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

Life As An Art Model

7 12 2013

Perhaps it’s a bit grandiose to refer to my “life as an art model”.  A more apt title for this post would be “my season as an art model.”

Over the past few months, I booked sessions all around the city of Austin as an art model.  I worked with local campuses as well as the local visual arts society, and – though I am happy for the experience – it was certainly a curious one!

Despite my background working as a yoga instructor on a clothing-optional resort and despite my time posing as a body paint model for a brilliant painter, I found myself nervous.  With the exception of my public speaking engagements, I have lately been shying away from the lime light and gravitating away from the center of attention. Regardless, I certainly have not been in many scenarios involving me to pose nude in a foreign environment, all the while holding perfectly still!!  (Anyone who knows me knows that the last thing I do is stay still.)

I researched what the role would involve and made all the appropriate preparations: I drank water that morning, ate and used the restroom before the session, arrived early, brought a towel, robe and flip flops, greeted the professor cordially, remained still and silent during the drawing, re-robed during breaks, etc. etc. The most important part was my exuding a feeling of confidence and comfortability to make the class feel comfortable and at ease.  During my first session, everyone thought that I was already an experienced art model, and they were an advanced class, too!

A Photographic Overlay Using Art Models

A Photographic Overlay Using Art Models

The format for my first class included ten one-minute “gesture drawings”, which are physically rigorous and artistically interesting poses.  I used a bar as a prop for about half of these.  The gesture drawings are a kind of warm-up exercise for the artists.  The rest of the session was spent in 20-60 minute poses with intermittent breaks.

I had several interesting and somewhat surprising observations:

1)  Art modeling takes skill!  The model needs to be creative to think of various gestures on the spot, have endurance and patience in order to hold the poses and have a good bedside manner to put others at ease.

2)  The professor makes a big difference in the experience of the art model!  I was made to feel valued, appreciated and cared for.  The professor thanked me repeatedly, remarked to the students that they should feel gratitude toward the model for this opportunity and she even set up a space heater lest I feel cold.

Each professor verbalized insightful observations on the physical form.  While this felt awkward at first, it was fascinating to hear another person’s observations on the arch of my back, the distance between shoulders, the length of my neck, the fullness of my lips, my muscle tone, etc. as the professors pointed out features for the students to draw.

Perhaps most interesting were the professors’ line of questioning:  “Don’t just draw another person.  This is Ayo sitting here before us.  What is unique to Ayo and her features?  And how are you going to capture what is original about her?”

3)  I was on stage with lights!  This was strange… very strange, but totally professional.  And it was nice, refreshing and natural to be nude once again in a non-sexual setting.  The experience was very freeing, very comfortable and reminded me of my season living in the Dominican Republic.

4)  I was the “overachiever” art model!  The professors were very excited that I came from an aerial and acrobatic background, so I took on poses that were much more rigorous than usual.  During the gesture drawings, I opted for full wheel (a back bridge), single-leg balances and a variety of gymnastic poses.  I even chose a yoga “frog” (think a sort of straddle split) for my 25-minute pose, which in retrospect was absurd, but an excellent challenge at the same time.

One of My Campus Art Stages

One of My Campus Art Stages

5)  Advice to myself: Choose comfier positions next time!  The short one-minute gestures were fine and the seated final pose was fine, but the overly ambitious 20-35 minute poses, with my neck thrown back and my back arched for dramatic flare were absurd, not to mention my choice of “yoga frog” (see above) where my full body weight was placed on the fronts of my ankles.  Lesson learned!

6)  Small classes are great.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started art modeling and I thought that there might be a large auditorium, but there were only four to eight students in each class, which was a lovely small size.  It was interesting to see what I noticed about them.  The male-female breakdown was about even.  Of the eight students in my first class, six seemed to be college-aged while two were older.  All had different body types.

I didn’t feel like the males looked at me or drew me any differently than the females on the whole, but my mind did notice that two of the male students were black.  This of course doesn’t make any difference at all, except that it was my first time fully unclothed in front of a black male and so it was a new experience on top of another new experience.  (I hope that doesn’t sound horribly boorish of me to remark.  The thought simply occurred to me during the session, and I found it interesting to note.)

