The Start of a Grand (International!) Adventure

16 12 2012

I’m still riding high on life since last Sunday’s return of my usual “extra energy”.  The past week in Austin has been lovely with smile-inducing surprises, a celebration of World Hoop Day and an appearance in my choir’s 1950s Christmas Swing Spectacular.

Tomorrow I depart for a grand international adventure:  The first stop will be a brief layover in New Jersey, where I will have a few hours to swing by Yair’s grandmother’s 100th birthday party and celebrate with the family.  Then it’s off to Berlin for a few days to meet up with my swing dance buddy Dan who I haven’t seen since 2010!

By the time Shabbat rolls around,  I will find myself in Israel where I’ll be spending the next 2-3 weeks adventuring with family and friends, attending an international development conference and visiting an ashram where I will review a workshop for Jewrotica.  I’ll also take some time to reflect on the coming year and begin to feel out where life will take me in Fall 2013.

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There’s a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks… including an aerial silks class that I will be starting upon my return to Austin.  I have expressed an interest in aerial work for almost a year now, so it’s time for less talk and more action!  (You have to be strong for silks and – for the first time ever – I nailed three pull-ups in a row yesterday.  I’m getting there!)

‘Til then, my suitcase is packed, my eighth night Chanukah candles are slowly burning down and it is time to get some shut-eye before Day 1 of this grand adventure begins.  Layla tov!

posted by ayo


Divine Providence – My Week in New York

24 10 2012

Giggles and love!  That’s what I’m feeling right now.  I’ve always had this extra level of energy and happiness that most people don’t experience, but it’s been conspicuously absent lately.  Not so on my trip to New York last week!

I was invited to present Faces of Israel at Yeshiva University in Manhattan and extended my ticket through the weekend to see friends and family.  The plane ride was quick, lovely and allowed me to churn out writing for my crazy new project (which you’ll hear about at a later point).

The Big Apple! I've Arrived! :-)

The Big Apple! I’ve Arrived! 🙂

I had recently applied for an innovative grant that would fund an education outreach tour to visit rural Jewish communities this summer by RV… and I was selected as a finalist!  I was thrilled to hear the news and – as soon as my plane touched down at JFK – I rushed straight to the foundation’s office to say hello and drop off a DVD for the committee. (They were expecting me.)

Now here is where the title of the post comes in:  I got off the subway at Times Square and was amazed by the razzle and dazzle of all the lights and the individuals walking around the plaza in full Disney attire.  (My wide-eyed tourist admiration was a reminder that it had been a long time since I lived in New York!)  But I had a mission at hand and the foundation office would only be open for ten more minutes!  I rushed down the street, into the building and up the elevator to successfully deliver the film with just moments to spare.

I Raced Against the Clock to Deliver This Baby

I Raced Against the Clock to Deliver This Baby

Upon exiting the foundation office, I noticed that their immediate neighbor was a major Jewish publication.  As in one of the most widely-read Jewish newspapers in the country.  As in the newspaper that I had contacted two weeks ago about my new project and hadn’t heard back from.  I thought: Hmm, I don’t have an appointment.  They’re not expecting me. I can’t just walk in there.

So… I gathered up my chutzpah and walked on in!  I introduced myself, one of the senior folks obligingly came out to the lobby to meet me and what ensued was magical.  We chit-chatted for a few minutes – me riding on one of my energy highs from having made it to the foundation office in time and he informing me that the newspaper was on backlog from the holidays and wouldn’t be able to feature a piece on me for several weeks.

I turned to leave when he asked me what I was up to in life.  A few sentences in and I could tell that the wheels had started turning in his head.  But before he could ask me another question, I decided to level the playing field.

“I want to know you!”, I said.  “Well, what do you want to know – where I grew up?”, he replied.  I thought for a moment and then asked “What are you passionate about and when was the last time you were outside your comfort zone?”

Then came the moment of truth.  After a brief hesitation and despite it being almost 5 pm, he looked up, took a deep breath and said “You know what! Just come back to the office and we’ll talk now.”  And that was his Eliyahu moment*.

"Interviewing you is like watching fireflies on a summer night.  You're not sure where it's going but you can't turn away."

