Lehitraot, Israel. Thanks for everything!

Well, it seems like just yesterday I was sitting at the Starbucks located on Tamiami Trail and Honore drinking my final Starbucks soy no foam lattes and writing my first blog post, and now, here I am, four and a half months later, sitting in the Aroma located on Yaffa street near Ben Yehuda drinking one of my final soy iced cappuccinos.

What a semester it has been- it is insane to believe that it has come to an end. From traveling all through Israel and learning Jerusalem like it is my second home, to then traveling through Europe, these past four and half months have been the greatest few months of my life. None of this would be at all possible with the loving and unconditional support for my fabulous parents. I can only hope that I am one day able to give my children the semester of a lifetime like mine gave to me. Aside from this semester teaching me and showing me how wonderful Israel is, it has also showed me that I really do have some of the best family and friends in the world and have been so lucky to attend IU these past three years.

 Anyways, instead of including some emotional and sappy shit in this blog, I am going to share with you the list of things I am going to miss most about Israel. This list doesn’t include everything or touch on nearly half of what I was able to experience this summer, but here they are in no particular order: 

  1. Finding random pieces of aroma chocolate in all purses, pockets, and drawers

 Yep, like previously mentioned, Aroma gives out free pieces of chocolate with their beverages. Always comes in handy during a chocolate craving, and most of the time I can find some pieces located in any of the aforementioned locations.

  1. Havdallah at the Kotel

 There is no cooler feeling than reciting Havdallah, at one of the holiest places in the world, with a bunch of strangers (including men) that suddenly feel like family. Not sure if it is because we don’t know each other, but know the prayers and can unite as one, or if they are all looneys like myself and go to the Kotel all the time on Havdallah whenever I’m in Jerusalem, so their faces just look the same.

  1. The Shuk and everything it is and stands for

The one location in Israel where all of Israel’s many faces, colors, foods, and personalities shine bright. And yes, pushing and shoving on a Friday in order to get the tastiest and hottest Challah from the bakery that has the word “pear” in it is indeed one of Israel’s personalities. *No, I never learned what the bakery was called in the four months of living here…silly me

  1. No humid air in Jerusalem

That’s right, this Florida girl is OBSESSED with Jerusalem weather. No frizzy hair and also, it is May and has not reached 90 degrees..yet.

  1. The colorful clips that keep my pretzels fresh and pretend to be replacements for zip lock bags (news flash: there are no placements for zip lock bags)

So, who knew there were no zip lock bags in Israel? Not me and it didn’t fly so well, so I invested in these fancy clips, however, they are still no replacement for the one and only zip lock bags (but they do come in fun colors!!).

  1. My super cool falafel friend, Barista Doran from Aroma, and North Gate Security Guard at the Kfar

Israeli interaction and all people interactions in general have been a highlight of this semester. But three people who made my semester extra special are the guy from French Hill falafel who knows that I like EVERYTHING in my falafael and most importantly, gives free samples. Next up is Doran from Aroma who knows my order, and finally is the security guard who gives me high fives and hugs and tells me he misses me when he doesn’t see me in a few days (also, the minor language barrier always makes things interesting). PS- Doran wants a pair of beats headphones if anyone is coming from America….

  1. Being able to travel internationally for the same amount of money it would cost to travel domestically in the State 

Go to New York for $300 or to someplace in Europe for the same price? Decisions, decisions…. 

  1. On the topic of traveling, the Ben Gurion Airport and Ben Gurion Security

Well the airport is basically a 24/6 (limited on Shabbat) international fun zone. At 4AM everything is open and gorgeous like normal. Best part, not having to take off my shoes going through security and definitely not having to get a full pat down…

  1. Seeing Hebrew all over and either understanding it, trying to understand it, or just passing by clueless

Four semesters at IU, Ulpan, and three months at Hebrew U….I’m a lost cause except on those lucky days where I can order in Hebrew, give directions in Hebrew, and speak to cab drivers in Hebrew.

10. Clapping when landing in Israel

Is everyone excited to be back in Israel or excited we landed safely? Either way, I’m down for a good clapping session.

11.Seeing anyone and everyone in Israel

Before Birthright season and now during Birthright season I run into SO many people. I recommend everyone just pick Israel as a meeting place. Great times and there is no greater feeling than seeing a familiar face in a place that is sometimes foreign.

