Israel

Jerusalem Community Theater, Hidden in Plain Sight

Jerusalem Community  Theater

Wait, what? There’s community theater in English in Jerusalem?

I found myself hanging out just on the very edge of a fascinating and beautiful community. One I didn’t even know existed. How did I find out? Well… I married an actress.

But if it weren’t for that, I may have never noticed it was there.

The community is thriving, with over ten companies and a wide variety of shows performed every year.

But like anything else in the world, there’s room for improvement. And certainly room for expansion.

Why Jerusalem Community Theater?

People get involved in Jerusalem’s community theater groups for all sorts of reasons. According to CB Davies, the founder of JET, “Some people were involved in theater at some point in their life and want to do it again. Some … love the show … and so want to be a part of that … [and] there are those who want to continue to do theater and use their skills.”

However, it’s the social aspect that intrigues me the most. According to Rivka Deray, JET’s Content Manager, “It’s an incredible way for people, especially new Olim [immigrants], to find a community and create a social circle in Jerusalem.” She adds that, “New people join all the time, and there are people who always welcome them in and make them feel at home.”

There are many great adjectives people use to describe this community. The community is welcoming, diverse, and extremely supportive. Davies says, “We’re very multicultural. People join from all parts of the world.” And Marty Weisel, founder of JET Venues and a member of JET’s content team, says, “The best thing about the community is the people … surrounding myself with friends who support me and care about me.”

Room for Improvement

But as with anything great, there’s always space to grow and develop. And there are those working tirelessly to take this hidden gem in Jerusalem and make it even better.

Some speak about taking the performances and bringing them to the next level of quality. Weisel says, “The productions given by the community are incredible, however … there is always room for improvement. There is so much talent in the community … and we need to find the way to raise the standards all the time.”

Davies wants to expand the community, a suggestion that means a lot to me personally. I love theater. And yet I lived in Jerusalem for over a year without even realizing there was community theater at all, let alone in English. Davies wants to see the theater community “marketing itself better, reaching out to bring more people into the community, giving more people a chance to perform or use their skills [and] training.”

Some ideas are simpler, just to add a little pizazz to what exists. Deray offered a novel suggestion. She would like to see annual award ceremonies to celebrate some of the most impressive accomplishments in the community.

Next-Level Integration

However, the most common sentiment was that despite everything amazing that’s happening, a certain level of unity is lacking. “I would love to see it better integrated,” says Deray. “I’d love if there was a more interconnected system where any company could receive supplies, funding, etc as needed.”

Davies would also like to see a stronger “connection between the different companies.” He states that “they all give something different to the community, but in the end we are all the same artistic community.”

They believe the community is made up of multiple disparate parts, each one great in its own way. However, when the groups can come together under one banner, the potential is limitless. The whole will be far greater than the sum of each of its parts.

JET (Jerusalem English Theater)

And that’s where JET comes in. JET (Jerusalem English Theater community) was created to foster unity, and give all of its members everything they could have ever hoped for. “JET’s goals are to create a single place for companies to lean on,” says Deray. “Whether that is by providing locations, or advertising for all upcoming performances and auditions, or helping companies coordinate show schedules to avoid event conflicts. We want our site to become the Google of Jerusalem community theater, where people who aren’t as familiar yet can go to one beautiful website and find out all they need to know about upcoming performances and how they can be a part.”

It would be “a website that brings all the community into one place”, according to Davies. Replete with “blog posts to let people see what happens behind the scenes, promote the community, and let people express themselves.”

And part of the greater overall vision is to not only have a website, but an actual physical location (JET Venues). “A space that is geared towards performing arts”, says Weisel. “By having classes and opportunities available all the time … actors can hone their craft … and do what [they] love all year round.” Davies sees JET Venues ultimately as “a place that the community can call home for its artistic endeavors. This hopefully will allow artists to emerge, create, and bring new material and stories to Jerusalem”

And, of course, for the overall benefit of the community, everyone would love to see more and more involvement from a wider array of people. “I would love to see the theater community circle expand ever greater,” says Deray, “becoming home to more and more people and talents.”

Jerusalem Community Theater… is a Potato Chip

Davies says about much of these changes and developments, “I think in a way it is happening already, but I’d like to see more of it.”

Jerusalem Community Theater is a gem, hidden in plain sight in Jerusalem. It’s growing and improving all the time. Nevertheless, some folk want and need more. And they’re working to make that a reality.

Ultimately, Jerusalem’s theater community is a joyous one. “The shows themselves are like potato chips”, says Deray. “Once you’ve experienced the incredible feeling of putting your all into a production, working with and getting close to friends, old and new, you just have to come back for more.”

Yup, a fantastic community. However, there are a handful of folk out there hoping the community sees days with more, even tastier chips.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Entertainment, Israel, opinion, 0 comments

In a Stranger’s Grave

In a Stranger's Grave

Last year, Jerusalem’s community theater group Theater and Theology put on a remarkable play. The show tackled the issue of how a religion deals with an ever changing world. Off the Derech Dolorosa was not only a pleasure to watch… I’d definitely give it two thumbs as a fantastic play to propose after.

And this year, they’re back to tackle an extremely divisive and potentially painful issue: The retroactive cancellation of Jewish conversions.

The Conversion Crisis

There are some crazy and complex things that happen in Israel’s religious community. Sometimes they’re amusing. Sometimes downright heartbreaking. And sometimes so perplexing, they feel impossible to wrap one’s head around.

In Israel, there are assorted issues surrounding conversion to Judaism that are complex talking points in our community. Small and enormous travesties abound. These issues inspired Miriam Metzinger to tackle them in her play, In a Stranger’s Grave.

“I … was re-reading Sophocles’ Antigone,” Metzinger said, “about Oedpus’ daughter Antigone who was not allowed by the king … to bury one of her brothers because [he] felt this burial would cause a kind of moral pollution. I immediately thought about a story I had read in the newspaper about someone whose body was denied burial … because the conversion was not recognized in Israel … The issues in Antigone … are still … current many centuries later.”

One of the show’s stars, Avital Macales, said, “Before getting to know this play, I had not heard that something like this could happen. I found it quite shocking when I finally heard about it. And I look forward to hearing the scholars speak after each performance and finding out what they think about the matter.”

