6 Sivan 5775

23 May 2015 14:51IST

I had arrived in Jerusalem two evenings prior, carrying a duffel bag by the handles since its strap had broken during my transit from the base. I was weary, lost, and the beginnings of a caffeine headache had me desperate for a sandwich and espresso. Yet the scene astonished me. Arriving at the Central Bus Station following a forty-minute transit from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem was chaotic contrast unlike anything I had ever seen.

Religious Jews everywhere among a modern setting; an ancient city with the gung-ho bustle of the West. Exiting the station, mobs of pearl-colored apartments on curving hillsides could be seen in the hazy distance. Hundreds of people in the streets before me, of different colored clothes and families, mostly Jews yet of different movements, all going and coming from the light rail I was about to board.

An old woman sitting on a stone bench nearby begging in Yiddish, “GELT! GELT?”

I was white-knuckled from the journey and wanted nothing more than to sit down, sync the gps on my phone with a café’s WiFi, and find the apartment I had rented out for the night.

One of the light rail workers kindly pointed out that the street I was looking for was just past a park called Gan HaAtzmaut. Before going to Gan HaAtzmaut, I shouldered my way to a coffeehouse on Rehov Yafo, had a reasonably priced espresso (five shekel!), and found my gps marker in the center of Jerusalem. I found Gan HaAtzmaut in no time.

Staggering with my luggage past the green hills and Italian-esque sidewalk shops, what a change in scenery from home, I saw families having cookouts and young lovers perusing the sidewalk wineries and souvenir shops, beautiful Israeli women with headscarves and Milan-style sunglasses, numerous feral cats, when ah! Rehov Gershom Agron.

I walked down Gershom Agron Street and located the alleyway where on I could access my apartment. I found the humble lavender-metal door, which opened to a beautiful outdoor patio. I located the house keys beneath an ashtray, unlocked the glass door, and stumbled into an interesting living space with Bob Marley carpentry and a body mirror with sex-line and escort business cards tucked into its frame. The scene was comical, and at the same time, the place had a Bohemian sophistication to it; the space itself had to have been hundreds of years old.

The communal area was a grouping of floor sofas with half-melted candles, ashtrays, empty bottles of Goldstar and the faint scent of marijuana. My room, which I found in a bordering hallway, shared a space with a kosher kitchen, divided only by sliding door.

The bedroom was romantic; white plaster walls with curving stone ceiling, a bed with salmon-colored sheets, a desk space with a window looking up into the sky, and a bookshelf with a sliding case housing works ranging from Hebrew fiction to modern sexuality. I could rest easy here.


The sun was rapidly setting as I left the apartment to discover the Old City for the first time. Before however, I stopped at a coffeehouse to cap the evening with an espresso.

The shop was quaint; a beautiful olive-skinned barista with perfect American accent, confessing to my surprise that her English was not very good, and serving me the darkest coffee I’ve ever had. A Russian sitting at the bar proved to me why this was one of the most unique, kindred places in the world; especially for the Jews.

“Where you come from?”
“America. This is my first time in Israel.”
“First time? Why do you come here, why here?”

It’s a true trait of an Israeli that they will appear discouraging to you from having any ties with the land or pursuit of the faith, citing valid reasons, such as elaborating a Jew’s strict lifestyle or the anti-Semitism which consumes beyond its borders, why any sane person shouldn’t convert or make aliyah. But after much excavating and perseverance, the smiling Russian explained to me why he too loved the land so much; his mask of what appeared to be self-questioning came off to reveal a man just like me, driven by a mysterious passion whose enigma dissipates the first time you set foot in the land.

He shared that he is a practicing anthropologist with a deep love of the ancients, and what better place could you live in for such a profession? After jotting down some books the Russian recommended, the fetching barista behind the bar pointed in the direction of the Old City, and I left.

I enter through the Jaffa Gate. Tower of David looming over the Old City walls, I am awe-struck as I climb the numerous stairs leading to the Armenian Quarter. The streets are quieter at this hour, I wonder why? The stones of the city eclipse from a beautiful bright gold into an earthly brown, the golden blue sky slumbering into a deep purple.

I am anxious to see the Wall for the first time; in my mind I recall the Israeli paratroopers, my dream unit, who fought in this maze of alleys not even fifty years ago, to allow someone like me to witness this without the threat of death.

