A New Chapter And A Move Toward Introversion

1 01 2014

Over the past ten weeks, I traveled through Montreal, East Texas, West Louisiana, South Florida and Massachussetts. I presented Jewrotica, completed a Jewish outreach tour to remote communities, sold my RV and motorbike, squeezed in five final performances and services with my choir, savored inspirational time in nature with my dear friend Topher and said a quiet and informal goodbye to Austin.

I joined family for Thanksgiving and Chanukah in Aventura, delivered a final Israel Bonds program in Boston and continued on with my suitcases to Tel Aviv – and five weeks of these travels were with dear friend David Abitbol in tow.  I successfully completed two 30-day challenges – one to get my heart rate up every day for five weeks (with a weekly break for Shabbat) and one to breathe deep and savor the scent of my food before and while eating it.  (Scent is so powerful and definitely heightens appreciation and taste!)

I moved to Israel, signed a year-long lease on a Jerusalem apartment, converted my living room into an acrobatic and creative play space and was cast as the female lead in a production of “Division Avenue” (my first theatrical return to the stage in nearly ten years!).  I joined a Jewish women’s tribal group called Soul Dance, prioritized both family time and expanding my cooking repertoire and accepted a job offer for an incredible non-profit fighting against domestic violence in the religious community.

But as all this happened, I didn’t feel a need to record or report it.  My life is still creative and richly flowing, but I am excited about a new pace of life with meaningful work and a semblance of routine, surrounded by close friends and family.  Though I am as outgoing as ever, I am embracing my transition towards introversion with open arms, and find myself both appreciating quiet and unscheduled moments and limiting breadth of friendships in favor of depth of friendships.

This blog has been an incredible chapter in my life and I may return to it,  but for now – as I place my writing on an indefinite hold – just know that I am well, I am happy, I am home and I wish the same and more for all of you.

Nine weeks in photos:

Aren't We All?  Jewrotica's Canadian Debut, November 2013

Aren’t We All in Le Mood? Jewrotica’s Canadian Debut, November 2013

"Jewrotica: Sanctifying Sex" - Presenting a Dynamic Session at Le Mood Montreal

“Jewrotica: Sanctifying Sex” – Presenting a Dynamic Session at Le Mood Montreal

Playing the Green Absinthe Fairy and Marking Halloween in Montreal with Megan and Grace, Formerly of the Westboro Baptist Church

Playing the Green Absinthe Fairy and Marking Halloween in Montreal with Megan and Grace, Formerly of the Westboro Baptist Church

The Outreach and Educational RV Tour Was Stressful at Times, But This Day in Louisiana's Chicot State Park Sure Wasn't!

The Outreach and Educational RV Tour Was Stressful at Times, But This Day in Louisiana’s Chicot State Park Sure Wasn’t!

Milking My First Cow On The Road - A Day on the Farm in Alexandria, LA

Milking My First Cow On The Road – A Day on the Farm in Alexandria, LA

An Interfaith Thanksgiving Service - Relishing My Time With The Choir

An Interfaith Thanksgiving Service – Relishing My Time With The Choir

Last Sunday at Wesley - Saying Goodbye to Dharion

Last Sunday at Wesley – Saying Goodbye to Dharion

David Snaps a Selfie Outside the Co-Op in Austin

David Snaps a Selfie Outside the Co-Op in Austin

My Introduction to Sfinj (Moroccan Donuts), With My Parents and Courtesy of David's Cousins in Florida

An Introduction to Sfinj (Moroccan Donuts) With My Parents, Courtesy of David’s Cousins in Florida

The Rain Before The Storm - Jerusalem Gears Up For Snow

The Rain Before The Storm – Rockin’ The Umbrella as Jerusalem Geared Up For Inclement Weather

The Times of the Messiah...  Israel Gets Hit By Its Biggest Blizzard Yet and Arabs, Jews, Religious, Secular, Young and Old All Flock to the Park and Joyfully Hop On Each Other's Sleds

The Times of the Messiah… Israel Got Hit By Its Biggest Blizzard Yet and Arabs, Jews, Religious, Secular, Young and Old All Flocked to the Park and Joyfully Hopped On Each Other’s Sleds

Ho Ho Ho!  Ha Ha Ha!  Hee Hee Hee!

Ho Ho Ho! Ha Ha Ha! Hee Hee Hee!

Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass in Old Jerusalem

Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass in Old Jerusalem

Bye Bye Blonde - I Went Red!

Bye Bye Blonde – I Went Red!

Though Sometimes in the Sunlight It Looks Orange

Though Sometimes in the Sunlight It Looks Orange

But I Can Still Pull Off Professional When I Need To

But I Can Still Pull Off Professional When I Need To

Best Pal David Abitbol + Homemade Matbucha at My New Place in Jerusalem

Best Pal David Abitbol + Homemade Matbucha at My New Place in Jerusalem – The RV is Missed, Austin is Missed, Friends Are Missed, But What a Blessing to Be Amongst Family and Close Friends in the Holy Land

posted by ayo





Holidays in the Holy Land (Part 2 of 2)

6 10 2013

This is a continuation of “Holidays in the Holy Land (Part 1 of 2)“.

I’ve done a decent job of listening to my own advice and investing in a smaller circle of friends in Israel. It’s funny, though.  I try to be present with people in a genuine “I see you” type of way, and to respect those around me.  When you combine that with the fact that I am intense about friendships and full of love and caring, then investing in these friendships is almost like having simultaneous relationships – just without calling them as such, and sans the physical factor.

This is kind of ironic, given the desired break from relationships.  Intense friendships are a normative part of my world, but are likely strange for other people to experience and to compartmentalize as only friendships – even if they rationally know where I’m at.

