Posted in Colombia

Colombia Part 5- I am Ready to Go Home? Am I Just Overwhelmed? What is Happening?

For the first time in a very long time I’ve had deep feelings of home sickness. Like how I used to feel when I was little and would cry until I got to go home at a sleep away party. It is not just a missing something, not just not being comfortable, it’s something more than that.

Today as I spoke to my mom before I Shabbat I couldn’t help but start crying. Just hearing her voice, knowing that she is going to be home when I get there made me burst into tears- and I really don’t know why (even as I am writing this, I’m starting to tear up again).

This trip really hasn’t been SO trying. Nothing bad actually happened to me. No one said anything mean. If anything people have been really nice and kind. I’ve seen chivalry that I almost never see (like women ALWAYS walk through doors first). But this trip has made me very tired and longing to be home.

Maybe it’s because I don’t know my schedule, at all. Maybe it’s because I can’t speak the language. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I have any freedom (I can’t walk anywhere and I need the Rabbi to take me everywhere I need/want). Maybe it’s because I’ve had many days where I have been sitting around just watching netflix, when I know there is more I could do and see…but I just can’t get there alone. Maybe it is the constant reminder that I am here alone, by living with a family (they are lovely- although the children are VERY loud). Maybe it is the constant looking at the news and being worried about what will happen next. Maybe it is because I am already starting to worry about what is next. About the fact that comes Monday I need to go to the hospital to start work stuff for my new job; Wednesday I am teaching in NY (and I really don’t want to after talking to the director there); Sunday is a wedding; the following Monday is my first day of work; I am still waiting about the job I applied for which could potentially change EVERYTHING in my life; my birthday is in two weeks…..

Maybe it’s because I just want to feel settled in some way, and because I’ve been in a state of unsettledness

All I know is that all I’ve wanted for at least a week is to go sit with my mom. All I want is to go home- something I haven’t felt in years.

I usually love to travel and hate being in NY/NJ- but right now, I am so ready to board that plane on Sunday morning….

Posted in Colombia

Colombia Part 4- Different Cities Different Feelings

So for the majority of my trip, I’m based in Barranquilla. A city off the coast. It is hot and humid- always. It has a Caribbean feel. There are no tourist attractions. Almost no one speaks English. If you look online for things to do as a tourist, they list Carnival- which only happens during a certain time of the year. That being said, I have met very sweet and open people. There is a great mix of Colombian and Caribbean food and music. And surprisingly, even though it is hot and humid, it feels less humid than NYC.

The Jewish communities that I have interacted with here have been living in Barranquilla for a long time at this point. Some have families that came to Colombia in the 1930’s and some as early as the Spanish Inquisition. I have also met with many in the convert communities, and so they have been in Colombia for ages. The communities are separate, almost never speaking or interacting with one another. They are all very conservative and have conservative views on the world.

This weekend I was in Medellin. My breath was taken away as we were landing – being able to see the beautiful green mountain ranges. Getting off the plane I was greeted with a nice and pleasant breeze. Here, it is beautiful spring/early summer weather with no humidity all year long. There are trees everywhere. Throughout the city there are random streams and rivers. The only downside was that everything was up hill (it is really mountainous).

The Jewish community that I was part of over Shabbat was also not the traditional community (one that I was told is very closed and closed minded, and doesn’t really like visitors). For the first time on my trip I was able to speak English and everyone understood. Many people of the community are US ex-pats, they moved to Medellin because it is beautiful, relatively  inexpensive, and decent health care. The people in the community were from all backgrounds – Colombian, converts, Americans, gay couples, singles, people who grew up religious, intermarried couples, people who grew up Reform, singles, visiting Israelis… and everyone came to celebrate Shabbat. From what I understood from the organizers (and I saw this myself) they have outgrown their space in under a year. They really created a space that is for Jewish life. The people who come, go every single week (unless they are away). Everyone spoke about how important the community is to them. How much they have grown. How much they would like to see the community grow. How they too would like more opportunities to learn and interact with Jewish texts and traditions.

It really was a nice weekend. It is harder to be fully shomer Kashrut there- most eat dairy out. Most will drink non-kosher wines. Most members are not shomrei Shabbat either. So there are some draw backs to being an open community- usually it means that those who see themselves as orthodox need to give up on quite a bit (although the services are orthodox, so that is also interesting).