And after following this twisted road for a few minutes, down steep glazed steps from where I watched Jerusalem fall asleep, I catch the bright glare of the Wall. Is this it?

For a moment I think I can see the rusty steel dome of Al Aqsa, but I am waiting to confirm the sight with the unmistakable Dome of the Rock. And following these dangerous steps down, slowly, the first glimpse of the Dome has me standing still, the green-lit slabs of the Kotel hoisting the landmark on its shoulders.

I have to walk through security twice, as I forgot the dozens of shekel coins in the small pocket of my shorts. I gather my materials, wallet, cell phones, camera, backpack, and enter the courtyard of the Kotel, the Western Wall.

Children are bellowing together in song, and stampede in my direction as I walk dumbstruck toward the towering stones. I notice the gender barrier between the two sections of worshippers; and it isn’t until I find myself in the women’s section that I realize there is no access gap in the Mechitza partition; I have to reenter on the men’s side, somewhat embarrassed.

I shoot a few photographs but almost feel wrong doing it.


Enter the plaza before the Wall. Only forty-eight years ago next week in June, Paratroopers had entered the now-extinct Moroccan quarter, on whose bulldozed ghost I stand, whose houses and shops once crowded along this strip of sandstone Wall, the Wall being the closest structure to the ancient Second Temple.

The Paratroopers led by General Motta Gur were the first free Jews to access their holiest site in two thousand years. Non-religious kibbutzniks in camouflage uniforms removed their helmets in awe and prayed as the Chief Army Rabbi blew into his shofar hesitantly, unsure of angering the Jordanian snipers pick-pocketing the Israelis as they desperately retreated from the Old City.

The soldiers “who don’t cry” had eyes swelled with uncontainable tears. Motta Gur stood atop the Wall on the Temple Mount, yelling for his lead communications officer to fashion the Star of David atop the golden Dome of the Rock, an action prompting then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to utter over radio the famous words “remove that flag immediately. You’ll set the Middle East on fire.”

But a fire indeed burns here. Thousands of years of history, years of my own desire before me, and I stand alone and unsure of how to go about this.

And years of suffering and hardship, which I will elaborate on as this journal progresses, has hardened my heart; vivid emotions of my younger self live in the memory of a man who has not himself cried in years, whose passion remains as dry as a desert.

Covering my face, out of place amid the Orthodox black and white, siddur absent from my hands, not a lick of Hebrew prayer on my tongue, I uttered the only blessing I knew in Ivrit, and cried; I kissed the Wall and left.

BRENDAN ברנדן, ISRAEL ישראל

27 Iyar 5775

Thu May 14, 2015, 21:26EST

It was wonderful.
It was terrifying.
It was beautiful.

A stern woman had me captive for what seemed like an embarrassing hour as the barrage of questions fired, men in kippot smirking at me in line; was it familiarity? Was it the look on my face?

“How long have you been converting?”
“Two or three years.”
“Do you plan to go to other countries? Jordan? Egypt?”
“Did you meet others at the airport? Did they give you anything for the flight?”
I felt a wince of fear, of course I wouldn’t support terrorism, but I had to remain stout and straight-faced.
“How long have you been converting? …Do you have any bombs?”

It was such a beautiful procedure, yet intimidating, despite the expectations I had of travelling to Israel…

They’re everywhere, men in coats and women with headscarves… some bald, some with ravenous curls; peyot (side-locks of hair) wild and pampered. Tall hats, small yarmulkes… tan, white, black, kindred beauty at the foot of Sinai.

It’s quiet here. Not unlike the sounds of footsteps… the bold step I’ve waited so long for, one that will fashion me further into the man I feel I am inside and yearn to be…

I met a man with a knitted kippah on his head, as we tried to find a working outlet to charge our electronics. I fashioned my black satin kippah to my head, and we now sit… him focused toward the screen, I, typing… and I realize I haven’t asked his name.

I am not surrounded, but implanted… living together, one heart, international people all wanting to experience what lies hours away, all thinking, eating airport food, preparing one last check of ticket and passport… the winged ark waits outside of the gate.


Sun May 17, 2015 13:59IST

I have fallen behind in my reports, but really, who could blame me?

