I’m easily lost. It’s actually a huge problem, since I never actually know where I am. My friends generally have to come and rescue me — or I have to ask for directions (which, even given my decent Hebrew, are rarely helpful when all I hear is “yashar, yashar”).
And I don’t stay put. I’m not found in places you would want to find me. Let’s face it: if I were in a bar or at a club, we’d be reassured that a teenager was doing what she knew how to do. But I’m not. I don’t know what to do in those places, and I can’t say that I really want to learn. People tell me that the nightlife is amazing in Israel — that, really, I must visit it — but that scene is only a sliver of a country that has so much more.
Here’s an abridged list of the things I have done in Israel over the past few weeks. None of these activities involved alcohol, bars or clubs.
I ate pizza at one in the morning with my Bedouin friends.
I hiked in Nofit (have you ever heard of it? Exactly) with my friend and went sailing with his family on his father’s birthday.
I sang along to Yehudit Ravitz with my best friend.
I went to interfaith Iftars on the rooftops of Jerusalem.
I had coffee with friends and we laughed, sitting at the Aroma Cafe in Mamilla, which I find horribly overpriced.
I prayed with Women of the Wall.
I prayed with the wives of Belz Hasidim in their shul.
I ate jachnun and snorkeled in Eilat.
I hitchhiked to a bridal Shabbat in Rehovot at the house of a friend whom I’d never before met in person.
I found the best hummus in the Tel Aviv shul that the tourists don’t know about.
I got a private tour of the Armenian Quarter. Literally. It was just me.
I went to an awful Gemara lecture with a religious friend from Tel Aviv, who insisted we walk out.
I sang on the floor of Yafo Street late at night to mourn a young girl’s murder.
Honestly, what pains me is that so many young people come to Israel only to see a bit of each city and then really only to spend serious time in clubs and bars.
There’s more to Israel than that.
And I get it. I’m 17. I have no interest in alcohol or clubs. But on the other hand, I also have a serious love for this country and I don’t want my relationship with it to be infantilized down to alcohol and sex.
People always tell me that I think this way because I have so many friends in Israel. These same people don’t realize that I’ve had to work to make these friends in Israel. They don’t spring out of nowhere — I’ve had to find and cultivate them, to visit and spend time with them.
And I’ve met my Israeli friends in many ways: through summer camp and Hebrew language practice, through shidduch dates (yes, even those!), and introductions from mutual friends who really wanted us to meet. They’ve showed me their Israel — the Israel that is very real to them — and not the one that any tour, no matter how good, can show you.
Realize that I’m not criticizing those who want an Israel experience far “sexier” than mine. There’s certainly a place for it — but I’ve also talked to so many participants of various Israel programs that have complained to me that their view of Israel has been superficial and unsatisfying. That they want to feel deeply connected to Israel, but just can’t.
And to them, I say: explore. This is your homeland, and it’s waiting for you. If I do the same things I do in Israel that I do in the US, I’ll only ever experience Israel as the US. And why come so far … to go back to America?
No, I came to Israel to experience Israel. And I have.