As I sat on the edge of the bed with my legs dangling in the air, I chanted “glida tut! glida tut!” (strawberry ice cream) while my mom finished tying my sneakers. 1995 — my very first trip to Israel. I had no idea that I would keep coming back to this home away from home every year and embark on a lifelong love affair.
Israel — she has seen the most beautiful and ugliest parts of me, as I have seen in her. She watched me have my first awkward kiss on the beach in Tel Aviv with a soldier under the stars when I was a teenager, and showed me that even though something seems so perfect on the outside, it doesn’t mean that it feels good at all.
She watched me live alone in an apartment with my own kitchen for the first time, learning how to cook for myself. She saw me learn a new language with friends, as we giggled on barstools and shared secrets with our bartenders. I began to fall in love with all of the small things, like the green hair-beret I bought on Dizengoff street from an artist, and the sunset over the port that begged me to stay.
She saw my ignorance and peeled it open so that I could see it for what it was. One morning, I got on the local bus and felt afraid and paranoid after seeing someone who I thought looked suspicious, even though he wasn’t suspicious at all. He was an Arab man with a bouquet of flowers, and I was convinced that there was a bomb inside his bouquet. She watched me learn that although I preach about peace and coexistence, I too have scraps of racism inside of me. I said to myself, “I can get off of this bus and be someone who I don’t want to be, or stay on this bus, with the faith that there are some things in life that you can’t change. People will try to take things away from you, you must not let them.” I stayed on the bus and laughed at myself with guilt as he delivered his bouquet to his wife.
She watched me fall deeply and completely in love with a man for the first time who loved me too. She watched me trust my heart with his, knowing that the odds were against us but his eyes promised me the world. She watched us move in together and grow together while laughing for months at a time. She saw me run away when I was scared, but come right back to where I belonged — in our apartment together filled with sweet potatoes and our gray and black striped bedsheets.
She smiled as I accepted a dream job offer at my favorite Israeli non-profit after bouncing from interview to interview at different companies. I learned how to be independent. The confusion and excitement filled my soul as I sat on my brand new “L-shaped” brown couch, thinking, “I have everything I ever wanted.” I looked out my new window feeling all of the joy and fullness, unaware that things were about to change.
She watched me get sick and hospitalized for the first time. I spent eight long days in the hospital, unsure and scared, yet surrounded by so much love. I spent days using Google Translate, eating cakes that my hospital roommate’s family graciously made for me, and learning how lucky I am to have such amazing cousins and friends who never let me feel alone. She watched me feel gratitude as he slept in a chair next to my bed every night.
But still, she taught me that shit happens, and things can fall apart pretty quickly. Plans can only go so far until life decides otherwise.
She watched my heart break in the distance as he changed after two and a half years of love.
All of these things have grown me. My roots are here.
It’s not as though my life is on pause when I am in the US. Of course I learn and grow there as well, but there is something about this tiny country on the map that effortlessly holds me.
And I may at times sit in silence at a crowded table surrounded by Israelis speaking in Hebrew, a language I have yet to completely master. I may seem like an outsider, or a visitor to some, but they don’t know about my endless intoxicating love affair with this country that breathes through me. My neshama.
And so when bombs fly through the air, or soldiers enter dangerous territory, it pulls at my heart strings. It does something to me. This isn’t nationalism — I believe nationalism can be a dangerous thing. It’s something different — it’s home. It’s the place where I can walk around aimlessly but still always find what I’m looking for.
And I know that no matter where I am in the world, or what life has thrown at me, my favorite beach at Hof Hatzook, the one with the cliff you have to climb down to get to the sea that always threatens to scrape my knees, will be waiting there for me. Always. My never-ending love affair.