Today marks three months in Israel. Time flies as they (the ever ubiquitous “they”) say. November has been full of busy-ness and firsts. I am still teaching four days a week. I am now in Ulpan twice a week. After Ulpan, I immediately head to my krav maga class with one of my Fellows, Stephanie. I volunteer at an orphanage once a week in order to give the kids the love and attention that my mother didn’t give me growing up. I go to the required ITF group activity afterwards and do the required ITF seminars and meetings on Sundays. To say that I’m busy would be an understatement.
Then we have the firsts. I had my first heartbreak by an Israeli boy who recently completed his stint in the IDF. That was pain like no other. I began doing my volunteering. I dealt with my first batch of sickness and missed teaching for the first time. I was able to go to a seminar last week that was optional and I met some great people. I have no doubt that December will have some firsts, too.
As always, I continue to think of my students and how much both they and I have continued to grow over this month. My students seem to be old heads on young shoulders. Sometimes their pens are wet, which is a sign that they’ve been chewing on them, lost in thought. I can almost hear what is on their minds; almost see their thoughts traveling upwards. Confusion over English serves only to light them on fire. It is almost like their brains are blowing up with ideas and with a lot of questions. When their voices say, “I don’t get it,” their faces suggest that they are ready to learn. Every one of their features exhibits the kind of curiosity that practically spells out the word yet. My students deserve to survive the world with at least half of the wonder they are so full of at their young ages.
Most days at school, it seems likes there is a surplus of sound. There are chairs scraping the floors in the hallway and screaming, sneezes and lots of goodbyes, and those are just the acoustics of a regular morning. My students’ mostly happy rackets could rival a hundred revelers, but I know my students do not have a monopoly on commotion.
When my students are not fizzing, I hear what is in my own head. Taylor.TAYLOR.TAYLOR. My students try to get my scattered attention. Watch! They show me how they wrote a word or a picture that they drew. They ask questions in English and I ask them questions in Hebrew. We bounce off of each other. Through the volume, underneath the noises, my students are susurrations of life. Their shy requests to use the sherutim. The soft rustling of the plastic bags that contain the snacks that they always offer to Brian and me. The endangered sound of jumping down the stairs, of the random music that plays over the speakers during their breaks in the morning, of little child heartbeats in tight hugs.
They chase each other in the hallways, screaming words I cannot understand, other students nodding and yelling out Beseder! My students are forest fires, rocket ships, high speed trains and whirlwinds. I am not sure who has passed me sometimes. I have to pencil in quiet time, or I think I will go nuts. At least when nothing is drowning out my own thoughts and I manage to get a second to dream, I dream of bigger dreams for my students than I will ever dream for myself.
When my students are not there to sustain my life, I have my cohort. I have a different relationship with every single one of them and as the next seven months go by, I hope to keep on strengthening these relationships. Unlike my London cohort, I don’t feel judged when I don’t know the rules in a social situation (as I’m now having to learn the rules about boys since they’ve been coming into the picture, albeit infrequently) or if I’m sad. It can be difficult to articulate the complexities of sadness in slow motion and it’s harder to watch them happen. This past month, I have had so many jagged days, the kind that leave me emotionally gutted and when any semblance of a composed exterior cracks open to reveal the entire mystifying ordeal. I know I am entitled to anger when things go wrong, but I feel like it’s a disgrace to grasp at them when my other Fellows have more pressing concerns. I know that one of the greatest gifts I can give myself through grief is permission to be where I am, feel what I feel and to live without frustration or judgment. I just wish my shoulders would relax because they ride really high. I don’t want to have these feelings and I don’t want to let them have me. That’s why my cohort is here—to keep me in check.
I wish I could be as amazing as they are. I know my cohort likes me and respects my work, but I wonder what I can offer them in return for their kindness and intelligence. My childcare expertise is with children younger than five, ages that none of them currently work with. While it was a challenge in London being the only person in my cohort who had ever worked with children in any capacity, I liked that I was the expert in something. With quite a few of my Fellows being certified to teach in classrooms (I’m just certified to teach infants and toddlers in a daycare), I’m no longer an expert in the field that I worked in for nine years. I can’t offer my Fellows tips on breastfeeding, another one of my areas of expertise, since none of them plan on having children right now. What good would it do me to tell them about the hegemony found in Disney films, the truth about Thanksgiving or all that Massachusetts has accomplished? They can’t use any of this information. I wish I could do makeup and hair like Dascher or Yana, cook schnitzel like Samantha, see through people like glass the way Seth does, recognize when sadness is etched into someone’s face like Jade can, take photographs like Leah, offer tips on the difference between dalets and reishes like Megan, give financial advice like Alisa or fitness advice like Debbie, pick out a SIM card like Mhaya and have Gili translate text messages from the phone company that doles out the aforementioned SIM card. I can do none of those things. All I can offer are band-aids and aloe vera.
I appreciate all the times my cohort has listened to me groan, whine or tell them stories. I wish I did better. I wish I could offer them more. I wish I WAS better. I mean to be…but with the damage that my London cohort did to my self-esteem, it’s hard to be better. I just hope my cohort understands how much I love, appreciate and admire them. I have looked up to them as long as I can remember, whether they were telling me about their lives back home or why they gave up ten months (and sometimes more) of their lives to come to Israel, no matter what has gone down between all of us…they ARE amazing. I admire them. I am so proud of them. I envy them and I look up to them. They are people to be extolled and I am glad that they support me. They make me a better person.
Every day, my Fellows wake up along the fading fringe of a dream, trying ardently to tell the tales they see behind their eyelids. They wake up ordering new ideas for breakfast. They build stories like sand castles, shaping granules into grandeur. They have an inventiveness I hope won’t ever be washed away but will get bigger with the tide of their burgeoning body of language.
They run through the hallways, screaming, being scared of spiders and their empty wallets.
Get out of here! (Shelly)
Sleepy kitty, happy kitty… (Aliyah)
Teach me how to Taylor… (Brandon)
(“Kumquat,” by the way, is currently Brandon’s favorite nickname for me. He has to work so hard to say it without me rolling my eyes.)
My Fellows understand concepts that I know I under-define and they architect new Hebrew words with accuracy. They spend time reading, writing, teaching, packing their brains like pails, upending buckets and unveiling ideas for this big world to see. Delightful and determined, they own the stories that they tell and the space that they occupy.
When I am next to my Fellows, be it at a lecture, seminar or when some of us recently went to see Catching Fire (which was nothing short of amazing) last week, I think about today and tomorrow too, grateful for an average day and hopeful for a million more.
As I prepare to head to Ben Gurion Airport in a few hours in order to wait to begin my week-long vacation in London with my family and a friend from when I studied abroad there three years ago, I think of the fact that while I may the only person in London with a tan right now, I am also the only person who can choose to be me. I can choose optimism. I can choose my attitude. I can choose to revel in a week of fish and chips, eggnog lattes from Starbucks and Swedish cider. I can choose to appreciate this ephemeral life.
As I have hit the third month in the Holy Land, I think of everything that I have been through and how lucky I am to have such wonderful students, lovely teachers, a fantastic cohort, friends back home who root for me and my family–the American, English and Australian alike–who help me when I need it. I think that if after everything I have endured, all the stress and pain, that if me being able to have all these amazing people in my life was always meant to happen, then it was worth it and that I would do it all over again without hesitation.