Before 23, I really thought I knew who I was. Now, however, I’ve come to realize that person was almost entirely made up of pressure and expectations–from myself, my family, and the culture I grew up in. I used to be so overcome with anxiety that I constantly had my guard up, hoping that nobody could see the real me–the real, imperfect me.
I was so scared of rejection and shame that I buried my true self so deep down, I lost her. I don’t think I ever even had the chance to know her.
Somehow, moving away helped me leave behind a lot of these pressures. Maybe it was the change of environment, the timing, or the very authentic, expressive nature of Israelis inspiring me. Whatever it was, I finally felt a release from the loop of anxiety, fear, and disconnectedness.
So, what do I mean when I say I met myself for the first time when I was 23?
I mean that, for the first time ever, I’m letting myself just be. I’m releasing the pressure to show up or act a certain way–no longer hiding my thoughts, my feelings, my self.
I sit by the sea every Saturday now. I sit there and I just watch the waves crash towards the shore. I use them as a guide, as I learn to let my thoughts come and go, too.
I let my intuition guide me. I listen to my needs. I validate my emotions.
In doing this, I meet myself. I sit with myself. I reflect with myself. I learn from myself. I heal myself.
These moments of stillness and acceptance show me who I truly am.
Fully accepting–and learning to love–myself when I’m alone trickled into my relationships, too. It’s allowed me to finally lower the mask I always hid behind and close the distance between myself and the people around me. I started showing up as the emotional, open-hearted, authentic, still-imperfect-me.
I showed up as me and instead of fearing rejection, I thought, What if people actually like the real me? How incredible would that feel?
Having patience when building this life for myself is no easy task. It requires acknowledging all the unknowns and waiting for my story to unfold, however it may.
When I moved to Israel, I knew I would have to practice patience. I knew it would take time to get a job, create a support system, develop routines–to feel somewhat stable here. Although I’m definitely feeling more settled two months later, I am nowhere close to having most of it figured out. I feel like all I’ve done so far is plant seeds, and I’m still waiting for the fruits of my labor to emerge.
To practice patience in my aliyah process means more than just accepting the abnormally slow pace of Israeli bureaucracy. It means accepting that it’s okay if I don’t have my dream job quite yet. That I have some friends, but maybe not a core group. That I don’t have plans for every Friday night dinner. That I still have quite a bit left to figure out.
Being patient is difficult because it’s in those moments of in-between that messy feelings come up. The anxiety, the stress, the fear, the worry, the doubt. Am I doing the right thing? What’s taking so long? Did I do something wrong? Am I even worthy of…?
Coincidentally–or maybe not (is anything really a coincidence?)–the Jewish holiday of Tu B’shvat came around right as I’m having these thoughts. Tu B’shvat celebrates the birthday of trees, but on a deeper level, it’s all about spiritual and emotional growth.
It represents the potential that exists when you choose an environment, plant a seed, invest time and energy, and ultimately experience growth because of these choices.
Tu B’shvat lands in the middle of winter because it celebrates the potential; the unlimited ways in which this next year can unfold and deliver beauty. It teaches us that the darkness of winter is where growth happens; that light doesn’t just come after darkness–it exists withinit. That this is where the most beautiful trees and gardens begin–with just a bunch of dirt and rain. The dirt, the rain, and a whole lot of love and patience, produce infinite possibilities for the future, and that is surely something to celebrate.
There are days when I get frustrated with the pace at which my life is moving. It’s slow, uncomfortable, and at times scary, and there’s no easy way out. I just have to live in it. I have to inch towards my future and keep watering my seeds. I have to stop comparing myself to people who started their gardens before I did or had different growing conditions.
Slowly, slowly, roots will take hold and things will start to blossom. In the meantime, I will work on myself and my relationships. I will figure things out. My story will continue to unfold.
There is so much in this world to be grateful for, and yet we are fundamentally built to focus on the negative. To protect ourselves, we focus our energy on what went wrong, what we don’t have, and what we wish were different. We are conditioned to have these negative mindsets, and yet, by doing so, we lose out on so much beauty and magic that the world has to offer.
