Out of everything that I have ever been told in my life, there is but one thing that still never stops being said:
Shut up, Taylor.
It was said to me by my parents when I interrupted their TV shows as a child, by the kids in my elementary school when I talked about my passion du jour, from my Girl Scout leader—who later kicked me out—for talking about wanting to be a doctor, from the kids at my first high school for having a crush on a loser boy in my grade, from the administration at my college for demanding I get justice from being sexually harassed from the men at a nearby college who lived illegally in my dorm and from the Dandelion and DJ in London when I studied abroad there and talked about wanting to be a politician in order to make the world a better place for children. Sometimes being told to shut up was done in more tactful ways, like being given the superlative “Most Chatty” in my second high school’s yearbook. But the sentiment remained.
Unlike with the stories I read about Jews/Zionists/Israelis getting their talks shut down at colleges/universities, town halls, government functions, demonstrations and so on, I never had to experience that. By the time Israel became a “thing” for me in 2012 after coming back to Boston from my Birthright Israel trip, I craved more. I began to go to Jewish and Israel related events and surrounded myself with people—Jewish and non-Jewish—who felt the same way. I began babysitting for Jewish clients. I moved to Netanya in 2013, thirteen months after my Birthright trip, to teach English to elementary school children through Masa Israel. I found my voice there. My fellowship with Kol Voice was about media accuracy and how to better advocate for Israel through the media. I knew that was what I wanted to do for a career. Almost four years after being back in Massachusetts, I have not made much progress. But when I am surrounded by the people who listen to me, it feels like I belong. Enrolling in graduate school has helped me find a bit of a voice, too.
Last September, I started a master’s degree program at Suffolk University in Boston. I am majoring in Communication: Public Relations and Advertising. I wrote my application essay about wanting to be an Israel advocate and that I felt the degree would (hopefully) help me achieve this goal. Unlike in colleges/universities where the young students grab onto whatever cause is popular—which tends to be wanting to annihilate Israel—graduate students do not seem as misinformed. I go to class, do my thing and then go back home. My classmates are not Jewish. But they listen to me. I remain thankful to my professors who have allowed me to make every assignment about Israel. I have examined Israel in four classes thus far—Social Media, Intro to Communication, Seminar in Advertising and Public Relations. This summer I will look at the strained relations that Ireland has with Israel when I travel to Ireland for one of my elective course requirements and compare Ireland’s relationship with Israel to Massachusetts’ relationship with Israel. Graduate school has given me a voice and has been nicer to me than college ever was. I still am stuck career-wise, but at least I am surrounded by adults who like me and respect my work. Given that my paying job of taking care of children is not good dinner conversation, I figured being in graduate school would at least make me appear more presentable and interesting. But lately it has been becoming alarmingly clear that graduate school, my Jewish/Israel groups and talking to the children I deal with every day are the only places where I can express my passion for Israel. The two most important men in my life have shown me that.
I have a boyfriend. His name is Dan and I found him on JSwipe. It still baffles me that I have managed to be in a relationship for almost five months. Our story isn’t the most romantic—our first meeting was at a bar—but it’s ours. I have always been very hesitant to fall in love or to get married. I had fallen hard for an American boy on my Birthright trip and that blew up in my face. I fell hard for two people in Israel—Butterfly and the man whom I still cannot express my reverence for properly. I was willing to make the necessary sacrifices to be with either of them—changing my eating habits, willing myself to want a baby someday and making Aliyah. Not only were my feelings one-sided for both of them, but I saw what a farce my parents’ marriage was. For years, they went a long way in convincing me that even just a relationship wasn’t something for me. It was something that never seemed in the cards; after all, what man would want to be with someone like me?
But after the Jewish guilt that had been instilled in me since Birthright about marrying a Jew and having a Jewish baby, marriage doesn’t scare me as much, although children are out of the question. I don’t feel as scared as I used to of the prospect of marriage anymore. Rather, having someone who loves me makes my heart feel like it’s bursting at the seams and spreads a warm happiness over my entire being.
Dan knows my struggles of trying to find an Israel advocacy job and how drained I am from work. “Find what makes you happy and do it.” His advice is so straightforward. So plain. And yet, so difficult. Because I know what makes me happy, and have no idea how to obtain it. It doesn’t help that he’s the first person to shut down my Israel admiration.
