Photo Essay Friday: Old City

Full-time

I just started my first very-own, grown-up job! It’s not work-study, or for a family member, or even fast food! And I’m not even making minimum wage, because I’m now a bank teller! Well, sort-of. I’m officially a Sales Associate. . . at a grocery store branch. . . and I can’t handle money yet. But I’m thrilled with the position. It’s like living some kind of bizarre reality TV show. Or maybe not reality, maybe it was just The Office. Either way, something about the way my coworkers describe the Ins and Outs of the job–and each other–makes me feel like I ought to have a film crew with me (not that they’d fit behind the counter).

My first day was like being stuck in an elevator with two strangers for 8 hours, only with better people-watching. Something about the confined space seemed to invite intimate details of my coworkers’ lives into conversation as they flipped through stacks of 5s, 10s, 20s. Don ran the counterfeit pen across a stack of fanned fifties as he told me and a customer that in high school he’d held out on shaving his legs until he tied another swimmer for first by some thousandths of a second, and figured the small difference made by streamlined calves would be relatively large. (He won the rematch.) Brad, who cites the health of his three-year-old daughter as the only thing that would lead him to rob the bank, recounted how he’d started working full-time at 13 when his father got crushed in the coal mine.

Today, I met the other girl, Jessica, who I’d been nervous about meeting, because friendships with guys are sometimes much easier for me to manage. There’s a little more grace for things like forgotten phone calls, less need to mince words. Right after I read in the manual that office supplies are not to be used for personal gain, she tells me how she sends her Mary Kay catalogues to the main branch through interoffice mail. She freaked out when the branch manager, Cheryl (who sometimes writes her name as Sherry) sent someone else to pick-up her make-up order and forgot to send the catalog for the purses she sells in a similar scheme. They finally came out with the bag she likes in a medium size and she can’t wait order it.

Jessica flirts over the counter with the guy shelving the new shipment of fruit, pouting when he doesn’t stop to say hello. She and Brad keep up a constant, affectionate banter, “Hey Dipstick, you gonna count that customer-coin?” They each tell me how he was the one to stick up for her last year when rumors were flying about her and various other Kroger employees (only one of whom she’s actually talking to, and it’s Matthew from the meat department, not Troy with his hands full of peaches) and Brad tells me, too, that he takes care of his own, citing the way he used to start the cars of the dancers at one of the clubs he bounced as prior evidence.

As we warm up to each other, Jessica tells me she was worried too, when she heard about the new girl. She didn’t want someone who was obsessed with shopping, she says. I say, “Yeah, I was worried you would be one of those girls who was like ‘Oh my gosh! They have the purse in medium!'”

We both grin.

Five Vignettes: Jerusalem

1. On the Shabbos before her wedding, a kallah has a last hurrah, of sorts, with her community of women – mother, aunts, teachers, friends. The Shabbos Kallah isn’t really a bachelorette party; rather, it’s a chance for everyone to offer blessings and advice for the bride on her impending marriage, and to calm her jitters.

An alumna of my seminary got married last night, and on Shabbos the current students prepared a shaleshudes for her. We played wedding-themed games, sang wedding songs, and exchanged brachos, blessings, for the future. This wouldn’t be so remarkable, except that most of the students have just met her this week, yet somehow it went without saying that we were all responsible for her. In our community, this is simply what one does to make a bride happy.

2. Walking home one evening after school, about a week after my arrival, I was feeling maladjusted and uneasy, and wondering when I would start to feel at home here. Right on cue, two American girls with suitcases crossed the street to ask me, in Hebrew, to direct them to a particular address. I knew where to send them.

3. The school placed me, for Shabbos lunch, with a Sefardi family who sang the most beautiful tune for “Chai Hashem.” I’ve been humming it ever since. Both husband and wife are musicians, and upon learning that I played the oboe, he told me about a Gemara which says that one of the instruments played in the Bais Mikdash was an oboe.

4. I attended last night’s aforementioned wedding, just outside the Old City. The kallah was lovely, the chasan was glowing, there was nary a dry eye at the chuppah. After dancing with the bride, my friend A. and I felt like stopping by the holiest spot in the world on our way to the bus stop. We sat at the Kotel, saying Tehillim and soaking it in, for an hour before we caught, by sheer providence, the very last bus home.

5. This, taken from my balcony:

Second-Class Citizens

I’ve always been mystified by those who maintain that Orthodox women are oppressed. (The problem seems to be, more often than not, that they’ve never actually met an Orthodox woman.) But I’ve found the solution: everyone would understand the honor accorded to women in the Orthodox community if only we could bring them all to Yerushalayim. Why? Because of the death notices.
Huh? What are those?

Getting Settled

I arrived in Israel one week ago. Between the jet lag and the fact that I walk everywhere, I can’t remember ever being so exhausted without respite. But it’s a pleasant exhaustion – I feel like I’m using my mind and body for a purpose.

Today we ventured off campus to a charity farm. I call it a charity farm because it’s owned by a well-to-do lawyer from Tel Aviv who donates everything grown on the farm to food banks and soup kitchens. To keep his costs down, he brings in volunteers to help him with harvesting. We spent an hour in the afternoon sun pulling up red onions and loading them into crates. There were about 20 of us; in one hour we harvested 700 pounds of onions.
Then what happened?