Gratitude is how we bring magic back into our lives. For everything in your life you can complain about, I promise you–there are 100 things to be grateful for. I think about my apartment: a tiny studio on a very loud street, and yet I love this apartment so much. Yes, it is so small that my kitchen, bedroom, and living room are one. Yes, the kitchen is difficult to cook in because of the size. Yes, I can hear construction every morning and the neighborhood cats fighting every night. Yes, there are a bunch of other issues that I could easily complain about, but I don’t.
I don’t complain about it because I choose to focus on what I’m grateful for. I am so grateful that my apartment is small because it makes it so easy to clean. I am so grateful to be able to cook my own meals in my own space–even if that space is tight. I am so grateful to be a heavy sleeper, because once I’m asleep the noise doesn’t bother me. I am so grateful to have a place to live–a space that is entirely my own.
Sometimes, I can even find ways to laugh at the problems. Now, every night when I hear the cats, I imagine them having a meeting and discussing something “serious”. I really have no idea why I started doing this, but now instead of getting annoyed when I hear the cats, I simply laugh–and I’m grateful for them bringing me joy.
This is a relatively easy example, but the magic of gratitude is truly put to the test when facing problems that are much bigger or more difficult.
I often feel like there is a misunderstanding of what a life of gratitude means. Sure, sometimes living a life of gratitude means tearing up at the beauty of the sunset, or truly thanking loved ones, or saying a blessing over your food, or the apartment example I just mentioned; but what people often neglect is the bigger picture. Living life with gratitude isn’t just about acknowledging what you have; it’s also about finding meaning in the hard times.
Gratitude has taught me to look at challenges from a different perspective. Instead of thinking about how I wish things were different, I look at how a hardship can teach me an important lesson, make me stronger, or show me an opportunity I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. Often, when we are faced with something difficult, it is because of that challenge that new doors open, or we finally see things from a new perspective–propelling us forward. All of this is true, and yet, when we’re stuck in the moment, it’s difficult to practice gratitude in the traditional sense.
Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful for a challenge in the moment because we still don’t know what good will come of it. In order to get myself out of the negative headspace and into a place of gratitude, I think of something in the past that felt impossible. Something I never thought I could get through, or a challenge that seemed like no good could ever come of it.
I think of all the times I have felt so low, only for the light to come in shortly after. This is where I focus my gratitude–the light after the darkness. I have gratitude for the proof that good things come after hard things. It doesn’t mean you have to be glad something happened, because some tragedies are simply painful. It’s difficult to be grateful for those painful moments, but even in the deepest darkness, we can find a little glimmer of light if we try.
When I think back on the toughest challenges I’ve faced in my life, I have immense gratitude for them. They showed me who I am and who I want to be. They showed me that I can do hard things and come out better because of them. They brought me to where I am today.
Next time you are faced with something difficult, I challenge you to use gratitude to get through it. Gratitude for the strength your past has given you. Gratitude for this challenge–whatever it may be–because one day you will be able to look back and say, I didn’t think I could do it, but I did.
We are capable of so much more than we think we are. We just have to open our hearts and our minds to the magic of gratitude–and have a little faith that we are exactly where we’re meant to be.
I have to give a lot of credit to the book that opened my eyes to the magic of gratitude — TheMagic by Rhonda Byrne. It changed my life (and it can change yours too).
Loneliness. We often think about loneliness as a bad thing–something we should try to avoid at all costs. Like, god forbid we feel lonely sometimes, then we must’ve done something wrong, or there must be something wrong with us. It feels shameful to admit when we’re lonely because we think it must be our fault–that maybe we are a flawed human being. Yet, the truth is feeling lonely is part of being human.
I must admit that I have felt pretty lonely since moving back to Israel. Last year, I had distractions and obligations that kept me surrounded by people constantly. I was actually around people so much that the introvert in me was desperate for alone time. I thought living alone now would be the sanctuary I needed to decompress after a long day–but now I have entire days where I am completely alone.
It’s clear now that I’m essentially starting over this time around. Unfortunately, most of the people I had become close with last year are no longer here, and the friends I do have here work during the day…which leaves me very bored and very alone while I’m unemployed.
I never thought I would say this, but I’ve had enough time to myself. Actually, I’ve had too much. I am itching to do things and be around people whenever I can…and if you know me personally, you know how crazy it is for me to admit something like that.
