I spent this past Friday and Saturday at a lovely hotel in Jerusalem learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had been to a seminar last week for three days and two nights with my cohort, the Teaching Fellows from Be’er Sheva, Beit She’an and volunteers from Kiryat Shmona to learn about the same thing. While I did revel in the fact that I was able to be back at Kibbuz Almog in Jerusalem—my favorite kibbutz from my Birthright trip last year—I have to say that I enjoyed this seminar a lot more. The topics and lectures were similar to last week’s, but the autonomy that myself and the other participants were given was so much different; we had a lot more freedom than at last week’s seminar. I enjoyed last week—don’t get me wrong—but it was so nice to not be forced into anything. The other thing that was nice was being able to break away from Netanya. Netanya is a great place—I can get cheap fruits and vegetables at the shuk, practice my French with the elderly man at the home goods store near me and play with the stray cats—but it doesn’t hurt to get away for a while, even if it’s only for a short time. It was also nice to break away from my cohort (five members of my cohort traveled with me but I didn’t want to cling to them), in addition to the Teaching Fellows from Be’er Sheva and Beit She’an that I see a few times a month. I adore them all, but it’s great to meet new people and get out of my comfort zone, something I have had to actively do to avoid the troubles from my time in London three years ago.
I do love my cohort. Truly. Traffic in the hallways in our apartment is bumper to bumper and dust crawls across the floors. I look around the apartment and my soul feels frantic. My list feels long. I give myself permission not to try and figure out everything today. I will do the same tomorrow.
My cohort cooks food and learns Hebrew words. They race down the stairs and dream of flying to exotic places. They breathe life into the classrooms that they work in and their students give them life in return. I see the souls of my cohort show up in their rooms, shows blasting from their televisions with the random channels that are included in the cable plan.
I am only as busy as I allow myself to be. All this busy-ness feels like some kind of false accounting, anyway. There’s certainly value in standing there and being still. Stopping does not mean I am not going to get where I am going; sometimes I’m actually moving when I think I am not.
The days of heavy traffic in the hallways are numbered due to most of my cohort (myself included) being away for Chanukah. There’s still much packing to be done. I stop rocketing through what I know needs to be done and I know that right now is something my future self will want to recall someday.
My cohort is great. The other Teaching Fellows are great. But the other twenty-somethings I met at this seminar are great, too. It’s amazing being able to meet young Jews who have a passion for tikkun olam, but don’t need to fulfill this by working with children. The night I signed up for Israel Teaching Fellows last year, I had gone to a bar with my friend, Laurence and he introduced me to some of his law school friends. They were saying how much they enjoyed meeting someone who worked with kids, while I appreciated meeting people who didn’t. I enjoyed being able to learn more perspectives and I hope that I was able to do the same. This seminar was certainly no exception. I was blessed with having two fantastic women as my roommates and I loved being able to hear about their lives and what they’re doing in Israel to try and improve her. Fixing Israel is not just accomplished by teaching children English. I have learned this from the various other participants I met during the seminar, men and women alike. They are saving the environment. They are working in the Knesset. They are writers. They all work in different professions, but they are all young Jews who came here to make a difference. Talking with people whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise was amazing. This seminar gave me the chance to breathe a little bit more and to forge new connections. I am hopeful that we will all hang onto the inclination to see each other in our respective towns and to make free time less mundane by consuming less-than-stellar cocktails at a hotel bar. And I’m pretty optimistic that we will be sitting at tables again, talking about Israel and the futilities of life. I can’t wait to hear what we’ll be talking about.
But for now, I whisper a simple song of gratitude for my busy Jews who make a difference in this wonderful country, which is the best prayer I can offer. I will do the same tomorrow.