I spent my Chanukah vacation in London. This trip to London, my home for three and a half months three years ago, was not a trip that came easily. I had been waiting on a refund from Israeli higher-ups for months and I wanted to put that money towards a plane ticket, but the waiting for the money, combined with an issue on the home front, caused me to break and made going to London even more imperative.
I needed to see my family more than anything. With emails getting me nowhere with my refund and dealing with things on the home front, I went to the beach, called my second cousin, Martyn, told him that I would make it to London no matter what and then bawled on the phone to my father. The last time my father heard me cry had been over a year prior when I told him that graduate school was not a feasible option for me at that time.
Come the next evening, after being uplifted by my amazing students like always, I had been replying to an email my father sent me asking if there had been any progress with either of my situations. I told him there hadn’t been, but that once I had received my refund (which thankfully came a week later once my madrich got involved), I was booking a flight to London. Sure enough, my father emailed me back saying that he’d help me with a flight. I figured I would get $100 at most, but then he said he could spare $600 towards a flight. My father is not wealthy, and what he did for me by doing this is something I will never be able to repay him for. Seeing the words dance off the email like ballerinas, I covered my mouth in shock. Needless to say, once I handed in my indemnity form to my madrich, I booked my ticket to London. I secured housing for every day and night of the trip—with my sister, Devon, Martyn and his wife, Estelle and two of my other second cousins, Hilary and her husband, Wally. Even though October and November had some tough times, I knew London would soothe my soul. And soothe my soul it did.
Of course, as much as I tried to blend into London this time around, I realized how much of a pseudo-Israeli I have become. With the other members of my cohort, I try to use Hebrew with them as much as I can. This can be an issue, like the time I had to call one of my credit card companies last month and kept saying things like ken and todah rabah. I had to stop myself and apologize, seeing as the man had no clue what I was saying. I say these words and phrases, among many others, on a daily basis and since they are in my vernacular now, breaking away from them is hard. It was difficult not to say slicha while trying to get off of the train and since Israelis drive on the right side of the road, I had to remember this when trying to catch a bus. It seems that I’m no longer the pseudo-Londoner I once was.
I’m PROUD of bringing my Israeli life to London. Whenever I had the chance (like when talking to a cashier), I would talk about what I was doing in Israel—being an English teacher and trying to learn more about the country. It’s one thing for a Londoner to read something or watch something about Israel on TV (which, odds are, is probably not positive), but to see and listen to a person in the flesh, really see and listen to them, is what I hope can change any misconceptions about the country. This is something that I have been doing long before this vacation. I hope I’ve achieved some level of success.
Another part of my Israeli life that I brought to London with me was my love for my family. My younger sister, Devon and I have never gotten along, but she had emailed me randomly back in October to tell me that she loved this blog. She is currently studying abroad in London and I’ve done my best to give her tips on how to save money and what places to go to. I never thought in a million years that I would ever want to hang out with my sister or to ask for a place to stay, but with both of us being so physically isolated from our family (as she hadn’t met the English relatives yet), it made us take solace in each other’s company. I called her the minute I got to Sloane Square and she came there to fetch me. I gave her a hug. I haven’t done that since she was a child (she’s twenty now.) We met up with Hilary for a quick bite to eat and then it was off to the flat that her boyfriend, Will was renting for the night. Since I had arrived on Thanksgiving, Devon wanted to have a makeshift Thanksgiving meal. This was the second time I was in London during Thanksgiving, but at least this trip didn’t involve a trip to the emergency room like three years ago! Will, who turned out to be a great guy, cooked up most of the meal. It was so nice to not have to cook for a change! We then headed out to an outdoor carnival in Hyde Park called Winter Wonderland. I went there three years ago but didn’t have the best memories, so I was glad to make happier ones. I was definitely an Israeli at this carnival since the weather would not have bothered me had I come straight from Boston but now I was freezing due to being used to such a warm climate in Israel. I was also floored at seeing Christmas everywhere. I never even think about Christmas being in Israel!
*Too cold, but at least my Israeli student ID card got me a discount on the ice sculpture ticket!*
I spent the night at Will’s flat and attempted to Skype with my father and grandparents, but I ended up passing out, face first on the bed, from jetlag. After eventually getting a good night’s sleep, I headed to to my old hunting grounds of Kensington. I met up with a friend whom I had met at my alma mater in London, Meg. She’s currently a grad student there. We spent the day being tourists and reminiscing about our old lives in Kensington. She’s visited Israel in the past, so it was nice to talk about that, too.
(And, for the record, it was so nice being able to get an eggnog latte from Starbucks and my Bulmers cider. I first tried those—along with many other things—in London and they were worth every pound and calorie.)