“Interviewing you is like watching fireflies on a summer night. You’re not sure where it’s going but you can’t turn away.” – From a note he emailed me the following day

We spent the next hour and a half developing what I can only call a (platonic) soul connection.  We spoke of living consciously, making the best of our time on earth, pushing boundaries and channeling life.  I shared my passion and vibrancy – helping him rekindle his own – and together we hacked his life by identifying new opportunities and 30 day challenges that he could explore.  I have this strange feeling that I was meant to make my appointment, meant to see The Jewish publication’s sign and meant to meet him on that day… and I did a half hour interview for my new project while there!

I’d like to share an idea that I found particularly beautiful.  This lovely man who was more than twice my age mused:

Sometimes I imagine the following scenario.  It’s ten years from now and – at 70 years old with all of the health challenges and realities that 70 might bring – I am given the opportunity to go back ten years and experience youth of a different sort by getting a second chance at being 60.  Only this isn’t a dream and I am 60 now with this magical opportunity presented to me.  How am I going to use it?

I was sparking off of this experience for days and took it with me to the ROI reunion later that evening.  It was wonderful to see friends from the conference, and I love the energy that is created when you bring all of these motivated people together to recapture some of the spirit of the summer.

Mini ROI Reunion With Friends JP, Adam and Sid in NY

Mini ROI Reunion With Friends JP, Adam and Sid in NY

After offering a quick Manhattan sidewalk hooping lesson to my friends, I hopped a train uptown to Yeshiva University.  Though the turnout was limited to a couple hundred (less than expected) since Gilad Shalit had spoken on campus the night before, my speech was nevertheless interrupted by applause when I explained how I revamped my life and encouraged the students to live their passions.  And a couple of Israelis told me that this was the best program that Israel Club has ever done.  Cool!

I was serenaded twice that evening – once by an intriguing former baseball player, singer-song writer turned religious YU student and once from my theater-aspiring childhood friend CB.  Other highlights included quality time with my best pal Shira, evening hangs with Yair’s parents and a day of adventuring on the Hudson with my mom and Dad.

Family Time on the Hudson in Poughkeepsie

Family Time on the Hudson in Poughkeepsie

Reuniting With Old Friends - CB Busts Out a Monologue

Reuniting With Old Friends – CB Busts Out a Monologue

I felt so very grounded and energized being back in my home community, and only hope to carry that spirit back with me to Austin.  Until then, I offer you divine providence, GIGGLES AND LOVE!

*Eliyahu (Elijah) was a prophet and mystical figure in Judaism.  Traditional stories have him appear when people most need him, but in disguise.

posted by ayo

Divine Play: Feeling Right-Side-Up In A World Upside Down

21 10 2012

So much has happened in recent weeks, and I feel like I’m ages behind on writing a blog post!  I’ll start with last weekend’s events when I treated myself to the “opportunity of a life time” by flying out to Divine Play.

Divine Play is an annual national acroyoga festival hosted in San Francisco. Acroyogis from around the country and the globe fly in for 3 days of acrobatic training, therapeutic classes and the opportunity to play with like-minded spirits.  Each programming time slot boasted a whopping ten options to choose from and the festival didn’t disappoint.

Up in the Air on Someone's Shoulders

(Me) Up in the Air on Someone’s Shoulders

The festival was lovely and I challenged myself in new and exciting ways.  I was able to experiment with “two high” (popping up to standing on someone’s shoulders), high foot-to-hand (standing in someone’s hands with their hands pressed above their shoulders), bicep stand on someone’s feet, shoulderstand on someone’s shins, cannon-balling into star, popping to a number of different poses, one-handed free shoulder stand on someone’s hand and best of all… low hand-to-hand!

If all this sounds like jargon, just know that I am working on balancing a handstand in someone else’s hands.  Coolest thing ever.  I never imagined that I would be an acrobat and – though I am not interested in pursuing the art professionally – I love surprising myself through the creation of “acrobatic Ayo” and making all of this a reality.

High Side Star - More Challenging Than The "Dirty Dancing" Lift

High Side Star – More Challenging Than The “Dirty Dancing” Lift – I Tried Even Cooler Moves with Better Technique, But Alas Don’t Have Those Photos!

The technique and new ideas that I gained through the weekend were wonderful, and there were only a few drawbacks:  First, I found some of the classes to be hit-or-miss depending on who I was teamed up with.  If I had a strong group or lucked out and was paired with an acroyoga instructor, the sessions were fantastic.  If I had a weak or unsafe group, it was difficult to learn and hard to build up a rhythm and rapport if I switched half-way through.

