Sunday, June 29, 2014

Courtesy of: SnapKnot

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Zionist Dream

Hiya Folks,

I awoke this morning remembering my dream, which is fairly rare for me. Last night I dreamt of the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. I dreamt of it with such a high water level that it was barely recognizable as the sea I know and love. It was nearly a stormy ocean, with waves crashing against the rocks. There was even a little island in the sea, and interesting animals came out to enjoy the water, including hippopotamuses, deer and body-less moose (I guess that's where the dream got kind of ... dreamy).

For those that don't know, the water level of the Kinneret is terribly low. There was a red line that it dropped below years ago, so logically they lowered the red line. Now it is below that red line, too. It is also just a sad sight to see. I now spend many days on a Kibbutz on the Kinneret and see its sorrowful state on a daily basis. There is an old dock on the Kibbutz with old rusty stairs that lead down to nowhere in particular, many meters above the water level. It is a vivid portrayal of how far we are from the sea's much fuller past.

The level of the Kinneret is something that every Israeli thinks about, because there is little fresh water in this itty bitty desert that around 10 million people are sharing. When it rains in Israel, religiously speaking, it is a blessing, as it is something that is prayed for all winter long in order to water our crops. But religion aside, when it rains, even when it's gross and cold outside and you are caught in it and soaked, everyone is still a little happy that it is raining because it means more water for the Kinneret.

The Kinneret is also just a beautiful landmark in Israel. It played an important role for the Zionist pioneers who built the first Kibbutzim near its shores. Its beauty is remarkable, the stuff of much Israeli poetry.

So, all these things considered, I was really happy to have woken up with this dream in my mind. I felt like a real Israeli, like a real Zionist.

And in only 4 months!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Made It!

Hello One and All,

I made it to Israel! I had quite a harrowing journey, including getting to the airport on the 21st only to find I didn't actually have a ticket booked and actually leaving the 22nd. It was awful. I cried. I don't want to talk about it right now.

Now it is Shabbat, a peaceful quiet time in Israel, time when I can reflect on things that have happened over the last week. I'll take this time to reflect on some of my early observations of life here in Israel:

When I arrived, I walked through the doors of customs out to the waiting area where I knew a group of friends would be waiting to greet me with cheers and hugs and well-wishes. The first person who got to me was my Mom who gave me a big hug and a kiss to which all my friends responded with a collective, "Awww!" Then I got the rounds of hugs from friends which was so wonderful.

There were about 15 people there to greet me, which was amazing. Little did I know, had I arrived when I was supposed to (you'll recall I left a day late...) there would have perhaps more than twice that many people. One person told me it was good that I arrived late because I would have set some sort of record and made other new immigrants jealous. Still, every little while I see someone or get a call and the first thing everyone says to me is that they are sorry they couldn't make it the airport. It was a very supportive first day!

The next thing that happened was a party at my new house. It was SO fun! There were so many people there I was so happy to see! I also got to meet our partners in crime, the other Ramat Gan kvutsa, the Shbrits (Spanish and British). I knew two of them already, but meeting the other three was fantastic. They are so sweet. One of them in particular was interesting, and she is Tash. Here is the Tash story:

Around January, Habonim Dror was sent into a crazy debacle as two important parties in Israel began to fight with one another (a necessarily perfunctory explanation). In order to deal with the complex situation, we in North America decided to start colluding with our British brethren. We had many phone conversations with them and, importantly to this story, new facebook friends were made. I made friends with one girl in particular who worked there, Tash. We started messaging back and forth and inexplicably our conversations became deep and intimate very fast. We just seemed to speak the same language. It was wonderful. So for about ten months we were in regular contact and talking about our lives, love, sadness, happiness, and other intense things. I met her in person on Thursday night. It was so great to see her, but it was also clear that there was a bit of awkwardness as we both were evaluating the transition from virtual facebook friends to real life flesh friends. We chatted a bit on and off during the party, but it wasn't until the night was winding down that we found ourselves sitting in comfy chairs with each other in a relatively quiet corner. We began talking and all of a sudden it clicked and the transition happened quite fluidly. We talked about our excitements and our fears about everything in Israel (she also just moved here in August). Afterwards we verbally acknowledged how good it felt to know that it wasn't a fake fleeting facebook thing we had.

The next day I went with some of my kvutsa-mates and some of the Shbrits to the park to play some frisbee. This was awesome because it isn't cold here and we can go to the park and play frisbee! Yeah! Unfortunately, during this frisbee game, one of my kvutsa-mates met up with her boyfriend for an ominous discussion and came out of the comversation no longer in a relationship. This was very sad. We all got home and everyone was in the house getting ready for Shabbat dinner. She was clearly distressed by the break-up, and one of my kvutsa-mates prodded her with a simple, "Spill the beans." Then she did! She just opened up, and talked about what happened and we talked with her and supported her all together.

