i’m at a restaurant whose neon sign is 2 ducks facing each other. geometric shapes stick out of the walls and lamenated pictures of ducks twist with the air conditioning. i must be suicidal to be at this restaurant. the security is a far-sighted old guy and this is the heart of netanya. i’ve been holding my breath til i leave.
last night i met up with cousin debra who flew in from nyc a few days ago. she’s staying with her boyfriend’s parents, who recently immigrated to jerusalem from nyc. she spent the day with malca and the boys and after work they came to pick me up. malca kept calling to get directions. i work out in the middle of nowhere. i anxiously punched out and raced down the stairs. i saw mikey thru the door and he gave me a big hug. next was noam. then debra came running towards me. the first thing i noticed was that she grew and was now towering over me. and then i noticed that her hair was shorter than last time i remembered. debra is my uncle seymour’s 2nd daughter. she’s my most religious close family member and up until i immigrated we really didn’t have much in common. but now, in our bonding, i’ve learned so much about her family. there are also 4 girls in her family, like mine. and also in her family there’s always been tradition. but they took religion further than we did. they be came very observant…kosher, keeping shabbat. theirs was always the religious korns and we were the korns that fell further from the tree. i remember sitting around the passover wondering what they thought of us. and after my sister renee had 2 babies from 2 different fathers (one of them unknown) i began to even avoid eye contact. i didn’t understand, just as i’m sure they didn’t. i had pink hair at the time and those korns seemed to be existing as a tight-knit involved sane family, something i strangely craved but couldn’t quite imagine. but i never knew them… never had anything in common. we saw each other twice a year. they lived in brooklyn and then moved out to long island. we were in nj. but knowing debra now i feel that our cousin-ness is silent sisterhood once removed.
she hugged me completely. she hugged me in happiness and in connection and that is when she became real to me. she then hugged me for every member of her family. “this is from my mother” she bagan…and we ended with her long-dead fish. just an excuse for another hug. our faces were permagrin for the next few hours and we walked numb thru the mall talking about things. she brought up the passover night when mom hit diana in the car. she never quite understood. she was so sweetly naive about that yet careful not to insinuate that we were the people she was warned, possibly her whole life, to not become like. i told her a bit of what happened that night. that it was late and di was cranky. she asked adrienne to move over and mom hit her. i hit mom back and told her that this isn’t love and i was ushered into seymour and linda’s house where i admitted regret for a quick desparate raging comment that i said. ‘why didn’t anyone see how mom was treating us?! why didn’t anyone help us?’ i told debra that and she bit her lip. i assured her that i didn’t mean it… a lot has happened since my mother’s ignorant raging violence. my mother has grown mountains in the last 6 months and i grew into my own person.
i introduced myself to my own happiness. i absorbed my father’s strengths and shunned other’s weaknesses. we spoke quietly about things and spoke openly. i didn’t want to delve further into a world she was so close to as a lifetime family member, yet so distant in morality. we were/are immoral and my own ignorance made myself believe that her family judges our family. ‘girls, this is the wrong way to be a korn.’
she explained the family meeting that was called when the children were told that renee was pregnant. she said that her parents laid it out this way. “someone in the family is pregnant” and they systematically, perhaps chronologically, named names til they got to renee’s name… and it was confirmed.
debra told me that the only way that she learned of renee’s second child, kyle, was thru my website. “mom, who’se this?!” how could we be korns with 4 girls originally from bklyn and how could they be likewise and how could we have such different beliefs. debra is a 21 year old virgin. when she openly discussed her boundaries in sexual expression, i felt a mixture of respect and pity. surely you must taste the goods before purchasing. but her spirit comes from an older time. her upbringing encouraged her modesty and her respect for herself. i threw myself on the coals in the name of exploration and here she is saving herself. and yet we openly shared our thoughts and i thought that was just beautiful. she is the exact same age as adrienne. her emotional intelligence far surpasses even mine, 8 years her senior…there’s a simple contentness about her self-awareness. i’m happy just knowing that someone of my blood thrives in tradition, strives for a location that i tasted but couldn’t savor. it wasn’t meant for me, this israeli experience…it was meant for her. i’m glad that i could be her familiar contact here. we all have malca, that to be sure. she is our eternal israeli mother.
diana and stef slept in her bed when they were visiting and debra and i too slept in her bed last night. i even couldn’t sleep thinking h ow diana once was there on the same pillow. i slept lightly curled in anticipation. for every day the rest of my family is about to arrive, the more i push off the reality that we’re about to have our wedding in 12 days.