Unrelated Photo: I Had the Opportunity to Explore the Israel Museum, Which Had an Incredible and Interactive Exhibit on Shadows.  Check Out This Shadow Sculpture!

Unrelated Photo: I Had the Opportunity to Explore the Israel Museum, Which Had an Incredible and Interactive Exhibit on Shadows. Check Out This Awesome Shadow Sculpture!

Parenthetically, you know that feeling when someone gets in your head and you can’t get ‘em out?  I’ve been musing recently about what causes that and I think that the common thread is frustrated desire. You can meet someone and have the most innocent of interactions, but if an interest is sparked and that person is unavailable, not interested or you are not allowing yourself to pursue them for whatever reason, nothing makes a mind go more crazy. Can anyone relate?

On a less philosophical note, I am essentially a four-year-old at heart, so it has been wonderful spending time with people my age.  Nothing has made me happier than playing with my niece and nephew this past month and, after receiving a playful comment from a friend one day, I decided to spend my final day in Israel traipsing around the country dressed as a Greek Goddess, because… well, why not?

Splish Splash! Beach Adventures at Hof HaPalmachim

Splish Splash! Beach Adventures at Hof HaPalmachim

The acro class that I teach in Jerusalem is going really well and, with each class, I become more connected to the students and the practice.  Despite all the holidays, my work at the shelter and continued project development (check out Jewrotica’s beautiful new look!), I was able to squeeze in a beach trip to Hof HaPalmachim, a few dance excursions and some malabi and chulent adventures before leaving Israel.

Acro on the Beach - Flying Best Buddy David

Acro on the Beach – Flying Best Buddy David

The trip home was smooth sailing and, on my layover in Newark, I pulled back my hair, put on some lip gloss… and walked into the executive club lounge with a nice young businessman. After two minutes of chitchat, I was freed to go munch on a limitless quantity of chocolate-covered raisins. Really, who needs jetlag when you can have chocolate-covered raisins?!  Bliss.

This sugar high love was followed by the biggest surprise of my life.  Just as I was about to board the plane for Austin, I felt hands cover my eyes.  I began musing out loud: “Well, I’m in New Jersey.  So maybe this is someone who I grew up with, or a really friendly stranger?”  I turned around and it was my Dad who had left his DC business meeting early and hopped an early flight just to catch me at the gate.  What an amazing gift!!

Surprise! Dad Wows Me at Newark

Surprise! Dad Wows Me at Newark

My transition to Austin has been truly great, and much more natural than I thought it would be.  The weather here is glorious, the co-op is moving in a great direction, reuniting with friends has been tremendously uplifting and singing with my choir this morning was simply Godly.  The music and prayers were beautiful, and I even phoned my dear friend David into the service, who proceeded to play my choir’s songs on speakerphone as he walked the streets of Jerusalem! All the kids rushed over to give me huge hugs after the service… and wouldn’t let go. It felt good to be back.

Life here is light, idyllic and easy.  Everything is falling into place and I am more actively appreciating my surroundings because they may only be available to me for a limited time.  It looks like I’ll be immersing in Austin’s carefree offerings this October, and then traveling to Montreal, East Texas, West Louisiana and Florida in November, after which I’ll be selling the RV and moving to Jerusalem for a couple of years to start the next chapter in my life. Surprise! Or perhaps not a surprise for those who have been following my trajectory.

Yoga Insanities - I Picked Up a Few Bendy Tricks in Jerusalem :-)

Yoga Insanities – I Picked Up a Few Bendy Tricks in Jerusalem :-)

If you know of anyone who is looking to purchase a gently-used and well-loved RV with solar panels and low mileage, let me know if you or a friend might be Arvie’s next family.

Til then, I have a birthday excursion in San Antonio to look forward to tomorrow and a week of art modeling (a first!) with skilled professors at two of the colleges in town.

You enjoy this season, and I’ll do the same.  Blessings for a glorious October!

posted by ayo





Holidays in the Holy Land (Part 1 of 2)

6 10 2013

My second month in Israel was one of joyful celebration.  By the end of August, I had established a community and a life for myself in Jerusalem.  By the end of September, I had solidified friendships and participated in the most vibrant high holiday season of my life.

My new favorite holiday is the seven-day festival of Sukkot, the only occasion in the Bible where the Jewish people are repeatedly commanded to be happy. And boy do folks in Jerusalem take that command seriously! There were concerts, elaborate feasts, parades and impromptu merriments throughout the city (and country!) all week. Friends spent much of their time dwelling in outdoor huts (sukkahs) and the city was one giant open house as friends and strangers alike hopped from sukkah to sukkah, singing, eating and welcoming guests.

Beautiful Hospitality at the Home of Sarah Yehudit - Our Coziest Succah!

Beautiful Hospitality at the Home of Sarah Yehudit – Our Coziest Succah!

Fun fact:  Sukkot is actually a time of celebration for all the nations of the world, and thousands of pilgrims came to Jerusalem for the holiday and for a special prayer called the Birkat HaKohanim.  Along with all of those traveling visitors were my dear friends from Riverdale, Shira and Ari, and seeing them was such a treat!

Birkat HaKohanim is the blessing that the priests of Israel bestow upon the nation and is one of our older traditions as a people.  My family gathered, along with dear friends David and Viktoria, at the Aish HaTorah balcony overlooking the Western Wall for a beautiful service, reception (with Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau) and performance by the Miami Boys Choir (whose music I grew up on).  It was a perfect morning, followed by sukkah-hopping around the Old City’s Jewish Quarter.

