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?

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 (,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. 


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. ❤️