Okay, so I’m paying for this time, since the internet at home is still not up, but here’s my experience so far on one foot:

First, massive surreal disorientation.  I was here 4 years ago, and walking around has mostly so far had the feeling of lucid dreaming, of walking into distant memories with a very different (and not so distant) consciousness.   Like walking Friday night to daven (pray) at this minyan (um, group of people praying) near where I lived last time ’round, and every corner we turned triggered a whole other set of sense-memories and emotional associations I didn’t know were there.  Beautiful, strange.
Got into town Friday 5am, straight to my apartment.  It’s a fine one bedroom–not fancy by American standards, but it’ll do.  The previous tenant wasn’t very handy with the cleaning supplies (which says a lot coming from me, as I’m hardly Martha Stewart) but fortunately the landlady, who I met today, has agreed to paint and hire cleaners to come in once. 
Had animated conversation in Hebrew with the chatty-cathy cab driver on the way from the airport.  Was feeling very pleased with myself about my language–communicating and comprehending–skills.  The next day I tried to check messages and was beside myself with confusion.  Turns out all I needed, though, was the vocab word for “pound sign” (“ladder”).  After which I could navigate the phone system without problem.  So it’s a little touch and go, though generally I’m doing better than I thought I’d be doing.  Though I have miles, miles to go before I stop sounding so silly.  It’s good that I’ll be Ulpan (Hebrew intensive) Queen in a couple of weeks. 
Israeli yogurt–oh, how I’ve missed you.   Richer, creamier, and in flavors like hazelnut and fig, with real hazelnuts (etc) in them.  Why don’t we have hazelnut yogurt in the States?
Also, a shout out to the eye candy of Israel–some of the best-looking people in the world live here, I think.  People-watching is awfully fun. 
Slept from 11pm Friday night ’till 5pm Shabbos afternoon.  Did not sleep last night.  Jet-lag is a mind-altering drug.
The davenning.  Wow.  So Friday night (me on something like -45 hours of sleep or something) went to this minyan that’s, like, “almost egalitarian”, where a lot of the cool kids (such as they are)  go.  They have women do things up to the absolute outer edge of the Orthodox understanding of Jewish law–like lead Kabbalat Shabbat (part of the service) and read Torah, but not lead, say, Shacharit or Maariv (other parts of the service.)  Women and men sit separately.  I saw a healthy smattering of kippot (yarmulkes) on the women–maybe 15%?  As well as women whose dress signified a much more traditional gender identification.   I actually felt comfortable enough there to untuck my tzitzit (I usually wear them out, but here, for personal safety as well as to not be the freak on the street [since not many women take on this traditionally male bit of ritual dress, and the men here can be, er, zealous in the enforcement of trad. gender roles] I’ve chosen to tuck them in when I’m in the street and any new situation until I can feel it out.)  So I consider that a pro for this group. 
The actual davvening was incredible–as incredible as last time I was in J’lem, maybe more so for the fact that I have better context now.  There were about 200 people there, all singing, and–well, the davvening was about God.  It was really, truly intended to open the gates of Heaven.  most of the time in the States it feels like davvening is about the davvening, or about the community, or about the music, or maybe about how-into-this-davvening-I-am-aren’t-I-spiritual (that’s a popular one in rabbinical school circles.)  But it rarely feels as truly, profoundly about praise and about God Godself as this was.  I’m sure some of that had to do with language–it simply means something different when everybody in the room actually understands the words and can grasp how heartrendingly beautiful the psalms and prayers really are.  Some of it is about the population–the kind of people who choose to live in J’lem do so, generally, for a reason.  Some of it is about something else, though, and I’m not sure what.   More on that as the year unfolds.
Of course the gender stuff of this minyan–and other ones I’ll attend, no doubt–chafed.  I was keenly aware of the power dynamics when the Shatz (prayer-leader) changed from a woman to a man as we began Maariv.   As loud and connected as things were on the women’s side, I was more than keenly aware that the kavvanah (energy? intention? connection?) on the men’s side was stronger.  It.  Always.  Is.   In mechitza (gender-divided) space, it always is, and as strong as things were on the women’s side, it was still no exception.  So my urge to leap over to the men’s side and get down and dirty with them kicked in (it’s not gender dysphoria, ultimately, just a response to sexism), and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to be not-aware of that stuff when I daven in those spaces.    It’s a problem, because in most places–and particularly in this town–the real spiritual goods, the real hot and heavy prayer energy, happens in mechitza spaces.  There are evidently a few egal places (besides the horrid one I attended 4 years ago, which was flat, empty, and frankly pathetic) that I’ll check out, and it’ll be nice to have a political home there (and maybe community, and whatever else) but… well, having to choose between one’s spiritual life and politics?  It’s a balance I’ve been negotiating lo these many years, and it’ll be one I continue to negotiate this year.  With different answers depending on how the wind’s blowing, no doubt.  But it won’t be easy. 
Okay, this is a longer post than intended.  If you read this blog, post a comment now and again (doesn’t have to be today, just sometime) so I know you’re out there.  More soon, when the Netvision people decide to bestow their grace and lovingkindness towards me.  I could continue to pray towards the kotel (Wailing wall) as is customary, though it could be more expedient to direct my prayers to the Netvision office……

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