Overlooking the Western Wall for Birkat HaKohanim & The Gathering of the Nation

Overlooking the Western Wall for Birkat HaKohanim & The Gathering of the Nation

The Family at Birkat HaKohanim, Sans Rachael

The Family at Birkat HaKohanim, Sans Rachael

It was a very “filling” season, and – even more so than usual – I was keeping my eyes open for opportunities to help others.  The perfect opportunity arose when I saw a new neighbor shlepping his suitcases up the stairs of my building.  Just like someone ran out to help me on my first day, I dropped my things to help this new neighbor, which quickly turned into adopting his whole family for the evening, bringing them over to David’s house for havdallah, touring them around the neighborhood the following week and sparing them from standing in the rain until their landlord met them later that night.  (They flew into the country on Shabbat, so everything was shut down and the landlord was only reachable following sunset.) They’re a sweet family, and I look forward to seeing them again upon my return to Israel this winter.

One of the best parts of my time in Israel was my work with Bat Melech.  I spent time with the women, performed strategic work in the office and hosted visiting philanthropic groups.  I felt really appreciated by the director and it felt damn good to do solid work that only my particular skillset could tackle.

Mischief at Work: The Sign Says "Men's Bathroom", But I Didn't Want to Shlep to the Other Side of the Building, So I Tacked On "& Staff" With Smiley Faces

Mischief at Work: The Sign Says “Men’s Bathroom”, But I Didn’t Want to Shlep to the Other Side of the Building, So I Tacked On “& Staff” With a Smiley Face

There is a lot of work that needs to be done, both for Bat Melech and for so many other good causes in the country.  I try to keep in mind the saying from Ethics of Our Fathers:  Lo Alecha Ham’lacha Ligmor, V’lo Ata Ben Chorin L’hivatel Mimena – “It is not your duty to complete all the work, but neither are you free to refrain from it.”  It’s a powerful idea to just start and do your portion with the knowledge that – bit by bit – a positive difference will be made.

On my second to last day in the office, the kids at the shelter wowed me with an incredible surprise birthday party.  I had no idea that it was coming, but they turned the lights off, hid behind the table and sang me HaYom Yom Huledet before presenting me with cards, a chocolate cake (mmm…) and my very own paper crown emblazoned with the number 28.  Just when I thought the party was over, the group sat me down in a chair and the children and teenage counselors lifted me up in the air ten times in celebration. Wow. What a night!

Birthday Chulent! With Jamie, Who Is Donning My Birthday Crown :-)

Birthday Chulent! With Jamie, Who Is Donning My Birthday Crown :-)

I promised the kids that I would leave the crown on, and proudly wore it on the bus ride home, through the streets of the shuk and to a birthday dinner with my Mom and sister at Te’enim, a stellar veggie restaurant overlooking the walls of the Old City.

Mom, Jess and Me Celebrating My Hebrew Birthday at Te'enim

Mom, Jess and Me Celebrating My Hebrew Birthday at Te’enim

Continue reading “Holidays in the Holy Land (Part 2 of 2)“…

posted by ayo





August in Israel (Part 3 of 3)

9 09 2013

This post is a continuation of “August in Israel (Part 2 of 3)“…

Bat Melech

On that note, my experience working with Bat Melech has been very positive.  Bat Melech is the only religious shelter system in all of Israel for victims of violence and domestic abuse.  I work with them three days a week on press / publicity, website and strategy/fundraising initiatives.  I’ll likely be teaching a weekly yoga class at the shelter when I am back in the winter, and have been fortunate to get to know these very strong women.

Last week, I joined the Bat Melech women and children for a summer retreat in Yerucham where we indulged in spa nights, chocolate-making, meditation sessions, educational workshops and children’s programming.  It was momentarily sad as the trip marked the one-year anniversary of my and Yair’s get (religious divorce), and it brought up memories of really not wanting the split to happen at all, but being with so many strong women – who I supported, who supported me, half of whom were being denied religious divorces by horrible husbands – really put things in perspective, and the quiet time in the desert was just so spot on and right.

A Hiking Excursion to Sataf with the Parents

A Hiking Excursion to Sataf with the Parents

A Week in the Desert with the Moms and Kids of Bat Melech

A Week in the Desert with the Moms and Kids of Bat Melech

Otherwise, I’ve integrated into the organization quite well.  I was gifted a book by the director and attended the Bat Melech holiday party last week.  I’ve been offered a full-time job, but am holding off on employment and the corresponding commitments for now.  That said, I may accept the offer upon my return to Israel in the winter if / when I sell the RV.  (No final decisions yet – just musings!)

Family Time, Jessie’s Aliyah and Assorted Augustness

The time with family and proximity to family has been wonderful.  Perhaps the biggest news is that my little sister, Jessie, made aliyah!  She has been dreaming of emigrating to Israel for some time and is now a full-fledged Israeli citizen.  Congrats, Jess!

What else?  I have tried to schedule myself just a bit less to allow time for reading and naturally-unfolding adventures, like Shabbat dinners with friends and mischief-making with ever-changing groups of strangers in Gan Sacher (Israel’s Central Park / Zilker Park, a five-minute walk from my house).

Israel Welcomed Hundreds of New Olim On Their 50th Charter Flight Last Month

Israel Welcomed Hundreds of New Olim On Their 50th Charter Flight Last Month

Mischief-Making with Little Friends

Mischief-Making with Little Friends

Just prior to Jessie’s arrival, I joined my family in attending the wedding of family friends… on my wedding anniversary.  I found it ironic to be invited to a wedding on the first wedding anniversary that I wasn’t celebrating (and those dates really get drilled into your head!) and davka to be dancing to my wedding song at the event (ha!), but it was a beautiful outdoor ceremony and – though parts of the evening could have been sad – they just weren’t.