A brief recap of my journey here; I originally was supposed to arrive at Ben-Gurion International (TLV) on the morning of Friday, May 14th, but ended up arriving later that evening due to a nightmarish flight cancellation for my original departure out of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Luckily, I was in good hands as the El Al representative on the phone rerouted me for a later departure out of New York City (JFK) instead of Newark (EWR) where I was originally going to connect to from Chicago (ORD), the cancelled flight; from there I also redirected my cancelled flight from EWR to JFK. An eighteen hour journey became over a thirty hour one, but I am glad to be here.

I write now in the Arrivals Hall of Ben-Gurion after spending two stunning days in Tel Aviv, in a hotel I booked two blocks from the Mediterranean waterfront. In those days, recovering from jetlag, I spent evenings and nights walking the streets, learning the life, listening to conversations everywhere (all in Hebrew!), tasting new food, and pausing many times to acquaint my mind and tell myself over and over where I am. The place I’ve worked forever, with strong doubts, to get to.

I remember taking a cab for the first time outside of the airport. A very kind driver, asking me “AC or window?” as I feel the Israeli breeze rippling through the leather interior, the taxi driving past scenes of tropical foliage, foreign pavement and street signs, all in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and distant white apartment high rises supported by cranes, I respond “windows down”. At that moment, a day and a half spent almost all awake and sweaty and grimy and jet-lagged in my Sar-El volunteers’ shirt, there was nothing I wanted more than to feel the precious hot wind run through my dirty hair.

And I arrive at the hotel, the duffel bag I carry rigged with a light strap chaffing my right shoulder to hell, my legs shaking (was it anxiousness? Or fatigue?) as I ascend seven flights of stairs past two elevators I had no patience for (one manual, the other constantly active for Shabbat so observant Jews need not press any buttons), and I arrive at my door affixed with a silver mezuzah, open, and drop everything.

The view from the room’s window was when it truly set in: was it the clear, cloud-free, amber sunset? The rusty Bauhaus buildings planted along shimmering coastline? The copious Israeli flags hanging from balconies, tucked in windows, hanging by the dozens on clothesline?

I stood there for probably a half-hour, watching life pass by as I tried to keep up. I didn’t cry, but I maintained that feeling deep down. I was too happy, I couldn’t stop smiling. And this was just a view from a small seaside road in Tel Aviv.

I will revisit more from my first hours in Israel in a bit, but in about a half hour from now I will be beginning my stay on an IDF base. I arrived back here at Ben-Gurion about three hours ago and have been pretty content about it; waiting is a life I’ve gotten used to now.

I purchased my Israeli phone, an old Nokia using T9 with both Hebrew and English characters (how real it is all becoming), met with my Sar-El representative Pamela, and befriended a Norwegian man named Lars. Lars and I sat for a long while and talked about all there is to talk about, and he inspired me to do Ulpan, an intensive Hebrew language-learning program taught on kibbutzim throughout Israel, where he was coming from.

He is a truly wonderful person, non-Jewish, but in his own words: one with a Jewish heart. I guess that makes us kindred.

Unfortunately he will be with another group heading out to a different base, as Pam wants to assign me to a group of younger volunteers, which ultimately I would feel more comfortable serving in.


16:35IST Update

Turns out I feel much more fit in this group of youngsters.  All my new friends are from different countries: a Japanese-Australian named Daniel, a Hungarian named Yiyar, a French girl named Jessica, and a Dutch man whose name slips my mind.  I am not allowed to talk about where I am headed to, but satisfaction is an understatement.  I feel at home.



The last day comes
Like any other cloudy morn
And its unwelcome cold
Arresting our souls,
The wire
Weaved by thorns
Chases us in circles
like blonde children with guns
taunting any chance of escape
And misunderstanding the hope of the common man
And his secret precious life
Hidden beneath an undesired countenance;
The Versailles weren’t kind
In teaching the famine’s children
That to abstain from strife
You must turn against the Chosen,
Die schweinhundisch kyke;
So the Yiddish children carry the burden
Under the skull men’s
crushing calls,
Fast, yid!  Arbeit, yid!
With no resting at all–
This time
Avraham’s blade has come too close,
and G-d is abstinent
As Nietzsche wrote,
the eight Jewish flames
The gray men enter the courtyard to stifle the weak; or are they too strong?
To hunt Solomon’s gazelle, its prey of Hope
of nationhood and escape;
As the beads sprinkle along the still stone,
that notorious strangler–

