I turned 25 in November and did anything a rational twenty something does on their birthday. I stood on a chair at my synagogue, at a Shabbat Kiddush in my honor, hugging a bottle of whiskey and gave a monologue. I know how this sounds, but I have always had a flare for the dramatic and now know it was most likely the peak of a quarter life crisis. I handed out l’chaims (aka shots taken in the name of life) and proclaimed boldly to my friends and neighbors that in this new year I would start doing things that scared me.
I explained how a recent first-time camping trip, changed my perception of my comfort zone. I was the girl who walked through life proclaiming herself a JAP but in reality actually loves the outdoors and lying in grass for hours. I don’t necessarily need a shower and proper septic system to be my happiest self. I’ll admit, I slept in 3 layers and tied a hoodie up to my nose for fear of spiders, but at least I was trying!
What had stopped me from experiencing it all before? Literally myself and perhaps, seasonal allergies. It wasn’t until I stood on that chair and was accountable to my community, that I realized I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. I was racing through life on auto-pilot, from one goal and achievement to another, without really experiencing the moments that make life so exciting. That’s because the moments that constitute change can also be the scariest. Who would actively chose to be scared if they didn’t have to be? That’s just nuts.
I challenged my friends and neighbors to be vulnerable. I told them to start doing things far out of their comfort zone, to escape their self-defined “box.” All that sounds easy until it became a real promise to myself, not just a speech.
True to my words, I started immediately after Shabbat. I went after something I really wanted that was way out of my realm of comfort, but which also scared me enough to make me want to puke. Excellent criteria.
I asked a guy out. Well, it was more like my demanding he go out with me but whatever, I am a generally aggressive person and was on a vulnerability high. You know what? It felt really darn good, minus the getting rejected part.
In the weeks leading up to all this, Israel saw an influx of stabbings and car rammings. One of those Friday nights, I skipped my Shabbat meal and instead spent the night at my favorite place in Brooklyn. A place where nobody can see or hear me, but where I feel my voice is strongest.
I stood on the roof of my apartment and screamed at G-D. My tears weren’t just for my brothers and sisters in Israel but also for myself. I begged to know, what on earth was I doing in New York? What was stopping from being in Israel? I felt desperate, like I was slowly suffocating.
The emotions soon subsided and I returned to my auto-pilot state. I told myself that staffing an upcoming Birthright trip would fix how I felt. Meanwhile my perfect plan was enacted to spend the next few years at my amazing job while getting my Master’s degree in public service at my dream school, get married, build my savings, and one day move to Israel.
That logical plan fell quickly apart the moment I stepped off the plane and saw myself kissing the ground.
The frequency of stabbings in Jerusalem prevented us from praying at the Western Wall for Friday night services, a Birthright signature moment. As a madricha (counselor) it pained me that the participants couldn’t experience this. In an effort to basically make shawarma out of vegetables, we took them to a synagogue courtyard in Nachlaot, Jerusalem to sing at the top of our lungs.
It was beautiful but sad. I knew what could be going on outside that courtyard but tried to forget it, to be present. It was unexpected and different but it was incredibly real and raw.
In the morning I returned to the courtyard to pray at its shul. As I left services, I paused to make a mental photograph of the dozens of families in the courtyard below. Smiling women in their flowing head scarves, watching their husbands chase after their babies.
Outside that courtyard a fellow Jew could be getting attacked in her own home, in front of her young children, or a fearful man could be walking with his yarmulka hidden in his pocket. But that moment in the courtyard was their present and they were making it count, with both grace and pride.
As I watched it hit me. What I was witnessing was a life of difficulty but also one of meaningful easiness. I knew what I had to do and it wasn’t part of my plan. It wouldn’t be solely for my love of the State of Israel or to help unite the Jewish people. Do I believe that as a Jewish woman I have the unique privilege to create a life for my future generations in the Land we finally got back after thousands of years? Yeah, definitely!
But if I am being honest, the real reason I am leaving so much behind – family, a promising career, prestigious degree and inspirational friends – is for the chance at life in the courtyard. A challenging life, full of passion and chance, commitment and resolve, fear and achievement, tears and laughter.
Ironically, as I sat in a cab leaving the Jewish Agency with my Aliyah approval in hand, I received a congratulatory acceptance email from my dream school. I could literally see two diverging roads in my paths and was able to imagine my life at the end of each.
I was being given a real choice and both answers would be the right one. I believe deeply in Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence), so in my mind, the outcome of my life would always be the same and I would still end up in Israel. But what would the journey there be like? With that in mind and in the language of my fellow millennials, I swiped right for Israel.
If there is one thing I learned upon making this decision it is that if you can’t go a day without thinking about something, no matter how scary it is, it’s a pretty clear sign you should do something about it. Life will happen no matter what and you only get one chance to be part of it.
So, when you are 120 years old I sure hope that you look back from your own courtyard and say you would do it all again, but maybe minus the bottle of Jack. L’chaim.