this feeling is unreal. i feel like a happy wagging dog running from sunset to sunset in happiness for the next thing.
i wake him with kisses and wish him a happy birthday. i love when he wakes into a smile. last night i wondered out loud how old he was when we met….24? he had just shaved and we rubbed cheeks watching tv. i had been working all day and he was going stir crazy in anticipation of a big test today. we couldn’t sit close enough to each other. i sat on his lap with my head on his shoulder smiling. he warmed some soup up for me and we updated each other about our day. we planned a party tomorrow night at itai’s house. we want to see our friends as much as possible before we leave in 3 weeks.
there’s been very little sunshine. when there’s no sun we have no hot water, so we have to go to tsafi’s parents house to shower. the drains in the sinks are all clogged up, probably from my hair falling out. the doctor doesn’t know why my hair’s falling out. he thinks it’s stress…
(12 days later and i realize that i haven’t written about the 9 dec wedding…) i spent most of that day in red terrycloth pajamas that said new york. Tsafi was studying in the next room with friends. I listened to music, read a book. I went on a walk to check on the weather. The sky was threatening and gil had told tsafi that there were sandstorms by the cliff where we’d originally planned on having it.
so i wandered along the promenade listening to apollo 440. I saw a woman opening up her art gallery for the day. There were 3 rooms, all facing the sea. One room had nothing in it, one had too many paintings and sculptures, but the middle one was just perfect, not too much clutter.
“i have an unusual question for you….” i began, after we negotiated on which language to speak. “i’m getting married…” i said and her face lit up. “MAZEL TOV! When?”
“In a few hours actually…” i told her. She asked me if i shouldn’t be at the hairdresser or at home being skiddish,
“oh no, it’s just a quick legal ceremony to begin my husband’s american citizenship process.” Inside i was feeling the flutters but it was all just too surreal. I decided to follow tsafi’s lead and stick to the practical.
“where are you getting married today?” she asked and i told her “here…in your middle gallery if that’s ok”
“why not?” was her reply and we made plans to be in touch at 3pm. I was still hoping to do it by the cliff. I went home to giggle nervously to myself for another few hours. tsafi and i couldn’t even look at each other. We were pretending to be serious. At 1:30pm tsafi’s sister, dana, came over to help me with my hair and make-up. She put my hair in safta’s yellow hair rollers and we philosophized about eye shadow. I videotaped short clips of the process; from the rollers to unzipping the bag that held my dress to putting on my own veil. I handed the camera to dana and went out to greet tsafi as his bride.
He had been getting ready in the other room. We met in the hallway. He said i was gorgeous…. his eyes were hearts… eyal and pini were in the living room. We took a few photos. Eleni had just pulled up outside and she followed us around the corner to the art gallery. Esther, the gallery owner, wasn’t there yet to let us in so the wind began to have its way with me. my veil attached itself to thorns on the vines that climb up the pillars. My hair went all to hell and tsafi’s kippa kept flying out from his head. Everyone was cold but tsafi and i were high on adrenaline. Esther finally showed up and let us in. we kissed on the grass and took photos. Malca and the boys soon arrived and i ran over to hug them. malca’s proud, happy face and the boys’ angelic-ness really made me happy. Itzik met malca for the first time there. he greeted the boys by asking if they were boys or girls… most of our close friends came…anat & gil, pini, eyal, itai and his friend gustavo, my friend eleni… shoshe and itzik, dana ad her friend karen, udit (shoshe’s sister)… it was around 15 people. Small, intimate, perfect… we stood around chatting, taking photos. There were 3 digital cameras clicking away. The wind picked up. Tsafi and i were untouchable in our happiness. When i saw the rabbi walking briskly from the pillars with his black hat and beard, i began to get the butterfly belly. My eyes followed him wherever he went thinking to myself that man, who is a stranger, is going to be marrying us. he didn’t even speak to me. i’m not allowed to shake his hand, nuffin. It felt so sterile. I told myself that this was just the practice wedding but as the time came closer for the chuppah to be raised, i felt frantic inside. My family was supposed to call… everyone was standing around waiting, most on break from work. The ceremony began and i was very nervous, hoping my family would call.
