Sunday, June 30, 2013

When Language Ego Ruins You

This past Shabbat, there was a community experience here in Neve Daniel. You could sign up to either be a host or a guest, you were paired up with perfect strangers, and the idea was that you'd meet new people and spread yourself out a bit on the yishuv.

I've experienced these kinds of things before, and I've always loved them. Back in Teaneck they called it Mystery Shabbat, and you didn't know where you were going for the meal until you showed up at synagogue and someone handed you a card with an address on it. It was fun, I met some awesome new people, and I got to break out of my insulated introverted bubble.

Here, on the other hand, my attempt to burst out of that bubble failed miserably and resulted in a demoralizing and alienating experience.

It's no one's fault but my own, I'm sure.

The hosts were great -- the hostess even went out of her way to make a gluten-free cake for dessert. When we arrived they spoke in English, the comfort zone for both Mr. T and I, but when the other guests showed up, there was no turning back, Hebrew was the name of the game at the meal.

Mr. T has been in Israel off and on for nine years and works as an electrician on job sites where Hebrew is the common denominator among Russians, Arabs, and other workers. As a result, he doesn't have much of a language ego -- he just speaks, he doesn't care if he gets things wrong or his accent isn't right, he knows he's getting the message across and that's fine for him.

I, on the other hand, have a huge language ego. My first Hebrew class was my senior year of undergrad in 2006 in Nebraska, and it was biblical Hebrew, one semester. I refined my already keen knowledge of the aleph-bet (thanks to attendance at a Reform synagogue where singing allowed me to pick up on the Hebrew sounds and words) and picked up a few basic words that, thankfully, existed in biblical and also modern Hebrew. But it was several more years before I took a legit Hebrew course in graduate school and then carried on to the intensive Hebrew-language learning program at Middlebury College in 2009.

June-August 2009. That was my first taste of actual Hebrew. Of being able to speak a full sentence with some semblance of confidence. That's less than four years of modern Hebrew under my belt.

I know plenty of people who got a bit of Hebrew in primary school or Sunday school, even a few people who had cousins in Israel, who are able to get more out than me. My problem is I know it, but because of my background in copy editing and how well-spoken I am in English, my language ego halts me.

I think of what I need to say, I evaluate the sentence structure, I consider the pronouns, I conjugate the verb, I make sure I have the right tense. And by the time I've finally reassured myself that I know what to say, the moment has passed.

So I sat there throughout the meal just listening. I picked up bits and pieces of the conversation. The hosts translated words here and there into English, but the other couple seemed to act as if I wasn't even there. When I did want to say something, I tried in Hebrew, and inevitably switched to quick English, getting whatever I needed to say out of the way as quickly as possible.

It was embarrassing.

And yet, I can walk into a restaurant, ask for a menu, ask questions about the menu, place an order, make smalltalk with the waitress, ask for my bill and pay with the greatest of ease. I can see the Efrat Burgers Bar girl working in Jerusalem and -- without thinking -- instantly blurt out in Hebrew, "Hey! What are you doing here, you don't work here!" and have a brief conversation about how she needed a change of scenery.

I know that someday, when I have children, they'll hear the sounds of Hebrew outside and at school, and they'll teach me something I don't know. Inside the house they'll get a polite mixture of American and English, thanks to their parents whose languages are similar but so different. My kids will be fluently bilingual.

But there's something about being placed in a situation with people you would call my neighbors in a community that isn't so big where Hebrew is what will be spoken where I just cave, I turn inward, and I look like an idiot.

I've had a Jewish neshama my entire life, but with my awakening didn't come automatic or even primitive Hebrew knowledge. With four years of Modern Hebrew floating around my brain, it's done nothing but insulate me. And Israel makes it far too easy to default to English.

Something's got to change.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Israeli Presidential Conference: Take One

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem as a blogger, where I had the opportunity to speak to some amazing minds about topics that were important to me like conversion, Jewish peoplehood, and the future of the State of Israel. This year, I'm here as a regular ol' blogger with the fun privilege of getting to sit in the PRESS section and attend special sessions just for those of us in the press and blogging world (yes, tomorrow I get to get up close and personal with Sharon Stone)!

So far today I've attended some fascinating sessions and some really disappointing and poorly thought out sessions like the one on the media and another on technology in education -- both neglected to have anything remotely to do with technology, social media, or new media. Fail.

The day started out with a session that was geared toward honoring President Bill Clinton with the Israeli Presidential Medal of Freedom, but it started out with Tony Blair, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Rahm Emanuel talking tachlis about what makes a good leader and what we need most now in the realm of leadership. Tony Blair regaled the crowd with some very sweet stories, wisdom, and inspiration words like "Do what is right, not what is popular," "Isreal's security is our security in the whole of the western world," and "Democracy means religion has a voice, not a veto."