Shocking Awareness

Personally, I was stunned as well. I’ve been studying Judaism for quite some time now. And despite my many reasons to be wary of the actions of Israel’s Rabbanut, initially I thought the play was addressing either a non-issue, or an extremely obscure topic.

After all, in Jewish law, a Jew never stops being a Jew. Even if one wants to, the DNA sticks to you like super glue. Neither casting off your beliefs nor renouncing your connection to the Jewish people, will have any impact whatsoever. And, of course, when one converts to Judaism, there is no difference. A Jew is a Jew. And once you’re a part of the tribe, there’s no going back. No matter what happens.

In a Stranger’s Grave

Sadly, I was wrong. In a Stranger’s Grave is based on real stories. True events that challenged the lives of real people, with real feelings. Tragedies that hurt people, and caused long-lasting impact.

Macales plays Esther Gottlieb, in her words “a 23-year-old woman who grew up in an Anglo Yeshivish environment in Jerusalem to a loving mother (a convert) and father, and one sister, Chana, with whom she is very close. [They] unfortunately suffered the loss of their father and, six years later, their mother.”

The story centers on the Rabbinic reaction to Esther’s mother’s conversion and the issue of whether or not the conversion can be retroactively invalidated. “The different reactions of the family and community members to the crisis highlight current conflicting values in the Jewish and Israeli world,” according to Yael Valier, the show’s director and the founder of Theater and Theology.

Macales describes Esther as “strong, opinionated, idealistic, and [someone who] looks truth straight in the eye”. Thus she is the perfect character to stare right in the face of a complex issue that can easily be misconstrued as black and white. She’s also a delight for Macales to play, seeing as she pours on the sarcasm, whereas her portrayer offstage likes to “keep all [her] real-life sarcasm bottled up inside”.

A True and Present Danger to Israel and the Jewish people

Valier describes this conversion disaster as “a fraught subject that is reaching crisis proportions in Israel”. But how can it be that something so complex and damaging is simultaneously obscure and ignored? Valier says, “the people affected don’t talk about it because by their very nature, conversion problems are kept quiet.” This topic, and others like it, is a true and present danger to Israel and the Jewish people. “It can [happen], it does [happen], and we should be aware.”

Miriam Metzinger wrote In a Stranger’s Grave to address an issue that needs to be discussed. Yael Valier and Theater and Theology produced In a Stranger’s Grave to make sure the word gets spread. But it’s up to the rest of us–those who care deeply about our country and people–to make sure issues like these are not swept under the rug.

I’ve said it many times before: We could be doing better.

What is Theater and Theology?

There are many community theater companies in Jerusalem. However, this group is different. One of the novelties of the Theater and Theology experience is the speakers. There is a scheduled talk after each performance, a scholar who addresses the play’s subjects. The scholars approach the issues from a number of different perspectives. Some noted speakers include Rabbanit Shani Taragin and Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo.

The fascinating subjects are all meant to get you thinking. They spur conversation and open up doors for discussing topics we’re not always comfortable talking about. All of these fantastic scholars help us delve just a little deeper into subjects we care about immensely; however, we sometimes don’t know exactly how to collect our thoughts and feelings about them.

In a nutshell, Valier says that Theater and Theology “brings fascinating, current angles on philosophical questions to theater goers, and it takes scholars out of the lecture hall and into the theater. For me, that’s heaven.”

You can click here to learn more about Theater and Theology and to buy tickets for In a Stranger’s Grave. And keep your eyes wide open for more interesting productions in the future. Miriam Metzinger has upcoming dramas and comedies in the works. And Jerusalem’s theater community is a hidden gem in Jerusalem, with a lot more to come.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, 0 comments

Five Crappy Things about Israel that Need to Change… Yesterday

Crap

OK, I’m a cynic. I get that.

But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong about everything. Nor does it mean my country gets a free pass on me pointing out its garbage.

A lot of people here treat Israel as if it’s a utopia, void of any major issues. People brag left and right about Israel’s accomplishments and constantly regard simple moments of humans acting like humans as “only in Israel” moments.

They’ve been ignoring Israel’s problems for so long, sometimes I think people have learned to meditate themselves into a place where they can rest and relax treating all of the problems as if they’re distant memories of Israel’s past.

But they’re not. Israel has real issues. And no excuse for not working tirelessly to fix all of them. Or at least improve upon them.

This post is about five of those problems. They should be far better by now. We can do better. Much better.

1) Housing Crap

If you want to live in a city in Israel, it’s going to cost you. Big time.

So why do we do it?

Well, in some of the more remote areas, getting around without a vehicle is borderline impossible. But getting around with a vehicle is expensive, stressful, and extremely time consuming.

The city is where most of the stores are, all necessities, and any semblance of a social life. And outlying areas are by no means designed for single people in any way.

But city rent is high with low value for your dollar. The “system” places renters at the mercy of the owners. And you have minutes to grab a desired home before someone else snatches it up.

And whereas rent is outrageous, purchasing is downright impossible for most people. The prices are mind-blowingly high, and the percentage needed for a down payment makes me throw up in my mouth.

In the end, there really are only a few choices: 1. Leave the major cities, with all the hardships that comes along. 2. Rent in a city, and deal with almost inevitable poverty. 3. Or come to the country rich.

2) Customer Service Crap

We’ve gotten to the point where if a waiter smiles at us, we are ecstatic, we brag to everyone we know that things are really turning around here, and put a post on Facebook exclaiming that we experienced an “only in Israel” moment.

Fact is, the norm is to be barked at by customer service representatives, ignored by clerks, and generally made to feel like we’re unwanted in any store or restaurant we enter.

We Americans are confused, knowing full well that any establishment could make considerably more profit just by being a whole lot nicer. However, I genuinely feel this is just not of interest to the average Joe on the street here. If we were to explain that being pleasant and helpful would generate 20% more revenue, they would say, “No thanks. Keep your money. I enjoy being unpleasant and no amount of money is worth changing that!”

But we’re all at fault here. We tolerate it. We’ve done a poor job letting the country know we’re not coming back if you treat us like garbage. And, sadly, they’ve done a pretty decent job preventing us from letting the world know how we feel.

3) Smoking Crap

Israelis smoke. They smoke constantly and in every nook and cranny they could find.

Often I’m standing somewhere minding my own business, and someone will just wander up next to me and light up a cigarette.

