Sitting in Ben Gurion Airport, I’m feeling bittersweet. I have an hour and a half until we board the plane, and I’m really excited to go home. I’m definitely going to miss living in Israel and all my friends that I’ve made while I’ve been here, but I’m ready to sleep in my air conditioned house in America.

After being here for two months, I’ve definitely gathered a better understanding of Israel and its daily life in Jerusalem. And I can say from first hand experience that the Israel that’s portrayed in the media is not the same Israel I lived in all summer. Someone I met on my trip summed up Israel’s stereotype pretty well: “Israel is either portrayed as a War Zone or a Religious Disneyland.”

Yes, Israel is constantly involved in some kind of conflict. And yes, it can be a very spiritual and religious state. But everyday life in Israel is not characterized by conflict or by religion. Israel is a place where real people live their lives — real people who take the bus to work and have friends over for dinner and help out tourists who look like they’ve lost their way — real people like you and me. You never completely understand the full picture unless you look at it in person and immerse yourself in it. Israel is much more than it seems in the news.

I’ve been to Israel three times now, and each time has been a completely different trip. I may have visited some of the same places, but I’ve taken away something different each time. Each time I’ve been to Israel, I have learned new things about myself, about Israel and about my Jewish identity. What else is traveling for, if not for self-exploration?

Since I was temporarily living in Jerusalem, I felt like something between an Israeli and a tourist. I wasn’t quite an Israeli, but I know a lot more than a tourist! I know how to get around Jerusalem, which bus routes take you to which parts in the city, how to get to Tel Aviv, what to do on Shabbat, how to interact with other Israelis, what it means when someone says, “Meet me at 13:00” (it actually means 13:30 or 14:00), and so on. Jerusalem was my home for two months. I adapted to the Israeli lifestyle for a while, and it was pretty neat. Some of the reasons I decided to go on this trip this summer were to live in Israel and become immersed in the culture, to gain new perspectives from an Israel standpoint and to help people, and I can happily say I fulfilled all of them and more.

After a whole summer of being here, I have no regrets. There were a few things on my Israel bucket list that I never got around to do this summer. I wanted to go to Tsfat for Shabbat, meet up with more friends from home, buy more presents for people, travel to more places… but I take comfort in the idea that I know I’m coming back. If you asked me six months ago when I’d be in Israel again, I wouldn’t have had any idea. So who knows when I’ll be back? Of course I’m going to miss it and feel saddened that I’m leaving, but I know this isn’t my last time in the Holy Land. I don’t know when, but I know I’ll be back.

I’ve really enjoyed blogging about my thoughts and observations here in Israel. This was my first time blogging, and it was definitely a challenge at some points. Sometimes it was difficult to find the right words, but writing for The Times of Israel was definitely a learning experience. Overall, I liked sharing my experiences with all of you, and I hope to write again when I come back to Israel in the future.

Thank you Israel, for all you have shown me this summer.

Watching the sunset on the Tel Aviv beach; Making friends with kittens; Visiting the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Getting henna tattoos; Snorkeling in Eilat, Exploring the Old City, Jerusalem

A few notable adventures: Watching the sunset on the Tel Aviv beach (top); Making friends with kittens (middle left); Visiting the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (middle right); Getting henna tattoos (bottom left); Snorkeling in Eilat (bottom right); Exploring the Old City, Jerusalem (right)