 12. Israeli Style Kosher Sushi

Just delicious. Aside from being able to consume everything on the menu, it is just the best stuff ever. I recommend the crunchy roll from Sushi Bar and the sushi sandwiches from Sushi Rehavia. If you’re looking for Japanika…it is now at the Cinema City

 13. Cinema City

 Come to Israel and missing Disney World? Go to Cinema City where you will be greeted with every Disney character you could imagine as well as SUPER comfortable theaters and YUMMy food (more delicious than Disney World food). Movies are in English with Hebrew subtitles…what more could one ask for?

14. Call to Prayer

I have no idea what they are saying, but it sounds super cool and I love it. Friendly reminder that I am indeed in the Middle East and there are different religious and cultures all around me.

15. The few days when Egged counted the Omer

This is the only place where that could happen. Why did they get rid of it? Things I will never understand….

 16. Jewish Holidays in Israel

 First of all, learning about and seeing the true meaning behind the holidays is unreal and so cool. Having days off of school and work to spend time with family and experience the holidays is also beyond amazing.

 17.For once in my life, not being the minority

AKA not being the only one who wants to take a day off to celebrate a Jewish holiday, having Shabbat basically show up every week in all of its Israel glory, walking around and hearing everyone say Chag Sameach literally EVERYWHERE.

18. The way everyone stops what they are doing when an elderly person walks on the bus or train and jumps up to give them a seat

It’s a mitzvah, people.

 19. Practicing a Hebrew project in a Sushi restaurant and having the girls at the table next to us help us

Nice people do exist all over this country (that is, once you get over their aggressiveness)

 20. Intentionally or unintentionally shoving and pushing my way through every line and trying not to feel bad about it, but releasing my inner American semi normal self and still feeling bad.

As much as I tried to become Israeli, deep down I am an American or maybe just polite….Thanks Nana J for those manners!

21. The Israeli flag 

It’s beautiful and a friendly reminder that I am indeed in Israel

 22. Shabbat in Jerusalem

 Unexplainable. Just come and experience it for yourself. Oh and don’t even get me started on the Challah….

 23. It will be okay- בסדר יהיה

 Everyone thinks that just about everything “will be okay”. Great mentality, but will everything be okay now that I am being forced to board an airplane and return to America?

 24. LIVING in Israel

Who knows if I’ll ever have the incredible opportunity of actually living in Israel and this semester has allowed me to establish relationships with people and get to know this country in a way that would not have ever happened if I did not live here.

 25. Being constantly asked the big question: Are you going to make Alyiah?

 So, to all of you who I have ignored this semester when asked the question, here is my current, yet subject to change answer.

 When I was little, we went to Disney World what seemed like every single weekend. No worries, parents, it was always a great time (except when you made us bring lunch from home), however, eventually the magic from Disney faded away. Four and a half months is a long time to live in one place and I am dying to know the next time I will be back in the land that has done me so much good this semester, however, to answer the mystery question of will I make alyiah…the answer is probably (at the moment) no. Just like Disney World, if I moved to Israel/ Jerusalem, I feel that I would end up taking the country for granted. As time passed, I worry that I would forget how special and remarkable Israel is. By having the constant desire to find a way to get back to Israel, I feel that I am keeping the country special to me in my own way. I feel that it is m responsibility to return at least once a year to visit, support, and spend time in the country, and to work towards finding ways and supporting others to come experience Israel for themselves.

 So, I will try to accept that I am coming home, to America. Even though I will miss Israel everyday, thankfully I have an incredible family to be reunited with upon landing in Florida. This summer I am also so fortunate to have the greatest summer job ever of staffing another USY on Wheels bus and that will for sure help with my transition back to the real world. Thanks to my family and super cool friends for your continued support this semester and for staying in touch- it has meant so much. Can’t wait to see all of you soon!! Lots of hugs!!!!! XOXOXO

A few weeks ago, I went to Prague.

DISCLAIMER: This post was started weeks ago and it was quickly finished tonight. 

After a very moving, spiritual, and exciting week, it was time for my next adventure: PRAHA.

I was so lucky to travel in Europe over spring break, but I never made it to Prague. My best friend and I picked one of our free weekends and decided to have one final adventure. Things here are really picking up with finals around the corner as well as a lot of visitors that are starting to show up, so this past weekend ended up being the perfect time to go.