Otherwise, I have the ever-surfacing challenge of not trying to spread myself too thin, both socially and projects-wise.  I haven’t figured out how to tactfully do this as so many projects interest me, but moreover so many people do!  It’s difficult to say “sorry, I need to focus on family, work and reading, so I can’t hang out with you” especially after a lovely interaction, but what will hopefully make this line-drawing a smidge easier is that I intend to take a complete break from dating for the coming months.

Particularly after reading this article vetted by my medically-oriented sister, I feel the pressures of the biological clock even less and feel utterly freed to not date, to not look for a partner and to not rush to the next phase of my life.  I am loving living on my own and, especially with my family and close friends living in the neighborhood, there is no shortage of excellent company.

At the Wedding with My Mama

At the Wedding with My Mama

Summary

In short, things here are going really well!  There are periodic dips or scares (e.g. “holy sh**, is Syria going to launch an attack and where do I get a gas mask?!”), but they’ve been nothing more than scares of the moment and then life carries on.  I certainly don’t have it all figured out yet, but things are coming together for me step by step and I can’t ask for more than that.

Wishing you all a shana tova (happy new year) and I will see you Austin folks in just a few weeks!

posted by ayo





August in Israel (Part 2 of 3)

9 09 2013

This post is a continuation of “August in Israel (Part 1 of 3)“…

Nachlaot

My neighborhood (Nachlaot) is chock full of characters, and everyone has a story.  There’s the local massage therapist who wrote a book called “Cannabis Hassidut”, the Kabbalistic artist who dreamt of our meeting and created a painting inspired by the vision, and the delightful Jewish half-Armenian soul who is a Watsu practitioner and has quickly become one of my very favorites.

A Stunning Painting That Incorporates Visages of My Jerusalem Balcony and Other Symbols

The Painting Incorporates Visages of My Jerusalem Balcony Alongside Other Symbols

Then there is the lovable start-up mafioso with whom I spend most of my time, and of course Yehuda Amram, the unstoppable owner of Falafel Mula, who will insist on giving you free falafel and tehina whenever you pass by his corner.

Yehuda is always singing and dancing to the music in the shop and, the other day, when I was walking back from the shuk, he called me over, handed me a falafel ball and said in English “I want to hold the hand of a beautiful woman and dance with her!” before twirling me around and waving me on my way.  (He does this with everyone.)

And those brief descriptors don’t even begin to provide insight into the depth and backgrounds of these people and the odd yet lovely community that we seem to form together.  Oh, Nachlaot.

Good Natured Force Feeding at the Falafel Shack - Yehuda Is 2nd From The Left

Good Natured Force Feeding at the Falafel Shack – Yehuda Is 2nd From The Left

At first, I was actively trying not to recreate my Austin world in Jerusalem, but within my first week, I found myself invited to a veggie-friendly, composting, wanderlust-type hippie co-op in my neighborhood.  And of course I added the acroyoga, circus and massage beats to my local map.  Because I am intentionally choosing a Sabbath-observant existence in Jerusalem, it can be challenging to be friends with folks who invite me to the sea or to Burner events on Saturdays, but my surroundings here certainly seem to be less anti-religious, which is nice.

Religious Stuff

I’ve been studying at a local yeshiva (Simchat Shlomo – check it out!) and have really been enjoying my exposure to heart-focused Judaism, where much of the teaching focuses on spirituality, self improvement and the honing of behavior to be in line with ideals and values.  Though I am not the type to jump into a new lifestyle whole-hog, I find that I am getting a fair amount out of the classes and I like the rhythm of waking up at 7 am for early morning Hassidut and allowing tefillah (prayer) and learning to balance each other out, heart and mind.

Where the Action Happens - A Women's Study Class at Simchat Shlomo

Where the Action Happens – A Women’s Study Class at Simchat Shlomo

The Jewish study provides a nice counterbalance to circus / secular life and, say what you will, but the religious people whom I have encountered seem to be happier and more well-balanced than their secular counterparts on the whole.  The communities live out their beautiful values and the specific community with which I identify is respectful, inclusive and moderate.

It’ll be interesting to see how I navigate the adjustments between Jerusalem and Austin, especially given that I may make my first foray into the world of art modeling this October, yet spend much of my week in the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem where my elbows and knees are quite covered.

Hassidut-Inspired Post-Class Drawings

Hassidut-Inspired Post-Class Drawings: An Austin-Jerusalem Hybrid?

Continue Reading “August in Israel (Part 3 of 3)“…

posted by ayo





August in Israel (Part 1 of 3)

9 09 2013

August came and went, and what a month it was! With the exception of a few short day trips to neighboring cities, I spent the entire month in Jerusalem without traveling. (A first!) Though I was highly tempted to hop on an airplane to Norway for a kayaking trip in the fjords, I stayed put and started the makings of a life for myself here.

My rhythm looks something like:  work with a local organization (Bat Melech) three days a week, study Hassidism in the mornings at the local Carlebach yeshiva, co-teach acro and take ashtanga classes at an amazing yoga studio and the usual juggling of projects, family time and adventures.

The Neighborhood - My Yeshiva Is On This Pedestrian Street

The Neighborhood – My Yeshiva Is On This Pedestrian Street

And oh, the adventures! In early August, I ventured into the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Geula for a visit to the hidden-but-delightful vegetarian chulent factory (open until 3 am every night but Shabbat!). I might have needed to cover my collarbone, elbows, knees and braid my hair, but Lord that veggie chulent was worth it.

The following week, I squeezed in a visit to the stunning Ashdod beach and Mediterranean Sea with college friend Daniel (can you believe that study abroad was seven years ago?!) and I spent two evenings in the blissful nature of Ein Karem, dodging coyotes, taking in the stars, connecting with spiritual-minded folks at the Secular Yeshiva and starting an impromptu dance circle with sister Jess in tow.