One last thought

And its menagerie of many words
From the naked men and hairless women
Courses through my mind like the blood of life,
Never loud enough:
It            Stay     is
 so        I        here    Hear
  forever      dark    O     with
  Love         what    me!
is      you     in   Israel   here
     that     so      sound
       the  where
     is          Lord
    much              it
is               coming      from?
BRENDAN ברנדן, ISRAEL ישראל, PRAYER תפילה

12 Nisan 5775

A few months ago I had attended a film with one of my close friends from high school, someone whose interests remained in the realm of my own as I gradually made a split from my younger identity into what I am passionate for today.  The film was a more rational, somewhat inaccurate take of the story of Pesach, and as two with a heart for ancient near-Eastern study and history, we critiqued and marveled at Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings”.

My friend was, within a few days, bound to study internationally in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and I hastily wrote a brief prayer on a wastingly large piece of paper (a plea, really) for him to tuck into the Western Wall during his time in the Old City in Jerusalem, a tradition among its visitors for belief that the Holy Presence rests on top of the wall, answering prayers.

And I wonder when the plea will be answered, or realized.

A person will often ask me, “what do you do?”  I will always feel a quick hesitant restraint, a glimpse into the dark shame I have wrestled with that I have no viable education nor an adult’s job…
“I’m trying to leave” I’ll say.
“Oh yeah?  Where’s that?”
“Israel.”  The plea.  Take me.

And I will always receive mixed reactions.  Most will respond with a distant awe, as if trying to remember where Israel is on a map.  Some nod and continue, while a few will respond more negatively.  One man has called me “crazy” with a hostile tone of discouragement, another girl refused to carry on the conversation; as though I was wearing a Magen David armband on a field of crimson, a silver skull on my cap.  I understand the negative perception toward Israel, I am aware of her criticizers; I am tired of the passive, armchair-born resentment toward Zionism in our age of passive-aggression.  A schlepper generation, what are they doing to help?

And lately I have been assimilating myself with this behavior; I am no man.  Not yet.  I haven’t proven my worth in dirt as I flip the pages of a biography on the new Jewish dream; the fighters, the paratroopers and kibbutzniks who would throw themselves over an Arab marauder’s grenade to save their wives and countrymen, only to muster the strength to shoot back.  The Tsabra generation; the strong, initiating, native Israeli who I will never be… but for whom I want my children to be.

So my boiling motivation has taken a plunge forward.  My drugging thoughts have disappeared behind the scenes; I need to begin answering my own prayers.  I need to start giving my objective my all.

I will be applying for the Sar-El program, a volunteering opportunity to serve alongside Israeli soldiers to help ease their burden.  I have a contact and the chance is an optimistic one, I have an interview planned with a local community center regarding the position.

Perhaps with the push of hard work augmented by the trust I had written on paper, in the ink of my very heart’s blood, which my friend had placed in that Wall… maybe this is the answer I’ve always needed.


16 Adar 5775

I once felt a variant of guilt; pursuing a place I’ve had no connection to by blood, nor faith…

An arresting feeling that I would always be a foreigner, with no claim, settling in a land that was once farmed by the grandfather of a Palestinian orphan living in some Lebanese refugee camp, or that I might one day wander a desert wadi won by the blood, hand-me-down iron, and chutzpah of Buchenwald survivors I’m not related to; a confused boy whose sophomoric broken Hebrew will never compare to even that of a bronzed, native-born Kindergartener… a guilt that had me trapped in the thought I will be damned as a child in a land of men; a place of such renown that it would forever tower over my being, making me feel smaller than a rat in New York City.  

I’ve felt that I could never be present in spirit at the foot of Mount Sinai, a rabbinical legend said of all Jews and converts not yet born during Moshe’s receiving of the Ten Commandments; this variant of guilt that I would never feel Jewish, thus the next muse, would I ever understand, or begin to help others understand, the Dream of my heart?