Tsafi sat at the table with the rabbi. They signed the marriage contract. There was some tradition about raising a handkerchief. I stood frozen watching things and hearing things that i didn’t understand. The boys held up the front poles of the chuppah, gustavo and pini on the back poles. The chuppah went up… shoshe and itzik took two backwards steps arm in arm with tsafi as people sang. Dana and malca walked me in next to them. someone began fumbling with the back of my dress; i think it had fallen open. I think it was malca. The rabbi had brought a witness who insisted on the wine glass being filled to the top. Tsafi was very funny and charming…when he put the veil over my face, he made everyone laugh by saying ‘MUCH better!’ i didn’t understand anything going on in the ceremony. First, tsafi drank from the full glass of wine and then malca put the same full glass to my lips, tilting it precariously close to spilling; a little tilt more and it happened… red wine stains on my dress… but i didn’t want to look at it. i stared at the ringlets of gray in the rabbi’s beard. I felt tsafi’s warmth beside me. songs were sung, the ketubah was read. The rabbi asked me if i agree to marry him and my mind drew a hebrew blank. “just say yes” tsafi said. and as i am a woman who is not a puppet i waited for someone to translate for me. “will you agree to marry me?” tsafi translated sweetly. I looked up to the ceiling and comically said “mmmm….OK!” everyone laughed and more songs were sung. Tsafi put the ring on my forefinger of my right hand, he smashed the glass so hard that peices went flying everywhere. That’s when i saw the red stains on my dress and had to bite my lip to avoid crying. I tried to push the negativity away… and that’s when my family finally called. We were having a wine toast with chocolate croissants and i told them “guys i just got married!! We’re doing a toast now…” and they heard the toast with all the ‘mazel tov’s . dad said “timing is everything”. i didn’t know that diana was on the phone. Mom said she was recording the conversation… we all sounded a bit disappointed. I would make it up to them by emailing photos that night and a video a few days later. Itzik toasted us and people went back to their jobs. Shoshe cleaned up the gallery; i spent some time with malca, enjoying them, knowing it’s one of our last times together before we leave for america.
I was anxious to save my dress. It gave me some distraction from the reality that we’d just actually for-real gotten married… we went home and within 10 minutes we were dressed in normal clothes and on the hunt for a dry cleaner. The sky then decided to open up and it began to rain. Two dry cleaners told me that the dress is ruined. We tried our luck at a store that had wedding dresses in the window. We convinced them to try to get the spots out. She went up some steep stairs to do a test. She said that sometimes chiffon gets ruined from the chemicals. We waited nervously for the verdict. She said that the dress responded well and to come back in an hour. A wall of relief fell on me. we paid 50 shekels, threw the dress into its box, kicked it under the bed and headed out to gil and anat’s apartment. they spoiled us with wine and food. Such hospitality every time we go over there! they bought out IKEA and have the kewlest things. They sometimes even make their own sushi! We watched the video. We were a bit in denial still at that point. We went home and i put some photos on our website and lied awake all night unable to sleep.
The ring went back in the box and tsafi and i went back to our pre-wedding lives. The next day he resumed his studies and i went to kfar saba for day one of a new job. Everyone at work wished me mazal tov even before i met them officially. I was so thankful to be working that when i found myself in a big fancy office building, having transportation reimbursed, a kick ass salary and kewl young people around me, i almost cried… figures right before i leave i get this kind of job. We find bugs in a new english tutorial software program 10 hours a day. My eyes go numb but we listen to bowie and the fight club soundtrack. There’s a fish tank and people speak english with reckless abandon. Just what i needed til my family comes here and we have our wedding for real… it doesn’t feel real yet…. the next day itzik pikced up our marriage license and returned the rented chuppah. The day after i tackled the american embassy with big guns… all forms filled out expertly, the marriage license, english translations and photocopies of everything. the earliest interview that i could get for tsafi was march 10th. He’ll have to fly back here…and then we can begin…
the rains have begun. 3 days straight of heavy rains. It makes the reality that we are essentially part of africa unavoidable. The streets are directionless rivers, with the rainwater running every which way finding its way into socks and into my bag. It pools stagnant on some older streets making walking thru it impossible. Just when i think i’ve jumped over a lake, masked as a puddle, and i celebrate by stamping my feet to shake off the water not yet absorbed into my shoes, i find myself in another lake. Last night i walked down dark industrial streets with trees cut out of sidewalk in the town where i work, kfar saba. Pink floyd played in my ears and my umbrella gave me temporary shelter as i went in search of a hardware store selling a certain kind of blank cd to burn wedding favor cds onto. I turned onto weissman street and began lake hopping with the sky spilling all around me. cars began honking at this small junky car in reverse against traffic. It was a sweet teenage soldier offering me a ride. He took me down weisman to #138 where i bought 100 blank cds for 200 shekels. His name was danny. He told me he doesn’t think of his future. Just getting thru basic training.
