Monday, January 31, 2011

From Homeland to Hometown: Assessing the Impact

This is the first time I've even attempted to write about the life-altering experience that was my Taglit Birthright trip to Israel. It seems so cliche, doesn't it? To say that it was life-altering. That's what everyone says! And what does that even mean? What changes have I made? Am I someone different? The truth is that I came home & felt much the same, despite promises to myself that post-Israel Kate would be a new & better woman. Yet here I am, doing all the same things & making all the same decisions.

But still, I feel different, in ways I can't yet comprehend or explain. When I think about it or try to put it to words, I'm overcome by emotion & stopped short. The words will come - they always do - but for now, it's just a feeling, a feeling that I am not the same was I was before, even if, for practical purposes, I am.

I climbed Masada at sunrise. I rode a camel in the Negev. I walked the streets where Roman carriages once traveled. I stared up at the stars from the middle of a desert. I slept in a Bedouin tent with four dozen strangers. I looked out over the Gaza Strip & into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I ate falafel stuffed with french fries. I toured a seaside cemetery in the dark. I visited the Supreme Court of Justice, where Israeli law is decided. I floated in the Dead Sea covered in mud. I played in a waterfall. I ate Yemeni food in the Kabbalah capital. I partied hard in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I fell in love with 50 strangers.

Everyone I know said I was going on the trip too late, that I should have visited Israel long ago. And while I don't believe that things happen for a reason, I do believe that there's always a lesson to be learned. In this case, I may have gone too late, but it turned out to be precisely the right time: I needed to visited Israel with these people, my beshert, my homeland soulmates. Together, we took the trip of a lifetime & turned it into the experience of a lifetime.

We are all changed, & I bet that most of us can't tell you how. But we are. Changed & thankful.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Heart is in the East & I am at the Edge of the West

By the time you read this post, I will be on my way to Israel for the very first time.

I have no other posts scheduled to go up in my absence. I'm taking my cell phone, but I don't expect to make calls. There are out-of-office messages set up on both my Gmail and my work email. I will only tweet when and if I have free wi-fi at any of the hotels I'll be staying at. I'll be back at the end of January, at which time I expect to be exhausted and jet-lagged and massively happy.

My Israel trip by the numbers looks something like this: I'm taking five pairs of pants, six t-shirts, two jackets, three dresses, 12 pairs of socks, 14 pairs of underwear, three bras, four sports bras, one bathing suit, two purses&  about a million assorted toiletries. I am taking one magazine and no books & 10 granola bars. The memory card on my camera is empty, & my travel credit card has been loaded up with a couple hundred dollars with which I plan to purchase lots of falafel & assorted souvenir tchotchkes. Five people, including three non-Jewish friends, have given me dollar bills to donate to tzedakah, or charity, when I reach "The Land," & just as many friends have sent me texts & emails telling me to have a good time. Last night, one stranger told me not to get bombed (thanks, man).

I’m less focused on the numbers, though, than I am about the emotions, which are innumerable. I've spent about 15 of my 26 years struggling internally with my feelings about and connections to Israel. Do I care? Should I care? Do I have to care? And how do I figure out whether I care & what I care about? Whew.

I was born to a Jewish mother and an agnostic Presbyterian father. I grew up celebrating Christmas but never attending church, sometimes skipping Friday night football games with my overwhelmingly Christian friends to go to synagogue with my mother; when I sent out my bat mitzvah invitations, I begged my mom to let me include the line "Kate's 13th Birthday Party!" just so my friends' parents would know what bat mitzvah meant. I was one of three Jewish students at a high school of nearly 2,000, the only one who I refused to sing a song titled "Beautiful Savior" at my commencement ceremony with the a cappella choir – even going so far as to ensure that the song was banned from future events at my public high school.

But when I made my way to D.C. to work for a Jewish nonprofit after college, I found I knew none of the Hebrew or the hymns or the traditions my community held so dear. I was frequently confused & frustrated, particularly when someone joked that I was “practically Lutheran” for all my (lack of) knowledge of Judaism. Regardless, I somehow found the Jewish friends I'd gone my whole life without – and I have since learned the words and the ways & embraced both sides of my life in equal parts, proud to be a part of them each. I have come to love my Jewish identity as much as I love every other aspect of my identity; I now know I am Jewish not just by birth but by spirit.

