An Open Letter to Israel.

September 1, 2022.

An Open Letter to Israel,

Thank you. 

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. 

Sincerely, 

A Girl Who’s Aliyah Paperwork Can’t Get Processed Fast Enough

Bye, Bat Yam.

June 28, 2022.

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.

Here’s to the end of my Bat Yam era…

Jewish pride.

May 24, 2022.

If you’ve ever wanted to see a perfect display of the strength and resilience of the Jewish people, all you have to do is spend a few weeks in Israel during Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut.

On Yom HaShoah, my Masa program coordinated a day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. We spent the day reading and discussing testimonials written by people who perished in the Holocaust, all of them produced shortly before their deaths. As we made our way through the letters, poems, and pieces of art, I realized there is something so heartbreakingly beautiful about learning about the Holocaust in Israel. So many of the testimonials referenced hopes for the future of the Jewish people, and even a Jewish state. When people knew they would not survive the concentration camps themselves, they were sure that the Jewish people would prevail and eventually find their way back to their home land. It wasn’t lost on me how lucky we are to be here now, actually living out that dream less than 100 years later.

Yom HaShoah Opening Ceremony at Yad Vashem

That same evening, I had the honor of attending the Opening Ceremony at Yad Vashem. In this ceremony, Holocaust survivors and their descenents lit six torches to commemorate the 6 million Jews lost during the Holocaust. As each Holocaust survivor was called up to the stage, the number of children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren was announced to everyone in their introduction. It was a beautiful testament to the legacies they were able to create. As the ceremony came to a close, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with emotion as we sang the Hatikva alongside Holocaust survivors, the Prime Minister, the President, Israelis, and Jews from around the world; realizing that after all this tragedy, we are here, standing together in the holy land. 

Just one week after Yom HaShoah, I watched as the whole country stood still once again as we mourned the lives lost during military service and terror attacks. We stood together in silence as sirens sounded across the nation in their memory. In a Memorial Day completely different from the US, I realized how deeply each person was affected by loss here. With mandatory military service, the gravity of Memorial Day was truly recognized.

Despite the grief during the day, as the sun set and we moved from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut, the energy completely flipped. Israel exploded with celebratory fireworks, parties, and barbeques. In a display that only Israelis could pull off so effortlessly, it was evident that despite all of the hardship and all of the pain, Israel is still standing and we must celebrate the life and freedom we are so lucky to have!

“Are you safe?”

March 29-April 24, 2022.

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 happened at a bar on Dizengoff. 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)

To share, or not to share.

March 28, 2022.

Hey, it’s been a while.

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.

Kalanit (Red Poppy) flowers blooming all over Israel

How do I know?

December 14, 2021.

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?

Yallah, let’s roadtrip.

December 7, 2021.

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.

Me, Izzy, Katie, and Dani in Tzfat!

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.

The empty streets of Tzfat.

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.

Unlimited salads and delicious schnitzel….what more could we ask for?

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. 

All smiles at Tabor Winery.

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.

Hiking Mt. Arbel.

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. 

hidden hot spring

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.

Ein Gedi Campsite.

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 Dead Sea at sunset.
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.

The Vanishing Lake.

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!

Timna National Park campsite.
Ido and Keren’s incredible dog, Bailey!

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.

Hiking in Timna National Park.

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 last night of Chanukkah!

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.

More questions than answers.

November 20, 2021.

To whomever reads this post: I am choosing to share my experiences surrounding a complex, emotional, and historical topic in which I am not an expert. I debated whether or not to share this because I know there are millions of people out there who would hate what I have to say, however, I think it would be just as crazy to ignore this giant elephant in a blog about life in Israel. I hope that you read this with kind and curious intentions. If you have a problem with something I wrote, it’s really okay–I promise. I invite discussion, but only respectfully. I also invite you to accept that it is okay to disagree. We all have different perspectives and legitimate life experiences that have led us to hold certain beliefs. Each one of our opinions and perspectives is valid and important, and it’s what makes this world go ‘round. 

I’ve spent years now trying to figure out my opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I’ve found that my thoughts just keep evolving as I learn new information. And by evolving, I mostly mean I move closer to the conclusion that there is no “right” side, no “right” perspective, and no “right” solution. The problem is that in a conflict this complex, with this much history, there is always more to learn, more people to talk to, more perspectives to understand. I write this post knowing that the views I hold today could very well change tomorrow.

I am also aware that I am viewing this conflict from a very specific lens; I am a Jewish-American woman who has never lived in Israel through this conflict. Some may say this gives me no right to have an opinion. I disagree. As someone who grew up in the Jewish diaspora*, I am inherently and inextricably linked to Israel. Even if I wanted to ignore my Judaism and/or denounce Israel (which I don’t), there are still people all around the world that would connect me to Israel, blame me, and hate me because Judaism is in my blood.

I had the opportunity to further explore the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during an MITF Shabbaton (Shabbat retreat weekend) in Jerusalem. During the retreat, we explored Jerusalem, including diving deep into learning about the borders, walls, and all the confusing lines that divide this holy city.

One of the stops on the tour was visiting Rachel’s tomb (located in Bethlehem). Seeing the walls lining both sides of the street on our way there was…weird. I learned that the walls create a path for Israelis and other tourists to visit Rachel’s tomb, while simultaneously cutting into Palestinian territory in the West Bank. These walls make it much more difficult for Palestinians to travel in this area. It was here that I learned Rachel’s tomb is also a holy site for Muslims, yet Palestinians are not permitted to visit. 

