I have officially been in Israel for a month. This is the longest amount of time I have been in this awesome country for as I was here for about four weeks in Summer 2010 and only for about 10 days last summer. Even though I have traveled and explores for an extended period of time before, this time around is completely different. I am learning how to live in Israel instead of following around a pack of 40 teenagers or my personal travel agent, my wonderful dad. I am loving every minute of my time here and I am becoming more accustom to the Israeli lifestyle. While things are not always easy and take lots of time, there is no way to describe how it feels to finally be living in Israel.
I find myself saying that it hasn’t hit me that I am here in the Jewish homeland. I have taken the public transportation, I have eaten in the restaurants, I have visited the museums where the history and lessons that I have learned in college suddenly came to life (and I appreciated them even more so than when I was 16 years old), I have perfected my coffee order and love all the cafes, I finally went to the nail salon (two weeks overdue), I went to the dry cleaner (thank you to my wonderful, knowledgeable, and awesome friend), I have thought about buying all the beautiful paintings and Judaica Jewelry that I see everywhere (if only), I have shopped in the Shuk on a regular basis (I know it like the back of my hand now), and I have tried to see and do as much as I can in one day while attempting to remember that I am a college student. Even with all of this, I have felt like I am in some fantasy world.
Growing up, Judaism has always played a role in my life through many different venues. The essence of a community filled with Jewish tradition and culture has drawn me closer to Judaism through the years and allowed me to have a passion to continuously pursue my Jewish journey, identity, and career in the Jewish world. My family, Camp Ramah Darom, USY, and IU Hillel have each granted me numerous experiences to live a Jewish lifestyle and participate in experiences where I can explore my Judaism. I often seek out tight- knit Jewish communities, as they are where I feel most comfortable, and where I know I am surrounded by people with similar beliefs and values as myself. Hillel has served as a hub for my Jewish life these past 2.5 years at IU. Hebrew U does not have a Hillel (equivalent to IU), which is totally fine since I am living in the Jewish state. However, I have appreciated the weekly opportunity to attend Hillel for Shabbat. I always know that services and dinner will be provided for me and the only effort I have to make is to show up.
The way I “do” Shabbat is always evolving. Camp Ramah is responsible for originally creating my love for Shabbat (mom, you did a great job with “Tot Shabbat” when I was a toddler). After I returned home each summer, I would attend services and try to mimic a Shabbat similar to camp, but I always failed. USY then served as a place where I celebrated and loved Shabbat during my high school years, as it was the closest thing to Camp. When I arrived at IU, Hillel was the first place I turned for my weekly Shabbat services and dinner. I knew that coming to Israel would provide me with hundreds of opportunities for Shabbat and over the past month I have done something different each week, however, this past Shabbat was one out of the ordinary and when I think it finally hit me that I am in Israel.
At 6pm I met some of my friends to walk to a family’s house that was about 20 minutes away from the University. Two of my friends met this family on a Shabbaton last weekend that I did not attend, but they asked if some more of us could tag along. As we embarked on our walk to the family’s neighborhood, we had to stop and ask about 5 people for directions. Keep in mind that by this time Shabbat had already started, so all the people we asked were on their way to and from services as well as getting ready for Shabbat dinner. Each one kindly stopped and helped us on our journey. We could hear different families eating, praying, and even singing as they walked in the streets. Because of the neighborhoods that surround Hebrew U, a good amount of cars still drive on Shabbat, but about 7 minutes into our walk, there were no more cars driving on the streets. When we finally arrived at the home, three young children and two warm and welcoming parents greeted us with hugs and invited us into their home for what would become one of the greatest Shabbatot meals of my life (and for more reasons than just the delicious food).
After we briefly introduced ourselves, we sat down, said Kiddush, the father blessed his three boys (it was one beyond adorable, no worries, everyone, I held back the tears), and then it was time to eat. The wife informed us she makes everything from scratch, including but not limited to the beautiful challah, salads, salad dressings, salmon appetizer, meal, and dessert. After we ate the salads (three different types) and salmon appetizer, I was introduced to an ancient custom I was not familiar with. Before the meat meal (and vegetarian meal) was brought to the table, we threw out all the utensils that the fish touched and then said a L’chaim with a delicious beverage the husband created, before the main dishes were brought to the table.
As we were eating, we went around the table and introduced ourselves as well as shared a funny/memorable story about our families. The husband and wife shared a handful of stories and then they related some of them to moral lessons and Jewish laws. We spoke about hospitality, passing judgments, as well as the meaning behind our Hebrew names. After about three hours of eating and talking, dessert was brought to the table, we said birkat hamazon, and finally called it a night.
On my walk back to campus, as we were all retelling events from the evening, I realized that Israel is one of the few places where events like this happen on a weekly basis. It is so fascinating to visit different families and see the way that each one of them does Shabbat. It amazes me time and time again how so many people open their homes to complete strangers, serve delicious meals, teach and engage us in Jewish/ Halachic discussions, and create the atmosphere to feel so connected to Shabbat as well as feel so separated from the work- week. I can only hope that I am able to someday open my home to people for a Shabbat dinners as wonderful as the ones that have been provided for me.
The weeks here are going by quicker and quicker. After Shabbat ended I decided it was time to get my life together as classes start this week. There were countless numbers of errands that had to be done and since there is an Israel way to everything (aka the simplest of things such as printing one page of paper turns into an hour ordeal), I needed a full day to get it all done. I just returned back from a trip to the nail salon, the bus station to get my light rail/bus pass (thanks to the young man that gave us a ticket allowing us to skip 36 people in line, and no, I don’t feel bad, people push and shove here), a trip to the Shuk in the pouring rain (much better this way, less people), a trip to get some school supplies (for sure missing Office Max right now), and the grocery store (also miss Publix, where shopping is a pleasure. Throwing all my groceries into my longchamp bag while simultaneously paying for my groceries is also an experience worth seeing).
This past week I also finished Ulpan, visited Masada and the Dead Sea, and took a trip to Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust museum), as well as explored more of the Old City. I have had many more “It’s Israel moments”, and continue to just laugh about them. I’m starting to think that in return this country is making me a little more relaxed in my daily activities (even though the finances here are way too much money…there goes ever moving here). Today marks the first day of classes as well as my one-month in Israel. My spring break flights have been booked (thank you, parents) and things are really in full swing. I can already tell this semester is going to be exhausting- today I have about 9 hours of class plus some extra activities. Stay tuned to hear about how my classes go next week. So until next time…xoxo