It has been one year since I packed up my bags and boarded the two flights on British Airways that would take me to Israel, the place where I would live, work and learn for ten months. My bags were prepared with clothes, toiletries and snacks. My checking account held money from both Jews and non-Jews for when I couldn’t rely on my stipend. I headed out to an early morning breakfast at the home of Jacob, Noah and baby Joshua and was sad to leave behind the family I had come to love working for over the previous six months. After the boys’ dad, Danny, gave me $40 for the road, I headed back to my father’s apartment to finish up packing. My heart still felt glassy and while I was still a bit scared, I was mostly excited. I had the well-wishes in my mind from friends and family who told me to find friends, love, do good and to remember why I went to Israel. They were ready for it. I was ready for it.
My father helped me with my bags and we took a car to Logan Airport. He told me how he and his parents would pay for me to fly home if I couldn’t handle being there after six months. That only made me want to try harder. After printing my boarding pass, weighing and checking my bags and acquiring currency, my father and I had our final dinner together. He waited for me as much as he was able to in the line for security, told me I’d be safe on my flight because there was a priest in the line and then gave me a hug. After clearing security, it was off to take pictures with my Katniss Everdeen doll. She smelled like dreams.
*Katniss waiting at Logan Airport, August 26th, 2013*
As I sat at my gate waiting to fly to London, I couldn’t help but wonder how just under three years prior, I had been sitting at Logan awaiting a British Airways flight to London, the city where I would study abroad and intern for a semester. Was I ready to handle being abroad again after such a difficult experience in London? Could I handle being judged for not drinking all the time? For being inexperienced with boys? For dedicating my life to children? I told myself that I need not worry since I was the only one of my Birthrighters who had an education background and they still accepted me because we were all Jewish. And I knew that at least with Israel Teaching Fellows, I would be around people who had worked with children in some capacity, well, most of them, anyway. I had waited to go to Israel again after Birthright and I was determined to pay her back for the kindness she gave me during Birthright and for the help she gives the world, including being the ONLY country that sent assistance to my city of Boston when we were bombed by terrorists last year (see my post “The Only Country That Helped Boston.”) I pushed down my nervousness and remained delighted to go to the Holy Land. I at least could acknowledge three years after London what I had done wrong and what the people in my cohort had done wrong, too. And I was able to mainly acknowledge the underlying privilege I was to be having by being in Israel for my quarter-life crisis.
Once my flight to London began taxiing on the runway, I knew there was no turning back. I waved goodbye to America as the airplane headed up towards the sky while fluctuating between happiness as I was flying to a place where I hoped to find my dare-to-be-great situation and sadness over leaving my cushy job and the other families I babysat in Massachusetts. I used the bottle of wine that the flight attendant gave me to push down the scattered emotions and focused on a ray of gratitude that I could sense washing over me. I said a silent prayer to the people who were supporting me financially and emotionally on this new journey and headed off to be in a program I felt I was made to do.
I met four of the Fellows in ITF-Netanya at Heathrow Airport and sat next to a Fellow in ITF-Ashdod on the flight from London to Tel Aviv. Once I had finally landed in Israel after the bumpy flight, I breathed in the scents that permeated throughout Ben Gurion Airport—food, new beginnings and the sweet smell of bigger dreams than the ones my Katniss doll had back in Massachusetts.
These days, Israel isn’t far from my mind. I have had to be on the defensive about Israel ever since I came back home in June due to the sheer ignorance that has been expressed both on television and online in regards to Operation Protection Edge. Of course, unlike 99% of these people, I was actually in the country. I lived in Netanya, a city that was violently attacked by Palestinian suicide bombers in the early 2000’s. This didn’t appear to appease the nitwits that were spreading anti-Jewish trash and it lead to three friend deletions and two people hidden from my News Feed on Facebook. In fact, the only people who I could ever debate civilly about Israel with were the people I met there because, like me, they were actually there. We know that we have to speak up for Israel because we called that country our second home. And no matter how differently we view Israel, we still love her.
I haven’t left too much of my Israel life being in the sense that I keep busy these days by continuing to take care of children. It’s not a career I want to do forever as I have been in this field for ten years, but I’m nothing short of blessed that many of my old babysitting clients took me back (I’m sure the presents I bought them didn’t hurt), that the babysitting clients I don’t work with anymore due to their relocating still talk reverently about me when they’re called as references by new families and that I continue to get offers so that I can pay my bills after not having a livable income for ten months. I know that what I do is not considered edgy, but I sure am one heck of a good babysitter and nanny. If it hasn’t been clear in my posts, I rarely take credit for being good at anything. But taking care of children, yes, I do that pretty well.
Taking care of children is exhausting and while I am grateful to make money and to work with lovely children and both new and familiar parents, I still go to bed being happy the day is over. Still, no matter the stresses that taking care of children causes, both in Massachusetts and in Israel, this is still a part of me that I don’t mind reliving. As for being blessed with the best children to teach English to in Netanya, that is definitely an experience I would relive if I could do it all over again.
My students shared a zest for life and a taste for horrible pop singers. They spoke the same language—sometimes more than one, or even three—yet still worked in different ways. My students, the faculty at Bialik, the residents of Netanya and all the Israelis of every color, religion and nationality who love Israel and showed me the Israeli hospitality I heard so much about are the people I love best in this world.
I know that it sounds rather cliché, but I think that after having flown away to a faraway land across the world, I know that Israel’s heart and mine had been meant for each other. From the moment I left Israel after Birthright in 2012, my soul wasn’t complete until I landed in Israel again one year ago. I am bonded to her for eternity.
Some may say that one year ago I took a chance on Israel again. I didn’t. We took a chance on each other.