tomorrow…i will be cheryl gan-el. Tonight i went with hani to the mikveh. Felt important in a traditional, rite of passage, feminine way… the night before a wedding, the bride must have this ritual purification. I had heard stories that provoked dreams of judgemental religious lesbians scrubbing the soles of my feet with pumice stones but none of that happened. Hani and i walked arm in arm into the mikveh’s reception area. “today i bring you a bride for tomorrow!” hani announced.
Six religious women with hair coverings offered their congratulations. Some bellowed a high-pitched yemenite yodel “OOH-LOO-LOO-LOO-LOO!!!” putting their closed fist over their mouths directed at me. i joined in with the excitement “woo hoo!!” to which the yodeling abruptly halted. I gave one of them my green slip of paper from the rabbinate and went with her and hani to the shower room. It was a small sculpted space with walls open at the top and a sterile atmosphere. She showed me what to do to prepare for the actual mikveh. Hani translated, where necessary… and they left me alone. I took off my clothes and set them on a chair. I turned the shower on full blast and stood in the torrents of hot water, mentally preparing as well. I put q-tips in my ears just cuz they were there, i dragged a comb thru my hair to stall and then when i was ready, i pressed the green button next to door number two. Door #2 near the green button lead to the mikveh. Hani checked up on me and let me know she was there for me. it took a while for the woman to come. I found myself staring hard into the mirror telling myself that tomorrow is my wedding day… i parted my hair slowly with a black, thin comb and let the water in my hair drip down my nose. My face as a little girl superimposed itself over my face now. the door opened briskly and the woman came in. she picked stray hairs from my face; she inspected my fingernails, my toenails. She even looked at the bottoms of my feet. No moonblood check, nothing scary. I walked thru the door with her and down a white hallway. The mikveh room had a blueish tint to it and was a cross between a wine cellar and a medical laboratory. Hani waited in the hall while i laid my towel aside and walked down the steps into a warm square pool of living water (it must be rainwater, from the sea or other ‘living’ source). There were bars above me where the woman stood. I could hear hani like a cute peanut gallery behind her offering translation from hebrew to english. She told me to spread my legs with my feet firm on the bottom of the pool. My arms were to be out slightly away from my body, a familiar ballet pose, my fingers were spread. (mom later suggested the explanation of this to make sure all this living purity gets in all my crevices) i had to fully submerge myself jumping down into a fetal position under the water. I’d push all my breath out from my lungs and jump up to pose again. I did this 3 times. Then she put a towel over my head and i said a prayer. She removed the towel and i jumped under the water 4 more times for a total of 7 self-dunks. (there’s that reoccuring hebrew magical number 7). Another woman peeked in and both of them yodeled in their congratulations and i ascended the steps of the mikveh, into a robe, into a hug from hani and a kiss from the woman. We took some photos and i felt elated… elated that it was over mostly, elated to steep myself in such an ancient tradition in its place of origin, israel. Elated to feel such support…from hani, from ‘the women of my tribe’…it was a unique experience.
I dressed quickly, giggling, paid 15 shekels, got a yellow slip of paper to give to the rabbi tomorrow (…tomorrow!) that certifies that i am 100% grade A choice beef pure and ready for consecration, and hani and i left as we had came, arm in arm and back to home to tsafi and to a phone call from my mother. Aunt sandy was also there. they made me smile. Mom says she’s bringing in wine to work tomorrow, someone’s bringing a wedding cake and mom and dad will call into tsafi’s cell phone at the moment of the wedding. i recounted the tale to tsafi as he sat red-faced and smiling like a boy. He’s running out of practical things to do to avoid the reality sinking in. the rabbi last week gave us a list of things to gather up for the ceremony. Tsafi and i scoured the house like we were on a scavenger hunt putting things in a bag…the rings, wine, 2 glasses, a glass for smashing which he wrapped in aluminum foil, kipot, a table. Now he’s collecting his male family members and friends for the ceremony. (a legal jewish wedding must have 10 men called a ‘minyon’). Tomorrow we will wake up, check the weather, so far it’s supposed to only rain tomorrow night. I’ll go rent a chuppah, the kind with 4 poles for people to hold and we’ll hope for clear skies. If all goes well, there will be nothing standing between us and super nature. Sunset on a cliff over the mediteranean sea… now if only to calm the sugargliders in my belly….