At moments like that I wish I could just secrete some nasty odor that wafts in their direction. “My goodness, that’s vile,” they might exclaim. And I could turn toward them and say, with all of my masterful sarcasm, “I’m sorry. Does this smell irritate you? Is it bothersome? I simply had no idea that when doing something disgusting next to a perfect stranger, the possibility exists I might be causing them a disturbance.”

In all seriousness, how is this still a thing? Israel brags left and right about being ranked the 10th healthiest in the world. And we are all aware of the financial struggles that are rampant here. Yet, our society is riddled with this lung-piercing, overpriced nonsense that harms the population, and fills the air with stink and the streets with litter.

I often ask people to stop smoking in areas they’re not allowed. Sometimes right next to a sign! Nothing is enforced, and no one seems to care.

The time has come to rein in this nonsense.

4) Political Crap

I’ve been watching Israel’s political scene for a while now. It seems like every time I vote there is something different about the system. We didn’t get it right the last time around, let’s have another go.

The only thing that ever seems to stay the same: Paper ballots.

I feel like I’m voting for class president.

Anyhow, when the recent elections ended, I felt something in the society I don’t believe I’ve felt before: Mass apathy and exhaustion with the way things are and will seemingly always be.

Ultimately, that’s what these elections represented. The guy who’s been around forever against the guy who has nothing to offer but not being the other guy. There are 20,000 parties, but ultimately only really two viewpoints: Left and right. There are thousands of ignored issues and unheard voices. And there is inherent pandering to anyone who holds any amount of political power.

All you need is a few seats in the government, and boom, you get everything you want just so the top dog can build a coalition and stay in power.

And everything just stays the same. We become complacent. We had a burst of hope dashed by the reality that things are very unlikely to get better anytime soon.

I don’t know what system would be better. Maybe term limits would help. Perhaps better checks and balances for the Prime Minister. More representation for smaller parties. An overhaul of the current system. Who knows? But once again, we can do better.

5) Religious Crap

And each time around, it seems there is no greater beneficiary to the faults in our political process than the ultra-religious, who seek to impose their will on the entire society.

No doubt about it, Israel is a fantastic place to be a religious Jew. The freedom to practice is unmatched. Kosher restaurants abound. There are many aspects of a religious lifestyle that you could keep by accident here!

But religion is supposed to elevate people, not create anger and resentment. Judaism and its leaders are supposed to be something that unifies us, not something that brings hatred and divisiveness.

There are many ways to be a great Jew. An endless search for control and power is not one of them. Separation of Church and State is a tried and true system of many a well-functioning democracy. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if it wormed its way over here. At least to some extent.

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Israel has a lot going for it. And it’s nowhere near the worst place to live. But there’s a lot of crap. Loads of crap. And the first step in fixing a problem, is admitting it’s there.

Let’s own up to our crap, put it all out on the table, and start making our homeland the place it could and should be.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, politics, religion, 0 comments

Israel Elections and Why I’m Afraid to Vote

Israel Elections

Israel’s elections are around the corner. I have a mixture of emotions ranging from indifference to sheer terror.

You see, this place can get a bit crazy, and your seemingly insignificant vote can mean so much more than most could imagine.

Growing up in the States, it’s easy to start thinking of elections as a joke. In the majority of States, you can know close to 100% who your State will choose well before election day comes around. It’s very easy to feel like your choice is insignificant.

In addition, even the biggest decisions will rarely land on your doorstep. Certainly not quickly. The closest thing I had in my lifetime was the government’s asinine decision to give fines to those of who choose not to have health insurance.

But I don’t live in the States anymore. And I’ve watched as the Prime Minister’s decisions can literally land in my backyard.

Israel Elections and Getting Kicked Out of my Home

Many years ago, I was living on a wonderful settlement called Karmei Tzur. The Prime Minister at the time, Ehud Barak, was engaged in vigorous peace negotiations with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat. On the table was nearly 100% of the disputed territories within the country. And, of course, this included my very own home.

We moped around the settlement, knowing full well that we were literally a signature away from getting dragged from our homes by the military. And we were overjoyed when talks fell through. Not because our brethren decided it was unfair and cruel for us to leave, mind you. But because Arafat rejected the plan. He wanted more land.

But it was our own leader, elected by our fellow citizens, who was trying to cause us irreparable harm.

Israel Elections and a Shaken Conscious

And, frankly, there are limits to what my conscious could bear. Several years ago, I cast my vote and helped to choose the one to run this great nation. And that leader, Ariel Sharon, would later make the decision to aggressively remove thousands of Jewish people from their homes.

None of us thought it would actually happen.

But it did.

Yes, I’m aware that if I hadn’t cast my vote, Ariel Sharon would have been elected anyway. And of course none of us could have known that this would be the results of his reign in office.

But still.

I was a cog in the wheel. I would watch from afar as people–my people–were forcefully ripped away from everything they had built for decades. And then I would watch further as for the next several years everything that could possibly go wrong went worse than anyone could imagine.

The resettlement of the Gush Katif residents was handled abysmally. And Israel would be attacked repeatedly from areas formerly occupied by Israeli families.

Lamenting Gush Katif

Years ago I spent a Shabbat in one of the Gush Katif settlements. It was a lovely and moving experience. One that I know I will never have again. And it’s all because enough people, like me, voted in that election.

Instead of revisiting Kfar Darom, and walking around through its lovely Gan Hamitzvot, I watched the residents fighting with soldiers. I watched teens who were born in the community fighting with teens who were drafted into the military. They were all young and unaware, and probably still wake up in cold sweats thinking about that miserable week in Jewish History.

The Way to the Top: Crappy Predecessors

And Sharon should have never been elected in the first place. He was able to work his way up to the top of the political ladder solely based on the poor performance of his predecessor, Ehud Barak. Ehud Barak was infamous for an empty threat that empowered five years of relentless violence against the Israeli people, known as the Second Intifada. And he was also known for endless bombings of empty homes that seemed to accomplish nothing, except for perhaps emboldening and multiplying Israel’s enemies.

And how did such a skilled politician find his way into office? His predecessor had made decisions that left him without a political friend in the world, opening the door for just about any opposition to hop into his place. Who was Barak’s predecessor? None other than current Head of State, good ole Bibi Netanyahu.

