Dancing on the Rooftop of Jerusalem

expandedconsciousness.com

Image Credit

Becca K is a first-time writer of erotica, romance or relationship pieces.

Becca K. grew up outside of Washington, D.C. She spent the first part of her education in Jewish Day School and currently seeks out spirituality and ways to connect with Judaism and the Jewish community in rural New Hampshire. When not searching for “her people”, she spends her days as an educator and works with original works of art and spends her free time writing, reading, and playing roller derby.

Rated PG-13

Throughout my life I have felt a disconnect between how I feel internally and how people perceive me externally. If you were to ask me to describe myself as a child, I would use words like shy and anxious, but if you were to ask a friend or family member they would describe me as outgoing, friendly, someone who has a lot of friends and is very involved in activities. While I was all of those things that people saw me as, internally I did and do worry a lot. I worry about saying the wrong thing, or not responding in the “right” way, I worry about not showing up for people in the way they need me to. There is a pretty constant feeling of unsettledness within my own body. When I was in middle school I had terrible insomnia and just needed to run. It didn’t matter what time of the night it was, I needed movement, escape, and relief from the anxiety and discomfort I felt within my own skin. Occasionally I would give in to my need to run and go outside and run circles around the cul-de-sac. Other times I simply got out of bed to do sit-ups and pushups and squats—anything to relieve the tension and anxiety I felt from within.

This impulse and need for movement has stayed with me into my young adult life. After the intensity and pace of graduate school, I find myself with long stretches of time and space. The small voice that spoke up three years ago that said, “I think I like women” has gotten louder and I don’t think I can ignore it any longer. I spent the two months after completing my master’s degree in my rented room in Northampton, MA job searching and applying to jobs, reading voraciously, watching The L Word obsessively on Netflix, and slowly coming out to myself and my laptop. A lot of my processing and questioning is internal, but I do have two close friends with whom I confide. After hearing their support and kindness as I share my questions and leanings, I look in the mirror and see my familiar reflection staring back me, “I think I am gay.”

Three months later I moved back home with my parents and the questions and the need for movement have peaked to new heights. I have a master’s degree in art history and a job in retail selling women’s activewear. I have wanderlust and no money. I decide to apply for a Birthright Israel trip. I have always wanted to go to Israel, but more importantly, I view this trip as an opportunity to get out of myself, to reflect, and to try to find some clarity around my sexual orientation. Although I am fairly certain that I am on a sliding scale, heading towards homosexuality, I am just not completely sure. I am still searching. I set out to find something concrete within myself, and while the trip in some ways sets me up to come out to the important people in my life, more surprisingly, it creates an opening for coming into my own, for settling within myself and finding some peace, wholeness, and acceptance from within.

My family is very supportive of my trip to Israel. My parents met in Israel when they were studying abroad in college. They both have been back since, and are excited for me to experience the land and get to know the country. I have some nervousness and anxiety in the days leading up to the trip. I love to travel, but the days before any trip, anything that will disrupt my carefully crafted routine causes some tightness in my chest. Additionally, I do not know anyone else going and did not choose to sign up with a friend. As much as I am excited to meet new people, I question the energy that may be sapped knowing that I will have to be outgoing and more extroverted for two whole weeks.

I meet the other participants in the terminal of JFK. The people on my trip are a mix of men and women from all over the country; some have just graduated from college, while others are in graduate school or have been working for a few years. There are the obvious personalities that arise early on: Ben is slightly overweight and compensates for his insecurities by making himself the clown, the butt of the joke. Despite this simultaneous need for attention and deflection, he is sweet and I sense he has a big heart. Jason is a nerdy guy who is smart, thoughtful, and a recent graduate of college. He is trying to figure out what is next as well and I feel a kinship with him as we are both searching and seeking some clarity and direction. Jess and Rachel are the kind of girls who need to exclude others to feel better about themselves. They quickly find each other in the airport and sequester themselves to a corner to giggle and size up the other participants on the trip. Carrie is the first person I meet and really connect with. She is younger than me, fresh out of college, but she is confident and seems comfortable with herself. She seems to be a go-getter and is wildly funny. We become fast friends — I am quieter and make sarcastic remarks that she gets a kick out of, while she puts it all out there and has the whole group laughing in no time.

