Too often I hear about Jews and the people in their Jewish communities. I didn’t really have anything remotely similar to a Jewish community until a year after I graduated from college, but through the process of moving to and later on living in Israel, I have gotten to see what all the fuss is about.
My Jewish identity isn’t something I ever thought much about since I wasn’t raised Jewish. Once my father gained custody of my younger sister, Devon and I in 2005, I started to feel a bit more Jewish as he was my Jewish parent. I remember at my second high school when there was a menorah in the front office (next to a Christmas tree) right before Winter Break and I wore a Star of David necklace before it started to give me allergies. My freshman year of college, there was a Rosh Hashanah dinner and I met a few Jewish girls there, one being a girl named Jamie whom I am still friends with. Apart from that, I barely thought about Judaism—save for a Passover Seder I went to freshman year with my grandparents—and focused my energy on a political community instead. I was involved in politics professionally for a little over three years and the community I worked and socialized with was lovely, but after I realized that politics was nothing more than a popularity contest and I never stood a chance of making it to the national stage because my backbone isn’t strong enough, I started to search for something new.
In the winter of 2011 when I was working at my first nanny job, the boy’s mother requested that I teach him about Chanukah. She was raising her children as Catholic, but she wanted them to be exposed to different religious viewpoints. She picked up books from the library on Chanukah and the boy and I watched the “Rugrats” Chanukah video. I taught the boy how to play the dreidel and we ate Chanukah cookies from CVS. During January of 2012, I began my application for a Birthright trip after getting an email about it. I filled out everything online and had my phone interview in February, a few hours after finishing the GRE. When the man had asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I said that I had just finished taking the GRE and that I hoped I would be going to graduate school. I, of course, did not forsee moving to Israel for ten months, but that didn’t seem to matter at the time, as the day before Passover in April of 2012, I was accepted on a Birthright trip. What a wonderful story to share at the Passover Seder I would be attending with my grandparents!
Now with Birthright coming up, I began to attend events at the Boston branch of Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), one of the groups sponsoring my trip. Most of the participants I met were going on their trip in mid-July and my trip was scheduled for the beginning of July. I only met two girls from my Birthright group at a pub that we went to, but otherwise, I would have to wait. Eventually June 30th hit and it was off to New York to crash with my friend, Jenna and her husband. We had a nice lunch on their street, visited my second cousin, David and had a dinner nearby. We called it an early night and then Jenna drove me to JFK Airport. I eventually met up with my American group leader, Stacey and was told that our other leader, Matt, would be meeting us in Israel. We went through security fairly easily, paid our fee for the Israeli staff we’d be working with and were briefed on logistics. I began to meet the other members of my group and already knew I had found special people.
I can’t give Birthright the thanks it deserves here, as it would require a post on its own, but I can say that my group was one of the best groups of people I ever met. They weren’t like the people in college who judged me for not having money and they weren’t like my London cohort who judged me for caring about children and social issues in politics. I could actually have intellectual conversations with my Birthrighters and not only could I teach them about children, they could teach me about law or medicine. When I busted my foot in the Golan Heights, my Birthrighters pulled out chairs for me to rest my foot on and kept checking up on me. When I was trying to impress the “nice, Jewish boy” (see my post “A Nice, Jewish Boy”), one of my roommates at the kibbutz we were at did my makeup and hair and did her best to stay out of the way so that me and this boy would have some alone time. When I found out the “nice, Jewish boy” would never be mine, the Birthrighters lent me their ears. When one of the straps on my Shabbat dress broke, they were running around trying to find me a safety pin. When I told one of the guys that I was looking for a dreidel to give to the little girl I was nannying for, he came up to me the last day of our trip, told me he was looking for me because he had found a dreidel in a store nearby and wanted to tell me (and the little girl loved the dreidel.) All these things may seem mundane to most, but they meant the world to me.