And Netanyahu had set the stage for this clown to bumble his way through leading Israel by actions that would simultaneously alienate all of his constituents, while not garnering a shred of favor from his opponents. Very much not shrewd political maneuvering on Bibi’s part.

Israel Elections and Good Ole Netanyahu

That being said, I think Bibi learned a lot from his first go as Prime Minister. And perhaps that’s why he’s been able to sink his talons into the position for so long his second time around. In all honesty, I sort of like him as Prime Minister, and I think he’s done a better job than all his recent predecessors (including himself).

Why? It feels like under his leadership, things are never too hot or too cold. Israel continues to vigorously defend itself, yet we’re not on the front page of the popular media on a daily basis. Somehow or other, we’re almost boring in the world’s view. This is in stark contrast to years past where it felt to me like Israel was constantly hovering around the front of the paper, and never in a favorable manner. Netanyahu pisses people off, but rarely so much that they call for his immediate ousting from office.

And, of course, we’re still left wondering how to perceive his illegal and/or immoral actions. This is a question that brings shivers up my spine. I watched closely as half a nation forgave an adulterous Bill Clinton. Why? Because they were able to separate his actions in the sack from his actions in the Oval Office.

Should we have a higher standard in the Holy Land? Should we seek in the Israel elections a candidate we can respect in and out of the office?

And should we cling to the leader with whom we are familiar but discontent? Or should we take chances on a new situation with unknown but potentially catastrophic consequences?

Terrified of Israel Elections

These and so many other questions can confuse and hurt to no end.

So you are wondering if I’m voting in the upcoming Israel elections. My answer: I’m really not sure. If I don’t, it’s because I don’t feel like I have enough information to make a decision I can be proud of. And because I’m afraid of waking up the next morning terrified for what legitimate damage I might cause my nation.

I’m just not sure I can handle that again.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, opinion, personal story, 0 comments

The Shameful Marriage Industry

Marriage Industry

The smoke has cleared.

And I am now blissfully married to my one true love.

Everything was beautiful and we are working hard every day to have the dream life we’ve both always wanted.

But I can’t walk away from the experience without expressing some deep and painful concerns. The marriage industry is out of control, and there are countless aspects I need to speak out against. In this article I’d like to address just two.

The Rabbanut

For generations, the concept of a rabbinic body’s purpose in this world was to help improve the lives of those around them. Sadly, instead the Rabbanut of Israel has become synonymous with greed and inconvenience.

Everyone in Israel is forced by law to get married through the Rabbanut. The process is basically to “prove” that you are Jewish, single, and that you have fulfilled certain wedding requirements based on Jewish law.

I panicked as I entered the process, knowing full well that my divorce might cause problems. So, I called a handful of friends with similar situations and it seemed one of the recurring themes was people leaving the Rabbanut’s office in tears.

In tears!

Seriously.

The Shameful Rabbanut

Your organization should be ashamed. After generations of service to the Jewish world, selflessly giving to communities in a passionate attempt to make the world a better place, you now have reduced yourselves to aggressive harassment of couples in need of help. You have debased yourselves and the field, all in the name of a pathetic and pushy attempt to hold on to power.

And you charge a crap load of money in the process!

What are some of the “services” the Rabbanut does to earn their paycheck? They look over marriage and divorce documentation to make sure people are Jewish and not currently married. And couples send witnesses to them to testify that they are currently single.

The process is invasive, yet shallow. A five year-old could poke holes in their procedure, yet for whatever reason they’re obnoxious enough to send already stressed couples to the street sobbing uncontrollably.

The Incompetent Rabbanut

A great example of the Rabbanut’s silly incompetence was when I was required to go to the Rabbincal court in order to validate my divorce documentation. The office I needed to go to was in a terribly inconvenient location, with just as inconvenient office hours. My ex-wife had already been married with the same documentation in the same city. So I had to miss a great deal of work in order to be charged a large fee for them to essentially just print out a piece of paper, which I then had to deliver to others myself.

Why? All of these things could have been taken care of in minutes in a world with powerful computers and instant email capability. So why would they need to put me through all that? Why would I need to miss work, waste time, and throw money in the trash during an already busy and stressful time in life?

Greed.

And control.

And probably a hefty amount of incompetence.

Rabbi Revisited

Way back when I wrote about how I don’t like to be called “rabbi” anymore. I didn’t expect to have another reason. These people have turned the role into a joke at best; an embarrassment to the entire Jewish world at worst. I would never wish my name associated with such immorality.

Please, for the love of God, check yourselves. Figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing, and find out whether or not you’re causing more harm than good. And then do everything in your power to give the Rabbanut back its good name.

The Marriage Industry Bubble

I fear the marriage industry is a bubble. Alongside of other unsustainable ridiculousness of our generation, such as universities, I don’t see how the marriage industry could continue like this indefinitely.

The industry preys on the fact that everyone not only feels a religious, cultural, or moral obligation to get married, but they feel there are certain standards that must be met. Women need a certain level of fanciness in their wedding gown (or just need a wedding gown). There must be halls and caterers and photographers and a band and on and on and on.

And the industry responds by charging outrageous prices for every last detail with unimaginable hidden fees. And when the smoke clears, and you think you can’t handle the pressure of everything, what happens? Wedding planners swoop in to save the day! And another fee gets tossed into the pile. (Side note: Our planner was great and I’d recommend him fully and completely.)

The Marriage Industry Aggression

First of all, when those getting married are seeking advice, it is wildly inappropriate to use that as an opportunity to just sell us your services. I felt like every time I posted anything online about my engagement party or wedding, a half dozen people sent me messages aggressively trying to get me to use their band or whatever.

I’m asking for advice. I’m under pressure. And just because I mention a wedding, doesn’t mean you need to swarm like vultures and devour me. My joyous occasion should not be your platform for aggressive marketing.

Marriage Industry Alternatives

Second of all, there are alternatives. Many alternatives. People can elope. Or they can just remain together unmarried indefinitely. And on and on. I fear this is the direction we’re headed if prices keep climbing and the industry keeps everything as fantastically stressful as it has so far.

Do we really want to undermine the institution of marriage for our own greed? Or do we want to do what we can to allow people to become wed in relative peace and harmony, without an additional looming threat of financial ruin?

The wrong choice is bad for everyone.

Choose wisely.