Veggie Chulent Adventures with Mr. Jewlicious in Geula

Veggie Chulent Adventures with Mr. Jewlicious in Geula

Music, Dance, Nature, Learning and a Night Out On the Town with My Sister - Hard to Beat

Music, Nature, Learning and a Night Out On the Town with My Sister – Hard to Beat

Lastly, Jerusalem is currently in election season, and I snagged an invitation to a personal tour of the city, its developments and cultural offerings guided by the current mayor Nir Barkat.  

The tour was complete with a visit to Teddy Stadium (where I ran out to the center of the field!), the distribution of hard hats in off-limits construction zones and the gifting of Artiks (Israeli popsicles) to keep us happy.

Putting In A Word About My Organization With Jerusalem's Mayor

Putting In A Word About My Organization With Jerusalem’s Mayor

People lean on each other here and, in a sense, life feels more real and neighborly.  On my first Friday in town, I helped an elderly lady cross the street at the shuk (the outdoor market, whose streets are notorious for crazy driving and tricky pedestrian crossing) and she was so grateful for my helping her.

I didn’t know that “helping cute, old ladies cross the street” was even a thing anymore! I figured it was relegated to the realm of 1950s truisms, but the very next week a different elderly woman near the shelter where I work asked for help carrying her bags and was so appreciative. There’s something quite endearing and rewarding about the interaction.

Continue Reading “August in Israel (Part 2 of 3)“…

posted by ayo





My Arrival in Israel & a Bit of July (Part 2)

4 08 2013

This is a continuation of “My Arrival in Israel & a Bit of July (Part 1)“…

Part 2: A Bit of July

July was a mishmash of volunteering, project coordination and quality time with friends. I bonded with my kids at the Boys & Girls Club, where I chaperoned field trips and taught everything from acroyoga to creative costuming and clothing design. I had the opportunity to volunteer with Project Sunshine, where I connected with a four-year-old child who would not speak to or communicate with anyone. He had wires protruding from near every part of his body and a very serious expression on his face.

After a bit of sleuth work, I discovered that he spoke only Spanish, loved trains and was obsessed with Gangam Style. One hour later, we had rocked out to Gangam Style with our best dance moves, sang our favorite Barney songs in Spanish (what a throwback!) and – despite dirty looks from a couple of nurses – I allowed him and his brother to paint all over my arms and legs after I made them a drawing. I bonded tremendously with the family and the giggles that came out of the boys when they mischievously ‘broke the rules’ and painted on me was epic.

At PattiCon, A Going-Away Party for a Beloved Blues Dancer in Austin

At PattiCon, A Going-Away Party for a Beloved Blues Dancer in Austin

Over the past few months, I have found myself to be very… mothering. Not in a domineering, telling people what to do way, but in a nurturing way of loving people, feeding people, supporting people and – yes – occasionally giving reminders to sleep enough, eat enough and put on sun block before heading out for the day. It was strange, but nice to fill this loving and supportive role for so many friends back in Austin. Though I am – thankfully – not feeling the biological clock, I think that I am going to be a good mom and that is a great feeling.

In late July, I had a thought-provoking interaction with a new friend. We spoke briefly and exchanged information. He then went home, Googled me and deemed me to be “famous”. I downplayed the whole thing. Fame is silly. Fame is relative. Though it was fun to snag my first magazine cover and get shout-outs from Freakonomics and the international press, these developments in no way made me famous. But, for every point that I made, he made a valid counterpoint – including that even random bits on the internet, like this City Hall presentation (Item 4) from almost a year ago, stick around for a long time. This conversation on the concept and reality of fame got me thinking a lot about life direction and next steps.

Though it is admittedly fun to dabble in the spotlight, I do not want fame. I am at a point where I could parlay Jewrotica into landing me appearances on high profile talk shows, or even my own show on relationships and sexuality. But that is not my passion nor what I want from my life. I feel blessed that there are so many opportunities that present themselves to me, but I must remain vigilant to stay mindful and aware of my desired life path, lest my 20s pass with lots of ‘cool experiences’, but not the significant markers and contributions that I wish to make.

A Celebratory Picnic with Friends in Austin

A Celebratory Picnic with Friends in Austin

Besides, to speak a bit indelicately, being famous would suck.  Yes, the platform could be leveraged for the good, but when you are famous, people are out to get you. You become more susceptible to unwarranted criticism and take-downs simply for being in the limelight. Folks with skewed values are often drawn in, adding difficulty to discerning the motivations of new friends and acquaintances.

Fame could also be inhibiting as fairly normal behaviors (e.g. a top-free swim amongst other top-free swimmers at a quiet spring in Austin) could be contorted and misrepresented as extreme and inaccurate behaviors (e.g. ‘revealing photo of Jewish sexuality expert’ and other such nonsense). Perhaps most significantly, many famous people get caught up in their own image and forget their cosmic and real insignificance. Fame causes people to think that simply maintaining their presence – without any additional contributions – is a worthwhile thing to do, and I take objection to that.  Thoughts?

I was sent off to Israel with so much love from my Austin friends and community that it made it a bit hard and almost sad to leave. But, the fact that July was a slower month gave me time to immerse myself in Austin’s offerings and its people, but also to get antsy enough with my free time to spin my wheels in anticipation of coming here. I was also able to meditate on what I want to get out of my time in Israel and to realize that I am ready to make some changes.

[Warning: The following video is a highlights reel from my final service with Wesley UMC before departing for Jerusalem.  The songs, including my solo, are all about Jesus.  If you're Jewish, mentally replace Jesus with 'Hashem'.  If you're pagan, channel the Living Spirit.  If you're atheist, enjoy the vignettes for their cultural value.  And if you're going to be irked by Jesus music no matter what, then maybe just skip the video for now.]