Here is why this is amazing for me: In my previous situation, if something big happened to one of us, the immediate response was not for everyone to sit together, but rather for that one person to turn to just one other kvutsa-mate. Only later, perhaps weeks later, when we had scheduled all-together time would it come out into the open, and then it was only really a report, not an opportunity for us to support that person. This had many reasons for happeneing, but all in all I think it was not so good for group dynamics, as some people were just never turned to and some people were always turned to. Now that I've experienced the alternative, a collective support network, I can confidently say that it is much more rewarding overall. If you used to live with me in Brooklyn and are looking for more information on this, contact me directly.

Now it is Shabbat. I am in a cute coffee shop in Tel-Aviv with Naomi and Nadav, and you know what?

I am happy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Speech Therapy

Hiya Blog Fans,

Today was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I was asked by my synagogue to deliver a speech about why I love Israel as a precursor to an appeal for people to invest in Israel Bonds. I agreed to do this speech and saw it as a great opportunity to spread my ideals of Judaism and Zionism to a very different crowd.

The past two years I have been the Mazkir Tnua of Habonim Dror North America. In those two years I had myriad opportunities to deliver speeches on Zionism to lots of different sorts of crowds. I realized, or perhaps simply this became the case from practice, that I am pretty good at it. I strike the right balance between informal jokey self-deprication and hifalutin idealism.

Over the course of about a week I crafted this speech. I was kind of nervous because this was a conservative synagogue I was talking to. This was not my movement, who shared my ideals, or a Jewish Agency Task Force, where at least we share the same goals and there is a shared vocabulary. A synagogue, a conservative one, is an institution based on religion - something I'm not so keen on - and explicitly propagates a Diaspora mentality, not to mention that Conservative Judaism is kind of...well...conservative. (Please forgive me if this post has already gone above some of my reader's heads...I'll bring it back down in a minute)

By yesterday I was satisfied with it, I ran it by my Mom and my hairdresser/friend Tommy and they both liked it a lot. I was not afraid in my speech to mention Zionism, to talk about Habonim Dror and my ideals, to be bold and idealistic.

I arrived at synagogue and I was a little nervous. I had given plenty of speeches before, but my largest audience until then was perhaps around 180 people. This sanctuary had upwards of 300 people in it, perhaps more...I suck at estimating crowd sizes, could've been 20 people for all I know. I got up on the Bima as my name was announced and began my speech. I spoke slowly and enunciated. I made eye contact with the crowd and swept my gaze across the entire room. I emoted. I was pretty happy with my delivery, frankly.

Afterwards my mouth and throat were both very dry and was nothing I could do about it because of stupid Yom Kippur and stupid fasting.

As the rest of the morning and afternoon progressed at synagogue, I did my normal routine of wandering around to while the time away. During this whiling, I was shocked to find many many people approaching me to tell me how much they liked my speech. Some of them were your garden variety, "Hey, Good Job" or "Yasher Koach" (for all my Jews out there). Some of them were pretty nice praise like "It struck just the right tone" or "It was perfectly put together". And two people went so far as to say, "It was the best speech I have ever heard delivered in synagogue!" I was humbled.

It felt good. It made me feel good about my decision - that is, my decision to move to Israel. It made me feel validated. It made me feel like I know how to talk about what I believe in a way that touches anyone and everyone. I was pretty proud of myself. It felt good.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Family Ties ft. Alex P. Keaton


I've been out of New York now for six days. I am currently in San Francisco. In the time I've spent away, I've mostly been with my family. That was the main goal of this trip, to visit my family all in one fell swoop. In some sense, it is strange that I would pack visiting my family into one short trip before I leave the country in a forever-ish way, but it really just speaks to the issue that I am not very close with my family.

Moving away has really made me think about this issue a lot. I've never been close to my family. I don't really have a sense of what makes my particular family important to me. I understand we share the same blood, but I don't have a strong sense of having shared experiences. I feel like my family doesn't really know me at all, actually. I've never felt like I could talk to anyone in my family, and I still don't confide in any of them for anything serious. Here is a little anecdote: the day I broke up with Lindsey (I know I said I wouldn't talk about this...), the only reason I even bothered to tell my parents - by email - was that she had a plane ticket to DC for Thanksgiving that my parents bought for her and I didn't want my parents to not be able to cancel it.

So when people ask me how my family feels about me leaving, the answer is, "I don't really know." When I told my parents about my decision they took a pretty hands off approach and just said, "OK, we support you." I, frankly, was appreciative of this, because it is better to accept that we are distant than to meddle in my affairs when they have no place in my life. That may sound harsh, but I truly feel that way. When you've spent your whole life without your parents there for you in the way you want, you kind of resent it when they think they can tell you what to do. You gotta give to get, right?