A Quick Shout Out

A quick shout out is in order for those who were shining lights in all this craziness.

The flower shop that gave us petals for our flower girls. When you told me they were free, I didn’t believe you. “Free” was not a word I was used to hearing during this process. It seemed like every time I sneezed, someone handed me a tissue and sent me a bill for $50. People, buy their flowers. They deserve it.

To all the friends and family who helped out or offered to help out, it is beyond appreciated. And to anyone who understood that a bride and groom need a lot of space and as little as possible to add to their stress, you are beautiful. Keep up the good work!

As for the rest of the industry, marriage is not an institution meant to be exploited or undermined. Shame on you.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 0 comments

Adulthood and the Evolving Soul

adulthood

Ah, adulthood.

Filled with so many interesting changes. The most profound of which become clearer with each passing year. One of the most fascinating parts of adulthood for me has been watching some of my perspectives switch in ways I never thought imaginable.

I’d like to explore three tremendous ways I’ve changed as I’ve watched the years go by.

1) It’s Not OK to Hurt Others

With less than zero pride I can safely say that I was a bit of a jerk in college. I stepped on more than a few people along the way, and I did so with no fear of consequences.

But times change. People change. Circumstances change.

The concept of “burning bridges” is a forever shifting one in my mind. And it was highly shaped by an incident a few years back. I was sitting in my office and received a message asking me for an evaluation of a former colleague who was interviewing for a job.

So many thoughts flashed through my mind at that moment. This former colleague was in essence a boss of mine. And not a very nice one. In my estimation, he was not great at his job, and in particular I found his attitude toward me to be, well, less than welcoming.

And here I was. I had, to a certain extent, the fate of this man’s job in my hands. Just a few years earlier he was in charge of me, and now in a complete reversal of fate, all I needed to do was squeeze just a little, and I could have a major impact on his future.

Bi-Directional Burning Bridges

Most people don’t realize that the concept of burning bridges is bi-directional. You never know who will become important to you later in life. You never know from whom you’ll need to ask a favor. And when the time comes, you better hope to God you didn’t treat them like garbage.

For the record, I chose not to toss him under the bus. Although I also chose not to sing his praise, which in many ways just might be the same thing.

The primary point is: There is no one you meet in life for whom you should think of as small or insignificant, so much so that you can act with no foreseeable consequences. In the blink of an eye, everything can change, and the person you innocently mocked or gently bullied can hold sway over your life.

There is no such thing as a person to be discounted. It’s not OK to hurt others. And the consequences of doing so can haunt you for the rest of your life.

2) Stirring up Trouble is Not a Virtue

Alongside of such less than prideful aspects of mine in the college days and before was my flair for the dramatic. My drive and excitement about “stirring up trouble”. About creating a ruckus.

Truth and fairness were pushed aside for the sake of creating a visible and shocking presence. And I was good at it. It’s an unfortunate part of adulthood, recognizing that just because you have certain skills does not mean you should use or abuse them at every chance. In some ways, others may have continuously pushed me to use those skills for the wrong reasons. But I take full responsibility for any of my own actions.

On the other side, looking back at so much I’ve said and done, I pray every single day that I can place reason and kindness over such petty things as needing to please others, seeking attention, or “being right”. There is no greater affront to reasonable behavior than the desire to be correct all the time. It is pure hubris and does nothing to make the world a better place or to improve ones own character.

3) A Change in Politics

I think one of my most profound changes as I arrived into adulthood was finding balance in political perspectives.

When I was in college, I was a member of a right-wing Zionist group. It had a very narrow, black and white view of the political scenery in Israel. Which in many ways is easy and comforting. It’s a simpler lifestyle to ignore grey areas and just see the world through one perspective.

But it’s not realistic. And it’s ultimately childish.

Everything became exacerbated by circumstances. I lived in Israel through seven years of an horrific Arab revolt that resulted in countless Israeli deaths, including one of my neighbors. These events just caused anger to boil up inside of me. And this further prevented me from looking at issues with any semblance of nuance.

But a handful of events and circumstances took my viewpoint and threw it to the ground.

a. Teenagers are Teenagers

First was when I was walking along one day with a friend, an Arab who had converted to Judaism. We saw some Arabic graffiti and I asked him what it said. I assumed the worst. Hateful malice. Bloodthirsty, violent rhetoric. But no. Just a teenager professing his love for someone.

And in one simplistic moment, I was reminded that people were people. Politics doesn’t rule their lives any more than it rules my own. It’s just another bunch of humans on the other side of the tracks, who eat, drink, and sleep, just like I do. They are complex and filled with a plethora of emotions.

Just like me.

b. Parents are Parents

A while later I was sitting in the American Consulate in East Jerusalem. An Arab woman kept on staring over at me and my baby with what I could only assume was contempt.

After enduring the piercing glares for quite some time, she finally spoke. She apologized for looking over repeatedly, but she had a child the same age, and couldn’t help but looking over at me with my baby since she just missed hers so much.

So SO easy to misinterpret intentions, and project feelings on to others that aren’t even close to real.

c. Friends are Friends

Finally, I took a job in Kansas where one of my best friends at work was a devout Muslim. We had lovely conversations and an amazing time hanging out.

And it wasn’t until later that I realized he and I had far more in common than either of us had with just about anyone else in the building, which was filled predominantly with practicing Christians.

We had similar dietary needs. Our holidays were more parallel than I had previously understood. And our cultures were remarkably connected.

A few people throughout history created animosity and discord that wasn’t there beforehand and should never have existed, and we in the modern world continue to suffer through the pain of other people’s unnecessary conflicts.

 

May we all be blessed to grow and mature with each passing year. May we be discerning enough to see the folly of our ways. And may we all learn how to live together in peace and harmony.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, opinion, personal story, 0 comments

Tales of Jewish Dating, Part III: Dating Wrong

Jewish Dating Wrong

Dating Wrong

Wrapping up this little series on Jewish Dating, I’d like to discuss some major insights I’ve pieced together.

I don’t have all the answers. Not even close. But 20 years of dealing with dating, marriage, and divorce have taught me a few lessons about what to do. And more importantly, what not to do.

Here are five little gems. Feel free to argue (even if you’re wrong):

Don’t Ooze Desperation

Don’t say yes to every date proposed for you. And don’t hang around with someone you’re pretty sure isn’t at all right for you, hanging on the hopes that maybe things will turn around.