Lastly, my final weekend in Austin was very idyllic. The afternoon offered up cool swims and acrobatic play at Barton Springs with my circus crew, the Jewish community and my cousin Lauren. The morning included a powerful service with the choir (my first solo!) and the culmination of a season of reflection, introspection and deep conversation. I am grateful to Wesley for providing me with not only with community, but also with a new set of tools for calling out to God and connecting to prayer through music.

I boarded the plane on Monday in a place of peace with Yair, peace with my year of transition and peace with Austin. And though I accept that most growth in life comes through pain, I boarded the plane grateful to be past it, grateful to be healed and whole, and ready for my next chapter.

Here’s to that next chapter.

posted by ayo





My Arrival in Israel & a Bit of July (Part 1)

4 08 2013

Part 1: My Arrival in Israel

I arrived in Israel just under a week ago and am so happy to be here. Over the past year, I underestimated the significance of proximity to family and home community, and being near both has restored a layer of my being that had been temporarily absent.

Though the travel leading up to my overseas flight was a bit of a nuisance (delayed airplanes and a five hour layover at Newark), the Tel Aviv flight itself was perfection. I slept seven hours straight, and awoke to a delightful vegan Indian breakfast and a really great film called The Sapphires.

With Viktoria

Reunited with Friends in Jerusalem

My arrival to Jerusalem was warmly and enthusiastically met by my parents and a handful of ‘welcome home!’ messages from friends and family. With surprisingly little jet lag, morning #1 had me up at 5:30 am and – rather than waste the day – I did an hour of yoga followed by a morning walk with my mom.

We were on a roll during our three-hour walk as we explored Gan Sacher (a major city park), checked out two local gyms and left notes for friends around town. I also entered super sleuth ninja mode and did my first ever B&E into my best friend’s house to leave a note and surprise on his kitchen table without being detected.  (Granted, I fessed up to my minor misdemeanor about three minutes later in a text message and waited outside his door to say a proper hello.  :-D)

All in all, life here has been good. I arrived just in time for the 2013 Jerusalem Pride celebration, an event uniquely customized to the local culture, rather than just another copy-paste of the more blatantly sex-infused Pride celebrations that appear in other parts of the world. I reconnected with dear friends from my winter trip and fell in love with my neighborhood and apartment.

This is My Supermarket - Fresh Produce at the Shuk

This is My Supermarket – Fresh Produce at the Shuk

I am living in Nachlaot, the part of Jerusalem that boasts the shuk and is a 15-minute walk from center of town, a 20-minute walk from the Old City, a 22-minute walk from my parent’s apartment and a 10-minute walk from the Central bus station. It’s pretty ideal, and I wasted no time in walking through the market and picking up the freshest mangos and produce yesterday to make copious amounts of mango lassi smoothies to bring to my Shabbat meals.

I especially love the apartment that I am subletting here for the next two months! My building is on a quaint and fairly low-traffic street that is still near the heart of everything, and I live on the very quiet top floor of my building. I have a spacious bedroom and a separate salon with couches, a kitchen, a bathroom and – perhaps the apartment’s best features – two balconies that offer stunning views of sunset and the city at night.

One of the Neighborhood Views Off My Balcony

One of the Neighborhood Views Off My Balcony

The Family Downstairs, Gathering for a Pre-Shabbat Food and Guitar Jam

The Family Downstairs, Gathering for a Pre-Shabbat Food and Guitar Jam

I met Chaim, my very friendly next door neighbor, and divine providence was already in play on move-in day as another neighbor, Chanan, rushed outside as soon as he heard my mom and I wrestling with our suitcases to welcome us and assist in carrying my bags up the flights of stairs to the top floor. (So kind!)

We were even serenaded upon arrival as there is a coffee shop across the street with live music. Unpacking to live acoustic tunes and singing from across the street added a nice element to my first evening and paved the way for an even greater surprise…  A dear friend came over with the perfect house-warming gift: the best home-made hummus in town from the Old City, Bedouin bread and Malabi-filled baklava. YUM.

Even Shabbat surpassed expectations with my parents generously hosting eight guests for a welcome-home dinner, a Hassid stopping my friends (and others passersby on the street) to ask if anyone needed or wanted a Shabbat meal with his family, a lively Shabbat lunch with the Jewrotica-Israel team at my friend’s flat just three blocks away, and even the discovery of an incredible outdoor, song-focused Shabbat service at a beautiful garden. Nachlaot is seemingly the spiritual-friendly, hippie center of Jerusalem and it appears that I’ve chosen my neighborhood quite well.

My Mom and David at the Apartment - With Yummy Food Surprises!

My Mom and David at the Apartment – With Yummy Food Surprises!

I may decide to recreate elements of my Austin life here. For example, Hebrew University offers free Media Noche Cuban Salsa nights on Tuesdays and there is a local circus group in town. However, I am relishing the opportunity to do things a bit differently here and to fill in some of the missing pieces in my life. I have a meeting arranged with a local non-profit that runs two shelters for victims of domestic violence this coming week, and look forward to doing some meaningful high-level and interactive work for them.

Not many people have the opportunity to start over, to try on another country and another lifestyle essentially risk free. By maintaining my life in Austin but taking this season to seamlessly integrate back into friends and family in Jerusalem, I have been blessed with that opportunity. I am grateful for it and hopeful, too.

Continue Reading with “My Arrival in Israel & a Bit of July (Part 2)“…

posted by ayo





A Taste of June – Part 4 of 4

10 07 2013

This post is a continuation of “A Taste of June: Part 3 of 4“.

