I was never the best Israel advocate…but I met someone through Masa Israel in 2014 who made me see Israel’s full potential. This man made me see Israel differently. Now that the person is no longer in my life—minus being a passing friend on Facebook—I find myself searching for the pieces that make me feel the way I felt for this man.
I remember when I first saw this man at a Masa seminar. My mouth had dropped open at how attractive he was—an Israeli who was slightly taller than me, piercing eyes and lovely smile. The inside of the room had suddenly become an uninhabitable breathing space. I needed an oxygen tank. Stat. When he introduced himself to me, my body was a raging, spreading fire and a big mass of nerves. It wasn’t love at first sight, but the more we got to know one another, the more I began to realize how perfect we were for each other. This man made me smile. He made me sing. He made me believe in hope. I would end up loving this man with all my heart…but giving away your heart to someone is hard. Eventually, there would be nothing left but regret, anguish, and eventually…heartbreak.
Every time I tried to tell you,
The words just came out wrong.
So I’ll have to say I love you in a song.
—Jim Croce, “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song”
I kept my distance from this man at the seminar, since I was too giddy around him. Since we had met on a Thursday, I called Cassie later in the evening as Thursday was our weekly phone date. We only had a few minutes, but I spoke about the man—the way he smiled, and laughed, and his scent. I didn’t miss a single detail. I rattled on about the man and how he made my entire being, body, soul and spirit crave him. He was everything I wanted. Sleep that night was pitiful and having to be up in a few hours to go gallivanting around Tel Aviv made me a bit cranky. But one smile from this man and all the troubles disappeared. Once I finally had chances to talk with the man, I tried to calm down for fear of coming on too strong. It was hard, as the more I learned about him, the more I wanted him: the sound of his laugh, full-throated and husky, the way his cheeks became rosy like apples when he smiled, the look he got in his eyes when he was on the phone trying to help out one of his brothers with something. I could tell this man was very thoughtful, very protective. And loyal to his family. I found myself thinking about what that must be like, being loved by someone loyal. The thought made my stomach churn painfully, as this is something I would never—and still have yet to—know.
The man and I spent more time together over the course of the evening. It was late and I was tipsy from too much wine a lovely Israeli girl had given me earlier. The man was a bit tipsy, too. Having been physically starved of male attention since a drunken hook-up in a bar on New Year’s Eve, I decided to test the waters. My flirting somehow did the trick, because after being carried bridal style by the man and then placed on his bed, his lips were on my mouth, his breath was on my neck and his hands ran over every inch of my body. I heard his laughter, his whispers and his shouts of ecstasy. I tasted the salt of his skin, the sugar on his tongue. He coursed through me, filling both my heart and mind. His scent lingered on me and my clothes—reminiscent of Israel after a rainstorm; earthy, clean, invigorating. Right then, he was all mine and all I wanted. I focused on the pleasure of the moment, as opposed to dwelling on the inevitable future pain.
The next morning, I replayed the night before over in my head. I remembered how it felt to have my head on this man’s lap, his arms around me, wrapping me in their warmth. How nice it felt to be around him, how easily my smiles came when he was in my presence. I could still feel the softness of his lips against mine and how exhilarating it was to move together in a good rhythm. We had some time to ourselves, and as I watched him make me coffee and try to get me to eat breakfast, I tried to think about what it would be like to have someone take care of me like this. After dealing with so many heartbreaks from various men over the years, I had convinced myself that I didn’t want to find someone, despite the extreme loneliness. Life was easier that way, so I suppressed my sadness and told myself that I enjoyed being single. And I did. That was not a complete lie; it just was not the whole truth either. If I could have someone like this man, then I would not want to be single again. But I had missed my shot. Between telling the man earlier about some bureaucratic issues I had dealt with while in Israel, I must have come off as some spoiled, American brat. My chance at love was over.