Back in March, Dan was driving me to the airport because I was going on my first ever Spring Break. I worked every break throughout college and needed a break from work for my sanity. I settled on Iceland. Our conversation in the car started out fine; it was about the night he said he loved me for the first time. Eventually the conversation turned to something about Israel. I know Dan isn’t “into” Israel. He did Birthright and has been there to visit his sister because she lives there with her boyfriend, but he doesn’t have that zest for Israel that I do. I knew that from when we met. But I was not expecting Dan to say to me that I needed to not talk about Israel as much as I do. It’s not like I run around talking about the United Nations Nothings being biased against Israel , or the 850,000 MENA Jews expelled from Muslim countries or the dimwits who hold up “Gays for Gaza” signs at anti-Israel demonstrations. I try to stick to the inventions Israel comes up with, my girl-crush on Gal Gadot and Israel’s humanitarian assistance that she provides to other countries in need. But I was shut down. I wasn’t even sure what bothered me the most—the tone of his voice or the fact that I have had another passion of mine shut down by someone I care about. I didn’t want to cry. But I did. Ironically, the last time I cried was almost nine months prior when I was trying to find an apartment (before I found my current amazing one) and was rejected because the two men felt they were “verbally drowned out” at the dinner interview I had with them. Dan had never seen me cry. So I began to tell him about why talking to him was so important because I mainly work with infants and I have no adults at work to talk to.
My days back then started at 8:00AM and there would already be a bottle situation, a scenario in which I would feed baby Lucas a bottle, burp him and then get puked on.
I would try not to awfulize the future, to imagine getting my master’s degree next year and still spending my days being overworked and underpaid as a babysitter and my evenings putting away my laundry that needed to be done after being covered in various fluids from the kids.
I have been working with children since I was 15, and it proves hard to remember a time when I was not, when I was the one playing with dolls to make up a pretend family, pining for my own house filled with small people to take care of. I understand that childcare may not be everyone’s tired cup of tea, but for me, most of the care giving job comes easily. Still, nearly all of it feels like work. And truthfully, sometimes I want applause for something other than getting babies to sleep when their own parents can’t do it.
So what do you do? The question is filled with its assumptions about the centrality of work.
I don’t know, I keep children alive? Except I feel like I’m hardly ever there mentally.
I worry. And I write papers for graduate school.
In graduate school I am supposed to talk, but most of the time I wonder if anyone is really listening.
I put babies in onesies and I feed them jarred fruit and I fold burp cloths all day long.
I am not complaining about being buried under a babysitter’s boring and demanding tasks. I cannot find another job.
I have the children, and they have me.
It is 8:00 at night and I begin getting ready for a 10:00PM shift to sleep train baby Avi. I spent the day with Lucas only napping for forty minutes at a time. I have fed him five bottles. I barely ate. I am covered in puke. Forget a gym workout. I go home and shower and then pack a bag to take to Avi’s house. He is a mixed bag, sometimes not waking up for hours and other times waking every two hours.
Fourteen years in with the little ones and I am still surprised at how the hilariously perplexing and the overwhelmingly holy work together.
Avi is asleep now and I have washed his bottles, knowing I will put together a bottle for him at some ungodly hour in the morning, yet grateful for the work I will wake up to again.
This is what I relayed to Dan. But he doesn’t understand my work struggle. He works in IT. He gets to wear normal clothes, eat lunch with two hands, talk to other adults, have a salary and not be on the precipice of unimaginable misery. I don’t remember what he said in the car to console me, but nothing worked. He dropped me off at the airport with a hug and while I hoped my tear-streaked face would yield me an upgrade on British Airways, it was fruitless. So I settled in for my journey to Iceland, vowing not to be “Taylor” for a few days. Iceland did wonders for me. Her beauty was breathtaking. The food was delicious. I escaped a bad snowstorm in Boston and was with a group of young adults who were kind, intelligent and adventurous. I got to turn off being “me” for a few days. Still, Israel wasn’t far from my mind. I brought a bag of Bamba with me as a mental “screw you” to Reykjavík for trying to ban Israeli products. When my group went to a greenhouse, I thought of Israeli farming technology. I spoke about my Israel travels to the group when we compared our travels and one of the girls on the trip—who isn’t even Jewish—was planning a trip to Israel and wanted my advice. Israel is never far from my brain. After a wonderful trip that was much too short, things seemed to return to normal, minus crippling jetlag. I had gotten over my conversation with Dan and vowed to move on. But the other most important man in my life—my father—brought the pain right back.
