Dear January,

I make you a lot of promises. Please may I intend to keep them.

It may only be ten days into January, but already 2014 has already been fraught with problems. As I think of how January 27th will be my five-month mark here in Israel (and I will also be halfway done with my ten-month program), I have been asking myself if I did the right thing by coming here.

Every thought and every insecurity that I have been feeling over the past month have been bottled up and I have not been able to let them out. I think of January of 2013 and how I was still babysitting in order to pay my bills. A year later, I am now a twenty-four-year-old Assistant English Teacher in Netanya, who, while appreciating this chance to live, volunteer and learn here, still struggles on a daily basis. I know that I’ve been lucky with the opportunity I’ve been awarded from the higher-ups and all the support I’ve received from the Jewish community (and non-Jews alike) back in Massachusetts, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t have days where I let myself get into my head. My head, full of a big, fat balagan of a brain, is not exactly a place I like to visit.

This week in particular has been the hardest of the month. I have been sick for almost two weeks with an upper respiratory infection and the medicines that the doctor prescribed me give me horrible side effects instead of fixing my problem. In addition, I am only allotted three sick days per month (fifteen for the entire ten months of my program) and have already had to miss two days of school. I’m exhausted from not being able to rest at home. Furthering the medical struggle, since I am borderline anemic, the changes in the weather pressure have been making me more cold than I already am and have been affecting my allergies. Lastly, I have had two people say hurtful things behind my back and while I got an apology from one of them, I still feel worthless.

My students, at least, continue to breathe life into me when I feel like giving up. They stand at the door to the English Room, fiddling with the zippers on their jackets when our lesson was scheduled for six minutes before.

They stomp their sneakers on the stairs in the hallways, testing some vague law of physics while simultaneously screaming to their friends.

The more questions they ask, the more answers I get, I think. While I look to Google to tell me how to write a sentence in Hebrew, they want to ask Google what sound the fox says for real.

They are hot on the trail of a million things unknown. They have answers to questions I never even think to ask.

They ask where or how and I try to come up the right answers, while they seem to be all the wrong ones. I want to eat these answers back up before they’re off to their next class.

They come up from their previous class and petition for water, please. I tell them to go ahead.

I try to leave the questions up to them. I feel that maybe my goal should be to listen. To love and to listen to them. And then, if I’m lucky, the rest will follow.

Every day without fail, after I’ve gotten through checking emails and other messages, I hear in my head, look at the beauty and love that Israel has. And although I might like to make myself some tea or feel eager to watch 80’s sitcoms on YouTube, I pause and think of Israel.

I moved to this country last August and I promised to learn about her, appreciate her and recognize her right to exist. I promised to do my best.

Oh, Israel, I make you a lot of promises.

I moved to this country for lots of reasons, but mostly because I wanted to pay Israel back for her kindness during Birthright and for what she does for the world. I came here because I could.

I thought I could be strong here and not have to rely on other people. But guess who always bails me out? My father. He paid for a round trip flight to London for my Chanukah vacation when my program couldn’t fix issues on the home front. He is paying for me to spend two nights in a hotel in Tel Aviv during April for my 25th birthday because my birthday falls during Passover and no one will be around, except for Cassie and her father who are coming to visit me for nine days. I don’t know how I will make it until April or how I ever will be able to adequately express how much I appreciate and love my father.

By the time April rolls around, it will just be a short time before June 27th when I hop on my two British Airways flights back home to Boston. I will be launched back into a world where I can read the signs, where I won’t have to pay extra for a taxi on a Friday night and where I can eat a bacon, egg and cheese on a plain bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts and not feel guilty about it. Where promises are hard to keep.

Please may I intend to keep them. 

The end of 2013 has been ripe with reflection and the start of 2014 invites tiny ambitions, but nothing has changed this month just because the calendar did. There are pictures of New Year’s Eve celebrations on Facebook and people who sweep bits of 2013 under the carpet, the IDF celebrating getting through another day with blurry eyes behind grateful tears and the Israelis who sit around the table for Shabbat. I don’t know how to figure everything out and I have yet to get a new lease to do the figuring. Nothing changes even though the calendar did, yet everything feels like it could. I sure hope so.

And all of the promise seems like it means something. Because it must.