The other day in Ulpan we were talking about the verb ‘to change oneself’ – Lehishtannot. “Have you changed yourself to fit in here?”, our teacher asked. “Do you want to change yourself – to become more Israeli?”. “Take on the good parts of Israelis, not the bad” she instructed us – the medley of nations spread before her – Spain, Russia, American, England. She smiled and strode purposefully across the class, to write another verb on the board. Onwards. But her words left a more permanent mark than those on the white board.
When I walk through Tel Aviv all the parts of me from before and after meet at that moment, joining me as I walk down the road. By their side walks everything that’s ever happened here, intermingling and intertwining with their playmates – plaiting a French braid, making a stylish meander around me. A comforting presence, it’s what creates this frenzy of olim moving here in droves – airy proof that we are not alone. Not as tangible as the openness and friendliness of the party people drinking in the bars, or the elderly lady who detailed the route to Jabotinsky, but still there nonetheless. But then it’s true of course that those voices, images, speeches can become stifling – and so olim are leaving too – gone, but changed – unavoidably so – because one part of them will always be on Allenby, joining the other spirits of ‘back then’, a thirty degree hum of voices of the past, reaching on towards the future.
I don’t want to think about leaving – and I don’t want to think about staying either – but then perhaps that makes me more ‘Tel Aviv’, more changed than I realize. In London it’s all about “What’s next? What’s the next career move, where’s the next apartment you’ll live in, and who’s the next boyfriend you’ll have?” Olim often complain about the pace of life here – it’s slower, and “everything takes so long…” But that’s because each moment is longer when you turn it over, admire it, polish it – and maybe argue over it too. There’s so much space inside each moment that there’s no need to think about the next one, just yet. And just like that, in the space of 60 seconds, I’ve changed. And the best part – I did it without even noticing.