The second drawback was that I was itching to free play on the first night, but there was no “open jam”.  By the time the open jam was offered on the second night, I was way too sore to play from hours of training during the day!

The third and final drawback is that – though I love the acro community in Austin – it seems so, um, amateur-ish and limited compared to the high numbers and levels of many of the Divine Players.  But – keepings things on the optimistic and happy side – I learned lots of new things to bring back to the community and definitely had a positive and at times thrilling experience!

Hooping by the San Fran Bay

Hooping by the San Fran Bay

Beyond the class instruction, the weekend offered music and acrobatic performances, dessert fairies that flitted around offering (free) delicacies and… I got to try the “Baby lift” from the end of Dirty Dancing, which I’ve always wanted to do.  Unfortunately, I didn’t nab a photo of the lift, but still – so cool.

The fun continued beyond the festival with a farmer’s market, San Francisco food trucks and visiting local area friends.  I stayed once again with good friends, blog readers and future RVers Matt and Beans who were extraordinarily generous with their time and hosting, and even bought me a birthday cake!  Also a highlight was seeing Burner friend Ruthie (Captain) of biking-across-America fame.

Though I am not anywhere near this level, I’ve realized that I have begun to view acrobats and Cirque Du Soleil performers as my peers rather than as mysterious and mystical creatures worlds away from what I could ever achieve.  It doesn’t undermine my appreciation of their talent, but it’s exciting to feel “like one of them” in a chill way.

Out With Friends in San Francisco - Beans, Matt, Ruthie (Captain) and Me

Out With Friends in San Francisco – Beans, Matt, Ruthie (Captain) and Me

I’ll leave you with a short story:  On the second night of the conference, I was walking around SF late at night looking for my bus stop.  My phone battery was close to dead and I had been lost for just over 20 minutes.  I wasn’t getting too frustrated as it was a lovely night, but I still couldn’t figure out how I could have possibly gotten so lost – given that I had walking directions pulled up on my smart phone!

Well, I had a bit of divine providence working in my favor at Divine Play as not only did I have the most wonderful bus driver (who incidentally didn’t charge me for the ride), but at the very next bus stop, the famous and highly skilled Dutch acrobatic duo Det and Jim walked onboard and spent 40 minutes chatting with me about acrobatics, life in Holland and assorted bits of interesting-ness.  It was totally meant to be!

Divine Providence - Meeting Dutch Acrobats Det and Jim on the Bus

Divine Providence – Meeting Dutch Acrobats Det and Jim on the Bus

Signing off from New York (more on that to come) where I’ve just had a life-enthusing, energy-infusing four days surrounded by ones I love.  🙂

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posted by ayo


16 10 2012

On a long stretch of driving this summer Ayo and I were singing Amaranth by Nightwish.”You believe in what you see! You receive of what you give! Caress the one, the…”

Well, this past week Ayo and I heard Nightwish singing it live! It was definitely more theatrical than our RV rendition and the lighting and sound were fantastic. The only thing that we had better was the setting: we were driving through some gorgeous mountains in New Mexico. Now that would be a sweet concert venue!

The crowd (us included) cheering on Nightwish

The crowd (us included) cheering on Nightwish

I took some video at the show. The energy of the audience was totally contagious and the view of the crowd clapping in sync is my favorite part (at the end).

Ayo being all happy and such at the show

Ayo being all happy and such at the show

I would definitely see them again!

posted by yair

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!

10 10 2012

A disclaimer for the frum and soon-to-be heart attacked readers of this blog: Judaism is a deep part of my soul and identity, and I am not compromising that connection.  Conversely, my Jewish connection is strong enough and secure enough to allow me to pull from the spirituality, teachings and gems of the world.

Just over a year ago, I posted a piece on the blog entitled “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!“. This post is about glory of a different kind…  🙂

I admire the way that black women hold themselves – specifically how many black women sing and easily become one with whatever music they are moving to.  In 2009, I rocked out with my little sister to Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” (skip to 2:48 in the music video) for weeks and weeks, and wrote a bit about the power of black women’s voice and movement in a borderline controversial blog post over the summer.

Every now and then, I have thought:  Wouldn’t it be the most amazing thing in the world to join a black gospel choir?  Well, in the words of my Jewish ancestors and Ethics of Our Fathers: If not now, when?  So I have!!!

