Growing up in America, we were taught to protect ourselves. My house, my family, my things. Be wary of people you don’t know (stranger danger). Don’t ride your bike outside the neighborhood. Don’t look people in the eye, let strangers in your house, leave your door unlocked. People can’t be trusted, you must fend for yourself, take care of yourself, protect yourself.

One of the reasons I love Israel is because, to me, as an Israeli Jew,  it feels like we’re all in it together, even when we’re fighting with each other. We’re all participating in this crazy experiment called Israel, we’re all figuring it out as we go along and we’re all family. Sometimes family can get on your nerves and drive you insane, always sticking their nose into your business. The same goes for Israel. It’s like living in a country of Jewish mothers who think they know better than you. It’s not unusual for someone to give you feedback on whether your kid is wearing enough clothes in the winter or to ask how much money you make, or how much you pay for your apartment or why you’re not married yet.

Israelis (in my general experience) are often loud, pushy, have zero shame, are a little cuckoo, and can be fairly impatient. On the other hand, they are ridiculously kind, very loving, will tell you the truth, and never sugar coat whatever it is that they think or feel. They get emotional very quickly, but then they get over it really quickly as well.

Family, community and connection are so important to people here. The dads are hands-on in a way I’ve never seen in any other country. Jewish holidays and simchas are built-in excuses for families and friends to meet, to bond, to eat, to catch up. Israelis are creative, entrepreneurial, adventurous, and don’t give a crap what you think. While customer service is lacking (understatement of the century), if someone’s in a bad mood, they’ll just be in a bad mood. They don’t waste energy on faking it, on pretending to be nice (although sometimes that would be a welcome change!).

You have to admire the audacity and authenticity of the people here. I speak about Israelis because they are a product of this great country, of what 68 years of outrageous courage, enormous vision and a boatload of hard work can create. I had a taxi driver once who came to Israel from Lebanon and lived in a tent at a time when there was no actual housing (or roads or infrastructure) here.  His father helped build some of the first roads in Tel Aviv, when all there was was sand. What other country in the world, that is democratic and (mostly) functioning, can say they’ve accomplished so much in such a short amount of time?

And after almost a year of aliya, I also love Israel because of who it has turned me into. As an Israeli, I’m more generous. I’m more go-with-the-flow, less structured, less planned (not my choice, but a necessity). I’m more willing to open my heart and my home to people.  I trust more, I feel safer, I feel more at home, more like myself. I feel braver and more assertive and happier. I feel challenged, and then triumphant after overcoming those challenges (if you’ve ever had a successful phone call with Bezek, you’ll know what I’m talking about). I’m able to get mad more easily, and let it go just as quickly. I make a mean shakshuka and can haggle the hell out of a salesperson at the shuk.

Israel has sharpened some edges and softened others, as I often say. I am grateful for my first year as an Israeli citizen, and excited and hopeful about living the rest of my life here. I feel so so blessed to be able to be here, for my amazing job, my amazing friends, my incredible family, my beautiful apartment. I feel as though I have been showered with blessings, and my wish is that we may all feel so lucky, so blessed, and find the place that feels most like home to us.