With my brothers it is a similar story. I've never been close to my brothers. One is 5 years older than me and the other nearly 10. We spent very little childhood with one another and never were in school together. It's nice that they both live out in San Francisco so I can visit them together and not have to make two separate trips. My brothers in recent years have clearly made more of an effort to try and get close to me, which I've been at times warm to and at times cold. Everything feels fake when it has taken this long for people to try and be close to me. My brothers are nice, and we have fun together, but I couldn't tell you how either of them feels in the slightest about me moving. When people ask, I usually just make something up that is sufficiently vague.

The big question is: Am I happy with things the way they are? Yes and no. I obviously realize that things could be better. This is not an ideal family situation. But frankly, I don't break down and cry when I think about it. I make it work. And I don't really need it to change. I've created my own family structures in my life, like the kvutsa I live in. And the movement in Israel is such a supportive social network. I am comfortable and happy with the structures I've intentionally created for myself.

At the dinner table with my Mom and Dad a couple days ago, my Mom started to get sad thinking about me leaving. She was worried about me. "What if he needs us? He'll be so far away!" My dad laughed and replied, "Yeah, like he's really leaned on us so much for the last two years." Which is the truth of it. I don't depend on my parents, so I'm not sad about leaving them. And frankly my Mom is in Israel almost six months out of the year. In the six years since I moved away for college, my parents have visited me less times than I can count on one hand. I'm sure I'll end up seeing my Mom MORE once I'm in the Tel-Aviv area, where she also has an apartment.

So that's my family situation. It ain't pretty, but it works. Or it doesn't. Who the hell knows?

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Bags are Packed and I'm Ready to Go

Shalom Chaverim,

Over this past weekend I packed up all my belongings. It's a funny thing, moving. I always imagine I don't own a lot and for some reason take a weird sort of pride in this fact. Perhaps I like to think of myself as able to pick up and leave on a moment's notice, or perhaps it is some Buddhist concept of detachment from the material world. Whatever it is, I always end up realizing that I am much more of a packrat than I thought.

But ironically this also ends up being a good thing in the end. I find lots of old things that I forgot existed that I associate with memories long past. Yesterday I found a picture Brent drew of me on a placemat. It is a caricature to be sure, with a cartoonish nose and a clown's lips, but damn it all if every person I show it to thinks it looks just like me. I also found an old comic strip Dan and I made for the McGill Daily. It was utterly ridiculous, but hey, I'm a published comic artist! I find old remnants of my relationship with Lindsey, I find pictures of my time in Japan, I find edible undies (for real!), I find pieces of me that make me who I am.

But I can't keep all this stuff. It is simply too much. So I have to painfully go through each little memory and decide how important it is to me. Placing value judgments on memories sucks. I threw away Brent's pic, but I kept the comic strip. I threw away the edible undies (they were expired anyway), but kept the pictures of Japan.

It is strange that I am still living this transient lifestyle. I haven't lived in the same abode for more than 2 years since leaving home when I was 17. I've moved between countries several times, too. I moved to Israel after high school, then Maryland, then Montreal, then NYC and now back to Israel. A funny little circle. When, though, do I settle down? When do a finally call a place home? I want to be a part of Israeli society, but I don't even know how to do that, what with my crazy nomadic life.

Or maybe the thing I want to muse on in this post is how memories are carried in life. I always am amazed at how much I can forget in life. I look at one thing - a picture, a postcard, a button, a little slip of paper - and all of a sudden it's like someone turned on a light, or like when you walk into a previously unseen room in a dungeon crawling game and the whole thing becomes unlit on your map. Every time I choose to throw something away, am I forever sealing off that room from my memory? That is a frightening thought.

Anyway, for the next ten days I'll be out of NYC for the holidays. I'll be visiting home and San Francisco to take care of seeing all my family in one fell swoop. Plus, I'll get to see old friends from the DC area and say my goodbyes to them, too. I don't know if being away will provide more or less opportunities to post, but I'll do my best. Thanks for starting to read again, readers. And to the n00bs, welcome!

Shana Tova!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This Post Is Not Scripted

Yo Peeps,

Last night I did another subway show with Epione. It was successful and we had a huge crowd. Doing improv in New York has been a wonderful creative outlet for me and I am so grateful for what Epione has given me. But this past weekend I went to Montreal for a goodbye visit. As much as I did and experienced in my four years in Montreal, the thing that sticks with me, that had the greatest lasting impact, is improv.

