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.
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.
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.