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





10 07 2013

This post is a continuation of “A Taste of June: Part 1 of 4“.

Perhaps the most consistent item in my schedule has been my volunteer work with Boys and Girls Club. The interactions have been fun, fulfilling and structuring.

During the school year, I primarily offer homework help and outdoor programming, but these days I have been chaperoning field trips to McKinney Falls, Mayfield Park, Blanton Art Museum and other local area attractions, which continues my streak of going to camp almost every summer for the past ten years!

Wheels on the Bus Go Round & Round - Packed in for a Tuesday Field Trip!

Wheels on the Bus Go Round & Round – Packed in for a Tuesday Field Trip!

Spotting a Turtle at Mayfield Park Preserve

Spotting a Turtle at Mayfield Park Preserve

I realized that – by virtue of the fact that I operate at a faster speed and take on more projects than others – I expose myself to more ups and downs than the average person.  For example, a couple of weeks ago I was notified that the book proposal that I busted my butt on was likely not going to be picked up by a publisher, but – within 24 hours – an article that I wrote had been published in a Jewish journal with national distribution.  Similarly, I was given a magazine cover the same week that we lost a conservative advertiser on Jewrotica.  And so forth.

The “downs” or disappointments tend to hit me harder than the achievements (which I brush off as par for the course), but I try to take each at face value and appreciate them for what they are.

Planning My Faces Route for the Fall

Planning My Faces Route for the Fall

Someone Wanted to Publish Me.  Sweet!

Someone Wanted to Publish Me. Sweet!

On the note of appreciating experiences as they come, as I was exploring an enchanted forest in the Austin Botanical Garden on Sunday afternoon, I was attacked by a handful of yellow jacket wasps.

At first, I didn’t understand what was happening.  I simply felt that my right hand was being peeled open, as though a metal zipper has been ripped down the back of it. Then the burning began to spread.

My friend moved me away from the area, and we assessed the situation and received care from the nearby office before retiring to a local restaurant for bubble tea (my new favorite!), but I was impressed by my ability to simply process the sensations and pain while staying fairly zen and stoic about the whole thing.

I Love It When My Hosts Prepare Goodie Bags For Me!

I Love It When My Hosts Prepare Goodie Bags For Me!

What else?  I did a bit of paid work in June, which is always a good thing!  I spoke at the annual meeting of a big Jewish Federation in New York, followed by being the keynote at a multi-million dollar fundraiser in Ohio.

This event was notable because it marked my first time being brought to an establishment as a subject-area expert and speaker totally unrelated to my Faces of Israel film project.  In other words, I was not asked to present “the film” or “my program” and the audience didn’t even know what Faces of Israel was.  I was simply being brought in as the expert speaker in my field and, before returning to Austin, I was able to squeeze in a wonderful trip to Pittsburgh to visit my dear high school friends Benay and Rachel.

The presentations went great. I always request feedback from my hosts, and – for the first time in four years – I received some important mixed feedback!  Though my hosts did not care at all, some of the older folks in the community complained that I “came across as casual”.  I tried to understand what that meant.  After all, I had donned suitpants, heels, a nice sweater, make-up and my hair was pulled back in a clipped up-do with bangs framing my face.  So… what is a keynote supposed to wear?  Was it that I didn’t have on any jewelry?

One of Several Living Rooms in the Beautiful Mansion Where the Fundraiser Was Held - Needless to Say, The Co-Op Does Not Quite Look Like This

One of Several Living Rooms in the Beautiful Mansion Where the Fundraiser Was Held – Needless to Say, The Co-Op Does Not Quite Look Like This

I asked my contact for more specific feedback and she commented that she “didn’t mind at all, but perhaps I could blowdry my hair”.  She then mentioned that “maybe there’s nothing that can be done as those people were mainly surprised that you were so young”.  I suppose that looking young is a good problem to have, but spending time with my host populations again highlighted the two diverse worlds that I straddle – one where people live in mansions and don pins indicating philanthropic levels of contribution and one where no one has healthcare and everyone juggles multiple hourly wage jobs.

Home-Cooked (Messy!) Food During My 30-Day No Utensils Challenge

Home-Cooked (Messy!) Food During My 30-Day No Utensils Challenge

The two speaking engagements were the only exceptions that I made to my 30-day no utensils challenge, which I completed two weeks ago.  The first week was mostly a nuisance and I admit that there were times during the 30 days when I was sick of eating with my hands, but overall it was worthwhile and a positive experience.

One Night, I Forgot About the Challenge (Until My Dish Arrived) and Ordered Pad Thai Noodles... Try Eating That With Your Hands!

One Night, I Forgot About the Challenge (Until My Dish Arrived) and Ordered Pad Thai Noodles… Try Eating THAT With Your Hands On a Date!

I became more mindful of the food that I consumed, I ate my meals at a slower pace than usual and I became more aware of the texture and form of my nourishment (i.e. the curved tendrils of quinoa).

I am giving myself a break from 30-day challenges and accompanying restrictions for now, though one of my next challenges may be looking up at the sky each night and holding the heavens in my gaze for just a moment before continuing on with my evening.  I think that will be one of my favorites.

Continue Reading “A Taste of June: Part 3 of 4“…

posted by ayo








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