I started doing improv when I began attending the University of Maryland. I knew I liked theater and I liked to be funny, so I auditioned for the sketch troupe, Sketchup, and the improv troupe, Erasable, Inc. I had no real experience in either field; I had only done basic stage productions in high school. I just trusted my instincts and went for it. My level was so poor, in the first scene of the first round of auditions for Erasable, Inc. I was birdwatching with a friend. She handed me the binoculars and said, "Look a bird!", and I took them and said, "There's no bird!" The troupe member watching immediately told me that in improv you don't block ideas. I ended up getting called back for both troupes (God only knows how!) and in the end Erasable, Inc. accepted me. I learned fast, I loved it, I performed a lot, I realized I was pretty good at this thing.

Then I moved to Montreal. I joined McGill Improv. My very first workshop was an Omega Workshop, for advanced improvisers, led by Marc D. Rowland and also attended by a couple fellows named Sean Michaels and Daniel Peter Patrick Beirne. This was wonderful foreshadowing. I had a blast in McGill Improv, making friends fast, getting to perform silly games with people, leading workshops, eating lunch and playing board games. I even got together a few friends (including aforementioned Sean and Dan!) and started a shortlived side troupe, Sparkletime Jazz. But after a couple years of McGill Improv, I was feeling down about my improvising. I felt like I had not only plateaued, but I had worsened! I was lamenting this to my friends in Without Annette when they all began to surreptitiously eye one another. I asked why they were doing that and they revealed the big secret: there was a new improv theater in town!

It was called Theatre Ste Catherine - named after the dirty hooker filled street it resides upon. I was intrigued so I checked it out. The workshops were run by a scraggly looking fellow named Eric Amber, Jr. He was some dude from Calgary who moved out here and built a theatre. His classes were...rough. He had a harsh teaching style that could easily make a man feel stupid. Well, after four years of improvising, I wasn't about to let him tell me what improv was. I was annoyed, frustrated, and angered by his improv teaching. I found being "directed" to interrupt the flow of a scene. But I stuck to it, with no other choice. After about a month, I was hooked. And I don't mean by a hooker on the street, I mean I liked the improv there.

I began to really improve in this new Johnstone-ian improv style. I loved the platform, the tilt, the narrative structure. The theatre began running a show every Sunday that anyone from the workshops could participate in and I did well in those shows, too! I became a regular, a known face, that fun guy everyone knows. In retrospect, I was a pretty early entrant into the theatre, watching now famous regulars first arrive and witnessing their painful bootstrapping process. I was becoming a top performer in the Anglo Montreal improv scene! The next year I was invited to join Without Annette, which was such a great honor. At the beginning of my last year in Montreal, I was performing or workshopping improv most days of the week. Slowly, my entire social network began to coalesce around improv.

Eventually I had to make a life choice about what to do after graduating. Improv was up there as a real choice - giving up everything and pursuing the improv career. Also up there was becoming the Mazkir of Habonim Dror North America (You can read about these decisions in my blog!). In the end, my values pulled me to New York to work for the movement and improv took a back seat. I still visited Montreal and performed on weekends that I was there, but as time went by, I could feel my skills deteriorating.

When I visited Montreal this past weekend, I was excited to perform at the theater once again, to try and relive my former glory in the slightest bit after a pitiful performance a few months back. But what struck me in my time in Montreal was not my performance (although it was pretty great), it was all my friends' performance. And not just on Sunday, but every day! In the years since I'd left Montreal, my old improv friends had become real comedic actors! I watched their improvised sitcom, The Bitter End, I saw them on the big screen in "Who Is KK Downey?", I watched them run private workshops, I saw them be the stars of the theater! They were really making it! I was so happy for them, I am so happy for them.

But here is the rub: that could've been me! Remember that big choice I made a couple paragraphs ago? What if I had stayed in Montreal and kept performing? Would that be me on the stage, on the screen, on TV? It is a weird feeling to watch an alternate reality. I could almost see a ghost image of me on stage with them, goofing around and making people laugh. I'm not jealous, because I am very happy with where I am in life right now (although scared and nervous). But seeing my best friends succeed, watching them turn Montreal into a true hotbed of cutting edge improvised comedy, was an amazing shock to me.

Now I am moving to Israel, where improv barely exists. I don't speak Hebrew well enough to try and join anything, and I have no idea if my schedule would even allow it. This once prominent part of my identity is falling even further away from me. I left Montreal, I'm leaving Epione, am I leaving improv? Is that part of the larger choice I've made? It's a scary thought. I love improv, I love how it makes me feel, I love making people laugh, I love being creative, I love performing. That's a lot of love to lose!

The only advice I have for myself is to live by these rules: Smile, Breathe, Be In the Moment, Say Yes, Make Others Look Good, Listen, Be Positive.