Depression wraps its unholy hands around my mind’s neck and attempts to strangle it; for years I have been this asphyxiated near-corpse desperate and thirsty for the fresh air of change, change I have been too weak and fickle to realize or attempt. And like change, motivation is never fulfilled overnight; I will not wake up with a green uniform on my closet with “TzaHa”L” on its breast, hard-earned red beret tucked in it’s shoulder loop; I will not fall asleep in America to wake up in Israel.

Countering these unholy hands, I’ve turned to embracing a holier presence. My longtime swaying and trepid faith in G-d has, with a conscious personal decision, matured into a more stable commitment. As time has gone on I’ve desired discipline, and with this discipline came opportunity, with opportunity came motivation, and with motivation– more discipline.

The guilt is decaying, and my decision, once a fish-tailing tunnel-vision, is locked in my sights.



When I first met you,
Your arms stuttering
Across the cabin
With a dreadful fear
That was once anger,
Your eyes blue with youth
Your finger was entwined by a wearying gold
And your chest wrapped in a scarf, but your soul was nakedly standing
Before us all nakedly waiting.
It’s tough to savor the flight from Mitzrayim.
This Sten is your Staff,
Hold it close to to your heart, m’zun
Its pillars of fire
Will deliver you to the land
In time
–Give your children a name;
Our cousins in Palestin’eh call,
So when you face Ost
Pray that they’ll have abundance of grain
For you’n me.
Those navy, glossy eyes
You afraid, m’zun?
Your shtetl you shouldn’t worry about
Only look forward, into the flame;
Never mind the smoke and ash.
What was she like, m’son?
Eyes of charcoal, a tikhel of dirty hair,
Miriam’s hand swinging between her breasts?
You’ll find her again in Eretzyisroel,
Trust me, m’son
Put this Staff to good use, though
You’ve probably never used a gun.
Look at me.
You’ve come this far,
You believe in reason?
Make dying your treason;
Success is your fate.
Though’w’re hunted like rats
Let Adonai be your lance,
Stand by it, pray quiet
And don’t you ever look back
They say the Reds are giv’n them hell,
Plagues of green are a’coming through France,
The Mandate holds our land,
And the fascist murderers panic.
Hope runs through your veins;
One day you’ll change your name,
And in streets of peace your daughters will dance,
Consider this fight a bris,
You’ll draw blood, sweat;
And these tears,
Hold onto this Staff,
And trust,
follow, live;
Spite our Angel of Death.

‘Burning Bush’


The Bird’s Eye

A recollection from a few days ago…

IMG_1504 (2)

It was early in the afternoon when I found myself looking outside the window from a pit of dispirited and quiet thoughts, and the sight of snow gently falling caught me off guard; Scenes of twisting alleys and houses with slapped on windows, rained on by beautiful, thick, constantly descending orbs. It was so peaceful that it gave my mind a temporary escape; it had cast me on a level where thoughts could not haunt me, where I was not so down on myself, where I was not caught in a dirty groove of thinking… this is life? This is the end of the road? I have to suffer more to settle in a temporary resting place? In building this road longer, to nowhere?

No. No, no, no. The sight of the falling snow, and the glowing furnace, and the stubby plant with its leaves peering above the windowsill made me think again. This is life. This is the warm roof above my head. This is the day for making good things happen. The building of the road is an exhausting, back-breaking, pioneering adventure.

The mental and literal road I drove on that day provided my thoughts more space to find positivity. I mulled on my relationships with other people, and mourned over the reality on how they sit stray. Everything is so shallow with my life and company. I find minor blockades in the way I engage other people, a lot of the time out of my control, which prevent me from having long-lasting friendships; perhaps caused by a past mistake, spiritual differences, a deep-rooted disagreement, or because of the way they look. I look down on people too much, but in this moment I looked down on my relationships from a different way; from the bird’s eye.

I am beginning to understand that every small talk, supper, night out, is a sliver of a grander picture; of everyone is a different story, heritage, religion or secularism, profession… we all make the world what it is. And what is to become of it.
How do I make my mark, how do I make myself a part of this grander picture? How do I burn out brighter, and not alone, corrupt, having caused more harm than good? What is my identity in all this?