7)  There was lots of individualism.  It was brilliant to see how each student had their own take and used a different medium or style to depict me.  One class repeatedly held rulers out toward me to take measurements and proportions, and I so badly wanted to pull out a ruler (out of who knows where) and measure them back.  Ah, the humor of art modeling… there were some very comical moments!  But it was very cool to inspire art.  When I had previously done body painting, I remarked on how incredible it was to literally be the art.  In life drawing class, I was the art in a different but equally powerful way.

8)  Just for the experience.  It’s always nice to be compensated for the things that I do, whether a dance performance, acroyoga lesson or strategic office work, but money is never the main motivation for my actions.  Here too, though there was compensation, my motivation was for the experience and to be a part of inspiring and creating art. Still, when I was toward the end of class and tired of holding the pose, it was nice to recall that I was being paid for my time!

An Art Model Sampler - With Strategically Blurred Sections

An Art Model Sampler – With Strategically Blurred Sections

So, how did I fill that still and silent time?  I’m not usually big on meditating, but I relaxed into the music (they had an enchanting Pandora station on), focused on my breath, stared into the distance, and sang songs in my head.  Toward the end of poses, I would count down the minutes / seconds in my mind. During the long pose, I gave myself challenging math problems to keep intellectually stimulated.  And during my medium poses, I davened (prayed).

I suppose that it was a peculiar place to daven – on a stage, with lights accenting my contours, fully naked and in an artistic pose while being drawn by a surrounding audience. But, it was really beautiful in a way.  And there was tremendous humor in the Birkot HaShachar (the morning prayers).

During the blessing of “Pokeach Ivrim” (gives sight to the blind), I was reminded to open my eyes and steady my gaze toward the wall opposite me.

During the blessing of “Zokef Kefufim” (straightens the bent), I engaged my core, arched my back and fixed the slouch that was starting to seep in.

And, of course, during the blessing of  “Malbish Arumim“, I just laughed.  I laughed inside, not breaking the pose, but I thought about how I quite possibly have never said a more ironic bracha in my life.  (“Malbish Arumim” is the blessing for God who ‘clothes the naked’.)

Seemingly, I was an ideal art model.  The professors look for a combination of easygoing, friendly, responsible, creative and athletic endurance, and I was able to rise to the occasion.  I have return invitations to a handful of campuses and studios should I desire and it always feels good to excel at a new skill or experience.

Practically, I’m not sure that I will be back in the studio any time soon. I don’t have the sitzfleisch (tolerance to stay still) to art model on a regular basis.  I value my free time more than my modeling time, and there’s too much that I want to do!

Also, when I return to Jerusalem, much of my time will be spent with knees and elbows covered doing work in the Ultra Orthodox community. But both communities are interesting, both are parts of me and I’m appreciative for the opportunity to be ushered and welcomed into the world of art modeling this past October and November. And so, my life as an art model comes to a successful – if temporary – close! 🙂

posted by ayo

A Facebook Musing

23 10 2013

I love people and I love sharing, so you can see why Facebook would be a natural fit for me.  Though Facebook has the potential to be an incredible social tool for the positive, it is often overused in what seems to be an unhealthy way.  Two weeks ago, I decided to deactivate my account for a temporary time, a day or two perhaps, and within the first 24 hours, I noticed a few interesting things.

First, prior to two weeks ago, my brain had me on a Facebook loop!  I would plow through some e-mails and then ‘reward’ myself by checking Facebook.  I would get ready to go out, but check my Facebook notifications before leaving home.  I would skim my newsfeed prior to bed and feel a pressure to respond to the many messages that came in.  Jerusalem folks inquired about my transition to Austin, and Austin folks reached out to welcome me back and schedule a time to finally get together.

Leaving Facebook Has Allowed Me More Time In Nature - Check Out These Sweet Mating Bugs That I Found!  They Were Going At It On My Picnic Table for ~20 Minutes Straight - That's Some Impressive Stamina!

Leaving Facebook Has Allowed Me More Time In Nature – Check Out These Sweet Mating Bugs! They Were Going At It On My Picnic Table for ~20 Minutes Straight – That’s Some Impressive Stamina!