Still, I never figured out one very important part of my Jewish identity: What does Israel mean to this girl of such a varied background? Does it have to mean anything except a pretty place to visit? Can I connect with a country whose values so frequently fail to align with my own? Will being there, standing in a place of ancient significant & modern day politics, change things for me? For so long, I have maintained that I can, indeed, be a committed, educated Jew without having been to Israel, without feeling particularly connected to Israel; on this point, I have remained stubborn to the point of obstinacy. But it's been too long. The questions won't go away, so it's time to be true to myself by giving myself the opportunity to answer them. There are so many questions, but they all boil down to this one: What does Israel mean to me?

By the time you read this, I'll be somewhere high over the Atlantic, ready to find out.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Boots With ALL OF THE FUR

My best friend & her husband have a dog named Buster. Buster's a schnauzer, a cute little guy with an old man face & a permanent beard. See? Meet Buster:


Yesterday night, I was reminded of Buster in the worst way possible - when I saw a woman wearing a pair of boots that appeared to be made out of him. She was pretty; she seemed otherwise sane, dressed in leggings-as-pants (I won't even get into that) & a weird-but-still-bizarrely-trendy menswear vest. But THE BOOTS. My God, I couldn't tear my eyes away from the boots. It was like she skinned two Busters & put one on each foot.

I tried to stealthily follow her to grab a photo, but I wasn't tricky enough, not like I was with the Wolf Lady. I was really disappointed that I missed an opportunity to show you these monstrosities - & then I woke up to this tweet from Arielle:


It's a pride parade version of the Buster boots! What is wrong with everyone? Dogs are not for wearing. But I guess this chick at Target didn't get the memo, either, because she's wearing a crimped miniature poodle version:


I'm firmly not of the Petco-on-my-feet genre of fashion. To give you a feel for the sort of boots I'm into, here are the three pairs I currently own, none of them involving the use of dogs as snow apparel:

Though I've been known to criticize other people's boot choices (sorry, Alana), I am usually of the "To each her own" state of mind. But I have to draw the line somewhere, ladies. There are so many boot options that don't involve wearing stuffed animals on your feet - in other words, so many boot options that I will not make fun of. Go crazy on Zappos. Better yet, save your money & enter to win a pair of Whooga Uggs, if Uggs are your thing, or if warmth is (PS: discount code 1343SWEET for 10% off for the next week). And I will even admit to secretly liking these boots, which I realize look a little bit like Pocahontas & a cowgirl teamed up to design footwear while smoking crack out of a peace pipe:


That's right, I wouldn't make fun of these. Too much. But the puppies? Are for the petting. Not for the wearing.

Hungry Like This Woman's Jacket


The front of this masterpiece featured two fleece wolves howling at one another. From atop her breasts.

Oh, Midwest, you continue to surprise & delight me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gamechangers, Part the Second

Last month, I told you about my (then-)favorites. I'm still obsessed with most of them, but a few new loves have crept onto the scene. They are:
  • Sharpie pens
    I've been trying to write with a fine-tipped Sharpie for months now, thinking they were the Sharpie pens I'd heard rumblings of. My grandma set me straight: "That's just a Sharpie!" she admonished. Correctly. And now that I've found the actual Sharpie pens, I shall never - no, not ever - return to my old seeping-through-the-paper ways, nor to any of my equally shameful ballpointed or retractable ways of the past.

  • Merona Brushed Lined Tights (no link available - sadface)
    In this case, "brushed" means "fleece." Taking into account the fact that it is 13 degrees here in Northeast Ohio, you can imagine how well fleece-lined tights go over in my neck of the suburban woods. Which is to say that they go over smashingly. Never so smashingly that I pose as sexily as the leg model to the right, but smashingly nonetheless.

  • Personalized stationery
    You'll notice there are two links there, not just one, because that's how many sets of personalized stationery I've ordered from Etsy in the last month. I'm on a mission to send at least 200 snail mail letters to friends & family, so I'm always on the lookout for pretty paper. Because I am decidedly more vain than I ever realized, I now require that all my stationery be emblazoned with my moniker. OK, fine, not all. But... well, it does make me feel pretty swanky. 