When I realized how lonely I was, I started to feel a lot of shame. I started to compare my life to everyone I saw on Instagram through the picture-perfect lens social media so kindly provides us. I started to compare my life to everyone I know here too, who had more established lives and jobs and friendships. I started to believe that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have a lot of people in my life here.
I didn’t want to tell anyone I was feeling this way because I was ashamed of not having it all figured out–of not having the perfect life sorted from the second I stepped off the plane (which BTW, my anxiety told me is a totally normal expectation to have for myself, and when I write it down, I do, in fact, see how totally insane it is).
The shame surrounding loneliness causes us to do everything we possibly can to avoid feeling it. When I’m feeling lonely, I find myself wanting to do things for the sake of doing them, rather than because I actually want to. Loneliness often makes us turn toward things or people we otherwise wouldn’t choose, because all we want is some resemblance of human connection. Loneliness makes people drink more than they know they should, keep unhealthy friendships for the sake of “having friends”, swipe endlessly on dating apps without actually connecting–you get the picture. We all do whatever we can to avoid feeling or seeming lonely.
But as I finally started to explore my loneliness with curiosity, rather than judgment, I thought: What if I just sit with it? What if I just sit with the discomfort of loneliness and accept that it’s a natural part of life? That feeling lonely isn’t a judgment of my character, but simply a result of my circumstances. What if I just accepted that there is no shame in feeling lonely, or not having a lot of friends–especially when I just moved to a new place? What if I used my loneliness to get to know myself on a deeper level than I ever have before? To find out what I want my life to look like, and then intentionally build that life piece-by-piece?
I want to make it clear that I am in no way trying to glamorize the feeling of loneliness because when we are deep in the feeling, it simply sucks. There’s no better way to put it–it sucks to feel like everyone else has their lives together and I don’t. It sucks to feel like everyone else has an abundance of friends and I don’t. Feeling lonely is not fun in any way, shape, or form, and sometimes it sucks so much that all we can do is cry.
What I am trying to say is that when I challenge myself to “zoom out” and see my situation for what it is–a girl who just made a huge change and hasn’t had much time to settle and meet people yet–I can see myself as less of a failure and more of a person that is just going through the rollercoaster of life. In my case, loneliness is a normal part of the moving-across-the-world-by-myself process. There are ups and there are downs, and that’s okay. I know that with time, things will get better; I will meet people, I will feel more settled, and I will certainly feel less lonely.
And soon enough I’m going to be so glad I have my safe, quiet, lonely apartment to unwind in.
Written by Jessica Bard.
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Thank you for the friendships. The laughs, the trips, the nights out, the beach days, the many, many meals eaten (and cooked) together. It’s so beautiful to think that although we came from all over the world, we somehow ended up here, together. Thank you.
Thank you for broadening my perspective on what it means to be human. Leaving the American bubble of politeness, individualism, and so-called “perfection”, and diving into this brutally honest, emotional, and tough country showed me a side of humanity I had never seen before. A community where neighbors truly help neighbors; not because it’s expected of them, or because they want help in return, but because they just care for one another. It’s a culture that seems to create this norm effortlessly. I have learned so much about vulnerability, self-advocacy, and what it means to be a part of a real community by immersing myself into it. Thank you.
Thank you for reconnecting me to an old friend. Losing touch with someone who once felt like family is rough, but you brought him back into my life at the perfect time. Not only as a friend, but as a roommate who took me in when I really needed it. He was a piece of home when home was 5,000 miles away. Thank you.
Thank you for the spiritual awakening. At the start of this year, I was craving spirituality in my life, but I had no idea how to go about cultivating it. You brought me the right people to learn from, talk to, and get inspired by. I can honestly say I have never felt more connected to G-d than I have this past year, and, consequently, I have never felt more strength and hope to now continue on to whatever the future holds for me. Thank you.
Thank you for bringing me a love that is kind and pure. A love that makes me feel safe and comfortable, excited and challenged, happy. It’s a beautiful type of love unlike anything I’ve known before. To feel so seen and appreciated for who I am inside feels so foreign, yet so right all at the same time. Falling in love with him is a true gift. Thank you.
Thank you for everything; the good times and the bad. They brought me here, so grateful for this life, this country, this past year. It’s been a wild ride, and yet I have a feeling our adventures together are just beginning.
