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?

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. ❤️