I did some research over the summer and identified the most energetic, talented and prestigious black gospel choir in central Texas…  conveniently located across the street from the co-op that I would soon be accepted into.  I called the church office over and over again until one day the choir president called back.

My Church... Across the Street!

My Church… Across the Street!

We had a lovely conversation and he instructed me to prepare my “favorite hymn” for the audition.  My in-head reaction was:  “Hymn?  What’s a hymn?  I don’t know what a hymn is!” and my “is this really happening?!” adventure was off to a start.

I selected three songs to sing for the choir’s musical director that showcased different parts of my voice (Encourage Yourself, This Little Light of Mine and Poor Wandering One).  When my little sister Jess found out that I was going to be singing Poor Wandering One (a Gilbert & Sullivan song that had become a joke in our family), she begged me to switch the selection and picked out a wonderfully soulful alternative that I added to my audition list:

At first, I was scared sh**less.  I’m pretty ballsy, but walking into a church as the only white and the only Jewish person to audition for the premier black gospel choir in town?  That takes chutzpah!

A Good Reminder - I Can Do This...

A Good Reminder – I Can Do This…

But then I couldn’t stop smiling.  I don’t mean for this to sound ignorant, but – with the little interaction that I’ve had with the black community and with everyone going “Hey brotha!” and “Hey sista!” and doing that snapping “mm-mm-mm” thing – my unfiltered reaction was:  Oh my G-d!  It’s just like on TV!

But on a more serious note, I felt loved and embraced by the choir.  Practice was opened with a prayer in which they thanked the Lord for having brought me into their lives and having allowed me to find them at this crucial time in my life.  If only they knew how true their words were – to find a community like this and be able to sing out to the universe, our spirits altogether… Wow.  I was very touched and – over the past month – have indeed felt very loved and loving of my brothers and sisters in the choir.

Oh, Man...  That Cross Took Some Getting Used To (But Don't Let It Freak You Out!)

My First Practice – The Cross Took Some Getting Used To (But Don’t Let It Freak You Out!)

Stay tuned for a couple of not-to-be-missed funny and powerful stories about my first Sunday service in the next post.  Details to come!

posted by ayo

A Return to Myself – A Weekend in Baltimore

5 10 2012

Last weekend I flew to Maryland to celebrate the wedding of my college roommate*. Through this visit I inadvertently enjoyed an informal, impromptu and long overdue college reunion. (Almost five years have passed since I last visited Baltimore!)

It was amazing and a little bit surreal to see my college crew. We were a group of “go-getter” international relations majors with ideas, ideals, big goals and mad skills. We even co-founded an impactful international relief group on campus as undergrads.

Hearing life updates was momentarily daunting. I was back in the world of Truman scholars, Marshall scholars, Fulbright fellows and don’t-take-no-for-an-answer passion from people who were creating positive change in their fields around the world.

But that moment of intimidation soon passed and became an incredible shot in the arm. I too am living my life creatively and passionately – so differently than I could have possibly foreseen five years ago – and I imagine that I will be returning to the world of social justice, humanitarian work and international service at some point over the next two years.

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It was lovely and powerful to be reminded of who I used to be from friends who knew me three worlds ago. Sure – I’ve changed, I’ve matured and I’ve grown. But I also temporarily forgot a part of who I was. I forgot that the name Amy Oppenheimer (now Ayo) means something and that – to many people – that name comes along with a reputation of vivacity, limitless energy, kindness, project innovation, activity-organizing, welcoming people and even having crazy goals like being the secretary of state.

I felt so much love, support and brachot (blessings) this weekend from my international relations crew and from my friends that I visited from the observant Jewish community at Hopkins. Life at the co-op and in the eclectic city of Austin continues to enchant, but I might have gotten some of my old itch back and a resolve not to run in the rat race, but to jump back into society and kick my pace up a notch at some point in the coming year.

*Parenthetically, the wedding was fantastic! My former roommate Salmah is half Pakistani and half-Guayanese, which meant that I spent an hour on Wikipedia looking up “Punjabi Wedding Customs” and briefing myself on the mehndi, nikah and baraat. The events were lavish and colorful, and Salmah even arranged for each of us to receive our very own desi outfit to wear to the mehndi celebration. Such fun!

posted by ayo

Austin Antics… And Living In a Dream-Like State

30 09 2012

The Day-to-Day

Within the next week, I will be able to share the surprise that has gleefully occupied much of my time over the past four weeks.