I have simply loved this past year with you—so much that I just can’t leave for good. So don’t you worry, I’ll be back.
A Girl Who’s Aliyah Paperwork Can’t Get Processed Fast Enough
Is it still the Bat Yam Yoman if I don’t live in Bat Yam anymore?
Yep, it’s true; I moved. I moved out of Bat Yam and into Tel Aviv in May. While this was always the plan I had for after my program finished in July, I ultimately moved earlier than I had anticipated.
There were many factors that led to my decision to leave my apartment in Bat Yam. I knew that when I faced my feelings and contemplated my options, moving was the only true solution for me, yet I still struggled to accept that this is where this situation had brought me.
My decision to leave a situation that was, from my perspective, toxic and unhealthy, was difficult. Accepting that friendships that once felt like family had evolved into something that left me feeling alone, anxious and unhappy is no easy pill to swallow. Not just because of the obvious hurt that occurs in the present when a friendship turns sour, but because it begins to taint all the memories you once had with those people–even the good ones.
With time, space, and a new perspective, I can now recognize that despite the sad ending, I still have a lot of gratitude for these friendships. They brought me some really great times and, in the end, I learned a lot. I also learned to accept that some people just aren’t compatible with each other and that’s okay.
I learned that true, lasting friendships can’t happen with just anyone. Trust and strength and love don’t simply appear instantly with people because I want them to, or because I feel alone, or because we spend a lot of time together.
I read a quote somewhere that compared people to anchors and engines. The analogy explains the different types of people we can have in our lives; someone can be an anchor (meaning they hold you back or keep you stagnant), or someone can be an engine (meaning they push you forward–encouraging and inspiring you to grow). Some people might be okay with friends who act more like anchors; it’s comfortable and maybe even easier. But I want more. I want my friends to inspire me to be a better person, not encourage negative and unhealthy behaviors. We are a sum of the people we spend the most time with, so yeah, I’ve become more selective in my friendships.
Ultimately, these really difficult relationships showed me how lucky I am to have the people in my life that inspire me, respect me, and love me for who I am, and I will no longer accept anything less.
After taking a big look at the energy I was surrounding myself with, I just knew I needed to get out of that environment. I realized I have to actively choose the type of person I want to be every day, and that person is impacted by who I spend my time with.
There is no neat way to share my reactions to the recent string of terror attacks in Israel, so here are some semi-unfiltered thoughts I’ve recorded over the last few weeks.
March 29, 2022
I won’t lie, I’m scared. I wish I wasn’t, but I am. There was another shooting in a suburb of Tel Aviv. 5 people died. 2 of them Ukrainian refugees. The streets are empty tonight.
March 30, 2022
They told us Israel is on high alert. This 3rd act of terror within a week and a half indicates there could be more. I’m scared to leave my apartment, even just to get groceries or go to work. How can I?
April 3, 2022
Things have been quiet. I’m less nervous now. I started living normally again, but I’m more aware of my surroundings. I still look over my shoulder, I still keep my head up on the bus, and I still only walk with one headphone in. Bigger crowds make me a little nervous, but I think things are returning to normal again. Hopefully that’s the last of it.
April 7, 2022
I knew it from the first “are you safe?” text. This terror attack hit closer to home. I saw “Shooting” and “Dizengoff Street” in the news alert, and I swear my heart stopped. Dizengoff Street. It happenedat a bar onDizengoff. In the center of Tel Aviv. A place I go every week. My hands shake, my heart pounds, and my eyes cry as I text my friends to see if they are okay. I’ve never felt true terror like this in my life. Terror that someone I know could’ve been there, could’ve gotten hurt, could’ve died. I felt frozen in fear.
I am shocked as the realization continues to set in that this happened at the bars my friends and I go to all the time. It’s packed on Thursday nights. It’s packed with innocent, young people just like me. I can’t stop crying. I can’t stop thinking that these are young, innocent people. I can’t stop thinking about their family and friends having to receive this unexplainable, heartbreaking news. I can’t stop thinking about how their futures once full of hope and promise, are now cut way too short. I thank God that everyone I know is safe.
Two innocent people were just proclaimed dead. They think 8 more are injured. They still haven’t found the terrorist. He’s somewhere in Tel Aviv. I fell asleep refreshing the news, waiting to hear if they caught the gunman.