 At 3:45AM our shuttle service picked us up from our apartment and brought us to the airport. We had a smooth check in and security process since one thing Israel has under control is the whole airport situation. We boarded our plane and learned we were lucky enough to be in emergency exit rows. I swear there was enough leg room and space for me and probably a few other bodies. A few hours lader we landed in Praha! Public transportation was super easy and one bus ride, one metro line, and a few steps later we checked into our hostel. We ended up in a penthouse suite with more room than we would ever need, but no complaints!

After we checked in, we wandered around the streets, had some lunch and STARBUCKS, walked around the Old Town, and then toured one of the synagogues, followed by another synagogue located across the town. The Jewish Museum in Prauge consists of about 5 synagogues, but a few of them aren’t on the list, so we did those first.

The Old New Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues in Europe and was also the one we returned to for Shabbat services the following day. It has been in the community for over 700 years. In order to get into the synagogue we were asked questions for 5 minutes, basically like security at the airport in Israel. Because it was an Orthodox Synagouge from 700 years ago, the women’s section was insane. There were little peep holes to hear and see out of so I basically spent the entire service trying to hear so I could follow along. After services we met some girls who we have mutual friends with….of course….

The next day we toured all the synagogues, continued to stroll around the city, took a canal tour on a boat, and climbed the top of the Old Clock Tower located in the Old Town. The city was so beautiful and it was a relaxing day looking at the beautiful architecture that Prague has to offer.

Finally, We crossed the Charles bridge and explored the Castle area. We also had lunch at a vegan restaurant…love me some yummy vegetarian food (since Europe always has some weird stuff to offer). And then continued to explore. We could have probably spent one more day in Prague, but overall we saw the majority of the city and got a good feel for the vibe of the people and the city.

After returning to Jerusalem, things have been none stop moving. I’m now entering finals week and then will have a few days to pack and say my final farewells to the city that has given me so much this semester.

I went to the movie theater here- that was also INCREDIBLE. It is gorgeous and the movie was in English but the script had some hebrew in it. The whole theater started laughing when the actors read the hebrew words before it was translated because they all understand hebrew…too coooool

 The Pope arrived today (may 25)- that was cool- everything was shut down and hundreds of police and army people were everywhere.

 Sorry for the brief blog- stay tuned to my farewell to Israel blogs coming up later this week. Back to studying….b’hatzlacha to me.

 

The Series of Communal Remembrances and Celebrations

When asked about my semester abroad, my academics are not the initial thing I rave about. Yes, I attend class on a beautiful campus (but of course, nothing as stunning as IU), and I am taking one class that I am over the top obsessed with, but sitting in class has not been the highlight of these past four months. This is simply because there is so much more to learn and see outside of the classroom. My thoughts on this could be a result of my passion for informal education, but over the past few weeks, I have been so lucky to be in Israel, specifically in Jerusalem, for Pesach, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), and Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Terrorist Victims) followed by the quick transition into Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day), which have granted me the opportunity to learn more about Jewish and Israeli culture from firsthand experiences that are outside of the classroom.

These series of days depict the culture of memory that is so unique to Israel. For so many years, I have read articles online and watched YouTube videos about the different ceremonies and events that take place on these important days, but being able to live them doesn’t even begin to compare to the virtual world I have been attempting to live vicariously through for as long as I can remember. I decided that I wanted to be in town to witness the siren for Yom HaShoah. Places of entertainment were not open, but aside from that everything was the same. Classes were in session, but I emailed my Hebrew teacher telling her I would not be in class. I thought it would be an experience to be in the Shuk for the one minute siren that sounded at 10:00AM, but Monday was delivery day, so after running into some friends, we all started to walk down to the intersection of Jaffa and King George (a normally busy intersection where one can see people walking, cars, and public transportation). Right before making it to the intersection the siren sounded. Everyone stopped- cars, public transportation, and most of the people on the streets all came to a complete standstill. The only sound I could hear for the first 45 seconds was the ticking of the street crossing. Just before the siren ended, some Arab women and children walked by all the still standing people, not even attempting to recognize or respect the rest of the people who were taking the one minute out of their day to remember and reflect on the events of the Holocaust.

After the siren, I returned to school to finish my day of class. Later in the afternoon, I came into town and visited my friend who works at a local electronic store. They were playing solemn music in the store, but the store- owner walked in and requested the music be turned off. The rest of the open locations also were playing very solemn music as none of the radio stations were allowed to broadcast their normal shows. People were also conducting different Yom HaShoah projects in town. I took part in writing a message that was placed in a time capsule about my thoughts on Yom HaShoah.