Right now I am seeing how beautiful each individual is… even the ones I have hated and wrestle to accept. That they are their own soul, with their own struggle… with their own faction of who they represent, or are trying to find for their own… people trying to find their identity. And I am seeing that it is a glory to be a part of this world, to be a struggling individual. That it is a glory to be lost.

My identity is not in simple Judaism; my identity is in something much greater. The dreams I have and the place markers on my life’s timeline of what I hope to achieve is a story in the billions that make our constantly moving world, but not even this world makes my identity.

My identity, I am finding, is rooted in something much more grand than our humanity. It is not a suffocating enclosure, it is not a terrifying expanse; it burns like a warm fire, where my thoughts run to when I am feeling cold on the outside.

There is more to life than being alive, and I am finding this again.

Shabbat Shalom.


‘BURY, Depart.’

bury, depart_wp

Feeling the Ypres wind whisper through my back,
Lingo of dead men long silenced, cracked;
to, fro,
hold slow;

The meaning of life descends as the surface to its shoal,
Clad in sweat and cloth, the husk of a killer over soul;
Clutch, smoke,
breathe, go;

So close I could touch him, would they grimace or shy?
Would I be painted an outsider; or am I too afraid to try?
Let be,
soothe the trees;

Embers prematurely spent and love a gulf away,
Given the chance to sleep I wouldn’t dare want to stay.
Shoot, hit,
crawl, spit;

Long doses of peace return in throbbing, warm waves;
The relief is heavier, but shoes like body are weathered, decayed.
Click, load,
Please, no;

Prayers into curses fester at the tip of our tongue;
They all want you in my arms, not this loaded gun.
Rally, shout,
Walk, proud!

The copper whistle lies; a glimpse of false might,
Following the dark river’s cellophane light:
Swoosh, splash,
Crackle, crash;

Breathing soon becomes bleeding as the monsters labor on,
Weariness begets peace; your memory I savor, waver… savor;
Cry, scream,
Come to me–

The poppy shivers in the field, your shoulders arrest my mind,
Your wandering coffee eyes I struggle to remember overtime;
Smile meek,
Move me, seek;

Stalls and humility frustrated me– tore the weak seams,
Mulling over another headache, and parched gray dreams;
Silence, shots,
I’ve never forgot;

Brothers remember and feel these things, I neglect,
Holding another sweetheart in their last dying breaths,
Shrill, recall,
The bickering stall!

The shores erupt in dirt, her white collar begins to fade,
German and Old Contemptibles meet in their home; make it or break!
Roll, kill,
Thunder, still–

A green smoke thaws, tattered corpses in line,
Once boys, now husbands: gifts to widows in time;
Settle, sleep,
‘My Children’ He weeps;

I cannot comprehend the betrayal given,
When I stopped another man’s heart,
like mine– passchen driven,
Bury, depart.


Crash– First Draft

It would seem we’ve lost our direction judges ago,
Desperate dreams against the Arab springs;
And so little we see as we hear the numbers rise,
It crosses my heart, but I’m not ready to die.

A new season comes over the Gehenna grounds,
Veiled in sunrise a blind courage attends;
God is Great, followed by the terrible sound,
In black, white, and red, we cry for the goodness in men.

We’re born and crash
A generation’s furor runs hot
The mother’s fears arrest the dead;
Panzer fathers arrange the shots
For the wearers of berets upon their heads.

Chariots are called to the fences in lie and wait,
With confrontation’s ancient refrain, the shofar screams;
Gog v’Magog warns to give restraint,
Running in shambles, too dangerous to please.

We grow to crash
Violation of the faultless
Fires falling from the air;
Strangers respond, the armed and dauntless
Against the faceless, with causes snared;

We live to crash
As the promised land falls apart,
Compassion’s fingers release their hold;
Threats and bombs black out the stars,
Strangling love into stone.

Where is the end of the shadow of death?
Valleys have risen around our walls,
We live to plan, our portion thrashed;
We were given our inheritance, for the price of men.

We age from the crash,
Mount Carmel’s hills feel the tremor,
As the killing’s never ending spate
Arrived in the north one cold November;
Fueling the fires of never ending hate; perpetuating time’s eternal war.

We breathe to crash, but will live to see greener shores,
The good souls pray to relinquish the sword;
So remain strong and take heart as you meet with the crash,
All you who hope in Abraham’s Lord.