Summer is an excellent time for family visits.  Though it saddens me that no one in my nuclear family has made the trek to Austin, I played host to younger brother Yoni just a few weeks ago.  Yoni was en route to San Francisco for a summer internship, and took four days to enjoy our beautiful city.  Yair and I whisked Yoni around to food trucks, the acroyoga jam, choir and his first foray into swing dancing.  Yoni also got a taste for co-op life and my cousin Lauren will soon be getting an encore experience as she is moving to Austin this Thursday, and will be staying at Rosewood ’til she gets her sea legs.  Welcome, Lauren!

My Housemates Bite. I Love Them More For It.

My Housemates Bite. I Love Them More For It.

Opportunities continue to present themselves, though I am taking great care to think through each option before choosing any.  For example, I was invited to be part of a founding group for a top-notch Broadway-quality Jewish performing arts camp.  I love camp, the performing arts and Jewish stuff, so it should be a no-brainer, but all of those things fall into the “fun” bucket and I want to focus more on the “meaningful” one.  I told them that I would gladly advise or come on as faculty at some point in the future, but could not be part of the core founders group at this time.

The best part of having a leisurely existence is that – by virtue of the free time on my hands – I am open to new experiences, adventures and connections.  I met one interesting person at the library just a few weeks ago, and that chance encounter has led to nature hikes, impromptu swims, and deep conversations that challenge my assumptions on reproductive rights among other topics.  (On that note, I have attended both the pro-life and pro-choice rallies at the Texas Capitol in regards to the current HB2 proposal.  What an intense time.)

Yes, That Is A Rock.  Should Have Known This Friend Was Trouble From The Start.

Yes, That Is A Rock. I Should Have Known This Friend Was Trouble From The Start.

Being open to new and intense human connections is perhaps the greatest blessing of my lifestyle.  But every pro has a con, and I can’t shake the feeling that I am not doing enough.

I was not designed for traditional retirement or sabbaticals.  I gotta move and be and contribute and create!  I do know how to relax, but relaxing and “extra curricular” type activities are most appreciated in contrast to the hustle bustle of life.  So, while I am taking time to appreciate my Austin season through music, acrobatics, humans, volunteering, rough-housing at Barton Springs and the absorption of random new skills (my rope handiwork is getting real good – go boy scouts, go!), I am ready to ramp my committments up and be accountable to someone or something each morning.

I’m also keenly aware that what re-charges me is, in no particular order, a combination of exercise, project productivity, time with family and helping others.  I’ve been slightly lacking in some of the above lately, but I believe that my time in Jerusalem may prove to be fruitful grounds for all four.

Soon I Won't Have to Skype With Mom and Dad Because I'll Be Seeing Them!

Soon I Won’t Have to Skype With Mom and Dad Because I’ll Be Seeing Them!

Ah, yes, Jerusalem.  I’ve rented an apartment near the heart of downtown and the open air market for August and September, and will be splitting my time between Israel and America in the coming year.  I’ve missed my family, and my entire nuclear family will be in Israel in 2013-2014, so ’tis the season to get my butt overseas and rejoice in the unity of family while the opportunity presents itself.

I hope to keep up blogging as I value its role in my life and I enjoy sharing, but I will close out this post by sharing the two primary reasons that I have not been blogging as much:

1)  I have been blessed to connect with beautiful people and nurture once-in-a-lifetime-how-am-I-so-lucky relationships and experiences over the past weeks and months.  Some of these connections have been on the intellectual and spiritual plane. Though I have held off on plunging into an official relationship, other connections have been on the romantic plane, one of which snuck up and took me by surprise.

Back in March, I started keeping a “real live” written journal to record many of the memories, thoughts, epiphanies, experiences, hilarities and profound developments that now find their home within the confines of my moleskin.  The journal is a more fitting place for these recordings than the blog for the sake of my and their privacy, but the keeping of a journal for sharing and reflection makes the writing of blog updates often feel less urgent.

Post-Argentine Tango Milonga, Blues Room and Swing at The Fed - With Daniel in Disguise

Post-Argentine Tango Milonga, Blues Room and Swing at The Fed – With Daniel in Disguise

Someone Knows His Way to This Lady's Heart... Hand-Picked Tea with Honeysuckle, AND Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Someone Knows His Way to A Lady’s Heart… Hand-Picked Tea with Honeysuckle, AND Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Relishing the Fairytale - Sunset Picnic at Mount Bonnell

Living the Fairytale – Sunset Picnic at Mount Bonnell

2)  Due to one particularly deep experience (and partially due to what I consider to be what I feel is overexposure in the media from Jewrotica), I have been blessed to embrace the partial dissolution of ego.

I am acutely aware of my cosmic insignificance, but also of how much of my life is (often unintentionally!) spent crafting an image and it’s all laughable.  I still want to share. I still want to be a smile-inducing, loving, living presence in others’ lives.  But, as I wake each morning and smile at the leaves who wave at me and sway in the wind just outside my window, as I open my eyes and say the Modeh Ani thanking the heavens for giving me a new day, I become part of the vastness of everything and the mystery of all, and the idea of self-documenting my antics can seem pedantic and laughably tedious.

So, if I learned a new trick?  Good.  If I had a dreamy date?  Darling.  If I helped another soul through a chance or scheduled encounter?  Beautiful, but none of these are out of the ordinary or so universally grand that they merit being broadcasted on a daily or weekly basis – at least for now.

I suppose the key to healthy balance is nurturing an appreciation for the universal while maintaining enough of a grip on the day-to-day to function and thrive in the microscopic events of history that are our lives.

Who has something to say on this, or any other topic mentioned?  Write me below.

Wishing everyone a wonderful July, and perhaps I’ll see you again when Israel season arrives.

posted by ayo





A Taste of June – Part 3 of 4

10 07 2013

This post is a continuation of “A Taste of June: Part 2 of 4“.