The rest of my time in Medellin was touring. For the first time in my time in Colombia I went out for long periods of time on my own. On Sunday I went to Guatapé with a tour bus. It was all in Spanish. I was the only one who went alone (it was actually a question that everyone asked me- why are you here alone…thanks for noticing guys 😦 ). But I got to explore and see such beautiful places. I climbed 675 steps to get to the top of El Peñón de Guatapé, the place that boasts “The rock with the most beautiful view in the world” (it was really beautiful). And the city of Guatapé which was full of color and life (it is amazing how different a city looks when it is all different colors instead of really tall grey and brown buildings…). On Monday I took the metro to the metro cable (a cable car that is part of the public transport in the city) and got an aerial view of the city. I did it all on my own- walking through the streets, getting tickets, and getting back to where I was staying. It was really nice to have a bit of time on my own and not feeling like I need to be “on” or do something or feel like I should be doing something different than I want to be doing.

Today I was getting annoyed at a bunch of things (it might be that I have a cold or just am actually annoyed). And I realized something that bothered me both in Medellin and in Barranquilla is the great dislike of “the other”.  The separations of the converts and the born Jews. The separations of those who are observant and those who are not. The talking bad about “those religious chardeim” or “those gay people” or “those Reform people”. Everyone has a horrible story about someone. Everyone has been really burned. So much is not being created, and many things that are being created are being created as a reaction to hate, rather than a reason of love.

I know that part of it is cultural and political- and a large part I will not understand unless I decide to move here and actually be part of the community. But it makes me really sad- all of this anger and dislike. I am finding it harder and harder to sit there and listen to another story about how this group of people caused things to happen; or this stupid thing that someone said; or just how closed people are.

On a positive note though, I might have created positive change. I’ve been asked by many for shiurim in Spanish. And right now there aren’t so many (or the ones that are there are either at a high level, about halacha [as opposed to the parsha or something that touches the soul] or are saying things that are not true [and are causing bad things to happen in families and communities]. So I suggested to the rabbi, to contact some of the other Spanish speaking rabbis that he likes and to start a vlog. To start recording 10-15 minute videos of nice divrei Torah and to upload them. If there are a bunch of people in the list they might only have to do one every 6-10 week, which is really not so much time. So, the rabbi sent an email to a few colleagues- and some have come back saying yes. I really do hope this blog starts. I think that the Spanish speaking community will greatly appreciate some new Torah out there. I also think that if one is really annoyed with what is there, the greatest way to create change is to put out what you want to receive. And in today’s day and age recording and uploading is so simple and you can get good quality even with a cell phone.

My prayer for myself (and for all of us who work with people) may we never feel such disgust with our communities that we give up trying. May we find ways to create change through love rather than hate or fear or just as a reaction. And if I find myself in a situation where I am no longer able to do the work through love or with out disgust for my community- may I realize that and may I find a way to move one.

PS. I do know about what happened in the US over the weekend and have many thoughts about it. I hope to write about that soon. Please God may we find ways to work together there too. (And may all those who were injured have a full and speedy recovery)

Posted in Colombia

Colombia Part 3- One Week

It is a week since I have arrived in Colombia!

So I’m getting slowly better at speaking in Spanish and speaking to others. I am so thankful to Google Translate. Yesterday and today I had full conversations via the website. We spoke about everything- God, religion, our background, what we like to eat. I had a long conversation with the housekeeper- an 18 year old, single mother (two boys under 2), from Venezuela. She spends all day here taking care of the house- cooking, cleaning, watching three kids. She does everything on her own, she has no familial or financial support outside of what she makes working. At least this job she is able to eat meals, so she is able to use the money she makes to feed her boys. Our lives could not be so different. She had her first kid at 15, which she said was too early, but when I told her I was 31 without kids, she asked me what I was waiting for, if I am waiting till I’m 60. I told her it was hard to find a guy, her answer was all I have to do is walk down the street.

Twice this week I taught in the same community, a Conservative convert community. They are amazing. So sweet and caring, with such desires to learn Torah. I am enjoying going to the communities here, although one thing that is weird for me is that they want to do everything for me. They are going out of their way to make sure that I have things to eat, that I have a good time in Colombia, and that I don’t have to do anything but teach. I offer to help in the kitchen or set up tables, and I am told to sit and a giant plate of fresh fruit is placed in front of me. Or in the house I am staying in, the house keeper does all of the cooking. I just have to sit down and eat. I don’t even clear my spot- even though I really want to. I don’t have a problem being in the spot light, but it is very strange to be served.

I finally applied to my dream job. I really don’t know if I want it or not. Well, I do know I want it, but wanting it scares me. I spoke to someone the other day and she made me realize that. Her husband happened to be in the car and was like, listen you are going to be single and in the spot light, there are going to be guys lining up the door to meet you. On a practical note, she did say to try and make it a point to travel to larger cities so you can date, so you are not just stuck where you are. People here want to know where I live, and I am saying in NY. And when they ask about a community my answer is that I will be working in the hospital (I finally started the paperwork). But there is a chance that wont’ be true. There is a chance I will be living somewhere else, in a different country. I feel like my soul is being torn into three and I really don’t know where I am meant to be or where I really belong….