  • My Assassin Necklace
    This is a shameful, self-promotional plug, but it's also true. I've worn this necklace, of my own creation, for the past two weeks straight; I duplicated it to sell in my shop because I couldn't bear to part with the original. Making my own jewelry is cool because it means I don't wear jewelry that I think sucks. Actually, I shouldn't do that anyway...

  • Archer Farms Sweet Cajun trail mix
    I wish I knew how to quit you, Sweet Cajun trail mix. At $3 a bag, you are entirely too expensive, not too mention entirely too fattening. But somehow, your confusingly successful combination of butter toffee peanuts, spicy peanuts, toasted corn, honey sesame sticks, Cajun sesame sticks & almonds is one of the best things that's ever happened to my mouth. And I don't use that compliment lightly.

I like to keep it thrilling, can you tell? Last month, it was toothpaste & dress pants that feel like pajamas; this month, office supplies & snacks that involve candied peanuts. Hoooo-boy! Someone should make a movie of my fast-paced life, I know.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    In Which I Channel Lil Wayne

    The village that borders my hometown is a notorious speed trap. At first, the limit on the main roadway was a paltry 25, which was almost impossible to abide. When I returned from D.C., I was pleased to see it'd been upped to 35.

    Tonight, doin' a buck in the latest drop, I got stopped by a ladycop.

    OK, that's not entirely true, that's a Lil Wayne lyric. I was only going 45ish, not a buck (which I assume means 100, but I don't speak Weezy). Once I pulled over, I had no idea what to do because I haven't been pulled over since I was 19, in broad daylight on a scenic overpass on my drive home from finals.

    My thought process went as follows: Shitshitshit, I can't afford a ticket. I can't even afford gas & groceries! Do I leave the car on? Maybe the officer will think I'm gonna flee the scene. Turn the car off! No, now I look really sketchy, all sitting here in blackness. And what if passersby can't see me & swerve into me & kill me? Also, I'm cold. Turn the car back on! Oh! Do I even have proof of insurance? What does proof of insurance look like?! How do people avoid being ticketed? I should start crying, like, 20 seconds ago.

    The cop approached me as I rifled through my glove box, & although seated, I jumped about a foot. From there, the rest of my thought process went as follows: A ladycop?! Shitshitshit, now tears definitely won't work. Wait, wait, wait. Why am I thinking so straight? I dunno about this ladycop's preferences. Maybe tears will work after all!

    Alas, I could not muster tears, despite my habit of crying at inopportune times. Now, I guess, I can't cry at opportune times, which just figures. The policewoman proceeded to tell me not that I was driving with reckless abandon but rather that I was driving with my headlights off. I was truly & honestly baffled.

    "I was?" I asked dumbly.

    "Well," she answered, "They're on now. Did you turn the car off & back on?" And then I had to admit that yes, I did, because I didn't know what to do when I got pulled over, like some teenage first-timer.

    "I hadn't really driven for the last three years," I admitted nervously, which I quickly realized sounds like I'd had a suspended license or done time in lock-up or, you know, something Lil Wayne-esque. "I meannn, I lived in a city. I used public transportation. I didn't have a car. You know." Great, I am now rambling like a nervous maniac with a coke habit & maybe a facial tic.

    The cop proceeded to show me the difference between my parking lights & my headlights. She let me go without a ticket - just a written warning & a severe loss of dignity.

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Stereotypes, Sauce & Sassy Jewelry

    I love grocery shopping, & I really love pasta. How serendipitous, then, that the pasta sauce coupons I won  from Black Pearls & Bitch Boots they arrived on grocery day. Coupons in hand, I headed to my local store with my trust shopping list (written by my mom because I'm still 15 for the time being) & eventually made my way to the pasta sauce aisle, in all its tomatoey glory. I should mention that I only recently began to like tomatoes. Or pasta sauce.

    ANYWAY. I once had a boss who looked a great deal like Paul Newman, but he didn't like being told this. I'm not sure why, though, because frankly, Paul Newman was a fairly attractive dude, even in his later years. Now, though, PNew is dead & all commemorated in illustrative form on salad dressing packets & tomato sauce jars.