I was happy to hear from friends in both Austin and Jerusalem, but everyone expected a response and – had I indulged my Facebook tendencies – I would have spent all day in technological correspondence!

I didn’t want that.  The Facebook sabbatical obviated that need by temporarily not allowing my account to receive messages, thereby minimizing the amount of constant communication flooding into my inbox.

I Didn't Just Watch Mating Bugs - I Kicked Off My Remote Jewish Community Outreach Tour - Stop #1: Waco!

I Didn’t Just Watch Mating Bugs During My Time Off Facebook – I Kicked Off My Remote Jewish Community Outreach Tour – Stop #1: Waco!

Second, my life is quieter in a happy way.  I already have sufficient information about parties, events and gatherings around town, so I don’t need to choose from ten additional events and Facebook invites each night.  If I miss something, so be it.  No matter how hard you try, you’re always going to “miss” something!  So, better to be present and choose from a few good options.  Though it still takes discipline for me to sit down with a book and focus, I now have time to read, to watch interesting documentaries and to spend more time outside – and I’m doing all of those things.

Third, it makes it harder to connect with me!  This is strange to list as a positive, but – because I love meeting people, befriending strangers and connecting deeply – I spread myself way too thin!  I am genuine in that I care about the people who I meet and befriend, but it definitely gets out of control.  My Facebook sabbatical has slowed down my pace of new ‘friends’ and has also allowed a resting period from the friends who I already have.  (And who I care about – but sometimes quiet can be so wonderful!)

I Visited a Local Art Gallery and Artists Reception - This Painting Is So Relaxing - I Feel Like I Am Laying On The Floor, Watching the Autumn Leaves Gently Descend to the Ground

I Visited a Local Art Gallery and Artists Reception – This Painting Is So Relaxing – I Feel Like I Am Laying On The Floor, Watching the Autumn Leaves Gently Descend to the Ground

I Love This Painting - It Is So Full of Movement and Sensuality - The Painting Is Titled "Mistress to the Moon"

I Appreciate This Painting – It Is So Full of Movement and Sensuality – The Painting Is Titled “Mistress to the Moon”

Lastly, I feel less of a need to document.  When I’m at an acrojam, it doesn’t so much matter whether I’m in the cool group shot because I don’t participate in the social media platform where it will be posted. When on a trip to Austin’s first Trader Joe’s, when at a themed costume dance party or when juggling with Yair, I don’t need to capture those moments for similar reasons.  I sometimes feel the desire to update my status (e.g. “Free pumpkin carving at Carver this weekend!  Who’s in?”), but instead I opt for a solo excursion or specifically invite a single friend whose company I would most enjoy.  And, if I feel the need to share news or ‘get something out’ but don’t have Facebook as an outlet, it makes me more inclined to journal with good old-fashioned pen and paper.

I deactivated my account the day prior to my birthday and, though a tiny part of me missed the insane wall-posting hoopla, I mostly appreciated the quiet that the break afforded me.  There is something very freeing about the break and, though it’s incredibly sweet that I’ve received so many phone calls, texts and e-mails to make sure that everything is okay, it’s funny to me that not participating in a social media platform is such a radical move.

I Attended a Dance Performance of Able-Bodied, Braced and Wheelchair-Bound Individuals on the Lamar Pedestrian Bridge - A Perfect Day!

I Attended a Dance Performance of Able-Bodied, Braced and Wheelchair-Bound Individuals on the Lamar Pedestrian Bridge – A Perfect Day Above the Water!

Anyway, I will likely reconnect to the rest of the cyberworld at some point, but not before upping my Facebook sabbatical to 30-day challenge status.  Wishing you all a pleasant, relaxing and ding/beep-free evening!

[Update: I wrote the first draft of this post ~48 hours after deactivating Facebook.  It has now been just over two weeks and I am loving the hiatus and the accompanying slower pace of life.]

posted by ayo

The “Return of Saturn” (aka The 28 Transition)

17 10 2013

My birthday was one week ago today and I turned 28.  Normally I don’t take much stock in age, but this year’s birthday was different.*

Rather than making a big hoopla, I didn’t tell many friends and I even temporarily de-activated my Facebook prior to the big day to savor it as a quiet time for me.

