Saturday, June 28, 2008


I have a confession to make: I've been a bad Jew. Landing in Prague last week I wanted to kiss the ground. Returning to Israel I clenched my teeth and muttered "one day chag!" "kosher stinky cheese!" "eruv!"

All my grandparents were born in Czechoslovakia, and I'd grown up hearing stories (of happy times) all my life. I'd worked there when I was 25, and I'd been back many summers to keep up the language. Maybe you just feel at home where you spent lots of time in early adulthood.

Just how foreign Israel is to me was made clear the day before my trip, when I went to the university to pick up my travel allowance after our wonderful department secretary phoned to say it was ready.

I walk into the administration building and am told I am not a professor; therefore I cannot receive travel allowance. Why am I not a professor? Because they don't have the paper saying my allowance came through. I go upstairs. There is the paper. I bring it down. I'm still not a professor. Why not? It's a mystery. They won't say. I should call the head of my Department, the secretary, and ten other people to verify my existence. Finally it's clear: My passport spells my name with a vov sound, and the paper spells it with a yud. Therefore, Professor Yud can have her travel funds, but Impostor Vov doesn't exist.

What, am I a freaking Torah scroll that a single mis-written letter invalidates my existence? Why did I just spend two days grading two sets of final exams?

I'm freaking out. What should have taken 10 minutes is taking two hours. And I'm paying a babysitter for this. And it's also my last chance to finish the final edits for Prague. And I have to pack. And a friend is in town for a play date.

Luckily, I receive a phone call and I'm speaking on my cell phone at the administrator's secretary's desk as she's trying to help others. I refuse to move. And she gets angry. And then it dawns on me: I must annoy her. I must get angry. Or I won't get helped.

I explode. I probably play my role a little too zealously; looking back I'm ashamed of myself. Did I need to include that choice language?

Three minutes later I have the travel funds and an apology.

I don't like getting angry. I don't know how to raise my voice and retain my dignity. I'm a method actor. I can't pretend.

No, there is no ervu in Prague, thank goodness my baby can walk now. But we can daven in the Old-New Synagogue (though the women's section looks like the outside of a castle wall with those thin slits used to shoot arrows through. That's the amount of access one gets to the Torah). We have terrific hospitality: delicious food, fascinating company, and a gorgeous walk along the Vltava River.

Maybe I just liked Prague so much because the apartment had a washing machine. Not that I needed it. It was summer. We went South and hung out in former colleague's back yard, baby naked as the day she was born, playing in water and running with the pet turtles. That and seeing castles. We got a babysitter for the Jewish Prague tour. And IT RAINED. I was so happy. Poor baby didn't know what rain was.

Maybe it wasn't as relaxing a vacation as it might have been trying to tour around with an 18-month old. But since grandparents are in Texas and she refuses to be weaned, there wasn't really a choice. She held up pretty well. We took lots of time feeding swans, chasing pigeons and rolling in the grass. That had its charms, too.

Back to making Israel feel like home.


lsw said...

Sounds like a wonderful, well-deserved vacation. I know what you mean, though. I would probably drop to my knees and kiss the white sands of South Padre Island if I ever made it back there, Professor Vov.

Michael said...
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Maya said...

I'm about to try kissing the sands of Israel's seas for a while and see if it helps! There's always Lake Michigan (hmmm).