Archive | June, 2012

Zeh Oh (That’s It)

27 Jun

Well fuck, ya’ll.  It has not fully sunk in yet, that’s for sure.  After our last group meeting tonight (where we gave Nir our goodbye gift, a photo album with a hand written note and picture of each and every one of us, and Nir presented a final slide show of our 10 months here) we as a group stood outside the library and realized that this was it.  Mike A. asked me before I left if I was going to cry.  I very honestly told him that I never cry at these sort of things but other people start to cry so I think I should cry too but then it feels forced and insincere.  Well, that wasn’t the case this time.  I was the first and only one to let the tears flow.  I don’t think any of us really got that this was going to be the last time we all saw eachother.  I certainly hadn’t prepared myself mentally for it.  But we all hugged and promised to keep in touch and took an adorable picture and adorable group pictures is one of my favorite things in the world so that was good. 

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These last few days have been great.  Last Wednesday, Emma had myself and Steph and Victoria over for a traditional Russian breakfast.  Basically loads of different things wrapped in blintzes.  Amazingness.  That night, Steph, Jen and myself took the train to the Azrieli Center.  The train station in Ramla had been under contruction the entire time we’d been here until last week so it was really awesome taking the train directly to the mall.  The walkway is literally connected to the entrance and was super convenient.  Oh well.  At least we got to use it once. 

Thursday was our last day of school and we just took pictures with all the kids and got a picture collage from Emma and Victoria and also a whole manilla envelope of notes from every single student.  I am SO making a collage when I get home.  It’s gonna be bomb.  That night, Steph and I went to Golomb to have one last family dinner with our boys.  I will so miss all of us just making random dishes and having a delicious smorgasbord of yumminess. 

Friday, my last Shabbat, I didn’t even leave the apartment.  You know the movie Hitch with Will Smith when he gets that awful allergic reaction to the shellfish and his eyes get all puffy and he looks like a demented blowfish?  That was my left eye when I woke up.  It was awful.  Some demon mosquito got me in the night on my eyelid.  So oh well.

Saturday, Wifey and I went to Moses for our last date night.  It took 10 months, but I finally learned to order my burger medium well because medium well is medium rare here and medium rare is mooing.  Thus, it was more delicious than ever.  I like that Wife and I still have long conversations about life, love, reality TV, you name it.  We can talk for (I had to stop typing in the middle of that sentence because we literally just had a 20 minute conversation about shopping for dresses when we get home.) hours.  I love it. 

Sunday we had a family lunch with just us roommates.  It was a delicious affair and a very nice time.  We all just kind of reminisced about the last 10 months.  That evening was Kane’s birthday and a few of us went to Tel Aviv for dinner.  Afterwards, Wife and I got ice cream (3 scoops for the price of one!) at our favorite place in Ramle and talked about nothing and everything for an extended period of time.

Monday, Steph and I met Jen at the pool on the kibbutz and I got a little more color so people at home won’t say, “You’ve been in Israel for 10 months and didn’t get tan?!”  The things that motivate me…

Tuesday, I had lunch with Mike A. and Elan at Golomb and that evening, we as a group got to go bowling in Rehovot.  Best farewell party ever.  Thanks, Nir!  Bowling in Israel is IDENTICAL to bowling in the states.  Right down to the shoes and the funny videos when you get a spare or strike or gutter ball and the nachos and pizza that are available for consumption.  We had so much fun.  Loved it.

Today, Wednesday, Wife and I tried to exchange our 20 shekels of agurot (the 10 and 50 cent coins which are worth 3 and 15 cents respectively) but no bank nor currency exchange nor kiosk would take our money.  So I bought 2 cups of lemonade at the shuk and gave the rest to the dude in the golf cart thing who begs for change the rest.  We then met the rest of the group at Samir’s for one last lunch together.  Twas delicious of course as Samir’s is want to be.  I also learned my lesson after countless times of eating there that the good stuff (ie: homemade hummus, falafels and fries) come later in the meal so don’t fill up too fast and save a few pita for later. 