And please don’t run around telling the world you’re looking to get married.

There are two reasons for all of this. First, it creates a lot of pressure on yourself. Nothing good comes from walking around stressed or unhappy. And pushing yourself too hard can result in hasty and/or bad decision making.

But just as important, desperation is unattractive. Confidence pulls people toward you. Knowing what you like, being comfortable with yourself, and standing for what you believe in pulls people toward you. When you ooze desperation, it’s like a nasty aroma that nobody wants to come close to.

Go on dates. But don’t make it the heart of your existence. Dating is something a whole person does with the hopes of sharing their fantastic life with another person. If it’s everything to you, then when it doesn’t work out, you have nothing.

Which leads to my next point.

Being Single is Amazing

Before I got married, I hated being single. I didn’t know how to do it well. Now I have a new problem. I love being single so much, I may have lost the capacity to join someone else into my life. But that’s for another post.

I believe learning how to love being single is a prerequisite for marriage. It might sound peculiar, or even counterintuitive. However, there are three main reasons for this:

a. Those leading a quality single life are more interesting and more desirable. No one wants to date someone dull, nor does anyone want to live a life that’s just about dating. It’s unfulfilling now and most certainly in the long run. You shouldn’t look back and worry about the lost time in your life.

b. A healthy marriage involves the intelligent fusion of two whole individuals. They are wonderful separately, and even more wonderful as a pair. It shouldn’t be that your only contribution to the unit is having agreed to be a part of it.

c. Most importantly: Happiness comes from within, not from a spouse. Fact is, no spouse, no matter how amazing, can determine whether or not you are happy. That is a personal decision. And if you mask true happiness with joy that solely emanates from another person, when you remove that person, you remove the happiness. Your true joy needs to come from you. Learn to love being single. Then open your heart to share your incredible self with another person.

Dating Should Be Fun

Jewish dating isn’t fun. As I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s pragmatic. It’s stressful. There is a tremendous amount of pressure, both external and internal.

It really, truly does not need to be this way.

You want to get married. I get it. That doesn’t mean dating is a chore on the road to accomplishing your goal. Let yourself go. Be loose. Be yourself. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the other person. It doesn’t have to lead to marriage to be enjoyable. You may just have found a new person in your life. Who knows? Maybe they’ll become a good friend or a business connection. Or maybe you’ll just have had a pleasant, memorable evening.

Obviously it takes two people to make that happen. But all communal shifts in attitude begin with one person.

Go at the Same Pace

It’s very important to gauge the temperature of the person you’re with. Some of us have the tendency to go from 0-60 extremely quickly, and we miss the fact that the person we’re with is taking their time.

What happens when this occurs? At first it’s OK. Or at least it feels fine. One party is constantly calling and complimenting and giving small gifts. The other is enjoying the attention, but is not really moving toward any meaningful feelings.

After a certain amount of months, the slower party is either interested in continuing the slow pace, or wants to move on from the relationship; and their pursuer is just a drip away from proposing! With feelings galore, he is in for a rude awakening and about to have his heart severely broken.

Relationships are complex. There are lots of moving parts. And sometimes it’s easy to forget that whereas each and every one of your feelings are entirely valid, so are all of those of the other party. If you ignore them, the end results will not be good. The best way to know what another person is feeling is through open and honest communication. If it’s not there, the relationship is doomed to fail anyway. Get out.

Just make sure you’re on the same page, looking for the same things, and going at a similar pace.

Know when to say yes… and when to call it quits

When do you ask a person to marry you? There’s only one correct answer. No one knows! How great it would be if life were that simple. It would be amazing if we could predict the viability of a relationship with any level of certainty!

But we can’t. We only have what we have.

What’s that? Our hearts, our minds, and our trusted companions.

Problem is, most of us have a tendency to ignore one or more of these three elements, and they’re all essential. More often than not, the heart gets all the attention. We’re left with a brain mindlessly following emotions, without any shred of logic. Without any checks and balances. We can all fall into this trap. And the easiest way to protect ourselves is to be surrounded by people we love and trust, who can help us make thoughtful, intelligent decisions, without fear of consequence.

We might not have all or even anywhere near close to all the answers. But we were born with keen minds and a need for meaningful companionship. We need to use them all when it counts the most.

 

What did you learn from your journey?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, Israel, judaism, 0 comments

Tales of Jewish Dating, Part II: Lessons Learned

wejewish dating

In my last post, I told many stories about the less-than-perfect experience I had with shadchanim and Jewish dating. I’d like to speak about some things I learned from these experiences.

Not All Shadchanim are Created Equal

First, not all shadchanim are made equal. Some really take the time to get to know you. It doesn’t feel like a matchmaking factory, where they’re sending you out constantly, hoping if you go out enough times you’ll hit pay dirt. They actually want to connect people for whom they perceive a logical connection. And their heart is in the right place. Your long-term tranquility and happiness is the center of their concern.

Others… not so much. It’s a numbers game. They toss people out, knowing full well that if you shoot enough times at the target, you’re bound to graze the bullseye a few times. The elephant in the room is that this type of dating is horrendous, with potentially disastrous long-term results. Dating can get very expensive, and it’s really difficult emotionally. Jewish dating in my crazy city is not fun. It’s often a highly pragmatic marriage interrogation. If it works out, great. If not, you have nothing to show for it. Just lost time and money. No new friend or connection. No amazing experience. Just another failed attempt to find “the one”.

And what happens when it does work? What happens when you toss people together enough times and at some point they do get married? Are you creating healthy, long-lasting relationships based on trust, shared values, and quality communication? Or are you just tossing people in the same room and letting the chips fall where they may? And then abandoning these young, ill-fated couples to figure it all out on their own?

I’m sure there are shadchanim out there who are skilled and thorough. And I’m sure there are those who just have a knack for what they do. The others should stop. They’re doing more harm than good, all positive intentions aside.

Interpretation

Another lesson I gained is about terminology. There are phrases I would use to describe myself that I would never use again in front of a shadchan. I consider myself to be extremely open-minded, especially relative to a lot of folk in my immediate vicinity. However, I quickly learned that whereas I mean that I am open to all sorts of different thoughts and ideas, and I’m willing to try many things in life even way outside my comfort zone, the term seem to get misconstrued by shadchanim as “has no standards”.