Israel the land and Israel the country are actually spoken about in two different ways — the land is over 4,000 years old and in 2008, the country is celebrating its 60th year. Both are incredible and exceed my expectations. Israel is varied in its landscape— cities, mountains, desert, and sea and is roughly the size of New Jersey. It is full of incredible history and historic sites and the Birthright organization makes sure we are exposed to many different facets of Israeli life and culture. We travel throughout the country on a bus with two American trip leaders, Melissa and Andi, an Israel guide, Ronen, our grumpy bus driver, Roti, and a security guard, Ari, an armed guard who is recently out of the Israeli army and whose job requires him to keep to keep us safe and out of harm’s way. Roti has a tough exterior and a rough manner of speaking. He seems exasperated by our exuberance and he is constantly ready for us to be late boarding the bus, he repeatedly reminds us of the time we are to be back and if there are one or two late stragglers he is visibly annoyed. Beneath his gruffness though he seems to have a big heart for the people and land of Israel. This becomes clear as we are driving through the desert. We pass by a group of young soldiers in training for the army. Roti, having experienced this trek through the desert with a heavy pack himself, pulls over to the side of the road. We all tumble out of the bus and chant a cheer in Hebrew showing our support and urging them on. Amidst the careful planning and packed itinerary, it is these spontaneous moments that fill my body with joy.

***

I am in transition in so many aspects of my life and it seems somewhat fitting that I find myself in the desert of Israel, a wandering and wondering Jew walking on the same sand that my ancestors wandered through 4,000 years ago. My own wandering mind asks, “Am I gay? Am I bi-sexual? Am I simply bi-curious?” As much I don’t think people should have to be labeled, I need a label, a category, an organized system with which to better understand myself. As I struggle with finding answers to these questions, I fall into old patterns: inwardly I am churning and asking myself hard questions, really immersing myself in this place, in the learning and the beauty of Israel. Outwardly, I chat with the other people on the trip, learn about their life stories, and provide band aids and power bars from the supply I keep in my backpack for anyone in need. I also fall into an old habit of looking for external affirmation and attention to quiet my mind instead of addressing the internal questions and insecurities that I feel.

My need for external attention and affirmation is met by Ari. Ari is young, maybe 21 or 22 and has been out of the army for about a year. In Israel, all citizens serve in the army (unless they are conscientious objectors or ultra-Orthodox and have an exemption to go study Torah at Yeshiva). Men serve for three years and women serve for two years. After they serve their obligated term, some soldiers stay on to serve in higher positions or as part of the intelligence forces, while others take a year to travel the world before going to University. Although they are quite young, the soldiers I meet seem much older, more mature than most Americans in their early twenties based on their life experiences and the responsibilities they take on in the army.

Ari is tan and handsome, slight in stature, maybe 5″8″, but very strong and muscular. He has playful, bright green eyes, and his hair is naturally light brown, but has been bleached out by the sun. He wears loose pants and t-shirts and casually slings his rifle across his shoulders as we travel through Israel. He has grown out his hair since leaving the army and plays guitar at night. We all sit outside on the patio singing U2 and Green Day and Od yavo’ shalom aleinu (Sallam), a song about peace for all that has long been sung by youth movements in Israel and was also a pop chart hit. I am attracted to Ari because he is different. He is equal parts man and boy and is charming with his Israeli accent and his use of the word “cool.” He is flirtatious and excited to be around Americans, asking us questions about things he has seen in American movies or TV shows. Although the TV show Friends has been off the air since 2004, Ari quotes the characters from the program often, and is surprised that we do not recognize every scene that he references.

He is friendly to everyone—the guys on the trip ask him questions about the army and sneak joints with him, the girls vie for his attention by flipping their hair, batting their eyes, and telling outrageous stories. Ari and I have a playful friendship, we give each other a hard time and call each other out when we can see the other is bullshitting. I want Ari to want me because I want to be noticed. I want Ari to want me because I want to feel special. I want Ari to want me because I need a distraction from myself.

The second to last night of our trip everyone goes out dancing in a club in Tel Aviv. We are drinking and head back to the hotel to hang out. Late in the night, Ari and I end up in an elevator together and the sexual tension is palpable. I don’t even know what we say to one another in the elevator, but then without saying a word we start kissing and go back to his room. He kicks his roommate out and we make our way to his bed. At some point he pulls out a condom and asks if I want to have sex. In my head, I think, “why not” and aloud I smile and say sure. My mind is active as I go through the motions, “Ok, this is ok, but not really feeling anything, yeah, nope, this is not so great.” I think about some of the really hot female soldiers on our trip, conjuring up their faces and their skin, their bodies. He comes. I roll over. Yep, I think, I am definitely into women.

Ari is the last man I will sleep with, but I don’t know that at the time. I do know that my thoughts around women, my desire to be with women is encompassing, and while I still have some interest in men, it is the familiar game, the flirtatiousness, the performance of attraction and attention that peaks my curiosity, but quickly evaporates once things actually become real or physical. Although counter-intuitive, sleeping with Ari makes this clear for me. I make a commitment to myself to date women when I get back from Israel.