I had only been back in Massachusetts for a little over a day when I was forced to attend dinner with my father. I already gave up a lucrative babysitting gig for this dinner because I had no choice when my father said that I had to attend; my grandfather had passed away in January and since we always celebrated his birthday on March 17th, I had to go for moral support. March 17th in Boston—St. Patrick’s Day—is nothing short of a nightmare. It’s the day that everyone pretends they’re Irish and trying to get into a bar for even just a meal is next to impossible. I was in a bad mood, between the cold weather, a migraine and jetlag. Dinner was in Faneuil Hall, an absolute tourist trap on St. Patrick’s Day. I met up with my sister, Devon and her boyfriend, Will and all she could do was ask where Dan was (he was five minutes behind and my father and his girlfriend, Beth were even more late than he was) and proceed to yell at me when I asked her why we were out in Faneuil Hall on St. Patrick’s Day. She must have texted my father, because when he and Beth arrived, all my father asked me was if my bad mood was gone. We all eventually made our way to a table and ordered food and drinks. Dan had a great rapport with my father for a while and the night seemed like it would be tolerable enough, until my father started to pound watermelon margaritas. He asked me how my Iceland trip was, but whenever I tried to show him a picture or explain what I saw and did, he proceeded to text under the table to a different girlfriend or blatantly ignore me and only talk to Devon or Will. He then asked me how school was going. I said I had been accepted to a two-week seminar in Washington, D.C. to study national security and I was hoping to examine how the U.S. works with Israel in this arena. I also mentioned my Ireland trip where I would examine Ireland’s hostile relationship with Israel. I was raving about Suffolk giving me these chances and proud of the work I had accomplished there. But my father said six words that appear to be the current soundtrack to my life outside of graduate school, my Jewish/Israel groups and the children I watch:
“This is a no Israel table.”
I looked over to Dan who nodded in agreement and then listened to Devon say sardonically, “Hey, everyone, did you know that Taylor used to live in Israel?” So I finally shut up and only spoke when spoken to. I grimaced when having to pose for a picture with my father and Devon and hightailed it out of there with Dan as soon as I could. We agreed to split an Uber with Devon and Will since we were traveling in the same direction. I was squished in the middle seat in the back between Dan and Devon and my seatbelt did not fit, so Dan held his arm in front of me. When the car came to an abrupt stop near the bar we were going to, I almost went flying through the windshield. Before I could say anything, Devon said, “I wish you had gone through the windshield so I could be an only child.” I could not recall the last time she had said something that was laced with so much venom. Dan and I got out of the car and went to the bar he had chosen. I kept choking on air and just sipped the cider he bought me slowly. When Dan happily said that he thought my father approved of him, I choked on my words when I said that my father was just happy that someone puts up with me. For the second time, I cried in front of Dan. He was having us meet up with a friend of his, but he told his friend I wasn’t feeling well and we headed back to his apartment. He tried giving me a massage and saying that he wanted to stick up for me, but since he had just met my dad, he felt it wasn’t his place. It didn’t help. I said that he and my father at least agree that I have to shut up about Israel. Dan said it was different in that he was giving me constructive criticism and that since I am a Communications major, I have time to work on my speaking skills. But I just gave up talking and went to bed. My father texted me the next morning saying that Dan was a great guy. When I replied that I was happy, he texted back, “Who is this?” I promptly deleted it. From that point on, I rarely texted my father and answers were usually one-word replies. He asked if something was wrong and while a decent person would have the courage to confront him about the situation, I didn’t. For someone who tells me to shut up, I would think one-word answers would suffice. Devon and I have not spoken since and I have yet to confront my father.
A month went by. I finished my second semester of graduate school with an “A” in both of my classes. Dan and I went out to dinner one night to celebrate until everything went sour. I had been looking forward to this all week until somehow the conversation turned to Dan saying he wished I had been more quiet during our car ride up to Maine a few weeks prior and during the hike we had gone on for our three-month anniversary. To top it all off, my chattiness was “annoying.” My mood—the jubilant one that I had had after getting to see my boyfriend and receiving amazing grades—took a 180. I downed the rest of my cider and begged the waitress for the check. Dan and I left the restaurant and he tried to take me on a romantic walk near the water. I told him I wanted to get back to his place because it was freezing. I pretended to nap on the ride there so that I wouldn’t have to talk. When we got to the parking lot at Dan’s apartment, he asked me if I had a good nap. I replied that I wasn’t asleep. He asked me what was wrong and I didn’t say a word. When he said that wasn’t cool, I told him I was not having this conversation in the parking lot. We went to his apartment and he gave me a shirt he had bought for me at some bar event. I barely gave it a second glance. I curled up on the futon while Dan sat in his recliner.
