1. I am fully aware that what I am about to write is the epitome of a first-world problem, and I accept that.
2. I am also aware the Tel Aviv has more coffee shops than I could visit in a lifetime, and that if God had said to Abraham “I will make your descendants as numerous as the cafes of Tel Aviv,” the meaning would have been the same as “stars of the sky.”
Bearing that in mind, I cried today. I cried in a way that I don’t think I’ve cried in public since I was sixteen and dealing with boyfriend drama in the way that only a girl from Long Island can. Today, I cried in this same dramatic, irrational way because my favorite cafe in Tel Aviv closed.
Yes, I’m aware of how crazy that sounds.
The first time I went to this cafe, I was nine years old. I was in Israel visiting my great-grandmother for the first time. I was reveling in newfound freedoms and pleasures. For the first time, I was not only allowed, but encouraged, to walk places alone. While my parents were relaxing or getting ready, I could go to the cafe by myself and order the iced-cafes that made me feel so mature. The Hebrew words that I knew best came from that cafe, and I could order flawlessly (although not with much variety).
When I thought back to that summer in Israel, the places that came to mind were my savta’s apartment, the beach, and this cafe. And since that initial trip, the one that hooked me on Israel and set me on the path that lead me to making aliyah, those were the places that always stood out in my head as the center of my Israel.
I’ve realized (thanks to the strange looks that I’ve gotten from many of my friends) that my connection to this cafe isn’t exactly normal. But for me, it’s become more than a place where I get coffee and salad whenever I’m in town. It’s become a site of pilgrimage, my own personal mecca. My friends call it The Corner of Sam’s Happiness, and they’re right. It’s the place where I learned to be comfortable being alone. It’s where I can sit, by myself, and feel completely secure. It’s whereI come to relax, to work, to soak in the reality of my aliyah and the fact that now, for the first time in my life, I can access my happy place whenever I want.
I’ve even meditated on it. When I’m asked to focus on my happy place, the place where I feel most comfortable, I’m lucky enough to have lots of options: the beach, my parent’s house in New York, my bed. But my mind always goes back to this little cafe. It doesn’t matter that it’s not at all peaceful, that instead of tranquility it offers constant Tel Aviv traffic and noise. It doesn’t even matter that I can objectively say that there’s better coffee in many other places, and pretty equal menu options literally down the block. This was my spot, someplace that to everyone else appears non-descript, but for me has always had special significance.
For me, this coffee shop represented Israel. For years growing up, nobody understood why I felt so passionately about Israel, why it mattered so much to me, or what made it so special. It was something that was just mine, that I loved beyond reason, would return to over trying something new any chance I got, and the source of so much happiness for me over the years.
And now, just months after my aliyah, this place has changed. My spot is gone. My prime people-watching, blogging, studying location. It sucks. But, after taking a few minutes (hours) to breathe and relax, I’m sitting in a new cafe. It’s only a few blocks away, on the same street, and while I don’t have years worth of memories here, they make a great smoothie.
Making aliyah has meant that my relationship with Israel has to change, and adapt to real life instead of trips focused solely around fun. It means that I’ll need to find a new spot, but luckily, I have lots of time to do it. And, when I need it, I’ll still be able to go back to the Corner of My Happiness, and smile at whatever’s in that storefront now, remembering the years of simple joy that brought me to living in Israel.