April 8, 2022
I wake up to see they found and killed him in Jaffa. I feel relieved for a minute. I start crying again. I can’t stop thinking about last night. I can’t stop thinking about how innocent lives were lost because of this. I can’t stop thinking about how they were both in their 20’s. I can’t stop thinking about how it could’ve been anyone.
The naive innocence I once felt while roaming the streets of Tel Aviv feels like a distant memory. I know I’m supposed to be strong. I know we can’t let terror win. We must keep living. I just don’t know how.
April 24, 2022.
I’ve struggled a lot with the idea of “not letting terror win” since this last entry. My fear lessened over time, but I didn’t know how, or if, I could ever feel the same freedom and safety I once felt in Tel Aviv. The horror of people close to my age dying while they did something I do regularly…it’s impossible to sit with that and feel normal.
But then something happened–a new, stronger feeling began to take over. I finally began to understand what Israeli’s mean when they say we can’t let the terrorists win. I realized that if we stay inside, if we live our lives differently, if we choose not to live in a place that seems unsafe, what would happen? If everyone did this, Israel could cease to exist. It would prove to the terrorists that this can push us out; but it won’t. We cannot and will not let terror and violence keep us from living in Israel, the only true homeland to the Jewish people.
Yes, it will be scary to keep living life “normally” sometimes, but I’ve come to realize that a world without Israel is much scarier to me.
.עם ישראל חי (Am Yisrael Chai–The People of Israel Live).
May the memory of all the victims of the recent terror attacks be for a blessing.
March 22 – Be’er Sheva: Doris Yahbas (49), Laura Yitzhak (43), Rabbi Moshe Kravitzky and Menahem Yehezkel, (67)
March 27 – Hadera: Yezen Falah and Shirel Abukarat, (both 19)
March 29 – B’nei Brak: Amir Khoury (32), Ya’akov Shalom (36), Avishai Yehezkel (29), Victor Sorokopot (38), Dimitri Mitrik (23)
April 7 – Tel Aviv: Tomer Morad (28), Eytam Magini (27), Barak Lufan (35)
I’ve missed writing this blog. I’ve missed the joys of the creative writing process. I’ve missed the challenge of finding just the right words or syntax to portray the abstract thoughts swirling around in my mind. I’ve missed the connection I feel to those who reach out about what I’ve written, saying something that resonated with them. I’ve missed the vulnerability of sharing my inner thoughts with the small piece of the world that reads this blog, and with it, the mini burst of nerves and excitement I feel when I finally click post. I’ve definitely missed this…so why haven’t I posted in almost 3 months?
The truth is, this blog is so special to me because I’ve always been honest about what I’m going through…but I guess it’s a lot easier to be honest when things are going well. Unfortunately, friendships, family, relationships, work, and all of the other little pieces of our lives get messy and hard sometimes; and the thought of sharing those messes with all the people who read this blog seemed impossible to me for a while.
I felt like I was at a crossroads: Should I share the difficult things I’ve been dealing with, or do I just stick to the easy and happier things in my life? I knew I definitely wasn’t ready for the first option, but the second felt inauthentic and wrong. So I did neither; I simply stopped writing.
I think many of you probably share my concerns about people only sharing their “highlight reels” on social media, but it’s really hard to be the one to actually take the leap and share the ugly stuff too. I want to be honest in telling people that moving away from home is really hard. It took time before I was hit with the reality of life in a new country, because I was seeing everything with rose-colored glasses for a long time.
That being said, I’m not posting this to detail all the ways in which my life has been hard lately, or to complain that what I’ve been going through is so enormously difficult or sad or anything like that (because it’s really not). I’m posting this to say I’m human and because I’m human, I have trouble admitting to you all that life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
I am overcome with relief and excitement as I finally write for this blog again. I look outside and see that the spring season is finally here; the season of renewal. I feel this opportunity for renewal in many aspects of my life, and it seems like the perfect time to start writing again.
My decision to make aliyah (become a citizen of Israel) at the end of my Masa program feels easy in a lot of ways. Since I’ve made up my mind, I haven’t really questioned it. I know it’s the right choice for me. I know that these past few months I have felt so free and happy and at peace–probably more than I ever have in my whole life. As I have begun creating my own path and my own life here, I can’t imagine just picking up and leaving in 6 months.