So, if you want a shadchan who goes through a list of those who as of yet no one wants to date, by all means tell them you’re open-minded. Please be aware: The damage to your self esteem upon seeing the type of people you get set up with could crush your soul.

Jewish Dating, a Bit Too Serious

A final lesson I culled from the Jewish dating process is it saps your will. It could certainly be expensive. It is most definitely time consuming. But more than any of that, the emotional drain is severe. Keep in mind, this is a very serious form of dating. You’ve got two people interacting, both who wanted to be married yesterday. Hell, they want to have three kids by now! There’s no time for letting go and just enjoying the moment.

In fact, the best date I ever went on was, by Jewish dating standards, an absolute failure. We learned very quickly that we had certain values and lifestyle choices that didn’t mesh correctly. Marriage was out of the question, therefore so was continuing to date. However, we were already there and enjoying each other’s company. I recall very little about this young lady. I don’t even remember her name or what she looks like. But I will never forget the hour and a half we sat just chitchatting on a bench in Jerusalem, eating sunflower seeds and spitting shells all over the place (Israel’s simultaneously most revolting and most amazing custom). The conversation was fantastic. All pressure was 100% gone. And we sat there with the ability to enjoy ourselves, without a care in the world.

It’s actually funny. When going on a date in any capacity, the advice everyone always gives you is to be yourself. And yet with this style of dating, it’s so rigid and uncomfortable that being yourself ceases to be a viable option.

What’s next?

And when all the smoke clears, the date usually ends one of two ways: You either continue on the marriage trajectory, zooming your way to a new apartment filled with wall-to-wall children. Or you have nothing. Nothing at all. No friendship has been created, nor do you have a long-term, meaningful connection. No adventurous story has been added to your life. You just move on to the next uncomfortable moment, hoping that this one will be different. And you try to forget this lousy moment, and the time from your life you will never be able to get back.

Again, I’m sure there are those who try and set people up with the finest of intentions, and who are thoughtful and caring about really trying to put two people in the same room who actually should be. And thus quality dates and marriages might result.

That was not my experience.

Nope. I met my wife on a bus. And sure, it didn’t work out in the end. But we hacked 13 years together. Seems better than most this day and age.

And I’d still take a bus over a shadchan any day of the week.

In my next post I’ll talk about some more important lessons I culled from these last insane 20 years.

 

Anything you learned from your experiences?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, Israel, judaism, personal story, 1 comment

Angels in Darkness, the Shining Light of the Israel Experience

 darkness

A Shining Light in a Pool of Darkness

A few weeks ago there was quite a tragic day for Israel. We experienced a rainfall so intense, several teenagers on a school trip were swept up in a flash flood. Ten of those teens did not return.

I want to tell the story of a small, shining light in the darkness of those day’s events.

I also got caught up in the storm. My life was never at risk. I was just extremely uncomfortable and more than a little bored.

Walking back from the grocery store, it started to rain. As the rain intensified, I looked for a place to stay and wait until the rain stopped.

I found myself standing with a small amount of cover next to a closed parking area. I hoped to be there for a short time, but just watched as the rain continuously strengthened over the next half hour.

The street in front of me was flooded and I looked on in awe as around four inches of water smashed its way through the street in front of me, like some miniature white water rapids. I also watched nervously as the water that started off several feet away from me was getting rather close to my feet. At the rate the water was rising, it wouldn’t be long until it was up to my ankles.

I was wet, cold, tired, and bored out of my mind. My phone was almost dead. And I really, really wanted to get home.

No Atheists…

I found myself doing something I rarely do. I prayed. For something–anything–to relive the discomfort and tension of the situation.

And almost immediately someone parked their car across the street from me.

A gentleman got out and insisted I come stay in his home until the rain subsided. I was reluctant, because it’s my nature, but with some heavy insistence, I took him up on his offer.

I needed to leave all my groceries behind, since the only way we were able to safely get to his home made carrying anything impossible. We had to climb up on the side of a wall, push our way through some trees and bushes, and finally trek our way down some stairs that looked like a violent waterfall was pouring over them, just to get inside his front door.

And that’s where I spent the next hour.

I sat, comfortable and warm. They gave me delicious, hot soup and a refreshing drink. They offered me clean, dry socks. For the next chunk of time we chitchatted about anything and everything, and I played with their adorable dog, the whole time forgetting how miserable I should have been.

And when the rain finally cleared up and the coast was clear, they drove me home.

Who were these people?

Now, even a cursory glance at my blog will tell most people that I struggle with my Israel experience. I struggle with appreciating the people and the attitudes and many aspects of the culture. Every day is an adventure where I’m trying so hard to be happy and stress free despite dozens of elements popping in all the time to interfere.

But these two angels, these bright lights in what often feels like a sea of darkness, make me question my view.

You see, they were full-fledged Israelis. We spoke the entire time in Hebrew. They’re not children of immigrants nor itching to get out of the country. No. They are 100% Israelis, and proud of their country and culture.

And despite all of the negativity I’ve expressed about Israel, I think what they did for a perfect stranger was not incidental to their being Israeli, but a product of it.

I’d like to explore three aspects of the Israeli attitude that I think cause folk here to be incredible at just the right moments.

1) Actions matter, words don’t

If you’ve been in Israel and no one has walked into you and not apologized, you haven’t been here long enough. Just wait a few moments. It’s bound to happen.

It took me forever to realize that whereas this drove me crazy, it was completely normal for Israelis. They were not bothered by it. It’s just how they move.

Now, I will forever teach my children to use the pleasantries of life. “Please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” are very important to me. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are objectively of far less importance than the actions to which they are related. Doing someone a favor is more important than the recipient saying “thank you”.

Israelis know this instinctively. In fact, to them the actions are the only parts that matter.

I wanted to shout from the rafters what this amazing couple did for me.

But they just wanted to be good people; my gratefulness was not factored in.

2) They are aggressive… for better or for worse

Israelis are intense, aggressive people. And this goes for their method of kindness alongside their everyday manners when walking down the street.

If an Israeli sees someone struggling to park a car in a tight area, they say, “Get out.” They enter the car, park it, walk off looking angry, and are never heard from again.

The couple that took me into their home wasn’t about to take “no” for an answer. They were doing me a favor, whether or not I liked it or wanted it.