*I love Aroma, but I am a sucker for seasonal Starbucks drinks. Christmas may have lots its meaning, but at least yummy drinks came out of it.*
After Meg and I parted ways, it was off to see my cousins. The only cousins in London whom I had seen this year had been Estelle and her and Martyn’s daughter, Rochelle when we met up in New York City for Estelle’s birthday. Martyn I hadn’t seen my Birthright trip when he and Estelle met up with me in Tel Aviv. I had not seen their son, Jerry, a former IDF soldier, since I used to live in London. Even though I didn’t get to see Rochelle this trip since she was on vacation in Thailand with her husband, seeing her brother and her parents had meant the world. They became my surrogate parents when I lived in London and still continued to treat me like a princess. I was able to finally meet more of my cousins on this trip and they were all wonderful, too. I met two of Estelle’s brothers, Jack and Jeff and Jeff’s twin sister, Sharon. Jeff has two boys, Sam and Paul, and I met two of Sharon’s three daughters, Hannah and Clare. Hannah has a baby boy named Reon and I was overjoyed to finally have a baby in the family. Lastly, I met Sharon’s partner, Gary, his daughter, Jemma, and Jemma’s son, Jack. How I loved being around the younger children again. I adore all my students, but my childcare expertise is with younger children. I was the only person who was able to get Reon to stop crying and I entertained Jack by giving him a piggyback ride. It had always been one thing to say that I had the Midas Touch with kids, but now I could prove it. Just like I fuss over the kids in Israel, I fussed in London, too. My heart was full. A whole lot of yang caught up with any yin I had been feeling and the only complaint I could come up with was that my cheeks hurt from smiling.
*Doing what I do best–taking care of kids! (Myself and baby Reon.)*
I had also been able to meet up with my second cousin, Valerie, her husband, Lawrence and their daughter Amanda. After meeting with them for a quick bite, it was off to Hilary and Wally’s for the rest of my trip. The change in scenery was nice (they’re farther out of London) and their house reminded me of my grandparents’. I brought my Israeli life to them by teaching them Hebrew words, ordering falafel and hummus (yes, I know these foods aren’t Israeli; they’re just consumed a lot here) at a Mediterranean restaurant that we went to and making them Israeli salad for dinner. Their hospitality, along with the hospitality of my other family members, is what I encounter from Israelis on an almost daily basis. Is there anything better than watching people you love show love to you? My heart lifted at the way my family took care of me, people who cooked me meals, drove me places and made me never want for anything. Lucky me.
I went to London to eat and drink the things that I can’t get here, see my family, sight-see, catch up on sleep and to praise Israel. The locale was inconsequential really, but the things that never fail to refresh my perspective and patience felt imperative—time away with my family to be together, to break routine and to reconnect. I may have spent more hours lounging around than outside, but I fit in many fun things. And no matter how long it’s been seen we’ve seen each other, I am always glad to go to London, a place that makes me feel like I should wag my tail, and to family who, upon my return, would if they had one.
I do admit that, as much as I love Israel, returning back here was hard. I missed my family terribly, but I knew I’d have my cohort and students to bring me back. Getting back to all of them, though, was not an easy feat. I arrived back to Ben Gurion Airport last Thursday and was able to meet up with one of my Fellows, Aliyah. We were trying to catch the train back to Netanya, but since rain shuts down this country (like London does with snow as I learned from the Hell at Heathrow in December of 2010), there were no trains running. Aliyah and I made our way to a bus, and in true Israeli fashion, we pushed and shoved to get onto the bus. We made it and the driver didn’t charge anybody anything. Aliyah and I took a cab back to our apartment and split the cab fare. As I was sitting in the cab, a sense of security came over me. Jews have always told me that they feel freer as Jews here. I never understood them until I was looking around at the shop names through the cab windows. While I don’t walk around with any “Jewish” jewelry and have a very non-Jewish name, I still know where to keep my guard up about being Jewish. I shouldn’t have to, but that is reality. I knew this being in London, and saw it even more so with the country being all decked out for Christmas. Yet in Israel, I can just be. It’s just one of the many things I love about living here.
I love that Israel identifies new technologies, that my students speak English to me with more enthusiasm than accuracy and that my cohort is heavy with all kinds of awesome. Israel is considered, warm-hearted, careful and wondrously perceptive. Israel lets Jews be Jews. I have seen Israel take off in so many ways since I’ve been here, in so many amazing directions. At the rate she’s going, I have a feeling my best memories could someday simply mean the sand under my feet.
Israel may be hot as a mess comes sometimes, a true performance art rendition of Dante’s Inferno. A circus act, always prepared for disaster, whatever she is, I feel like I am smack in the middle of the good days. I love watching this country take off and I love the idea of being in this world to live a life different from my life in Massachusetts. I love this country. And I cannot wait to see where I’ll go, taking Israel with me along the way.