Upon learning that I am living here for a year, traveling, working and not getting paid, it is a common occurrence for Israelis to question whether or not I plan on making Aliyah – whether or not I plan on immigrating and becoming an Israeli citizen. My answer usually wavers somewhere between “I don’t know,” “it’s a possibility,” and “maybe one day!” because well, I don’t know, it actually is a possibility (what isn’t?) and maybe one day I will decide to live in Israel for longer than a year.
In my statistical analysis of this well versed conversation, about half of these Israelis excitedly urge me to do so, their faces and voices so sincere inviting me into their country, our country; so genuine in their belief that I must move here, that this is where I belong. The other half gives me some variation of “why would you move here? Living in Israel is so difficult; you have it easy in America, why would you leave that?”
It is true that living in Israel is challenging. It is controversial, confusing, intimidating and all at once, beautiful. I can say this with certainty because I have lived here for 9 months.
Just a few weeks ago I attended a service at the Kotel in support of Women of the Wall, a group fighting for equal prayer rights for women at the Wall. A law was recently passed that finally made it legal for women to wear tallit, kipot and teffliah at the Wall. Chaos ensued during this particular Friday morning Rosh Hodesh Sivan service, welcoming a new month on the Jewish calendar, and I watched in fascination as thousands of ultra orthodox men and women, kept back by a human barrier of police and soldiers, screamed, threw things and protested the passing of this law. Following the service, I was ushered to a throng of buses waiting in line to wisk us away – away from the rocks being thrown, the shouting, the violence. There were Jews, protesting and fighting against..Jews, about praying..to the same God? I got home and sat at my desk in shock at what I had just witnessed.
Beyond such a raw example as above, there are wars and conflicts and things that make you feel unsafe, unwanted and torn. I say this so nonchalantly because they’re so abstract and complicated and intense that I can’t even wrap my head around them. So, yes. It is true that living in Israel is difficult.
But on a daily, weekly, and even monthly basis, I do not feel this way. On a daily basis, I hear 4 different languages spoken and watch sweet Israeli kids bus themselves and their siblings to and from school – at age 5. On Fridays I shop at the shuk, an open-air market filled with the freshest produce, sweetest smelling pastries and loudest vendors you’ll ever meet. I am a short light rail ride away from the center of town filled with cafes, restaurants, bars and more tourist shopping than anyone could ever hope for. The old woman at the cafe in the lobby of my internship gives me discounts on my meals (fine, it happened once) because she likes my smile, and people call her Safta (grandma). Complete strangers still invite me to dinner, the bus driver tells me to have a good day and the entire country takes off work and unites for a holiday centered around cheese. My boss gave me a cheesecake. An entire cheesecake! (That is a complete exaggeration, Shavuot is NOT just about cheese. At least I don’t think.) Weekly, I feel the presence of Shabbat and happily join the masses as we slow down to spend uninterrupted quality time with our families and friends, cook wonderful meals and take long walks. The sunny Saturday trek to the Old City and Kotel last a mere 40 minutes and each evening the sunsets fill the sky with the most gorgeous smattering of pinks, purples and oranges. Sunsets are everywhere, but somehow they feel better in Jerusalem. I live with girls from Maldova, Amsterdam and Chile. I constantly meet new people from all over the world that are here doing different things, for different reasons but all with one common denominator: an undeniable love for Israel.
My Hebrew speaking is poor, I get lost at least once a month, living without a paycheck is extremely taxing and sometimes I get annoyed that I can’t just hop in my car and drive to work, the grocery store, a coffee shop. I’ve lived in the north, the Negev (south) and now the center. I’ve traveled by bus, train, light rail and bus again; introduced myself and what I’m doing here countless times; ate anything and everything that was put in front of me or even in my proximity (free food is free food); and found myself lost, tired, and crying in strange parts of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva – anywhere, but mostly everywhere – so many times that you would think I was either doing it on purpose or that I was a cast member on a prank show. (But I didn’t and I’m not and in this scenario Israel’s public transportation is pranking me. Over and over and over.)
But what’s beneath that and what’s far more important is that I feel alive. Somehow, somewhere inside this little controversial country, I’ve found a place worth exploring, loving and fighting for.
OTZMA ends in one short month and this program, which has been such a propelling piece of my growing Israeli identity, will soon fade, but what I’ve gained will not. This life that I’ve been living will forever be a defining aspect of my young adult life as well as the beginning stages of a lifelong relationship with Israel.
This summer I am privileged to be able to extend my time here past my program and travel the country with my parents, brother and best friends from college, staff a summer camp in the north and discover a little bit of myself in Israel without the comfort of OTZMA. I know that when I leave Israel in August, it won’t be for good. It will just be for now.