listening to kate bush watching the sunset from a bench on one of my last days as an unmarried woman. tsafi andi went to the head rabbi’s office of netanya today. 2 hours of torture. there were around 14 other people there, the dregs of society. a pregnant woman wore spandex that hugged rolls that no boubt cut the baby in two inside there. i thought of something someone said on ricki lake yesterday “spandex is a priveledge. not a right!” the rabbi was around 90 years old and banged his nails on the wood table to get everyone’s attention. he seemed to be talking directly to tsafi and me. i nodded where appropriate but understood nothing. tsafi would later tell me that he spoke about the history of israel, when a woman is unclean and other things. after the group meeting, we were called in, one couple at a time. he asked me how much furniture i wanted tsafi to buy me. “WHAT?!” i asked, thinking he was kidding but he had his pen poised over a form, that seemed to be the application for the ketubah, “just say, 50,000 shekels.” tsafi said and so i did…not understanding anything going on in that crazy office. he wrote “180” on the line next to it. tsafi would later tell me that that means he has to pay me 180,000 shekels if we divorce. i left confused and dizzy. we met with the ashkenazi rabbi that will marry us. he gave us a handwritten list of things to get…sweet wine, glasses, we’ll rent a chuppah with four poles and we were given shabbat candle holders and a wine cup. we drove around netanya, looking for a spot to marry. one for good weather, and one for rain. we found a perfect spot on a grassy cliff where parachuters lift off from. there’s nothing standing between us and and nature so i love it. it’s 4:30pm now…this time exactly when we will marry on monday. the sun’s intensity simmered to a low orange. i asked soemone what time it was…4:30… 2 american tourists pass by and scream ‘oh my god!’ when they see the sunset. yes, it’s a good time of day to marry….
just days away from our wedding day. fussing over video tape formats and american citizenship papers. in just one week, we put together a legal isreali wedding thru the Rabbinate. the goal being to submit the marriage license asap with all the other papers to the US Embassy in tel aviv to speed up the process. we’ll marry on monday 9 december, a small quick ceremony at sunset on the beach. then 9 january will be our ‘real’ wedding in our minds, when our families will be together anda big celebration. then 1/18 is the nj party and we may even have to marry legally in america. so..that’s 4 weddings (and a funeral?)
the rabbinate is such a ‘dark ages’ process where women have very different rules than men. everything in judaism involves some sort of modesty or cleanliness issue. tsafi and i first went to the rabbinate months ago. we had since decided on a reform rabbi for the 9 january date because there were too many issues that we just didn’t believe in with the rabbinate. i gathered all the required documents anyway, just in case, mainly a letter from a specific rabbi in nj saying that i have never been married and that i am jewish. after the embassy tried to put a wrench in our wheels i dug out that letter, tsafi took passport sized photos and got his parents original marriage certificate. we went there with two witnesses, pini and eyal, tsafi’s study friends, and the rabbinate of netanya opened file number 100 with our names on it. i had to go to the female rabbi, an old lady with a bad wig and skin crawling with blue varicrose veins. she spent 2 hours talking about adam and eve and when a woman is ‘unclean’. she held a small calendar and went around the room asking all the girls when was their last period datea nd when they wanted to get married. when she came to me, i lied about my period date and told her ‘tomorrow’. ‘you can’t. you need 8 days from today.’ and so it fell on 9 december. 9 seems to be our lucky number i guess. why the 8 day wait? i dunno… she spoke only in hebrew and i nodded and smiled until we left and i asked another girl to translate. we hugged like excited little chipmunks and wished each other well like old friends. i went home to inform tsafi of our wedding date, picked out by the rabbinit. the next day we went back to the rabbinate. he put us down for an 11am thursday group meeting with all the other couples getting married that week. this meeting will be with the head rabbi of netanya. after that i will get a piece of paper for the mikveh, the purity ritual in ‘living waters’ the day before the wedding and that’s it. i got a haircut yesterday, had a bit of a problem with the dress, nothing anyone will notice but me. tomorrow we will find out what time. a month til my family comes….