The emotions that I experienced that day were unlike anything I’ve ever felt during Yom HaShoah in the States. I was beyond disappointed to learn that my own Hillel did NOTHING for Yom HaShoah this year except publicize the day via social media. According to an article from the Indiana Daily Student, “Since the day fell towards the end of the year in America this year, we didn’t want to plan anything so close to the end and not have anyone show up,” Rabbi Sue Silberberg said. “It kind of says something worse if no one shows up than if we just don’t have anything.”

To me, Yom HaShoah was all about taking a few minutes out of the day to commemorate the victims, the survivors, as well as allow myself to reflect both internally as well as on the best ways to educate others and pass on the stories to future generations. In Israel, everyone carried on with work and their daily activities, but took the time to actually stop and to listen to the siren as well as possibly attend one of the many events that took place.

A week later was Yom Hazikaron. Not only does this day honor the soldiers who fought and continue to fight, but all victims of terrorist attacks. I attended the national ceremony at the Kotel. There were different memorial ceremonies all over Israel, but since who knows if I will ever be in Israel again for this day, I decided to go to the Kotel and risk not understanding any of the speeches since they would all be in Hebrew. My friends and I arrived at about 6:45pm and the ceremony did not start until 8pm. At first, I kind of felt like I was about to watch a Disney parade, but after seeing the snipers surrounding the Old City, all of the soldiers in uniform entering in mass quantities, followed by some really important looking people, the mood drastically changed. At 8pm the first siren sounded. As everyone came to a complete silence, I stood behind hundreds of soldiers, all of whom are fighting so that Israel continues to exist, and all of whom either know someone or know someone who knows someone that has died while fighting for the amazing and beautiful country I have been living in for the past few months.

Shortly after, the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, was escorted into the area. He gave a speech that I only understood bits and pieces of, but later read online. After a few more speakers, we collectively said the Kaddish followed by Hatikvah. As the ceremony was in front of the Kotel, the wall was blocked off and no one was praying. It was so interesting to see this place transformed into something totally different. Saying the Kaddish for the thousands of brave men and women who fought and continue to fight for the peace and security of Israel followed by Israel’s national anthem left me with indescribable feelings. As we left the ceremony, nothing was open in town. It really proves how important and serious of a day it was as well as the respect that (most of all) people have for the country and for the people who fight for its right to exist.

During the day on Yom Hazikaron the feelings and emotions were felt from Har Hertzl, where so many of the soldiers are buried all the way to the cafés and restaurants. Ceremonies were happening all over the country. Michael Oren, the former Israeli Ambassador to the US said the following, “In Israel, the day of remembrance for our fallen is a day of national mourning, condolence, and unity. In America, Memorial Day–which will be marked later this month–is a day largely of barbecues and shopping. Hundreds of thousands of young American men and women have died in battle, but their sacrifice is often forgotten. In Israel, the entire nation remembers the 23,169 of our sons and daughters who gave their lives. The difference between the two is a citizen’s army. Less than 0.5% of Americans serve in the military and a deep psychological and culture gap exists between the few who wear uniforms and the great majority who do not. In Israel, where the majority serves, soldiers are our children, our spouses, and our parents. A citizen’s army is a pillar of Israel’s democracy. On this day of collective loss, let us vow to preserve it.” I think that his words describe the difference in a very respectful yet truthful way.

Towards the end of the day my friends and I got ready to go see how the day of mourning would transition into a day celebrating Israel. The fast change from somber to celebration reminds us how Israel exists as the Jewish Homeland because of all the men and women that defended and continue to defend this precious land. As soon as sunset arrived, stands were opening selling Israel spirited items and all the streets were packed with people. I somehow managed to get a free falafel for dinner (wonderful story) and then we went to a family’s house for their Yom Haatzmaut BBQ. It was so fun to see how a local Jerusalem family with kids my age celebrates this incredible holiday. After we left, we walked the streets soaking in all the celebrations, music, and people. Left and right there were music stands and large groups of people. Everyone was celebrating and having a good time. I still have not processed everything I saw and there is no way to describe the feeling of nationalism that is shared between all these people.

It is not fair to compare these holidays to Memorial Day or 4th of July in the United States, but at the end of the day, the sense of community and pride for Israel is unlike anything I have ever seen before. As my semester slowly is coming to a close, it is more clear than ever that this is a one of a kind place and I could not be more grateful for having the opportunity to be here this semester. This week, I only have one day of class and then I’m off to Prague. Hope all is well with everyone! Until next time….xoxo