The song of an alien

Sitting in the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg and listening — scratch that — feeling the dynamics of the pianist playing Bach’s Art of the Fugue, waves of emotion wash through me. The wooden walls bubble out a rhythm that bend with the breaths of the dynamic melody. I feel everything. I feel it intensely and unevenly. The music demands and directs it all. She plays her own version of the unfinished final fugue. I exhale.
Writer’s block. Insecurities that my words are just regurgitating the same themes. Lack of inspiration as my world focuses on being a therapist to my friends’ dramas instead of a mother to my own heart. I miss writing. I miss it when the words spill out better than I could have planned. I even miss it when I struggle to sort through the choppy thoughts buzzing around in the corner of my eye. I read back a few of my old blog posts. Yes, the message of “The Step Waits” mirrors how I felt awaiting the flight to Hamburg. Yes, the connections and frustrations in my fragmented autobiography answers truths relevant to the pages in my mind today. But somehow my half written ideas have gone stale, abandoned by my growing indignation for postponing the writing process yet again and conquered by a self consciousness I never knew existed within me. My unfinished pieces linger. No exhale. I learned to ignore the music since it was too painful not to participate, expecting that the day will come when the words will pour out effortlessly.

I’m studying abroad in Germany. Yes. That ultimate Zionist that dreams of the Negev and wraps her heart in the flag of her home. That brave, naive and passionate woman that moved to Israel in what seems like a lifetime ago in search for adventure. But the mundane routine left me fruitless. I needed fresh inspiration to bite into. I craved comparison and new experiences. I wanted to lick my lips tasting history and cultural diversity, kissing the wide views and only asking myself what’s next to devour- because I realized that this brave woman needed some one-on-one time with her voice. This version of Talya needed a change, a different rhythm to reconnect to the earlier version that welcomed challenges eagerly. And what better place for such an experiment than the country that has the fastest growing Jewish community in the world, yet proved that we have no other home than Israel.

And now here for over a month, I can feel that it’s working. I feel magnetized to every bite of life. My eyes gaze at the world like my five month old niece. Everything historic, everywhere picturesque. The intensity swings both ways as I cross the tightrope of comparing life to the one I know in Israel, balancing between the two worlds of religion and being a 23 year old exchange student, and all set in the landscape of a painful memory. Being part of a challah bake in Hamburg, where next door the original shul was destroyed, dancing in Austria with an Israeli, standing in Otto Weidt’s factory for the blind and deaf, the location that hide his Jewish employees.. the sukkah in Berlin gets tossed around from the wind, but doesn’t fall.

Itai and Noa tell me about the Jewish history of Hamburg, about Rabbi Carlebach’s hold of both Jewish and secular knowledge. Noa shows me around the supermarket, explaining the German terms and brands that will work for Kashrut. Over a glass of beer some students ask me why I’m not eating. I decide to give in and finally tell them that I have some rules I follow as a Jew. And they inquire and then giggle. I’m not invited out for the next beer. Finally Deborah comes to visit and the beer tastes richer. Noa tells me that she thinks there should be a reverse birthright, for Israelis to travel abroad where Judaism is a challenge, to learn and appreciate the endeavor. I wholeheartedly agree, treasuring my tiny triumphs and agonizing over if and how I will prevail.

Seth says that I only have limited time to fit in all these experiences. It’s true. But Shabbat and Chag magically strengthen the quality of those minutes. Discussing community and political issues with humans with shared values or even arriving to the Shul after wandering around lost in the rain tastes like the sweetest fruit. Singing the same melodies in Zurich for Rosh Hashana, I am overwhelmed by the tunes of tradition and feeling so part of it, so honored to have something to be a part of. Each meal I sit with a different family, adopted into their home, singing the same life story questions I ask them in return. I return back to Hamburg and it feels like a different universe. The way the students in my program react to hearing that I live in Israel and the questions about religion are exhausting. Maybe my taste buds are too sensitive, maybe they don’t mean anything bad by it.

But I feel like an alien. That’s the best way I can describe it. I can try my hardest to fit in, to be normal, to explain my traditions in the most chill way, to show that I’m not suffering by these archaic limitations. But in the end, I’m just an alien from the past that’s not convincing in deceiving everyone that I’m just like them. And I’m happy to be an alien. There’s no one else I would rather be than this adventure seeking, constantly overwhelmed by the complexities of life, totally failing at time management, bike-ride loving, shul going alien… tuning into her music. Traveling by myself allows me to stop and analyze the movements of a bee on a flower, take as many photos as my camera will let me, and gives that Talya the space to challenge herself, to be herself. Being the alien might be tiresome, but the attention it burdens me with reminds me why I appreciate the country of aliens and living in a time when I won’t be picked up and taken because I’m an alien. The contrasting looks from the clumsy song of an alien is a totally fine exchange for the other historically relevant options for this identity.

About the Author
Talya Herring, originally from California, made Aliyah to a Moshav in the Negev for a year of her National Service at Aleh Negev, a rehabilitative village for people with severe disabilities and then worked as a tour guide for her second year of National Service. Now as a law student, she writes her blog to connect her evolving thoughts with friends and family, inspire ideas of self-achievement, and celebrate pride in values.
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