*Bus 129 at the Western Wall, July 6th, 2012*
Two months later, one of the Birthrighters, Ali, was hosting a barbeque for the Birthrighters at her parents’ house. The house was hard to get to via public transportation, so one of the Birthrighters, Caitlin, had offered to drive me, along with Sarah, another girl from our group. That was the morning I had told my father that I didn’t want to go to graduate school. He said he supported it and told me to ask my Birthrighters what they thought. After making my way to Waltham, Massachusetts to meet up with Caitlin and Sarah, we were off to Lexington, Massachusetts. A third of the forty-six Birthrighters were in attendance and my mood lifted instantly. Everyone was asking me about graduate school. I couldn’t believe they remembered. I told them that I wasn’t invested in the program and that I had applied to get people off of my back for not having a “real job.” They all said the same thing—to search for employment instead and to figure out what I wanted to do. If graduate school wasn’t an option, that was okay. With their blessing, I began to search for work instead.
Finding work was not an easy task. The only money I made was from babysitting part-time. I used to use online babysitting websites sporadically, but now I was on the hunt for more frequent gigs. One day in October, a man named Joshua posted a message on one of the sites that I used saying that his then three-year-old daughter, Samara, was sick and needed someone to stay home with her because she couldn’t go to school. I replied to the ad immediately and then Joshua’s wife, Deborah, sent me her phone number asking me to call her. I called her right away, we spoke and then she called me back sometime later saying she would be leaving Samara with a family friend, so she didn’t need me the next day. She asked if she could still keep my contact information and I agreed. It wasn’t too long after when she said she might need me to stay home with her baby boy, Tal, because he was sick. I didn’t even know she had a baby boy. I told her to text me the next morning if she needed me and sure enough, she did. She told me that her house was kosher, so I told her I was half-Jewish and I could practically hear the smile in her voice. I showed up at the apartment bright and early, met Joshua and Samara and then began to take care of Tal. Tal was easy, ate what I fed him and took his medicine with incident. Deborah was worried about him, but he was in good hands. She was so relieved that he was in good spirits and from then on, I became her go-to babysitter. I think that in the nine months that I worked for her and Joshua, I only couldn’t babysit for her two times due to other commitments. Deborah kept referring me to friends who needed a nanny, although none of them panned out.
The week after I first babysat for Tal, I went to an event in Boston called Get Back To Israel! I was excited to see Laurence, one of the other Birthrighters, Ben, and Matt. I drunkenly signed up for the Israel Teaching Fellows program (see my post “One Year Ago”) and began to seriously look into it once I spoke to a staff member on the phone about it. Otherwise, I stayed busy with babysitting and with a program sponsored by CJP called israel360. It was a free, monthly discussion about Israel and I always enjoyed going. At the December session, I met a man named Steve and we became friends. One month later in January of 2013, I was in New York to visit Cassie, Jenna and our mutual friend from our college, Malin. I went to visit my second cousin, David, for a couple of hours and we talked. I didn’t see David often during my childhood and we only began getting back in serious touch when I had moved to London in 2010. David wasn’t disappointed that I wasn’t going to graduate school and asked me what I wanted to do. I said there was a program that would allow me to teach English in Israel for ten months and he told me to do it. When I asked him why, he said that my father didn’t always get to do what he wanted and that I needed to follow my own path. One week later, after a fabulous breakfast with Israelis who were part of the Argov Fellows program, Cassie was staying with me. I grabbed Cassie’s hand when we were in my room and told her that I was going to move to Israel. And she supported me every step of the way.
My life was now occupied by working on moving to Israel and continuing to attend israel360 discussions. In February, Deborah had referred me to a woman named Lyndsay because Lyndsay needed a nanny for her baby boy named Joshua. I told her I’d be gone in August if I got the job in Israel and she said she only needed me until August anyway, so I was pretty much hired on the spot. I spent six months with them and the fact that I was working for a Jewish family helped my application considerably. I spent the Passover Seder with them and Lyndsay gave me clothes for Israel since she was a teacher at a Hebrew school, in addition to an adapter plug. Her husband, Danny, gave my contact information to people who he thought could get me babysitting gigs and both Deborah and Lyndsay got me a few babysitting gigs throughout Massachusetts that allowed me to have some extra money in my pocket. What these women did for me is something I can never pay them back for.