As I was far from Netanya, the man was kind enough to drive me to a nearby bus stop since it was still Shabbat and the buses near him would not be running for a few more hours. He put my overnight bag in the car and then we made small talk on our journey. I was not in the mood for chit chat since I was feeling blue about my upcoming departure and still feeling shaken about my first “morning after,” but I didn’t mind it at all with this man. I just wanted to hear his voice. We talked about the IHOP restaurants in America and the Russian population in Netanya. With anyone else, I would usually respond with one word answers, but I found myself mentioning small stories here and there, showing a part of my life I didn’t share unless it was with someone special. When the conversation began to stall, I saw that we were pulling up to the bus stop. My stomached flopped over in misery and I exhaled a deep breath. I wished the bus stop was further away. The man and I looked at each other as a few awkward seconds ticked by. I made the first move yet again, throwing my arms around his neck and hugging him as tightly as I could. I clung to him as I buried my face in his shoulder. It took a moment, but then his arms wrapped around my back and he placed a gentle kiss on my neck. “Thank you…for everything,” I told him. I hoped he could feel all the meaning behind it, since I have never been good at expressing thanks with words. It was a thank you for how kind he had been to me, for cheering me up after a difficult month. For letting me know that I needed to appreciate Israel for what she meant to the Jewish people, since I didn’t understand it at the time. The man smiled and we said we would see each other at a related Masa event at the end of the month. I grabbed my overnight bag, exited the car, shut the door and watched the car drive way. I felt the man slip away when all I wanted to do was hold his hand, hug him, touch him somehow, some way.
As I began the long journey back to Netanya, I tried to sleep. It was impossible. I bit the inside of my cheek in frustration, trying to process the balagan of emotions I had been feeling since the morning. Out the window and towards the horizon, the sun started to drop, inching down quietly towards the gentle slope of the Earth. Endless puffs of cumulus clouds appeared in the sky, showing off the sun’s warm orange glow like a burning ocean. During happier times in Netanya, these sunsets would amaze me with their magnificent, incomprehensible beauty. But now I felt rejected and alone, desolated and insignificant. The sunset left me cold. After getting to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv and fetching a bus to Netanya, I made sure to text the man once I returned home that I had arrived safely, to thank him for everything and that I would see him at the end of the month. He said it was his pleasure. I smiled, because that’s the kind of thing this man would do. Little butterflies of hope fluttered awake inside of my belly. I kept his number in my phone and I would think about calling him. I would type out a text message, but delete it before I could send it. As the month went by, I would become more nervous about trying to contact him. It was one thing to let him know I got home safely, but at this point it would seem…creepy? Random? Humiliating, no matter what. Besides, he never contacted me, either. I doubt he sat around thinking about me. So I went through the motions. I taught English to my students. I went to the gym. I hung out with my cohort. I would only focus on my next task. I barely acknowledged the world around me. When things were quiet during an afternoon nap or at night and my mind would go out of my control, I would think about the man, feeling his arms around me, or his lips on mine. I would shake my head and squeeze my eyes shut. The tears I had been fighting since I left the man would start to fall. I would let myself cry silently as to not wake up my roommate. I would try to talk about the issues with some of my closest Fellows, Aliyah, Dascher and Jade, but the words never came out. My sadness would not just make me sick emotionally, but physically sick. At one point, I thought I was pregnant. And for about two seconds, I wished I was. I knew, realistically, that I wasn’t and that even if I had been, I would have terminated the pregnancy since Israel has reproductive rights. I also would never have a baby just to keep a man around. But there was still a part of me that wanted a part of this man forever, even if I couldn’t have him. Rationality at least prevailed.
I wasn’t sure how to feel when I knew I would see the man at the Masa seminar at the end of the month. When he saw me sitting on a bench early on the Friday morning of the seminar, he came up to me and gave me a hug. I tried to sound casual, even though my heart was thudding painfully in my ears and I could barely hear my own voice. When we broke apart, I stared at him. He still had the same slope of his nose and his eyelashes were still long. It amazed me that they didn’t tangle together when he blinked. My eyes greedily soaked him in while my heart pumped at seeing him again. Everything came rushing back to me. Every butterfly, every feeling, and every bit of heartbreak and joy that came from our time together the month prior. The feeling of my fingers tangled in his hair, his mouth on the shell of my ear, his body hovering above me. We went on a hike with our group shortly thereafter, but I kept my distance. I thought about turning around and running back to the bus to get away. I wasn’t ready to face him. I don’t think I ever was. I thought I could be as cool as a cucumber and push my feelings away. But some force kept me from running, even though my soul was run down.
