French Israel

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Ah, the joy of shameless narcissism. In response to numerous reader e-mails that have not yet flooded in, I should at this point tell you who I am, as alluded to back on 15 February.

I am a resident of Jerusalem (a.k.a. Yeroushalayim), the capital of Israel and the centre of the world. I am a student at a yeshiva which shall remain unnamed because I don't want to besmirch its reputation. (And yes, I meant to spell Yeroushalayim that way. We'll get to that in a bit.)

If you have no images, you're unfortunate indeed.In my spare time, which I have no more of, I'm also a student in Romance Languages at the University of Georgia in Athens. That's Athens, Georgia, in the U.S., not in Greece or in the former Soviet empire. You think it's silly for me to specify, but you'd be surprised how many times I get asked. I shall forever retain the title of U. Ga. student since it is very likely I will never graduate.

And for those who don't yet know, but were wondering, the Romance languages are those that evolved from Latin into Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and all the in-between dialects that are languages in their own rights. I hardly know them all, but I know the mechanics behind them, and my major language is French. I've been into it for many, many years, impassioned by its literature (especially the old stuff), culture, and yes, even its grammar. Love can do that to you.

If you have no images, you're unfortunate indeed.I took some time away from Athens to live for a year in Lyon, France. It is, so to speak, one of the foci of my spiritual existence. (And this photo doesn't even do justice). I was teaching English at the University of Lyon III / Jean Moulin as part of a doctoral-student exchange.

Before now, it was the most beautiful year of my life. Alas, only a year. Studies and beckoned back in Athens. It was obviously providential to go back, to pass my comprehensive exams, to help start a French-speaking dorm, and so forth. But I greatly miss life in France.

For the last two years I lived in Atlanta, teaching French and Spanish at a non-denominational Jewish high school, which shall remain unnamed because I don't want to besmirch my reputation. Heh heh. It is really not such a bad place at heart, and my tenure there was an enormous growing experience, but there were definite reasons I left. Maybe we'll share the story someday.

I also spent some time as a mashgia'h haKashrouth, i.e. a kosher-food supervisor for a gourmet catering joint in Atlanta. And I might as well say I was a chef-in-training as well, for most of the time was spent picking up gastronomic expertise from the chef, Hector.

Atlanta is not my home, but many more people have heard of Atlanta than of Athens. That is indeed unfortunate.

Athens is a magical city, and another one of those foci of spiritual existence. That's saying a lot since there is little overt Jewish religion going on there (especially per capita). What you don't see and have a hard time accessing is still there. It's in the air, man. No, really. It was there for me, and it can be there for everyone who seeks it. Many do. Most decide after a while to move elsewhere. That is indeed unfortunate.

Unless, of course, you decide to work on growth as a member of a large community rather than as an individual within a small community. Or unless you decide to come to a place like, say Israel. Then it's worth it to leave Athens. My point is that if you are going to chose to live in galouth [exile -- i.e. Jews outside of Israel], you had might as well stay in a well-rounded environment and build a community there. There are something like 3000 Jewish university students in Athens. And yet it's difficult to make minyan. Hmmm. But I digress.

By now you may be preparing to write me a ticket for mixed metaphors, or at least confused geometry. Two foci of spiritual existence and one centre of the world? Can't be. The world is round. Foci belong to an ellipsis.

But indeed that's how it is. A circle and an ellipsis both, in constant imbalance. That's the struggle of the soul. That's the lunar calendar and the solar calendar. That's the life of a Jew. Constant imbalance, constant fluctuation, but an exciting existence.
PinḼas Ivri 23:51


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