All I had the strength to muster was wondering why Dan couldn’t describe my chattiness with a different adjective. He said he wasn’t going to lie to me and that the issue had been bothering him for a while. Unlike him, I use talking as a way to compensate for being shy. I was never the social butterfly like he was and can’t read social cues. He said he could tell I had problems with that. I also told him we should have dinner with my father because then the two of them could gang up on me about needing to shut up. He said that wasn’t fair. But isn’t it? I managed to finally take a look at the shirt he bought me before giving up and heading to bed. The next day when we drove out to Amesbury so that he could play with his rugby team, I stayed as quiet as possible in the car. After Dan’s team won the championship, I made sure to talk to the girlfriends of the players at the after party so as not to glom onto Dan, plus what I know about rugby can be put on the head of a pin. It seemed to work, plus the girls were glad to have another girl to talk to. Dan never mentioned my chattiness or talking about Israel again until a few nights ago when we went out to dinner to celebrate my final night of sleep training baby Avi. I mentioned that I liked that we have different interests—he with rugby and microbreweries and me with Israel—and that I will go to his games even though I don’t care about rugby. He said that Israel is my thing, but that when I talk about it, he tunes me out. Unlike the last two times when he told me—albeit a bit nicer—to shut up, I put my foot down. I put up my hand and said he was free to discuss this another time, but I was not going to deal with this on this particular night. He said he actually didn’t have anything else to say. I still chugged my drink, though and promptly passed out with baby Avi. At least his parents enjoy the Israel chatter.
It’s hard to be so passionate about something and to not have people you care about be interested. I always think back to this picture:
It’s the absolute story of my life.
For now, there is a silver lining; last year I had applied to staff a Birthright trip with Shorashim. They were my trip organizer in 2012 and introduced me to the land I love so much. They wrote to me in April saying that some new trips had been added and asked if I was still interested in staffing. I had a phone interview a few days before my 29th birthday and was then accepted as a staffer. I now get to staff my second Birthright trip. I was stunned, and not just because baby Lucas stayed quiet the entire time I was on the phone. Here I get to relive parts of my own trip and have people who actually want me to talk about Israel—my raison d’être. I get to utilize my Communications pedagogy—especially the marketing—and return to the land that I want to keep fighting for. I may not have my “real job,” but my graduate work has paid off with something.
There will be trials and tribulations on this trip, but Birthright has the power to make its charges be grateful. I will make sure that Bus 596 appreciates everything that slows us down and forces the relaxation of routines. Bus 596 will know that our driver goes on for hours, the medic is there to protect us, my bag will be filled to the brim with snacks and that me, my co-staffer, Jason and our Israeli madricha Yael will be forgiving when the participants say they’re tired. Birthright will set the participants all back into the slow circle of reminiscing, sharing their hopes and dreams with ours, adding rings around the Jewish people-who-are-family tree, appreciating the easy long distance connections between each other thanks to the Internet, and looking forward to wonderful times together that will come.
Being a madricha will be tough, but I am up for round two as a staffer. It’s true that I cannot program my participants’ specific interests, cannot come up with a certain kind of success, nor am I eager to create robot Israel lovers. There will be times when my participants diverge from my expectations, but love and understanding are always better teachers than a sense of duty.
It is not my job to railroad them into being who I want them to become, a gratifying mix of Jews and dreams, but to allow them to reveal their nature over time, in no particular order, through questions and explorations along the way.
To watch them dance to the beat of their own dreams.
I am not a perfect Israel advocate, But I am an Israel advocate who keeps trying.
So for now, I know that I will always have my voice with my Jewish/Israel groups, the children I keep alive and my graduate school. Heck, even my fabulous roommates, neither of whom are Jewish, listen to me. But when the events start to wane, the children get too big for me and I receive my master’s degree, what will become of my voice? Because when those avenues are gone, it will be back to being told to shut up at a table not meant for Israel.