I spent October 10th galavanting about in my birthday suit during my very first experience as an art model for a high-level drawing class (more on that in a future post!) and then throwing on a bathing suit and shorts for my first experience stand-up paddle boarding on Town Lake.  The day was made even better by a scrumptious picnic and birthday cupcakes provided by Yair and, earlier that week, I was treated to an incredible day of surprises during a pre-birthday excursion to San Antonio with Daniel.

Surprise Birthday Cupcakes and Paddleboarding with Yair

Surprise Birthday Cupcakes and Paddleboarding with Yair

But later that night, as I took a quiet evening for reflection, it hit me:  28.  Holy sh**!

I had officially entered my late 20s and had not at all mentally prepared for that shift.  Whereas it seemed to me that 27 was a mature 25, still in the heart of my 20s but with the experience and wisdom (sort of) to guide the younger folks, 28 presented itself as practically pre-30.  In a way, this new age seemed to usher me from the “21-27” six-year period of first job, living on my own, traveling, circus arts and my first real relationship (and marriage!) to a “28-34” six-year period that will likely include selecting a life partner, deepening my career, starting a family and raising children.  Wild.

I think another reason why this hit me is because – though I don’t care much about societal expectations – a small part of me totally does!  I kind of liked being the “hotshot” 27-year-old who was ahead of the curve with successful projects, quasi-professional hobbies, mini-retirements, etc. rather than the 28-year-old who could be in a similar place as her peers or even ‘behind the curve’ if you throw in the societal expectation that one be settled down by now.  (Unless all of this is in my head!)

Homemade Gourmet Omeletes and Birthday Chocolate Chip Cookies From Scratch - No One Knows a Kitchen Like Daniel

Homemade Gourmet Omeletes and Birthday Chocolate Chip Cookies From Scratch – No One Knows a Kitchen Like Daniel – Lunch Prior to the San Antonio Excursion

It feels really good to say and to know that I wouldn’t change anything about my life.  “0-27” have been fun, mindful, challenging, joyful, accomplishing and character-building years, and I particularly feel that I could not have spent my early and mid 20s any better.

The interesting thing is that I wouldn’t change my future plans, either.  I’m delighted to be moving to Jerusalem, to be closer to my family, to immerse in a spiritual Jewish community, to have a meaningful job on a flexible schedule lined up and to have an acroyoga class ready for me to teach.  So this isn’t a pre-30 crisis as I know myself deeply, and I have my priorities straight.  It is, however, still a big mental adjustment!

It’s funny because I thought that these were new feelings brought on by 28, but my friend Sway informed me that we had the same conversation last year when I turned 27 and thought that 27 meant all of these life-shifting things.  Ha!

Though it sounds vain, part of my 28 transition is wrapping my head around the idea that I will age.  I’m not invincible or immortal.  And while I don’t like the idea of growing older in certain ways, I will embrace the transition because it is inevitable – and I simultaneously hope to seize every moment and opportunity that I can, and appreciate the vivacity, fitness and youthful beauty that I have while I still have it.

I’ve actually already started noticing differences in my perspective.  Last Saturday night, I attended a blues dance / pool party.  But the heater for the hot tub and pool were broken, the weather had gotten cold and it started to rain.  But no matter!  I changed into my swimsuit, immersed in the water, and swam and danced and felt the droplets on my face and it was good to be alive.  And, the thing is, if the party was the prior week, I probably wouldn’t have gone in the water.  It was prompted by the seize-the-moment “28” reflection, so 28 – here I come!

And, on the note of embracing youthfulness while I have it, I held multiple handstands in other people’s hands last night, nailed some wild new acro moves that I needed to be really brave for (I’m very risk-averse when it comes to physical safety) and I was asked two weeks in a row to guest lead dances in the local Latina women’s zumba class.  So, yeah for being badass!  Now you go do something cool and exhilarating (by your own standards and no one else’s!)!

* Parenthetically, though I enjoy birthday celebrations, it’s fun to think about these days as celebrations of our solar returns.  Instead of ‘happy birthday’, perhaps an appropriate greeting could be: “Hey man, props on sticking around for yet another orbit of our earth’s sun!”

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


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)“…


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