The day I set foot in America again was Memorial Day. As my mom drove me around all of the familiar places of my hometown, I saw advertisements for holiday sales and families barbecuing as if the day were a cause for celebration. The absurdity that my country was honoring those who lost their lives defending the country by having friends and family over and swimming in the neighborhood pool thoroughly confused me.
Just a few weeks earlier, I celebrated Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) in Israel. As the sun set and welcomed in the day of solitude, every store in Israel shut down. People spent the evening at ceremonies and with bereaved families, the day visiting military cemeteries and remembering those friends and family that gave their lives to keep the dream of Jewish statehood alive. Every person stopped in their tracks as a siren rang throughout the country to remind them of the sacrifice that has to be made for them to live the lives they have the privilege of taking for granted. For one day, an entirely divisive country came together to mourn, remember, and honor.
A couple of days ago, we celebrated American independence. I watched fireworks with my campers over the lake and Instagrammed a picture with an American flag. The day came and went and was pretty uneventful; there’s always next year.
A couple of weeks ago, I celebrated Israeli independence. People were dancing in the streets and at City Hall in Jerusalem. The cities were alive with excitement that our country, this tiny little hypothetical experiment of a state, made it another year. We fight about absolutely everything and argue constantly with one another, but Israel being alive is cause to celebrate.
The passion and liveliness I felt in Israel illuminated everything in my life. The indiscriminate kindness I saw constantly inspired me to try to give away kindness however I can, in any way I can, to any person I can, without expecting anything in return. The strength in times of trouble taught me to stay true to my identity, to be proud of who I am and to be brave. The pride in being Jewish opened my eyes up to the richness of our tradition, and encouraged me to adopt practices I once found archaic because I discovered their spiritual intent. The sense of community I felt wherever I was in Israel showed me that the people around me are just more-distant family, people who should receive the same love I would give to those closest to me.
But now I’m away from the sights, smells, tastes, feelings, places, and people that left me utterly entranced for a year. The average occurrences that regularly brought tears to my eyes are thousands of miles away, and of no concern to the people around me. The crazy adventures I had while rediscovering my homeland are now stories no one cares about, my incredible friends I experienced the past year with are faces on a screen or a series of text messages. My siddur that I carried through the desert and through Auschwitz is now an unnecessary book I brought to camp with elitist intent.
My ever-growing passion for Israel has turned into my crazy obsession for Israel. My t-shirts with Hebrew on them and elephant pants from the shuk make me an outsider. The fact that I turn off my phone on Friday night is weird not spiritual, my knowledge of Judaism makes me religious not educated.
And for now an outsider I will remain. I don’t know most of the biggest hit songs of the past year. My natural instinct is to say “yalla” instead of “let’s go.” I automatically play my Israeli music playlist in the car. I don’t know anything about sororities. Seeing a bacon cheeseburger still weirds me out. I have to stop myself from ordering food at a restaurant in Hebrew. I constantly zone out, my mind wandering back to Jerusalem or the beach in Haifa, my heart yearning for one more day with my friends in one of the many cities we fell in love with.
But as hard as it is, I couldn’t imagine my life without the past year. As much as it pains me to be so far away from the place I love so much, I know I made the right decision to go and live and explore and discover it. As much as I seethe in jealousy every time my friends post a Snapchat story of them walking through my favorite streets of Tel Aviv or wandering through the shuk, I recognize how lucky I was to learn every nook and cranny of that beautiful, crazy country. As much as my heart breaks every time I get an alert that there’s been another rocket, another stabbing, another tragedy that I’m too far away to share the burden and fear that my Jewish brothers and sisters face, I know that my people will come together in the tear-jerking resilience that I was fortunate enough to be inspired by in the past nine months.
For now, I adjust and remember. I try not to get too angry when the people around me don’t show interest in my year. I insist that the incessant comments mocking my love for Israel are out of a lack of understanding and not blatantly insulting. I listen to the latest drama and chime into gossip sessions, trying not to show my desire for a conversation that surpasses surface level. I show interest in the Greek life I don’t understand, and attempt to slip in little anecdotes from my year that would otherwise never be asked about. I remember the beach and the beautiful mosaic synagogue, the trails and the kosher for Passover pasta. I imagine the walk into Jerusalem’s Old City and marvel at the candid beauty of such a religious place. I feel the sticky heat of the desert and the anxiety that came along with making Shabbat plans. I feel shivers as I recall dancing with hundreds of strangers in solidarity at the wedding of the woman whose father and brother were killed weeks earlier in a terrorist attack, the giddiness of walking home after a late night at the shuk with my best friends.
I’m here, but part of me will always be there. I will always tear up a little watching the Israeli flag fluttering in the wind as I belt out HaTikvah, I will never take the 20 shekel bill out of my wallet. I will still cringe at American falafel and pepper my vocabulary with random Hebrew words, but it will get easier. Having this struggle means that I discovered Israel to its fullest; I can proudly call the Jewish State my home, even if I don’t physically live there right now.