So now it’s evening and Geoff and Mike A. have come over to chat and say goodbye.  The conversation has turned to current events and seeing as how I have nothing to add in these situations, I have decided to write my love note to Israel.  So, here goes. 

Israel,

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I remember the moment I realized what I had gotten myself into.  Steph and I got here on a Friday (HUGE culture shock for an American city girl) and Nir had just gotten done introducing himself and giving us our keys and saying, “Welcome to Israel.  Shabbat shalom and see you in a few days.”  He walked out the door.  Ildiko (a permanent fixture on the couch from that night til the day she left in October) was busy listening to Eastern European marching music and eating a pepper to pay us much attention and there was a stillness for the first time since we got off the plane and it hit me.  I am here.  In this SHITTY city (that I have since come to love and admire)  For 10 MONTHS.  I started freaking out.  I had to get out.  I had to leave the apartment.  I had to sob and shake and question my sanity.  Thank G-d for Steph.  She is so calm under pressure.  She sat with me on the bench outside and let me vent and go crazy.  I felt better. She and I had already formed a kind of bond that obviously grew into an unshakable force over time.  From that night on I got it that this was going to be it for the next 10 months of my life.  And I was ok with that.  I HAD to be ok with that.  I never once thought about going home.  Not out of pride, but because I have lived long enough to know that things get better once you accept your fate and embrace it.  So that’s what I did.  I embraced the people I met.  I embraced the places I visited.  I embraced (as much as I could) the culture.  I learned to “Israeli” people.  I learned that you can’t let people boss you around here.  I learned that respect comes when you defend yourself.  I have travelled from top to bottom of this country and I have swam in 3 different seas.  I have driven to the far north to drink Israeli wine and have flown to the far south to admire Israeli sealife and cross the border to one of the new 7 Wonders of the World.  I have danced with Israeli children in Ramle and have danced on top of bars with my new friends in Tel Aviv nightclubs to American and Israeli music.  I have haggled with shuk vendors and have tasted the freshest produce I have ever had the pleasure of tasting in my 26 years.  I have lit many Sabbath candles and have shared cups of wine with friends I am beyond grateful to have made.  I have smoked nargila with friends and strangers alike and have felt that Israeli hospitality I had heard so much about before coming here.  I have sat on the beach in Tel Aviv at all times of day and night staring at the sea and sky telling myself, “Remember this feeling.  Remember this moment.  You have no idea right now how much it’s going to mean to you when you wake up and this dream is over.”  I have seen my mother, hair covered in a beautiful scarf, touch and kiss the Western Wall and finally understand how lucky I am to even be alive.  I have felt an immense amount of pride for the country that built itself up from the ashes of unjustifiable horrors but have felt shame upon seeing and hearing first hand the blatant racism and prejudices so many Israelis unjustifiably feel toward the “enemy” they don’t even take the chance to get to know.  I have ridden bikes to Jaffa with my big brother whom I admire more than most people in this world and whose false concept of Israel did a complete 180 in the 14 days he spent here.  I have found a place where no matter where I go, the common bond of Judaism means I have family, no matter when I’m there.  I have felt myself grow and change an unthinkable amount and in ways I hope I keep with me for the rest of my days.  I have, oddly enough, felt my Jewish identity wither but in the meantime felt my self confidence as a smart, capable woman strengthen.  I have fairly successfully lived in a foreign land as if I were a local and have experienced something I will never forget and will continue to feel the effects of for as long as I live.  Am Yisrael chai.  Thank you, Israel.  My life is forever changed because you were in it. 

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Zeh oh. 

Slowly Sinking In…

18 Jun

I will write more in detail about my own final thoughts on these last 10 months in Israel.  But right now I want to share a speech my roommate Rachel made tonight at our ITF graduation ceremony because she perfectly put into words what this experience has been like.  Some of it won’t make sense to ya’ll so my short explanations are in parenthesis.  Enjoy…

So let’s take a few minutes to reflect on the past ten months.