We Have Liftoff

Well, it would appear that I’m finally underway. I’m sitting here in the airport – what could go wrong now? – but after so many misfires, I’m having trouble processing the fact that it’s for real this time. So instead of contemplating the excitement and terror of traveling alone to a foreign country for many months, I thought I’d review the airport.

Airport Review: Reagan National Airport (DCA)
Check-In: A-
There was no line, and the clerk who tagged my luggage was helpful and friendly – seeing that I was struggling with my bags, he even took them over to the security screening area for me. On the downside, the automated check-in kiosk was fussy.
Security: A-
It’s tough to assign a grade for this one, because I found the security to be thorough to a fault. I opted out of the newfangled x-ray gadget, so I got the usual pat-down (which I always used to get anyway – the curse of the skirt-wearers), and apparently my machzor set off some flags. (?) Still, if they were inconveniencing someone else, I’d appreciate the caution, so I suppose I can’t fault them.
Signage: B+
Signs are clear and easy to follow. No bonus points for typography, though.
Crowd Management: ???
On this particular day, the airport was practically empty, so I can’t comment on this.
Gate Seating: B-
To their credit, there’s room to pass between two rows of seats. On the other hand, it’s still two hours before the flight, and I can already tell there won’t be enough.
Power Outlets: B
This always irks me. Every single traveler passing through here is carrying chargeable electronics and their power adapters, yet there are only a few power outlets, and they are not located in the gate seating area. But at least there are designated charging stations, though they are somewhat oddly placed.
Wireless Internet: A
Praise God! The wireless is free! It’s absolutely astounding to me that so many airports still don’t offer free wireless. Unfortunately, the internet connection is very slow, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.
Cleanliness of Bathrooms: B
As airport bathrooms go, this one wasn’t bad. It was clean, well-stocked, and the floors and counters weren’t flooded.
Food: (abstain)
I wasn’t going to add this category, since obviously I won’t be patronizing any of the various food purveyors, but I thought others might like to know that down at my end of Terminal C, there’s a Five Guys, which seems to be a burger place, a Gordon Biersch, a Cinnabon, and several variations on Dunkin Donuts.
Shops: B+
The shops are exactly as weird as airport shops usually are. Brooks Brothers? In an airport? Then there’s that miscellany shop every airport has – it’s never called the same thing, but they all sell luggage and earrings and women’s flowy tops – plus an electronics store, a DC-themed souvenir shop and various newsstands.
Miscellany: C
Overall, this is a pretty average airport. There’s nothing beautiful or interesting about it, but there’s free wireless and it works and that’s enough for me.

Mechanical Vision Restored

I fully cleaned the battery and its casing and once again made an attempt to charge it. I’m not sure what was wrong, whether some short caused the battery to empty, or dust on the contact failed to let it conduct electricity, but my camera is working again! To celebrate, I promise you a wealth of images from the past couple weeks, and perhaps a few stories.

The first news, though, comes from Sunday evening, when I believed myself without a camera, so you will have to do with phone-pics.

My aunt and uncle had eventually replied to my email concerning the sad news, and that helped a lot with the dread of not knowing their response. When they came home Saturday, they reassured us that sometimes these things happen. We’d heard about a floating lantern ceremony on Sunday, put on by North Hawaii Hospice, down at the Mauna Lani resort, and decided it would be a good way to remember Gilbert.

The lantern glowed like birdsong.Drums were played, a woman chanted in Hawaiin, and we all sang “Aloha ʻOe” as we carried the decorated lanterns down to the lagoon.

Last night, we buried the frozen bird, digging a hole at the back of the house near mature growth, where future residents were unlikely to dig holes to plant things. The family had made a list of good things about Gilbert, following the Judith Viorst’s (think Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) book The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, though our list came to 25. I enjoyed sharing in the memories of antics I’d observed, as well as stories I hadn’t been around for. We buried him with his beloved oven mitt, his last cuttle fish, and a fresh branch of millet.

My aunt and uncle left for dinner and we made plans to drive up to the Mauna Kea to the visitor’s center to see the stars with a friend. We’re almost ready to go and three head out to the car, the last following and–seeing no keys on the hook-assumes the others have the keys, locking the door behind them. It turns out, finally, that my aunt and uncle had each taken a set and we’ll have to wait until they get back to go. I take the opportunity to make some Bird’s English drinking custard, replacing bad feelings with a long awaited treat, and Lang draws me while I stir the milk.

We finally get to the spot just in time for a peek in the amateur telescopes before they were put away for the night. It’s icy cold, and I’m glad for all the clothes my cousin accumulated during the last year doing research in Germany. Once the volunteers are gone, I’m happy to pull out the hot liquid, along with fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market that afternoon. We lay in the parking lot at 9,200 feet and drank in the sky, gasping at the brightest shooting stars; silently relishing the thing trails of small ones that perhaps only we had seen.

Under the wide, all-seeing sky, we talked about moments when we’d felt our worst; cruel teasing as children, bitter roots we allowed to grow between friends, the loss of our humanness we struggle with at times. Confessing these things under such a canopy we felt at once the infinite and the intimate nature of relationships, the scale of our selves in the universe.