Somehow being here I just don’t hear the news as much. Maybe I’m not on my computer as much as I usually am, maybe it’s because I can’t understand the news if it is playing on the radio, maybe it’s because they don’t care as much of what is going on in the US. I finally read the other day about all that is going on with the US and North Korea- and the thing is, I’m scared. Part of me wants to believe that it is just two guys trying to show off their strength and nothing really is going to happen. And the other part of me sees the destruction of the world as we know it. I see destruction and there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves. Maybe I won’t be in the US- but what about my parents, siblings, grandparents, friends? Am I going to be ok with knowing they are suffering? They won’t all be able to get to me. And if something, God forbid happens, who is to say that it won’t spread? The world is becoming a scarier and scarier place to live in, and I’m not really sure what to do about that except for praying– although I also feel like my prayers are for nothing… I don’t understand how there can be so much hate. How there can be so much disrespect for human kind. How there are leaders in the world that care more about themselves than for the people they are supposed to be caring for.

In my short prayer, I ask that God makes this stop, starts to help people act as humans, and protect us all from evil in the world. May those who are wise, use their wisdom to create good. May those who are in power, use their power for peace.

Posted in Colombia

Colombia Part 2- Waiting and Not Knowing

Something I have been learning about being here is that I am always waiting. I know that I write that my life sometimes feels like I am in “Waiting for Godot” and always in a state of waiting, but here it is even more. Someone will say to meet at one time, and they won’t show up for another 20 minutes. Time just moves slower. It also might feel that way because my schedule is completely dependent on someone else. I have no idea what is planned for me and when. I can’t get anywhere alone, and even if I do go out alone, I can’t really talk to anyone, as I don’t really know Spanish. People have been very nice and do want to take care of me, but it is weird for me really not to know what is happening next.

The other thing that I have noticed is that no doesn’t always mean no, and really anything can happen. For example, I was supposed to go to a white tie wedding. Then before I left for Colombia I was told that I wasn’t going. Then on Sunday morning, when I thought I was going to be staying the whole day at the rabbis house alone, I got a call telling me that I was going to Cartagena and I was going to the wedding. It was a good thing that I had a semi nice dress with me (even though it was short) and some nice jewelry. So I just never know what is really going to be happening.

I am supposed to go to Medellin over shabbat, but the plans have not been made yet (and it is Tuesday). I found out that this morning that tonight I am going to teach in a community. I just have to accept what is happening to me and what is being said, as I can’t even correct anything.

Some other things that I have noticed:

People like really high air conditioning. Yes it is really hot outside, but the air conditioning is really cold. But really really cold, especially in bedrooms. And most places that I have been don’t have hot water (I got to shower at the Hyatt the other day and it was SO nice- I did not think that was something I would miss). Also, almost all places that I have been don’t have real blankets. They either have a sheet or a very very thin blanket- but then the air conditioning is on very high. I think last night for the first time, I was able to make the air conditioning so I wasn’t freezing and I was able to sleep.

I went to a wedding on Sunday night. Firstly it is very funny to go to a wedding and not know ANYONE, and I mean no one. Almost all of the men were in white suit jackets and all of the women in floor length dresses. The women were all gorgeous. The bride looked like a model- it was amazing. But even though it was a fancy affair, the meal was dairy and it was buffet. And the best part was the Latin music for the dancing. It was a shame that I was in rabbi mode, because it would have been fun to have a change to dance in Latin America.

Something I am going to take to heart is the importance of looking proper and not like a shulb, especially if one is in a position of power. When everyone is dressed in a tuxedo and one is wearing an ill fitted suit, it just looks sad and bad. I think that it brings a bad name to the rabbinate, and calls for lack of respect. Although I don’t think that clothing is very important, I do think that there is some importance to taking care of one’s physical image. One should know what the dress code is and abide by it. One should wear clothing that fits and looks good. The way that one holds themselves is as important (or maybe even more important) that one comes out of one’s mouth.

Having seen at three rabbinic leaders here, it is an interesting model of just taking over space and expecting people to respect you. There is a demand of respect, and it is not surprising that there isn’t so much respect to the rabbi (not that I think that is what should be, I think it is a bad thing). I hope that I am able to have a real relationship with my congregants/constituents.