    This one caught my eye first. Paul looks normal, sure, or as normal as a smiley cartoon dead guy can look while staring out at you from a glass jar of sauce. Mostly, I was confused by the name of this particular Newman's Own product. Sockarooni? This sounds like something that a big, overenthusiastic, sweaty guy yells at his kids' soccer matches: "GO GET 'IM, TYLER! GOALLLL! SOCKKKKEROONI!" But apparently it's just "peppers, spices, & the whole shebang," or so say the folks at Newman's Own.

    And then I noticed that some of the other sauces, while less amusingly named, feature Paul looking quite dapper in a variety of "ethnic" (is that racist?) hats. And actually, my question is this: Is that racist? Or xenophobic? Or awkward? Or any of those things? I've never met a joyful, pasta-eating Russian in an ushanka, nor a smiley, sauce-swilling Frenchman with a pencil mustache & a wine-colored  beret. But that's just me. Admittedly, I probably don't know international pasta consumers as well as the folks at Newman's Own do.

    But the most bizarre of all, I think, is also the least explicable. Because really, I get why Newman's Own thought the Russian Paul should be in a furry cap & Paul-the-Frenchman should be all, well, Frenchy-looking, even if it's mildly offensive. But what, pray tell, is the illustrative logic behind the labeling on their Tomato & Basil Bombolina sauce?
     

    Are you unsure? Good, because I'm not sure, either. From what I can tell, those are the bejweled hands of an unidentified woman holding Paul Newman's disembodied head over a vegetable garden. I'm still not sure how this relates to tomatoes, basil, pasta, sauce, or any combination thereof. Are Italians famous for toting happy heads around in their well-manicured hands? Is this a mobster reference with a play on pasta sauce? Is there a "Godfather" joke in here someplace?

    I'm going to leave you to ponder that. But I'm also going to leave you to ponder this baffling piece or "artwork" (I use that term loosely) spotted at my local Panera. Listen, I'm as Jewish as the next bagel-eating Jewish gal, but this necklace & earrings set is too much even for me.

    ...I have so many questions.

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    I've Got Big, Big Plans...

    OK, so they're not that big. That's just a Starting Line lyric I like from 2007, which was approximately forever ago. Anyway, you know the drill:

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Top 10 Lies "Newsies" Told Me

    I was 8 years old when "Newsies" came out, & though I never saw it in theatres (apparently no one did, as it's Disney's highest-costing, lowest-grossing film on record), I watched it religiously every time it came on TV. My dad hit the record button a few minutes late one day, so I spent years clueless about the prologue & the first two scenes.

    But I know every single word. I even know words you can't hear, like the line "Jackie just got laid" in the background of a scene where the newsies are buying papes, & I know there's an extra verse to "Carryin' the Banner" that appears on the soundtrack but not in the film. I know that the actor who spun off the ceiling fan at the end of "King of New York" died of AIDS & that the actor who played Les went on to do softcore porn. Also, I think "Newsies" inspired me to become a journalist (which obviously worked out very well for me).


    Admittedly, though, "Newsies" didn't teach me the greatest of life lessons. Had I taken too much of this movie to heart, I would believe all of the following:

    1. Ceiling fans will support your body weight.
    2. When engaging in activism to bring about social justice, you've only succeeded when a marching band takes to the streets for your cause & the president-elect gives you a ride to the bus stop.
    3. Your parents will approve of your dating a homeless criminal so long as his illegal shenanigans benefit your family in a time of financial hardship.
    4. Homelessness can be fun! Wheee, dancing!
    5. Even though you ain't got hats or badges, you're a union just by sayin' so.
    6. If you escape from juvy & use brass knuckles on bullies, not only will you not get in trouble, you may find yourself becoming close, personal friends with a president-to-be.
    7. It's OK to steal a horse as long as it's for the purpose of a dramatic dance interlude.
    8. Trust guys who say they've got a hot tip on a horse that won't waste your money. Even if they wasted your money last time. And the time before that.
    9. Slingshots are a legitimate weapon.
    10. Journalism is a reputable career choice.

    In fairness, though, "Newsies" also taught me a few legitimate lessons. For example: For a dreamer, night's the only time of day. And all the coolest kids live in Brooklyn.
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