Remember the first time you saw your apartment.
How long did it take you to find the light switches?
How long did it take you to realize you had to turn on the dude (switch outside the bathroom for hot water) if you wanted a hot shower?
How long were you able to spend living with three, four, or eight other people before you started to question your sanity?

By the way, Petach Tikva, Rishon and Rehovot, MTV wants to speak with all of you about being on an upcoming season of ‘The Real World.’ (The participants in these cities shared apartments with up to 9 people.  Not the best thing ever.)

Arak has already signed on as the official sponsor. (Israeli ouzo.)

Remember when we all met for the first time at Seminar Hakibbutzim.
How much time you spent scanning the crowd…ok, I’ll just say it, checking out who was hot.
How many early-morning cookies you devoured outside Hall 70…and when you discovered Nes Café, Israel’s (I’m sorry to say it) completely bogus substitute for coffee.
Don’t forget our madrichot: Gale, Sharon and Ruthie. They’re what made coming to Seminar worth it. To quote Ruthie: “Yofi, ladies. Todah rabah.”
Oh, and a shout-out to those persistent trash cats who managed to steal at least one person’s lunch every day.

Remember your roommates, your city group and your teaching partners. Whether they were your support network, your arch nemeses or both, they were your battle buddies in this war we fought on struggling Israeli schools.
Try to forget the drama; it’s not worth holding on to.
Instead, try to remember the things about them that made you laugh, the times they helped you when you got home from a particularly horrid day at school and were ready to throw up your hands and scream: “Get me a cheeseburger and a flight back to America achshav (now)!”

 Remember your first day of school. How excited and nervous you were when you woke up, how carefully you picked out your outfit, how starry-eyed you were when you walked out the door of your house, totally confident that you were going to make a difference.
And then you walked through the front door of your school…and thought: “What the BLEEP have I gotten myself into?”
That is, if you had time to form a thought before a student was hit in the head with a pencil case…or in Geoff and Elan’s case, before that student was hit in the head with a brick. (True story.)

Remember your second day of school.
How downright scared you were when you woke up now that you knew EXACTLY what you’d gotten yourself into.
How clueless you were as to what was going on, how many times you just smiled and nodded at a kid who was speaking to you in rapid-fire Hebrew.
How long it took you to understand that the concept of “SIT DOWN AND BE QUIET” just doesn’t translate in Israel.

Remember how many times you answered the same questions, wondering when they would remember the most simple facts about you:
Yes, you’re American.
No, you don’t have Facebook (or one that you’re willing to share with them at least).
No, you’re not dating your teaching partner.
Yes, you know who Justin Beiber is.
No, you do not know him personally.
Yes, you’re Jewish.
No, you will not go out with them and no, you will not give them a kiss.

 For that matter, remember all of your days at school. The good. The very good. The bad. The very bad. And the downright ridiculous, of which there were many.
Remember all of them.
You will never get this experience again in your life.
So whether it was feeling your headache grow scream by scream…or dancing with your kids on Purim…or simply giving them a hug in the hallway…those moments are irreplaceable.

To forget how many aspirin, Aleve or Tylenol you took over the past 10 months. Your stomach lining will remember for you.

Wherever you’re going next, whatever you plan to do, even if you have NO idea what that is, carry with you the following truths we learned here in Israel:
Waiting in lines is optional.
The loudest, pushiest person gets the most attention.
You always have the right of way.
And as you head into your future, attack it with the same vigor that you attacked the monumental challenge that was ITF…and get your Israeli on.

 But seriously, the lessons that we’ve learned here over the past ten months will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
And will make us stronger, better and MUCH more patient people because of them.

One last thing.
Remember the first student you really connected with, the one you dragged yourself out of bed for even on the days when you wanted to curl up under the covers and hide.
Whether it was a one-on-one lesson, a small group or simply a “Hey, what’s up?” in the hall, you know that kid was looking for you every single day.
Never forget them because trust me, they will never forget you.

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