Deborah and Joshua knew I would be moving away, so I asked Deborah to send along a link to a fundraising website that I was using so that I could pay off the $1,000 tuition deposit for my program. It was a short time later when a donation showed up by a man named Thomer. I texted Deborah to ask her if he was a friend of hers and she said he was. I couldn’t believe it. Thomer emailed me to say that Deborah and Joshua made a “strong case for helping [me] out” and his only request was that I pay it forward someday. I was stunned. A stranger gave me money. Sometime after, another stranger, Joshua’s mother, Tanya, gave me a donation. The donations then kept pouring in, from Deborah and Joshua, from my Jewish friends Dina, Jamie, Emily and Vanessa and from one of my non-Jewish friends, Liz. As I could only reap 70% of the profits, I knocked off $350.70 from the $1,000 tuition deposit. Since the money was applied after I began teaching (which wasn’t mentioned on the website), I paid the $1,000 up front, but eventually got the $350.70 in cash and used it for spending money during my Chanukah vacation in London last year. I received other donations, too—money from cousin David, my other second cousins, Martyn and Estelle and their daughter, Rochelle. Cassie’s dad, Paul, was supposed to give me $7-something for some bumper stickers I bought for him and he sent me a whopping $100 instead, in addition to another $100 when Cassie’s mom, Brenda, threw me a goodbye party. The woman who hosted the party, Maggie and her daughter, Frannie, weren’t Jewish, but they still threw this party for me and even decorated the house in blue and white streamers. It amazed me to see all the Jews and non-Jews pulling together for me.
*My goodbye party, July 20th, 2013*
My biggest donation came from CJP. When Matt found out I was moving to Israel, he got CJP to send me an astonishing $1,000. I never saw the money since all of it went towards my student loans, but it did help alleviate some of the pain of paying my loans. I knew Matt had always been a supportive person, but I never knew he could be this supportive! In total, from all of the people in my small Jewish community and from the non-Jews, too, I had $2,140.70 in donations, in addition to Devon buying me snacks from London, paying for my birthday lunch in Israel and the rest of my English relatives taking care of my meals, transportation and presents when I visited them last year. I was so blessed for how much these people had supported me, both financially and emotionally. These people aren’t rich and two of them I have never even met, yet they saw what I was doing in Israel as important.
I am grateful for them beyond words. I remain grateful to the Israelis who have shown me the love of a community when I don’t have access to mine back home, besides through email or Facebook. I remain grateful for my school, the teachers and students there, Masa and all the seminars they have allowed me to be a part of and the various Masa participants who have entered my life over the past ten months. I remain grateful for the people from both my high schools and my college who have now come back into my life, either through meals before I moved here or just through a Facebook message or comment, and have been excited for me throughout my adventures here. I remain grateful for my Birthrighters. I remain grateful for my friend, Adina who took care of my meals and gave me Hebrew lessons before I moved here and when she visited me here in May. I remain grateful for a long list of things that deserve more than just transient thanks.
*2013 Masa Leadership Summit with some of ITF-Netanya; Masa gave me the leadership roles that college never did. December 17th, 2013*
I often wonder why people rallied around me so much when I told them I was putting my life on hold for ten months. Maybe they recognize that it isn’t easy to try and move on from a painful past and that it can be hard to maintain a semblance of a joyful life when awfulness seems to lurk around every corner. I think now that these people know that I have reached a point where I am determined to keep going and to keep on living while not being fully free of the pain from my past but absolutely determined to not let the pain darken my future.
I arrive back to Boston this upcoming Saturday and while I am full of happiness and excitement, I am filled with the thought of what my Jewish and non-Jewish community has done for me. The fact that these people gave me money and material things to help lessen the financial stress of living off a $286 per month stipend. The fact that they told me that Israel needed me. The fact that even though I am Jew-ish, they still stood behind me.
It completely baffles me—although I suppose that at this point it shouldn’t—that these people could be so nice to me when I have never felt like I was worthy of it. I do not think that there is anything that I can do to repay these people for what they have done for me. There is nothing that I can do to make us even for the gift that they gave me—their faith in me.
I know that I cannot let the support from these people go unappreciated or unnoticed. I have bought these people gifts, but they will never amount to the gratefulness that permeates from the depths of my soul.
With my time in Israel ending in less than a week, I want my Jewish and non-Jewish supporters to know that I believe that things will be good for Israel because no matter what happens and no matter what she deals with, us Jews and non-Jews will go through the struggles and persevere together.
And when I burst through the international Arrivals door at Logan Airport next Saturday and go on my way to trying to become a Jewish leader, it’s like I am sealing a promise between these people and I together.