Unfortunately Rahm Emanuel spouted out lots of ad material about Chicago, trying to sell us all on the glory of the city based on improvements in parks, airports, and transit! I will give him credit for one thing he said: "Never let a good crisis go to waste." That's sort of the Number 1 rule in marketing and social media.

And then, of course, you had the illustrious and wisdomful President Peres, who said, "I never thought in my time that fresh air would become a commodity." He also shocked the crowd by saying that he thinks that our new leaders shouldn't model themselves after the great Israeli leaders of the past like Sharon and Ben-Gurion, because our  new leaders must embrace a new world with an open mind and that our leaders must not lead people, but be led by the people. A beautiful sentiment.

Just as I was jazzed by Tony Blair, President Clinton also really blew me away. I've never heard him speak in person before, but he has such an air of confidence and wisdom about him. He spoke about successes and failures in his presidency, focusing on the failure to act in time, but the success in acting at all when the rest of the world turned a blind eye to what had happened. "Don't give up or give in," he said, "but get up and go on!" He also spoke about how we build a successful future, saying, "We have to stop seeing ourselves as victims and claim our future" while also stressing how we need to move away from the "us" and "them" concept. This sentiment, of course, made me think about the Palestinian issue and the existence of a peoplehood in the state of victimhood. He concluded a really moving (I almost cried) acceptance speech by saying, "I accept this award because I feel like a poor pilgrim on the journey to expand the definition of us, not them."

Then there was an economic session that didn't float my boat at all, but the next session was probably my favorite because it highlighted tomorrow -- the conference's namesake. There were three speakers, but two of them really jazzed me: Dr. David Agus and Professor Dan Gilbert. The former spoke about gene mapping and our responsibility to the global community and healthcare to know what's going on inside our bodies and the latter spoke about our brains, happiness, and how we respond to danger. Prof Gilbert spoke about how we react to things that involve intentionality, immorality, imminent danger, and instantaneous impact the most aggressively, because it's right there (like terror). But things that don't hit those categories (like global warming) we don't react to as quickly. It's why we're more upset about kidnappers than obesity when the latter is so much more dangerous and deadly. Why? Because the part of our brain that thinks about tomorrow is very small. Then he said this, which made giggle:
"If a bad man with a mustache were waging the war of global warming on us, we'd react."
So wow. What a day? I want to pick up Gilbert's and Agus's books because they sound amazing. These guys were super compelling speakers.

And now? More conferencing and then a party! It's going to be a long night ...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Planning: What Happens Now?

We all know the saying: Man plans, G-d laughs. 

Several weeks back, I listened to a podcast -- a repeat from years prior -- on Plan B, that thing we have when life doesn't go the way we want the first time around (our Plan A). As I listened and considered my current situation, I began to think about my own plans and how many of them I've had.

My first plan, when I was a child was to be an artist. My entire childhood I longed to be involved in the arts, and my parents put me through art lessons, I entered art competitions, and I saw myself attending the Kansas City Art Institute. When I was in middle school, that all came to a crashing halt as I realized that my friend Kim was much more talented than I could ever be. Suddenly, it was all about writing and photography. The latter dream died when I was in high school and shadowed a photo journalist for a day and decided that it was the last thing on the planet I was willing to do.

After that, I decided poetry was where it was at and pursued that effort for the rest of high school and into my first semester of college with a degree in English. After a visit to the dentist and seeing an English degree on my dentist's wall, I realized that maybe it wasn't the most useful degree on the planet and quickly switched to journalism with an emphasis on copy editing.

As it turned out, copy editing was my true Plan A. I dreamed of working my way up and through internships and jobs to a post at The New York Times. I worked at the Daily Nebraskan for four years, landed a prestigious Dow Jones Internship at The Denver Post, was picked up by The Washington Post for an internship that turned into a job, and I was ready to stick to it. But unhappiness drowned Plan A.

Plan B didn't come about for quite some time. I moved to Chicago and worked for a Nobel Prize winner as his "Devil Wears Prada"-style assistant before applying to graduate school in Judaic studies. It was at that time that I realized Plan B was to teach. After a graduate degree from the University of Connecticut and starting up at New York University, I suddenly became aware that this Plan B wasn't exactly going to work out -- my Hebrew wasn't quite up to snuff and social media in Jewish schools wasn't something anyone had in mind.

And then?

While in graduate school I realized the power of my social media prowess and decided, well, maybe this will work out as Plan C? In Denver I put it to the test and landed three different jobs doing social media, building my skills and talents, and I was pretty set that this is where I belonged. After aliyah I kept those jobs and forged forth learning, doing, being.

Now? I'm at a crossroads where my superficial childhood plans and the various plans of adulthood seem to be saying "nope, this isn't it," and wondering what I am supposed to be doing. Writing? Back to editing?