I love it here. I love the beautiful, little routines I am creating for myself. I love learning Hebrew and practicing it with random people. I love speaking with Israelis and other immigrants who have completely different belief systems and life experiences from my own; who challenge me to re-think what I have always thought to be “right” and “true”. I love the kind strangers and new friends I have met here. I love exploring my religious identity and spirituality. Most of all, I love what Israel is teaching me about humanity and community.
One of my best friends and I have always said that people come into our lives to teach us lessons, and when there are no more lessons to be learned, the relationships end in some form or another. Some friendships and relationships last a lifetime because you complement each other’s growth and continue to learn from them. Others last for a shorter period, teaching a lesson or two before it’s over.
I feel like this frame of mind applies to places too. I felt bored of New York when I left, and I knew that was because I was no longer being challenged there. Ever since I arrived in Israel, each challenge I have faced has ignited a drive within me to grow in some form or another. I have felt a renewed sense of purpose and passion for life. I still feel like I have so much to learn from this place, which is why I know I can’t leave so quickly.
So now that I know why I want to stay, I’m stuck with the question: How can I possibly feel that I’m living my best life here, all the while missing the most important people in my life? It’s a weird thing–to simultaneously miss people back home tremendously and actively choose to live across the world from them.
I miss my family and my friends so much. It hits me at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected ways. I don’t even understand it myself; why this life here seems so worth the pain of missing the people I love. It’s certainly not easy, especially with a 7-hour time difference making even just a phone call that much more difficult.
It’s hard to make the choices that nobody in my family has made before. It’s hard because most of them won’t fully understand it, no matter how much they want to. They may even blame me because I’m the one who left…and I guess maybe I am partly to blame. I know how it appears. I chose to move away from home–from my family and friends and everything else I’ve ever known.
That being said, I know that just because other people may not understand it, or just because it’s really challenging, or just because I miss my family and friends, doesn’t mean it’s not the right choice for me. How can I possibly explain that the same voice that’s reminding me how much I miss everyone is also the same voice that’s telling me to stay?
Gratitude is really powerful. It’s cheesy and cringey, but also beautiful and magical. Lately, there have been so many moments where I’m overflowing with gratitude for this life I have the privilege of living. When Izzy, Katie, Dani and I set out on our ambitious road trip over Hanukkah break, I had no idea how many moments like this I would have.
Starting in the North, we drove to Tzfat expecting to stop in all the cute little shops that make up the old city. Unfortunately, almost all of the shops were closed because tourists couldn’t come into Israel (this was 2 days after Israel “closed their skies” to tourists again after the Omicron variant became a concern). It was both eery and beautiful to walk through the empty streets that are normally packed with people.
Afterwards, we headed to Tiberias where I swear I had the best schnitzel of my life…at a restaurant attached to a gas station. The Google reviews were right when they advised “not to let the gas station deter you”. As we enjoyed one of the most delicious meals of our trip, we witnessed the entire restaurant suddenly become completely silent.
Moment of Gratitude #1: We looked over to the front of the restaurant to see that the staff had all gathered to light the Chanukkah candles. It was so beautiful how the entire restaurant stopped to watch and join in prayer. After the candles were lit and the prayers were said, the whole restaurant burst into song. The pure joy and sense of community I witnessed in that moment was breathtaking. It felt like the entire restaurant was one big family. Getting to experience that moment–a moment where my religious traditions were so publicly and proudly celebrated made me extremely grateful to be living in this country where Judaism is practiced so freely and openly.
We spent the rest of our time in Tiberias hiking Mt. Arbel, enjoying a wine-tasting at Tabor Winery, and relaxing by the Kinneret before heading off to our first campsite: Natura Ecological Farm.
Before setting off for the day, I made everyone peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the road. On our way to Natur, we stopped for a lunch break. We parked on the side of some random mountain we were driving down, hopped over the barrier, sat on some rocks overlooking the beautiful landscape in the north, and ate our PB&J’s.