Walls surrounding the street with access to Rachel’s Tomb.

I found myself feeling conflicted and frustrated for the first (but not the last) time that day. Hearing this reminded me of the frustration I, and many other Jews, feel over the Dome of the Rock. The #1 holiest place in all of Judaism, the site of the Second Temple, is the ground beneath the Temple Mount, the 3rd holiest place in Islam. The Palestinian Authority has autonomy over this part of Jerusalem, and it is inaccessible to Jews. It is illegal for Jews to utter a prayer on the platform surrounding the Dome of the Rock, as well as forbidden for them to enter the Mosque.

When I learned of this a couple years ago, I was angry. I was angry and confused why the Jewish people were denied the opportunity to visit the most sacred place in our entire religion. How could that be ignored? Why would Israel allow this to happen? Why aren’t more people angry about this? It simply isn’t fair. 

After visiting Rachel’s tomb and learning that Palestinians were denied the right to visit a sacred place for them too, a part of me saw it as a tit for tat and thought “sucks for them, that’s what they get for taking the site of the Second Temple from us”. But I found that there was another part of me that thought “I hate that this is happening to me and my people, why would I wish it upon others?”

This experience is just one of many confusing and frustrating pieces of the conflict that (in my opinion) accurately portray how neither side is truly winning. I don’t have answers or solutions, but I have questions and curiosity that I will continue to follow as I continue to learn about my new home. 

There is much more I can and want to share about what I’ve learned from the Shabbaton, and maybe I will eventually. For now, this is what I’ve got for ya. 

*Jewish diaspora – the dispersion of Jews out of their ancestral homeland (the Land of Israel) and their subsequent settlements in other parts of the globe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora#:~:text=The%20Jewish%20diaspora%20(Hebrew%3A%20%D7%AA%D6%B0%D6%BC%D7%A4%D7%95%D6%BC%D7%A6%D6%B8%D7%94,other%20parts%20of%20the%20globe.)

Learning from mistakes.

November 15, 2021.

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. 

Ulpan (Hebrew lessons)

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.

Grieving from across the world.

October 31, 2021.

I have really struggled to write this post. No matter how many times I tried, it just didn’t feel right. I contemplated if it was because this was just too raw–maybe it was something I just shouldn’t post online–but now I know it’s because the story wasn’t complete yet. 

Something my roommate, Katie, and I first bonded over when we met back in August was our biggest fear in moving here: losing our grandparents (my grandpa, Papa, and her grandma, Mamama) and not being home for it. We both had grown up extremely close to them. We both had witnessed their battles with cancer for 10+ years, along with various other health scares and complications; yet in the last few months we saw their health decline more rapidly and severely than ever before. We both said our goodbyes in August knowing that it would probably be the last time we saw them.

Losing a grandparent is heartbreaking. Losing a grandparent while living on the other side of the world, apart from all family, hurts in a completely different way than the loss itself. It’s a very unique kind of pain in which you feel alone and so extremely far removed. Three weeks ago it became a pain I understood.

It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to hear the news that my grandpa had passed away through the phone. Not being able to physically be there with my family and no way to truly “rush home” to get there was so sad and frustrating. The worst part was that I had nobody here that understood the feelings of loss and loneliness and helplessness that accompanied a situation like this. My roommates and friends were wonderful and did their best to help, but it’s just not the same when nobody else is grieving with you. 

After pleading with the Israeli government, I got the permission I needed to change my visa to fly home for the funeral and shiva. The relief I felt when I hugged my family, the heaviness of saying goodbye to Papa at the funeral, the tears, laughs, and everything else we managed to squeeze in in between–it all felt right. This is what Papa would’ve wanted: for his family to be together.

Coming back to Israel felt weird. I was so happy and eager to return, but it almost felt like I left my grief back in New York. I felt guilty for letting myself pretend it wasn’t happening–or didn’t happen–but it’s hard not to ignore when nobody else around you is also going through it. There are no reminders other than when I talk to my family on the phone. This life for me here has never been tied to him. 

Three short weeks later, Katie got the same heartbreaking news. When she told me, it was as if I found out about Papa all over again. It hurt in my chest so deeply I could’ve sworn I was reliving that night three weeks ago. I hurt for her because I physically felt her pain. I knew exactly what she was going through. I couldn’t believe it was also happening to her, and so soon after me.

I could make an entire blog post about all the freaky similarities between Papa and Mamama, our families, and the ways in which this all unfolded. Katie and I have spent so much time in the last few days discussing all the signs and connections, but I prefer for those to stay between us. What I choose to share on the internet is the connection I finally felt here. The peace I am beginning to feel just by talking to someone who understands, and by helping my friend through something I, too, am finding my way through. 

I can’t help feeling like this is it. This is the Universe, God, the magic of Israel, Papa, and Mamama, all working together to help us find peace. To help us help each other, grieve together, and just not be alone in this. 

Sitting at the kitchen table or in our room or on the beach, talking about Papa and Mamama–we grieve together. We talk, we cry, we laugh, we sit in the discomfort of grief. Most importantly, though, we went through it–and are getting through it–together. 

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I send my love and condolences to Katie’s family and friends who knew and loved Mamama. Katie spoke so highly of her and their memories together, and it is clear that she will be so deeply missed by all. What a wonderful legacy she leaves behind.

❤️ May Papa and Mamama’s memories forever be a blessing. ❤️