I spend my days searching for work and mulling about on Social Media, trying to stay fresh, but I can't help but feel that I'm losing my edge, that my talent isn't exactly a talent so much as a skill I acquired that anyone could acquire. I've always said that it isn't that I know how to do all of these things perfectly but rather that I'm resourceful and willing, eager and able. I know where to look to find the answers to any problem, I know how to troubleshoot anything with a quick Google search.

Some people take comfort in the search for the next job opportunity or the next experience, but I find myself bored and frustrated. This blog hasn't seen much out of me recently because the truth is I'm best at blogging and working when I'm busy, when I have a million things going on at once. When there isn't much going on, the day just floats by and productivity slacks.

I'm trying to figure out what HaShem has in store for me exactly. Is the lull a nudge to look inward? Is it a push to reexamine my strengths and talents and figure out who I'm menat to be? Is it a forced vacation after 11 years of work, work, work?

Perhaps, then, I should be thankful instead of angry, happy instead of forlorn. What do you think?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sometimes You Need a Sign

We spent Shabbat in Aderet with good, old friends of Mr. T's, and it was an amazing and calming experience (even with two rambunctious little girls). When our host poured grape juice for havdalah, the little bubbles came together to form a giant heart.

Now that, folks, is beautiful. Shavua Tov! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Let's Chat: Free Education

As you may or may not remember, I have been a member of the ROI Community since my attendance at the ROI Summit in Israel in 2011. This year, I'm in Israel but not at the summit, but I'm doing my part to share the awesomeness of the summit with everyone out there in e-land.

Next Tuesday, I'm hosting an online chat based on one of the amazing presentations from the ROI Summit this year, and I hope you'll join me and share with your friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else interested in the free education system.

This discussion/online meetup will focus on a presentation given by Shai Reshef, an Israeli businessman and educational entrepreneur who is the founder and president of University of the People – a nonprofit, tuition-free, online academic institution dedicated to the democratization of higher education by making college-level studies accessible to students worldwide.

Here are the details:

University of the People or University of the Future? 
Tuesday, June 18 @ 8 p.m. (Israel) / 1 p.m. (Eastern)
We will discuss whether free, accessible education will level the global playing field and release students from the financial burdens of education or will it devalue education and lower the standards of learning. What about teachers? When education is free, where do we find qualified educators willing to offer free lessons when educators are already underpaid and overworked?

So please join me on Twitter and Facebook by looking out for #roicom and #FreeUni! Bring your thoughts, your gripes, your ideas. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Change in Plans

Wait, stop, don't hate me! I spoke too soon. I had anticipated doing a video with Mr. T, but things beyond both of our control means we're putting it on hold. Stay tuned but I promise that there will be something in the future, I'm just not sure when.

I apologize that the blog has been so sparse, but I'm devoting 99 percent of my days these days to trying to find full-time work. It's amazing how difficult it is to get hired here -- I had no clue that it was going to be this difficult.

If aliyah were easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Recipe: The Vegan Loaf

This past Shabbat, I regaled my dear Mr. T with a classic Edwards Family favorite: Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes. The big changeup? This loaf was completely vegetarian, but it was hearty and full of tummy-warming goodness. I anticipate this being a regular on my menu, mostly because the ingredients are inexpensive and the recipe is very versatile.

Brown Rice and Lentil Terrine
(adapted from Clean Eating)

1 cup brown rice
1 cup brown lentils
olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 whole eggs (or egg substitute)
2 Tbls flaxseed meal
2 Tbls tomato paste
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped finely
1/4 cup black olives, drained and chopped
1/4 tsp each coriander, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
1 1/2 cups gluten-free breadcrumbs, plus more if needed (I blended up gluten-free cereal, but you can also use regular or gluten-free bread)
  1. Cook the rice (I used a rice maker), then put the lentils on with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 35 minutes. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 Fahrenheit (200 Celsius). Prep a 9x5" pan with olive oil, butter, or PAM. 
  3. Heat about a tsp of olive oil in a skillet on medium and add onion. When the onion starts to brown, stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in eggs, flaxseed meal, tomato paste, parsley, olives, spices, salt, and pepper. Add the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly. 
  4. Put half of the cooked lentils in a food processor with 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth and process until smooth. Transfer the pureed and whole cooked lentils to a bowl and mix in the rice and remaining 1/4 cup of vegetable broth. Mix well!
  5. Finally, mix both of the rice/lentil and onion/spice mixtures together until well combined. 
  6. Scrape into the prepared loaf pan and mound the center to make it look like that classic meatloaf. Bake until lightly browned and crunchy on top, about 35-40 minutes. 
  7. Serve with your favorite brown gravy!
The original called for wild rice, green lentils, Bragg's Liquid Aminos, fresh basil, fresh sage, and pimento-stuffed green olives, but I didn't have them on hand so I just worked with what I had. It turned out amazingly!

For a gravy, I used this recipe because I didn't have any mushrooms on hand. However, I used half of the amount of water it called for and Brown Rice Flour instead of the called-for Chickpea Flour.