The man came up to me later on in the night after we had freshened up for Shabbat. We caught up on the past month, but I kept my head down the entire time and picked at my nails. I tried to tell him I was sorry if he thought I was a brat, that my time with him cheered me up, that he made me see Israel in a better light and that I wanted to make Aliyah. I had to stop several times and collect my thoughts. It hurt to admit these things out loud. Over the years, I had gotten used to bottling up my emotions so as not to appear weak, so having this conversation with the man went against all my instincts. My mental state was not the best during our time together and the only words I could find to describe my apology seemed insufficient. I wish I had had the courage to say how much he meant to me. How attractive I thought he was. How I could be the girl for him if he would just give me a chance. He gave me a hug and said he was happy he could cheer me up and that I had changed from a month ago. He asked if I was okay since I looked sad, but I lied and said I was fine. He said we could catch up later, but that never materialized. And I was stupid to think it would.
I barely made it out of bed the next day, hardly touched my food and cried during some downtime. One of my roommates dragged me outside during the afternoon, but sitting across the man as he played some board game was painful. It was even more painful when he left the game with a girl who had been sitting with us and how one of the guys in our group said how cute the man and this girl looked together. I had to run back into the hostel before I lost it. Now it was clear how I felt about the man. I had measured every other man I had been with in Israel against him. No one else compared. But he was too amazing for the likes of me. I knew that I was lucky, so, so lucky, to have the time we spent together and to feel wanted for a short period of time. To have shared a part of his life. It was enough.
It had to be.
But it hurt so much to see the man with this girl. It hurt to think about him smiling at her, whispering sweet nothings in her ear, kissing her. Wrapping her in his strong arms, loving her. How could I ever be around the man again and act like he hadn’t ripped my heart out? I had to push down these thoughts as I struggled through Havdalah and could barely speak when the man had asked me about my Shavuot plans. I had hoped and prayed for an invitation back to his town, but it didn’t happen. After grabbing my things from my room next door, I ran downstairs as quickly as I could. My vision was blurring as I said goodbye to the people in my group, the head of the seminar and the man. He gave me a hug and when we separated, I sniffed, trying to keep my emotions in check. I put on a brave face as I left, since I didn’t want it to appear that it was bothering me that I was leaving. If I started to cry, he may have felt sorry for me, so I hightailed it out of the hostel because I couldn’t stay there one second longer. I then walked the thirty minutes to the bus stop. It was a long street with nowhere to hide and not enough trees to mask how sad I was feeling. But at this point, it was adamantly clear that I was too far gone to ignore the hurt.
I crossed the street as quickly as I could once I finally saw the bus stop. It was eerily quiet. I sat on the bench trying to calm myself down when, lo and behold, one of my Fellows appeared. She was all giddy, telling me how she had been looking for me. I told her I had to leave because I was getting emotional. She asked if I was still emotional. As soon as I nodded my head, I had to fight the memories—the sight of the man, his scent and the feeling of being wrapped in his arms sent me reeling back in time. There was no holding back the tears now. She asked me if I was emotional over the man and I said I was. When she asked me if he said something to hurt me, I said how he barely said two words to me. She was shocked and I told her that the man did nothing wrong and that I was done doing one-night stands because of how empty I felt afterwards. My Fellow and I got on a bus and she calmed me down. She said my decision was the right one and that she understood why I was so upset. I had cried to her in the past and she would listen attentively. I at least knew in this moment that I could admit out loud that I would never find someone like the man. He was irreplaceable. My Fellow and I walked and talked while on the way back to our apartment and then I spent the rest of the night watching Daria with another Fellow and was able to laugh for a bit. Before I went to bed, I saw my haggard expression. My eyes were red from crying and had dark circles underneath them. My entire face looked troubled. The culmination of another rough month, between not sleeping well and having my demons haunt me throughout my days, made my emotional state about as fragile as an eggshell. One slight tap and I would break in two. I hung out in Tel Aviv the next day with my friend, Adina before she was due to fly back to Boston. After we said our goodbyes, I walked past the hotel where I first met the man a month prior. I ran down the street until I could no longer see it and then fetched a bus back to Netanya. I took one last, long look out the window at Tel Aviv before I turned my head and collapsed into my seat. It was about time for me to return to reality; I just hoped I could do it this time.
I had less than a month to go before I would move back to Boston.
I never saw the man again.
