jerusalem.

date. 2014

Image by Sander Crombach

Introduction

After high school, I studied at Yeshivas (Jewish seminaries) in and around Jerusalem for three years. I moved back to NY in April of 2013. This is the first time I've been back since.


 

September 30, 2014


Rabbi Helman called me 2 days before Rosh Hashana to wish me a Ksivah V’Chasima Tovah (the Jewish equivalent of Happy New Year's, but in typical Jewish fashion roughly translates to "Have a Good Sentencing"). After speaking with him, it struck me just how far away I was from Israel, in every sense of the word. I decided right then that if I was going to transfer to Penn (from Yeshiva University), it was only right to take a step back and remove myself from my current circumstances and mindset. “This could be done,” I thought, “by going to Israel for Sukkot.”

I went and booked a flight for $650 with long layovers in Moscow (12- 14). That’s why I’m now sitting by an empty gate at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Alexander S. Pushkin International Airport; hungry, tired, and bored.

P.S. I told Hannah right after I booked my flight, but she’s leaving for London a few hours before I get to Israel. Foiled again!

October 3 – Yom Kippur Eve


During my first day in Israel, I had a strange experience.

When I was with Aparna, there had been times, usually in bed, when I felt compelled to say “I love you.” It wasn’t really a cognitive decision, it was more like an emotional side-effect. As if my feelings themselves were trying to speak.

When I was walking around Jerusalem that first day, I had a similar encounter where I found myself whispering “I love you, I love you” under my breath. Saying “I love you” to the city itself.

When I mentioned this to Aparna she said that it made sense. When you’re happy and people aren’t the reason, you fall in love with other things.

Last night I spent a few hours in the Old City. I went for Mincha (afternoon prayers) and then waited around until Slichot (midnight prayers).

There’s only so much walking around that you can do, so after a while I started to get really lonely and sad. My rabbi had been too busy to meet, so I was wondering what exactly I had come to Israel for.

The Old City/Western Wall area was packed with people, and I felt kind of lost in it all. Then, as I was walking near Dung Gate (they used to dumb garbage there), I saw a set of stairs leading down into some sort of archeological site. I took these steps and suddenly all of the noise and bustle of the nearby bus stop / Western Wall plaza just faded away.

The way that the lights played against the massive fallen boulders and the ancient walls was breathtaking. There was a girl, a boy, and a man praying by the little bit of wall that was available. (I mean, really praying. Not like the party raging at the Western Wall where I had just seen a father and son place their arms against the wall as if they were weeping, overcome in spiritual longing, for an Instagram photo.)

I was so struck by this scene that I felt an intense desire to pray, for the first time in a while, maybe years.

While reciting Shema, I noticed a couple things. Firstly, the emphasis seems to be on our love and devotion to God. This was immediately followed by the realization that I lacked both. Yes, I follow Halacha, but I feel nothing for it. Definitely not love.

I wondered what it meant to love God. I realized that that ever since I can remember, my life has centered around this struggle to find the true Judaism, the genuine religious experience untainted by dogma, politics, or social norms.

October 5


I had an interesting Yom Kippur.

I woke up late on the day before; depressed, no appetite, confused. I forced down some food, drank a lot of water, smoked a ton of cigarettes.

I walked to the synagogue for Maariv (evening prayers). As I passed through Ben Yehuda Street, I thought that I had never experienced such beauty in my life. A soft silence had fallen over the holy city, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the sun produced the most enchanting production against the sky. My entire body could feel the beauty. I thought that it was worth coming to Israel if only to experience these few minutes.

(Now, two days later, I feel myself grasping to remember that experience. It all seems so foreign to me now.)

I couldn’t pray at the synagogue. The screaming, the straining, and I just felt empty. I didn’t know how to pray. How to repent. Repentance for what?

I left and went for a walk along Highway 1 towards the Old City, and then back along Shivtei Yisrael Street towards Beit Yisrael. This is what came to mind:

All of my life I had performed well in school. I studied diligently; I prayed a lot. I didn’t listen to music, watch movies, etc. 

Meanwhile, I was secretly miserable. I was chronically sick, often had headaches and was fighting a losing battle against depression. I drank, smoked, and harbored extreme guilt. But I never let go of my ideal. I stayed late in school to study Talmud (I remember secretly staying until 4 am on Thursday nights, studying, reciting Psalms and singing in the empty study hall).

They promised me happiness, peace, and satisfaction. Where is it? All I’ve gotten is misery. Meanwhile, when I dropped everything and went to India, I didn’t get sick once.

What does Judaism offer? Rather, what does the Judaism that I enthusiastically devoted myslf to for a decade offer?

I’m supposed to be repenting on Yom Kippur. Repentance for what? For being a lonely 15 year old boy, depressed, overflowing with a desire to care for someone, show passion for someone, be with someone, and masturbated? THAT’S WHAT I’M APOLOGIZING FOR?? Seriously?

June 17, 2015, 1:30 am


After two years, I finally met Hannah. She is sleeping in my bed. No, we aren’t sleeping together. We’re just friends, and besides, she just broke up with her boyfriend.

If anyone cares about me in this world it’s Hannah, but somehow this is our first (only?) night together and she’s asleep and I’m sitting on the kitchen floor writing in this journal.

Looking back to the last entry, everything has changed. Everything. I have the same name, but it refers to another person.

I’m getting tired of writing. Goodnight.