***

Part of the trip includes mifgash which is the Hebrew word for meeting. Our mifgash is with eight Israeli soldiers who spend five days of the trip with us—exploring the different sites, sleeping in the hotels and hostels, sharing meals, and most importantly, sharing their lives and stories. The immediate bonds and friendships that we strike up are astounding. Although we are all men and women in our early twenties, it feels like we are at summer camp. We ride this large bus, singing songs and telling stories. We pause on Friday evenings to celebrate Shabbat, lighting the candles and saying the blessings. My favorite ceremony is the Havdallah ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat.

We gather around outside waiting for three stars to come out. Once you see three stars in the sky you begin the process of ending Shabbat and welcoming in the new week. We light the Havdallah candle, a braided blue and white candle, and put our arms around each other to sing the prayers. The light from the candles flickers on our faces, and I feel grounded and connected. At one point one of the soldiers, Tamar, says to me and a few others as we talk about our lives, “You are at home and always welcome here, we are your brothers and sisters. This is your country, too.” That sentiment, that invitation feel so earnest and sincere to me. It is strange to be in a new, foreign place and to really feel at home, to feel safe, and to feel that you are among family. It does not make sense, but I feel it and know it to be true.

We spend the two weeks traveling all over the country to the desert to spend a night with the Bedouins, to the aqueducts in Caesarea, to the Dead Sea where we paint ourselves with the healing mud and float in the sea full of salt, we go to the mystical city of Safed and meet an artist who declares everything to be “awe some”, we make our way into the city of Jerusalem at night.

Jerusalem is a city claimed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims in terms of miracles and incredible historical and religious experience. As someone who has grown up very culturally Jewish, but who is not currently extremely religious or observant, I do not expect to have any major feelings or connections with this city. And yet, as the bus enters the city at night, my heart starts beating fast and my breath is literally taken from me. The streets are laden with history and the houses seems to dance as we descend a hill. I feel goosebumps rise on my arms and the tiny hairs stick straight up. This place exudes energy.

We spend one of our last days with our soldiers at Israel’s national cemetery, Mt. Herzl, named for Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism. It is an important site in Israel and even more significant to our soldiers, many of whom have colleagues, friends or family members buried there. As we stop by the graves our trip leaders begin singing the poem by Hannah Senesh Eli, Eli. This moment is one of many that if I knew was going to occur before going on the trip, I would have rolled my eyes and scoffed, thinking “Are you kidding me? I am not a ‘kumbaya’ kind of person.” And yet, I am in an internal space of opening and unfolding and the moment, rather than seeming cheesy and contrived, brings tears to my eyes.

***

We start each day early and as we prepare to say goodbye to the soldiers, we head up to the rooftop of the hotel in Jerusalem. It is 7:30 in the morning and already the sun is bright and hot. I love the feeling of the heat on my bare shoulders and look out at the sprawling city below me. I can see the different quarters of the Old City—the gold dome from the Dome of the Rock in the Muslim Quarter shines brightly. There are clothes on clothes lines hanging from apartment buildings and speeding traffic with reckless, impatient Israeli drivers below. I can make out an orange tree lush with fruit in the Jewish Quarter and the pebbly cobblestone streets that give way to cement and streets lined with commerce and business.

The time on the roof is for us to get into our small groups and formally say goodbye to our soldiers, it quickly becomes a photo opportunity. As we walk around talking and laughing and taking pictures, Andi and Melissa get a small group together and start singing and doing a simple Israeli folk dance. I look over and feel a pull, a desire to go over and join the singing and dancing. Normally I shy away from group activities, from embarrassing things like singing and dancing in public with people I barely know. A part of me wants to judge and be a little cynical, “How silly they look.”

And yet, I shrug that part away. I want to be a part of it. I don’t care what other people might think. I turn to my friend Carrie, my buddy and sidekick throughout the trip, and say, “Let’s go!” She looks at me with an expression of incredulity, one that I have had on my face many times. “Um, I don’t think so,” she says. I pause for a moment, and then smile and go over to join the small group, which has since grown in size as people join hands and move their feet. The sun is getting stronger by the minute and we laugh and sing as our feet cross over one another. My arms are stretched in either direction, my hands clasp two other sweaty hands, and I dance. My heart is full as I dance. I dance on the rooftop of Jerusalem and feel comfortable and confident in my own shoes, a feeling that is new for me, but one I know I can get used to.

Jewrotica is a spankin' new project with the power to provide a voice for Jewish sexual expression and meaningful conversation. Jewrotica is an online community-in-the-making and a database of delicious and grin-inducing Jewish stories and confessions. Join us!