Life eventually moved on as I got used to being back in America. I thought of the man often, especially during the war that Hamas had—not surprisingly—started, and would check the news every day to make sure he was not one of the Israeli casualties. As old babysitting clients took me back and new ones employed me, I told my stories about the man. The months wore on and then in December, I flew out to Las Vegas for a few days to visit one of my Australian cousins, Jackie and her partner, Stu. I had not seen Jackie since I was a child. I told her about the man and asked her what to do. Her niece, Sierra, was in Boston after I got back from my vacation and even though I was meeting her for the first time, I asked her what to do as well. I told the both of them how hard it was to forget and move on from the man…because I still loved him. I told them that my words were misconstrued when I told the man about the bureaucratic issues I dealt with in my program and that while they were annoying, I was unhappy with those issues, and not Israel herself. Maybe I deserved this pain after everything I said to the man. They both told me that the best course of action was to friend him on Facebook and to send him a message. The idea of doing that, which was reminiscent of some cheesy Lifetime movie, was so appalling, that even thinking about it made me want to crawl into a hole. But the truth was, I was afraid; afraid to confess my love, afraid to be rejected and afraid to lose him a second time. I had no strength or courage to even add the man on Facebook, let alone send him a love letter, even though it weighed on my mind for a long time. I could never be convinced I deserved the man, either. Jackie and Sierra had their own loves, so I think they were a bit blinded by their hope that the man and I would have a fairytale ending. Even if by some miracle that the man wanted to be with me permanently, I would have to make a lot of changes in order for that to happen. Just like with Butterfly, I would have to want kids, become a vegan and make Aliyah. There were probably other things, too. But I would have done those things. Although I never did send a love letter to the man, I did request him as a friend on Facebook after a client had pestered me. He accepted right away, but we have never spoken, minus me sending him birthday wishes back in 2015.
When I had the opportunity to staff my first Birthright trip last year (see my post “Babies Got Me Birthright,”) I sent a group message on Facebook to the man, among other people, that I would be in Israel. It was only a few days’ notice and he probably would not have been free anyway, but at least I tried. I did think that if I did see him, even if it was briefly, that I would break down. I didn’t think I was strong enough to face him. But I had hoped for some closure; a real goodbye. To talk to him once more, let him know how wrong I was about life and let him go from my heart. I was done with thinking about him and pondering the what-ifs. I knew that, deep down, trying to see him was a wild idea. But I had this primeval need to see him just one more time since nothing else had helped me get over him over a year and a half after we first met. I envisioned meeting up during my group’s designated night out in Tel Aviv and trying to tell him a million things about how wrong I was in the past, what I needed to do better and how I was doing my best to try to show how much I loved Israel. I had always heard that time is supposed to heal you. But as my heart and head battled for dominance, it was clear that it hadn’t. As I looked around Tel Aviv to see how not much had changed physically since I had left it back in 2014, I couldn’t help but think about how much I had changed, despite this one hang up. But my inner anguish would never be fully killed, since the man saw the message on Facebook and never responded. Even just over a year later, it’s still there. These days, all the feelings inside me battle with each other: frustration, dejection, anger clashing with lust, hope and love. The man has made me feel all these things. I should hate him for it, but I can’t.
I live now, and, for the most part, I thrive. I am trying to take care of myself for the first time in years. I have lost nineteen pounds in the last six months through personal training and exercise. I get new clients all the time. I paid off my bachelor’s degree after five and a half years since graduating college. But there is always bedtime. I cannot distract my mind at bedtime. Bedtime is when sadness slams me like blocks of concrete. Bedtime is when after a day of seeing my Masa comrades on Facebook living with their Masa loves turns into a night of missing mine. Trying to balance this happy and sad dichotomy is hard. But I try and remain grateful for another day, wonderful children to care for and that Israel exists. But then I will lay my head down and miss the man with every beat of my heart, the heart that somehow has continued to beat.
Turning twenty-eight in a month, I don’t doubt that there is a man out there who is right for me. But I think of this man who came into my life and that I screwed it up. I know that, rationally, I will be okay as time passes. I am forever grateful for what the man did for me and how he made me never stop loving Israel. In some strange way, I am glad we did not have a permanent relationship when we were in Israel. We were both too young and too inexperienced with the troubles of life.
But things could be different now. I hope that one day I can see him again, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I need to see him like Israel’s arid air needs a rainstorm.
There is still pining for the man. I think that it will remain inside of me until I find a man who will love me unconditionally. I will never shake the man completely out of my soul and a part of me will always love him. But now I am moving towards acceptance. Acceptance that one time together is all I could have with the man.
And I have to be okay with that.