Moment #2: I don’t know why this memory is so special to me; maybe it just felt really wholesome, maybe it was the beautiful view, or maybe it just finally sunk in that we were really setting out on a road trip across my new home–I really don’t know. I do know, however, that I felt really grateful to be in that moment, completely and fully present, with people who had quickly become my family away from home.
When we arrived at the campsite and took out the tent we had borrowed from our friends, we found that they had forgotten to put the poles in the bag. This setback had us contemplating sleeping outside in the woods with no covering or just sleeping in the car. The manager of the campsite came over and saw our dilemma, and he set up a tent for us to rent for the night. When he saw the super thin mats we brought to sleep on, he said he couldn’t in good conscience let us sleep on them. So, he brought over nicer mattresses for us, free of charge. The night really turned around as the sun went down and the cold set in.
We quickly bundled in as many layers as possible and got to work with dinner. We cooked over our little camping stove, lit the Hanukkah candles, played some card games, and went to sleep.
Moment #3: Waking up to the silence and quiet sounds of nature was so peaceful. We slowly made some coffee and toast for breakfast, and then we just hung around the campsite for a while. I loved the simplicity of waking up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature, with no rush of anywhere we had to go. It was the perfect slow morning.
Before we headed to the south, we bought a new tent and stopped at a hidden hot spring on the border of Jordan. The hot spring ended up being so hot that we couldn’t stay in it for more than a few seconds, but it was still a really fun experience.
Next, we drove south for a few hours until we reached the campsite in Ein Gedi. Setting up our tent in the strong winds was a challenge, on top of the exhaustion setting in from traveling, but nevertheless we prevailed. Our tent overlooked the Dead Sea and it was just so beautiful.
While we were in Ein Gedi, we went to the Dead Sea, attempted to make campfire nachos, and went on a hike. We even woke up to see the sunrise over the Dead Sea.
The next day we loaded up the car once again to drive the farthest south I had ever been in Israel, Timna National Park. This was the part of the trip I was most excited for, and it proved to be just as awesome as I had hoped.
When we arrived at the Timna Park campgrounds, we realized that we broke our tent the first day we had it…and we were having a hard time fixing it enough to get it to stay up. Thankfully our tent neighbors, Ido, Keren, and their wonderful dog Bailey, saw our struggles. Ido came over to introduce himself and immediately got to work on trying to fix our tent. He spoke in a way that assured us he wouldn’t leave until our tent was functioning, and his kindness was much appreciated. After several minutes of struggling, we got it to work!
Moment #4: True to what I have come to learn about Israelis, Ido and Keren proved to be gracious tent neighbors throughout our time in Timna. As a testament to this, Ido gave us hiking recommendations for the following day, and when we didn’t return to our tent until well after dark (because we had gone to Eilat for a few hours), he got worried that we were still out in the desert. He was so concerned about us that he actually went to the front desk to ask if anyone had seen us return.
When we finally returned to the campsite, we could see the concern on his face as he admitted how glad he was to see us return safely. It’s a beautiful thing when random strangers care enough to go out of their way like that. Part of why I feel so safe in this country is because this is how the average Israeli treats others. Ido isn’t a singular kind soul, he’s a product of a culture that breeds and encourages this type of mindset.
The final moment of gratitude: On our last night in Timna National Park, we decided to find a big rock to watch the sunset from. We climbed to the top and sat down to enjoy the view. We sat there for a while, talking about everything and nothing, but I could just feel that we all were on the same page. We all just felt at peace.
We started talking about how lucky we are to be living during a time where Jews could actually live in our homeland. We thought about how many Jews have fought throughout centuries to make this a reality, and how blessed we are to be here, living out the dream of so many others before us. I don’t take this privilege lightly, and I can’t help but feel insanely grateful to be here living this dream life.
Another thing we spoke about was how this road trip opened our eyes to how much more we want to do and see in Israel. As I sat up on that rock watching the sunset, I felt so excited about my future here. I couldn’t imagine moving back to the U.S. in just 7 months. It was on this rock that I decided I want to make Aliyah. I want to become a citizen of this country that has become my home so quickly.
As I put these memories into words over a month later, I genuinely feel it growing in my heart–the gratitude, happiness, and peace I felt that week. I can’t explain why these small moments have impacted me so greatly, but I think I can attribute a large part of it to finally living in the present and truly living my life to the fullest.