“Her name is Barbra. I met her at a gay bar last year, and took her home,” my friend said while he handed me the grey and brown tabby cat.

“The other one is Icy Jaffa. We met during the war last summer by Jaffa Gate. I felt these eyes on me, and I looked over and there she was, just staring at me.”

Icy Jaffa looks just like her name: White fur, and eyes the color of those blue glass charms that all of Abraham’s grandchildren carry to ward off the evil eye.

He hands me two big bags of cat food and two collars to go around their necks.

“You can change their names if you want,” he tells me. “They’re yours now.”

He’s leaving Israel. My friend who knows Jerusalem like the back of his hand – each holy site in the Old City, all the best gay bars in the center of town. He’s leaving Israel – because, really, it’s fucking hard here. And anyone who says it isn’t hard for someone like my friend – or someone like me, for that matter – is a liar or drank waaaay too much kool aid at a Nefesh B’Nefesh mixer ‪#‎SorryNotSorry‬

For a while, I tried to find reasons for him to stay, and I tried to be like the best cheerleader EVER with blue and white pompoms.

“You can’t leave!”

“Have you sent your resume to…? Oh, you have? Ok. What about….? Oh, there too? Well… shit.”

“Dude, I’ll buy you a lifetime supply of kanaffe!”

But I get it.

People make Aliyah for different reasons – mine were complicated – I came with a once-husband and our kids.  The fact we’re family is forever, but our marriage isn’t.

So I’m here.

I also am here because I believe in Israel and our potential as a nation of many – I believe in the the creativity, the optimism, the HOPE that have helped us shape this place.

So I’m here.

But unlike most American olim here, I am not attached to the holiness of the land.   I see only land.  And it’s beautiful – from its seas to its deserts to its mountains to its cities,  and yeah, look for me on a Friday afternoon, and you’ll find me watching the sunset on the edge of my Green Sea — my fields of wheat and cactus and clementine trees rolling toward the horizon.   But…straight up, the most beautiful thing about Israel are its PEOPLE.

All of the people.

So, yes Israel IS holy: but not because King David may have peed under some tree but because of the people who live here now.

It’s also expensive here – and not everyone can work in their dream job and make it work.

My friend is a tour guide – and tourism is so far down its almost in the minus – so how is he expected to do what he’s good at and make a living?

And he’s tried other things – he’s sent out resumes, he’s gone on job interviews, he’s taken different jobs, but nothing’s worked.

But somehow I think it’s more than that.

Because I’d be lying if I told you I never think about leaving.

I do think about leaving. It’s hard here – it’s fucking hard. And I’M one of the lucky ones with a job I love, and two golden kids who laugh with all their teeth showing like true Israelis.

It’s expensive.  It’s exhausting.  And, for people like me who don’t fit into any community, it can be really lonely.

So yeah, I think about it a lot sometimes – but I’m still here. Probably because I have a massive bone to pick with the current state of affairs here, and it’s a lot better to do that here instead of on a beach somewhere sipping margaritas and eating nachos.

(Besides, I fucking hate margaritas.)

And probably because I so desperately need to believe in this place – and I do believe in this place because of my friends here, including THIS friend.

Which makes it even harder that he’s leaving.

I won’t be able to drink black coffee with cardamon with him by Herrod’s Gate, or joke about our diet at Al Nassir, or go to the roof of the yeshiva by the Kotel.

I won’t be able to call him and say “I’m at Jaffa gate, where you at?”

He’s leaving of because it’s hard here and I am out of reasons why he should stay.

And now Israel seems a little less holy.