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, and 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.
During the first week of school, the janitor told me and Melissa (the other teaching fellow) a long story in Hebrew. We didn’t understand a word of it…even with his accompanying hand gestures. His hand gestures were even so extreme that at times it almost felt like we were playing charades, not just having a conversation. I stumbled my way through saying “אני לא מדברת עברית (ani lo medaberet ivrit)” (I don’t speak Hebrew), but that didn’t stop him.
As he continued to speak in Hebrew, you can imagine our surprise when he suddenly broke into song (in Italian). Melissa and I legitimately got serenaded in the teacher’s lounge, and we don’t even know why it happened because we didn’t understand the story. Finally, one of the teachers explained to us that he was saying how much he loves Italian music, and she told him that we were English teachers and didn’t understand Hebrew.
Since that first week, we continued to have entire “conversations” every time he sees me. He tells me long stories in Hebrew, somehow expecting me to know what he’s saying. He always speaks slowly and simply for me, and of course uses those over-exaggerated hand gestures. He never gives up until I understand (or at least pretend to).
I can tell my Hebrew is improving though, because now I understand about 40% of his stories. So far, I’ve learned that his friend lives in America and got robbed twice since being there, and that he thinks he is much stronger than President Biden even though they’re the same age. At the start of the school year, I couldn’t even imagine getting to a place where I understood one full sentence in Hebrew, and now here I am, sort of getting by in a conversation.
I didn’t get to this point without effort, though. I have fully accepted my nerd status as a try-hard in my Hebrew classes. I study my vocabulary on the bus and before bed. I practice any chance I get. It takes time and energy, but everytime I successfully ask for an English menu or order falafel or understand how much my groceries cost, it feels like a huge win.
The first time I practiced speaking Hebrew with a stranger was in a taxi in Tel Aviv. The driver spoke some English, but I was determined to use as much Hebrew in the conversation as possible. He was patient and kind as I took way too long to form a couple broken, grammatically incorrect sentences. Even though I spoke horribly, I really tried and learned from the experience.
I’m beginning to realize that I can’t be a perfectionist as I learn a new language; in fact, I need to do the opposite. I literally have to make mistakes. I can’t learn how to speak a language by studying words and phrases and suddenly speaking it perfectly in conversation. I learn by stumbling through those awkward sentences and pronunciations.
Sometimes I’ll say the wrong thing and people will laugh, but it’s okay because so will I. It’s actually really funny sometimes. Just last week, I accidentally told someone (in Hebrew) that I don’t speak English (to which he responded in English saying “It sounds like you speak English pretty well”). It’s moments like this where all I can do is laugh at myself and do better next time. My favorite Hebrew slip-up of all time, however, was when my roommate said her favorite snack was d*ck instead of olives. It really happens to all of us, and it’s okay. I would much rather speak terrible, broken Hebrew than never try to speak it at all.
I see now that learning Hebrew is doing more for me than just adding a language to my resume, or helping me get by in a foreign country. It’s teaching me to let go of some of my perfectionism, to be more patient, and to laugh at myself. I’m also learning to celebrate the small wins, because that’s how progress is made. Nobody learns to speak a language fluently overnight, but little by little I will get closer. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll understand the janitor’s stories without the hand gestures.