There were of course oodles of fun one-off events in June.  I was asked to MC the kick-off for the Yogabatics Acroyoga video series at Spiderhouse Cafe. The MC request came in same-day and, though it was flattering to be asked, I had never MCed someone else’s event before!

But I rose to the challenge and added my personal touch to the introductions, performances and skits throughout the evening.  By the end of the night, I had everyone following my impromptu activity directives and doing “the wave” in random formations around the room, so I would say that the night was a success!

(One week later at Blues on the Green, I was recognized by a handful of folks who had seen me MC, so my friends lovingly razzed me for becoming a local celebrity, a silly but fun role to occasionally play.)

MC Ayo

MC Ayo

In late June, I was booked at Camp Young Judaea – Texas for a staff Jewrotica oneg and also as a circus performer and acroyoga instructor.  It was fun to enter camp in an acrobatic capacity and only later switch to my Jewish educator hat.  The kids had tons of fun, my dear friend Daniel and I were given the honors of an aliyah to the Torah and leading Hamotzi and for the whole camp, and we learned to survive in almost record-breaking 105 degree weather.

But Young Judaea – Texas and Boys & Girls Club were not the only camps that I attended this summer… I jumped onboard as a teacher at – you guessed it (no, you’re not going to guess it), Hip Hop Hope Bible Camp!  Wesley hosted a week of music, praise dance, conversation and Bible study, all through the prism of hip hop and modern culture.

Certified!  Ignore the Jesus Part for Just a Moment and Read On.

Certified! Skip the Jesus Part for Just a Moment and Read On.

I was one of the teachers for the teenage group and I took the opportunity to stir up some excellent trouble.  See, the instructor was talking about sin and how we are all sinners.  (“Who here isn’t a sinner?  I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner, etc.”)  But that doesn’t make for a very positive conversation.  Shortly thereafter, one of our brilliant teens piped up and asked “But weren’t we created in the image of God?”

Before the teacher could respond, I jumped in:  “Yes, we were!  Hey guys, wouldn’t it stink to live in a world where we were sinners, are sinners and always will be sinners no matter what?”

“Yeah!”, they chimed in.

“Right, so Nathan is spot on in that each of us has a choice.  Parts of us may be tempted to do bad things, but parts of us are able to do good and all of us were created in the image of God.  It’s up to us, up to each of us, to choose ‘the good’ and to grow that part of ourselves through positive actions and deeds.  We have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, and that’s how we live up to being created b’tzelem elokim.”

My #1 Fan - Dharion Runs Onstage to Hug Me Every Sunday After Services - My Reward for Sitting Through the Sermon? :-)

My #1 Fan – Every Sunday After Services, Dharion Runs Onto The Stage To Give Me A Hug – My Reward For Sitting Through The Super-Long Sermon? :-)

Okay, so maybe I didn’t use the Hebrew lingo, but I proceeded to share with the teens the midrash about the man caught in a flood who is offered help from family, friends, neighbors, boats and eventually a rescue helicopter.

At each opportunity, the man turns down the offer of help, saying “God will save me!” until the water passes over his head and he drowns.  When he goes up to shamayim (the heavens), he accuses God: “I had such faith, and you didn’t save me!” to which Hashem (or, in this scenario, Jesus) responds:  “Who do you think sent your family, your friends, the neighbors, the boats and the helicopter?!”

This led to a conversation about the concept of Ein Somchin Al HaNes, not to rely on miracles, and instead to take good works into our own hands.  Particularly once we kicked the older teachers out of the room, I was able to have heart-to-hearts with the teens.  We spoke about everything from prayer to bullying to family challenges to run-ins with the authorities.  It felt really good to be able to relate to the teens on their level and share bits of Jewish and human wisdom through a shared vocabulary. (Though, to clarify, I would not teach anything that goes contrary to the belief system of their community out of respect to them and their families.)

There were definitely lighter parts of camp that counterbalanced the heavy conversations.  Here is a video clip from one afternoon when I joined the middle schoolers for praise dance practice.  Feel free to skip to 2:20 for the freestyle where we “break it down for God”, and then imagine doing this at your shul (synagogue).

Though I think of June as a lazy month, reflecting on the sheer number of excursions and experiences that made it to my calendar is exhausting!

I squeezed in adventures to Jacob’s Well with new housemates, theater visits to Trash: The Musical and Dixie’s Tupperware Party, dance excursions to Argentine tango milongas, The Fed swing dance and Code Blue blues, an acroyoga photo and video shoot, an appearance at NerdNite where I supported a friend in his academic presentation on the history of cymbals, a handful of brain-stimulating book reads and a visit to a friend’s Magic Berries party, where guests devoured lemon wedges and other goods, our taste buds telling us that we were savoring the sweetest of the sweet as we consumed the tartest of edibles.

I also received a fabulous private lesson on a “pattern machine” (i.e. piano) and indulged in several majestic summer sunshowers, where I and friends (safely) danced and frolicked on our rooftop in the rain.

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These silly bouts were accompanied by bursts of project work, which continue at a stop-and-go pace as other people’s schedules and my own proclivities toward computer time dictate.  After conversations with several foundations, Jewrotica seems poised to bring in potential grants and recognition in 2014 if I choose to stick with it and grow it in a workshops and curriculum direction.

My workshop for young Orthodox marrieds is enjoying a few final touches before an August launch and, as I am disinterested in (actually, kind of sick of!) taking the lime light in the press, I will be passing the project onto a young Jewish sex educator as this will be a great opportunity for her portfolio.

A New Workshop for Young Marrieds in the Halacha-Observant Community

A New Workshop for Young Marrieds in the Halacha-Observant Community

Continue Reading the Final Post in “A Taste of June: Part 4 of 4“…

posted by ayo








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