Until then, living in a co-op continues to be a source of merriment.  Despite the very occasional drama, having a built-in family structure is wonderful and I have enjoyed channeling my inner Jewish mother by feeding whoever possible whenever I am cooking.  Through this, the co-op has already made me a more sharing person because every time I cook, I try to see if anyone in the kitchen is hungry and plate out some of the food.

Clothing Switch!  Gianna and Caleb Transform in the Kitchen

Clothing Switch! Gianna and Caleb Transform in the Kitchen

Gourmet Chef Leigh Ann and Adventure Travel Producer Shawn

Gourmet Chef Leigh Ann and Adventure Travel Producer Shawn

Last weekend I enrolled in an intensive acroyoga workshop and made the excellent decision to try the weekend as a base instead of a flyer.  It’s amazing how empowering it can be to fly a 125 pound woman through the air, rotating her 360 degrees in vertical spins through Catherine’s Wheel.

There are also interesting power and gender dynamics at play in acroyoga as – from my limited perspective – the base does exert the majority of control.  Much like a lead-follow relationship in dance or a dominant-submissive relationship in kink, it’s important to maintain respect and not let the power get to your head.  Nevertheless, I do feel a more bro-like kinship with my fellow bases since switching roles, particularly since I am one of the few females learning to base washing machines (cyclical / repeating movements).  I may be hooked on basing for some time.

Basing A Free Shoulder Stand With Just My Arms!

Basing A Free Shoulder Stand With Just My Arms!

Though the super-social nature of the co-op has been distracting, I am gearing up to launch one of my new projects in the coming month!  I have continued to experience a project high that must equal any “upper” that someone might take when I get in the work groove, and I ride on that passion for hours.  The Jewrotica site is officially still under wraps, but feel free to check out the beta version and spread the word once we launch in mid-October.  :o)

Otherwise, adventures continue to abound!  I have been exploring the greenbelt with friends, chanced upon a squatter’s camp, spotted wild frogs and lizards, attended a fall solstice party, marveled at a (free) cirque-de-soleil type show, co-hosted a Lord of The Rings house party at the co-op and scooted down to Festival Beach for tashlich with Yair.

Tashlich with Yair at Festival Beach in Austin

Tashlich with Yair at Festival Beach in Austin

Dressed as Queen Arwen (erm, Liv Tyler) With My Friend Cindy

Dressed as Queen Arwen (erm, Liv Tyler) With My Friend Cindy

The Bigger Picture

Over the past eight weeks, my mindset has been quite practical.  I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and reconstructing my life piece by piece.  I joined wonderful communities.  I surrounded myself with wonderful friends.  I began to incubate new projects.  I took on a regular form of exercise through acroyoga.  I continued to love and minister to others.  And I allowed myself more slack than usual in adjusting to a new life.

Objectively, I created for myself a life of blessing with people and activities that “check off” all the requisite boxes.  Rationally, I am spending my time quite well and have built for myself a glorious quality of life that integrates long-term projects with plenty of play and exploration time.  Yet I feel somewhat unsettled and ungrounded.  Over the holidays, I became highly aware of the seeming disconnect between my current life and my former life – my current self and my former self.  I am one to take change at a slow pace and it seems as though – whether for good or bad – almost everything in my life has changed at an extraordinarily fast rate.

I have no doubt that soon a time will come when I will have created a world for myself post-separation that is more fitting than it was pre-separation.  However, stability in life tends to provide a certain level of meaningfulness and grounded-ness.  Though I know I am brave enough to create a new life for myself and embrace change, I am often finding myself craving the familiarity of a stable and structured life – perhaps the life I used to have and certainly one with fewer wild cards about what the future holds.  We all like to delude ourselves into thinking we have some understanding of or control over the future, right?

I’m doing well and I’m feeling strong.  I’m not harboring anger and I’m constructing a life of majesty.  Yet despite all this, I still periodically feel as though I am somehow acting, living in a dream state, living a farce, not at peace with this version of my life.  I think an irrational part of me still believes that this new life is really just a lovely dream that I will soon wake from and everything will be returned to normal – as a married woman, traveling with my life partner, with so many decisions already decided and the thrill and weight of individual choice partially removed.

I wonder how long it will take for this dream-like reality to become the “new normal”, and for me to feel fully awakened in it and adjusted to it?

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posted by ayo