to bring clothing that would be comfortable to sit in for long hours. I needed to bring food items that won’t go bad nor would be too heavy, but would also be somewhat filling. I needed to bring a blanket and pillow to make sure that I would have something to sleep with. I needed small size toiletries as I would be flying back to NJ at the end of the trip. And I wanted everything to fit into something small that would not be difficult to move around and that would fit into an overhead bin when I was flying back east.

Going down to DC was uneventful. It is a train that I have taken many times when I was going down to Goucher. Here people get on and sit and read or do work. There is internet. Most people are there to do work, and so almost no one talks to each other. But it was a good time to just sit and think.

After about 4 hours (the shortest train ride of my trip) I got to DC. I had about two hours before I was to get onto the first long train ride of the trip. Walking into Washington Union Station is just amazing. It is just a beautiful building with a bunch of very nice shops. There I met up with a friend. Checked a bedika cloth. And just walked around till I got onto the second leg of my big trip.

This train was much bigger. It was only double-decker cars. They had people line up based on where they were going to. In the line the conductor gave each person a card with a seat number. I was originally put next to a guy going to Chicago for work, but who lives in California. He asked me what my ethnicity was, thinking that I was Middle Eastern. I am very much on the pale side, so it made me laugh a bit. I did say that I lived in Israel and was Jewish, but I am mostly Eastern European, so that is not part of my background. He then proceeded to tell me about his love for the Jews and the time he went to a synagogue. I found out from him that really a person can sit in any seat behind the card they were given. As there were a bunch of open seats behind us, I took advantage of that and went back a few rows so that I would at least have a window seat (in the end I got to sit alone for the entire trip).

After the train started and they checked our tickets we were allowed to go to the observation car. The observation car is the place to go and see everything. Even though there are windows in the main car, they are a bit bigger and the seats are a bit lower in the observation car. That is also the place to meet people.

I found a nice seat by myself at first. Slowly more people entered the car, and as there are a limited amount of seats, people will then ask to sit with you, and you just say yes unless there really will be someone sitting with you. A woman came up to join me.

Shortly after we were talking. She was on her way to her father’s unvailing in Cleveland. It turns out that she is Jewish, and was impressed and shocked by the idea that there are women studying to be Orthodox rabbis (we had a long conversation about that). She also had quite an interesting life- she worked for the foreign service straight out of college (she started at Peabody for a degree in piano performance). She was soon sent over to China to work (where she had a Seder, which seemed really fun), as well as Yugoslavia. Even though she is now retired, she sometimes still gets to go work. She loves her work, and doesn’t really know what to do without it, so she looks forward to those chances. Sitting next to us was a guy trying not to eavesdrop (it is really hard not to, and really no one expects you not to- that is how conversations start), who eventually joined our conversation. He too was a pretty interesting guy. He has a multiple degrees including one from a Russian university. He works for the US Defence Department. And between the three of us we spoke for quite some time. (I felt so young and  not accomplished next to them to be honest- why they wanted to continue speaking to me; I’m not 100% sure). We ended up speaking up till dinner, and even made plans to meet up after dinner to continue our conversation.

A good question to ask people on the train is why they are there. For the woman it was because of the beauty of the train and she wasn’t in a rush to get to where she is going. For the man, it was because all the planes were shut down in DC and he had to get to Chicago, and this was a sure thing. Also he loves train travel, and even took the trans-Siberian railway when he was living in Russia.

I slept pretty ok on the train. I was lucky that I was able to get two seats, but really the foot rest does go up, and the chair leans back (there is way more room than any plane I’ve ever been on).  The gentle rocking of the train helps with falling asleep I think. The biggest challenge was changing in the bathroom, as they are tiny! Like smaller than the bathroom on a plane (although I learned later that there are some with a changing area…)But I figured it out. It was also really nice to change into PJ’s and actually get ready for bed, and I think helped with the start of the feeling of living on the train.

20150817_082550We pulled into Chicago early, and it was the morning so I had quite some time to explore and
eventually meet up with a friend.

States Passed Through: New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, DC, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois

Posted in Life

Human Existence is Nothing but Solitude

“Human existence is nothing but solitude.”   “Oh, how true that is!” cried the D’Ardelo girl.  “A solitude surrounded by other solitudes,” La Franck, then swallowed down the rest, turned, and moved away. (The Festival Of Insignificance, by Milan Kundera, pg. 62-63)

After reading this passage it got me thinking. It is both comforting and sad at the same time.

On the one hand, I find that there is a lot of truth in it. I find myself going on my own path, doing my own thing, being on my own. Potentially there are others that at points in time will interact with my path but for the most part it is me, alone on my journey. 

On the other hand, this is sad. Is it true that we are always alone? That we must always feel alone? That no matter what a person does or where a person is they will be alone.

When looking up google images of solitude, they are not pictures necessarily of sadness. For the most part, it feels like time for personal contemplation or meditation. Maybe that is the answer. That solitude is not necessarily a negative state. That solitude is a time and/or space that one is able to find themselves. That each of us needs that time so that we can figure out who we are and who we need/want to be. And in reality we all need that time and space. If we never take it, then we will not be anything at all, so perhaps it is best to be a solitude amongst solitudes, rather than being just part of an amorphous group.