Today I had a conversation with a woman, who told me why she thinks that the convert community and the non-convert community should be separate. She said “they don’t have a connection to the history. They are not connected to Europe and the Holocaust. They only know what is written in the book, and “we” don’t always follow the book. Some things we don’t do, and some things we do because it is what is being done for generations. The only similar thing is our prayers.” Being respectful to the community functioning (and also just interested in knowing why things are the way they are) I didn’t say anything to her. But I wanted to tell her that not everyone has the same history. And what would happen if you joined together, how much more beautiful it would be. How they would be able to share the history so they actually feel part of the Jewish community. I have been learning that the separation of the converts and the non, is not only about Jewish status, but also about race and class. If only we were able to live in a world together….

Well, I think that is enough rambling for now.

Posted in Colombia

Colombia Part 1- My Head is Spinning

I have been in Colombia now for two days. I ended up being the scholar in residence here, mostly by chance. I said I was free, and my school said “Hey, would you like to go to Colombia?” I said sure, just know I don’t speak any Spanish. And the Rabbi they spoke to said that would not be a problem.

For the past 25 hours I was spending Shabbat with a Sephardi convert community, and the majority did not speak any English or Hebrew. There was so much I wanted to say, but was just unable to because I did not have the words. And there was so much that others wanted to say to me, and I just couldn’t get it. When people were speaking, either to myself or to the group, it took all of my energy to concentrate on what was being said, hoping that I would catch just a bit of it. I was tired just from sitting and trying to listen.

On Friday night, I sat quietly and almost no one spoke to me. I was already in a lonely mood before I got to shul. I had a lot of time to just be on my own and started freaking out about the future (but that is neither here nor there). But today, people went out of their way to speak to me. Trying to use English or speak very slowly in Spanish. During lunch I sat with the women. I had already checked out of my hotel so I had to stay there all afternoon, and it was really great that I did. For the entire afternoon the women were asking me questions and talking about Torah. I felt bad that I was unable to give them answers they could understand, but I was very thankful to one of the woman who acted as my translator. I didn’t get all of the conversation, but each woman was able to ask her question and get an answer. There are apparently more that will be emailed to me.

These women have never had a woman to ask questions to. And the way the community works, the men are the one’s who learn Torah. Women were at the Talmud shiur this afternoon, but were never given a book to look at. It seems like the women are just told what they are supposed to do, and then do it. There is no questioning, there is no thinking, and there is nothing that comes outside the box. And if they do have personal questions, there is not someone they feel comfortable speaking to. And so it was me, and I got so many questions (I’ll list them at the end), and many were very personal. I hope that I was able to answer them correctly.

I spoke three times to the entire community. Two were planned, and one was because the women wanted me to say allowed to everyone, including the men, the importance of woman in Jewish history and how they too should be able to learn and be part of the community. So I asked the rabbi at the last minute if I could speak, even though we were running late- and so I did. I was also very thankful to the impromptu translators that helped me give my sermons. It is a different type of speaking when you need each line to be translated.

Shul was a fascinating experience, that I have not had in any orthodox minyan that I have been to.  Everyone sat in shul davening, there was virtually no talking. Everyone answered loudly Amen, and to Kedusha, and Kadish. Everyone sang out whenever something was sung. Shma was full of kavana, it felt like Yom Kippor.

Shabbat ended with hugs. Men and women alike were coming over to me asking me when I was coming back, telling me how special it was that I was there for Shabbat, telling me how much they appreciated what I said. It really was a special community- I hope that they will find the communities they need and want, and find ones that will accept them for who they are.

Questions from Shabbat:

  • Can women wear pants?
  • How much hair does a woman need to cover?
  • What happens if my cold meat plate goes on my cold dairy plate?
  • Why can’t we have fish and meat together?
  • Can you have painted nails and say the bracha “boreh meorei ha’esh”?
  • I know you are not allowed to put makeup on Shabbat, but my husband likes me with makeup. What can I do?
  • Can men have a second wife? Or is that only for religious men? I heard that somewhere?
  • If I am separated from my husband for a number of years. Even though then I decided that I would be celibate, sometimes I want to be with a man, can I?
  • Is it ok if I use a dildo? (x2)
  • If a woman wants a divorce, but her husband doesn’t- what can she do?
  • What bracha do you make on rice? Vegetables?
  • If I want more brachot, what can I do after birkat hamazon?
  • Can women sing out loud in shul?
  • When a man is talking in shul, can the women look at him?
  • If I don’t want to have any more kids, what type of birth control can I use?
  • If I can’t daven shacharit, do I say two minchas?
  • My husband won’t let me learn Torah when he is learning with my son, what do I do?
  • If one has their period, can they bring a tampon/pad with them to shul?