I’ll never forget the TWO times in my life where an Israeli refused to give me directions, because in their opinion it was too far to walk and I should take the bus.

Yes, they were being a giant pain in the ass. But in their estimation they were trying to do me a favor.

Israeli aggressiveness is loaded with faults. But when it works out, it’s amazing!

3) Ultimately they recognize that we are all one big family

Living through an Intifada in Israel taught me an important lesson: Israel is one giant family.

Please understand what I mean by that. Families are often loaded with complications, as is the Israeli population. Older siblings are infamous for tormenting the younger ones. But when push comes to shove, the love between them is palpable. They understand when times are tough, and they understand when they need to band together.

These angels and I may have been perfect strangers, but in their eyes their brother was stranded outside, wet and cold. What self-respecting person would not take their suffering brother into their home?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, opinion, 4 comments

Six Things I Love About Israel

Love about Israel
So… anyone who’s been paying attention for a bit may have noticed I’m a bit harsh in my criticism of Israel. Well, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, recently a friend of mine challenged me to come up with ten things I love about Israel.

I love a good challenge… and this certainly was one. And sadly I wasn’t able to come up with ten, but I think six is a healthy place to start.

Please please give me more ideas. I can’t tell you how much I want to love living here!

1) The Produce

When I arrived in Israel in 1997, there were several types of vegetables I did not like, and some fruits I had nothing interesting to say about.

That was until I took a bite of some of them in the Holy Land. One bite and I realized why I didn’t like the cucumbers and tomatoes in the States. They taste awful! Flavorless at best. The produce in Israel may not look the part. The colors aren’t as vivid. The shapes are often funny. And there are plenty of items not available year round.

But the flavor is off-the-charts incredible. And the prices are uncharacteristically amazing. One of the only things cheaper in Israel.
If you’re here in the fall, try a mango. You won’t regret it. It’s like eating candy. It’s the way they’re supposed to taste!

2) Ease of Religious Lifestyle

My last year in the States was pretty rough, as far as scheduling was concerned. The last two jobs I had were for major corporations, but I was a contracted employee. This had a lot of complications, the biggest being that I was paid hourly and received no paid holidays or vacations. What this meant was the company was closed for every American holiday and I was not paid for those days, and I needed to take off and not get paid for all the Jewish holidays as well.

Every once in a while the same companies would give us free food, food that was very much not kosher. One of the companies had a program where different employees would give a lecture and the company would then give everyone a free lunch. Even when I volunteered to give the lecture, the food was still off limits to me.

I can go on and on about the complications in trying to make it in the professional world out there when you have a whole assortment of religious restrictions. But I’ll leave it as this: One of the biggest advantages to Israel is that the country’s system and schedule is by and large based on Judaism and the Jewish calendar. I’m never rushing home on Friday to make it in time for Shabbat. Nor do I miss out on countless activities because they’re all on Saturday or Friday night. Nope. Things here are designed around my schedule, and I absolutely love it.

3) A Walking Culture

I’m aware there are places in the States where people still walk, but for the most part, it’s a rarity. I grew very accustomed to driving everywhere, even relatively short walks. I even drove to my gym that was a 20 minute walk away. To my gym!

Now the old train tracks in Jerusalem are essentially my backyard. I walk on them about an hour every day, and it’s always filled with people doing the same. I’m a happier person if I avoid cars and buses here. They are stressful and can get quite expensive. And with traffic and a whole lot of other variables, they strip you of control of your schedule.

Not only can I walk to every place I every want to be, but I’m joined by others doing the same. I love living in a culture that encourages and normalizes the best method of transportation ever created.

4) Dealing with the Big Stuff

Years ago I sat next to an American doctor who led a team of medical professionals to Haiti to deal with a humanitarian crisis following a giant earthquake. The team got together, and showed up with pride and joy to save the day… only to find Israel had long ago sent a team that was fully up and running and making the world a better place.

I’ve had enough experience here to avoid doctors’ offices to the best of my ability, but I can’t imagine a place I’d rather be if true tragedy struck. Perhaps Israel became what it is because of necessity, but there’s a reason this tiny nation could mobilize instantly and help another country across the world with seemingly no effort. It’s become a part of the country’s DNA.

When I see something terrible happen here, the first response time is off the charts and the quality of service is second to none. Years ago in Baltimore we rushed my son to the Emergency Room because of a possible broken nose. Six hours later, and $800 poorer, he was admitted so we could indeed find out his nose wasn’t broken. My experience in American Emergency Rooms is they’ve kind of forgotten the definition of the word “emergency”.

I hope I never need first responders or an emergency room… but if I do, I hope I’m in Israel.

5) Freedom of Children

I love that children seem to be released from their parent’s shackles a lot younger in Israel. I mean, they might still end up 30-year old adults who frequently go home for some home-cooked dinner and laundry, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about walking around the streets and seeing young, young kids walking freely, without a care in the world, sometimes picking up groceries for the house or watching their even younger siblings.

It’s kind of like an even better version of what I remember from America in the 80s. Better because it’s even younger. Growing up we went to parks by ourselves and played on old, splintery contraptions, and had the time or lives. All of that has been replaced by boring, plastic monstrosities, and helicopter parents fearing child abduction. Nothing’s actually changed, except attitudes and perspectives.

Kids need freedom to enjoy life and grow into well-adapted adults. A little goes a long way.

6) Hosting Couch Surfers

I haven’t been able to bring all of my hobbies with me from the States to Israel. But of everything that I did bring over, there is one that I’ve certainly made the most of in Israel, and that’s hosting Couch Surfers.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved hosting people in the States. And I certainly loved the people I met. But most people in Kansas City were just passing through, and unfortunately the biggest thing I was providing for them was safe lodging. In Israel I can provide an experience!

I have now taken countless people to see the Western Wall for the first time, showed them all around the city, and given insights into the culture and customs of the country.

Almost everyone who passed through my home in America was from the United States, whereas here I’ve hosted people from over 20 countries. I’m making interesting and incredible connections all over the world.

I’m no one’s first choice to be Jerusalem’s Ambassador, but for these scores of guests who stay in my home, I am committed to making sure their visit to Israel is as incredible as it could be. And watching people fall in love with Jerusalem makes me like it here a lot more as well.

 

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