Today my madricha posted this picture on Facebook that she took of my cohort a few weeks ago when we were at one of our many pedagogical training sessions. She wished us a happy anniversary as the majority of us have been in Israel for a month. I can’t believe I have been here for a month.
This week it felt like the sun has shined without mercy and that the trees have been very stingy with their shade. The water in the sea is rough and the nights are getting colder. There are so many stray cats and despite the fact that September has been essentially a one-month vacation, there is never enough sleep. My laments, mostly, come from a blessed and well-equipped life here and I’m loath to admit I have any at all. At least when I’m on the balcony that’s located on my floor in my apartment building and I look up at the stars, I know I’m lucky to be morose about so little.
But, despite this, being thousands of miles away from America has allowed me to see what I have had to leave behind in the States. When I moved to Israel last month, I intended to show this country that I can be a pseudo-Israeli and forget about my life at home. What I’ve ended up doing is perusing pictures of my friends and family on Facebook and seeing a life that is no longer mine.
I gave up a fantastic nanny job. Jacob, Noah and baby Joshua, along with their parents, were the kindest people I knew. Their support for me was overwhelming and this job was the first job I have had in seven years that made me want to get up in the morning. The other families that I babysat for in Massachusetts were wonderful, too. I didn’t see myself being a nanny and a babysitter—especially after my first awful nanny experience last year—but I did well at my job and I was respected. Since their grins and arms do not reach out and grab me anymore, then maybe the arms on the stray cats here will.
There are other things I’ve left behind and they may seem silly to some, but they were important to me. I gave up my mother tongue. I gave up having a living wage and I worry about where my next meal will come from. I gave up my Jewish community back in Boston. I gave up being the go-to short-term babysitter for my client’s friends who needed a babysitter in a pinch. The hardest thing I’ve had to give up—besides the kids—is my family. I already had difficulties with my father and my grandparents because they’ve never approved of my career choices, but moving here made things even worse. My father did calm down about Israel after the Boston Marathon Bombings as now he realized that he can’t say that Israel is dangerous when terrorism happened 20 minutes away from where we live, but I know he—and my grandparents—would be happier with me if I had been a “good” Jew and went on to become a doctor or a lawyer, or at least married one. When I come home next year, I don’t even know what our relationship will be like.
Then there are my British cousins. I met most of them when I lived in London and they treated me like a princess. My second cousins, Martyn and Estelle, became my surrogate parents since I couldn’t rely on my cohort. I see them once or twice a year if I’m lucky and every time I do, they are always amazing. I was able to see them on Birthright last year since they were visiting their son, Jerry, who was in the IDF at the time and they were also celebrating their daughter, Rochelle’s, birthday. Martyn and Estelle met me at my hotel in Tel Aviv, gave me cake and cookies and bought me a drink, ice cream and hot cider. I never have to want for anything with them. They assured me that I had a place to stay back during the December 2010 snowstorm that shut down Heathrow Airport and they gave me some money for Israel. Even with my difficulties in London, I wouldn’t trade that experience because I got to meet them all.
*Estelle, Martyn and myself, Birthright 2012*
Rochelle, my favorite cousin, is nothing short of amazing, either. She’s beautiful, bright and down-to-earth. She also gave me some money for Israel and told me how proud she is of me. If I could even be half as successful as she is, I could die a happy person. I have my other British cousins, Valerie and Lawrence, their two kids, Amanda and Simon, Amanda’s two kids, Daniel and Sophie and Simon and his wife Cheryl’s two sons, whom I all adore and love deeply. I only met my Australian cousin, Jackie and her two sons, Matthew and Ryan, once when I was a kid, but they are fantastic people, too. I’ve never met my cousin Jeff or his family, but I don’t doubt we’d have a wonderful time together if we ever meet. My aunt, Laurie, is American but she’s the best aunt anyone could ever want. When my mother was beginning to lose custody of my younger sister and I nine years ago, my aunt was the first person to volunteer to take us if my father couldn’t.
Rounding out my family is my second cousin, David. He is the person who convinced me to move to Israel in the first place. I had been in New York this past January to visit my best friend, Cassie and two of our friends from college, Jenna and Malin. David lives in New York as well and my few trips to New York each year usually involve a visit to see him. He told me that I needed to do this program for my soul and that I needed to follow my heart. That was all it took to get the paperwork rolling. I mention this—and these tidbits about my family—because of an incident that happened this past weekend. David turned 70 and had a party at his apartment. My father and his sister (Aunt Laurie) went. Both my grandparents went. Martyn, Estelle, Rochelle and Jerry went. There were other people there, but I don’t know them. I stayed up until 3:00AM in order to Skype with everyone there. My father informed me, via email, that he wasn’t bringing his iPad and that he wouldn’t even be at the party for another hour. He told me to go to bed. The Skype date I had been looking forward to for months was now nothing. I tried to not think about how sad I felt, but it was fruitless in the end. Seeing all the pictures of the party on Facebook days later crushed me because I was reminded of how I couldn’t be there. Had I known that I had this vacation time for Sukkot, I would’ve begged my father for plane fare to New York.
I thought my feelings about this pain were irrational, so I wanted to get some advice. This past Tuesday, I found my lovely Fellow, Dascher, and brought her out onto the balcony with me. I cried while I told her about how sad I was about missing this party. We went back to her room afterwards and she, along with our Fellow, Jade, comforted me as I let everything out. I know myself, they, and all of the other Fellows have had to give up something in order to come here, so I know I’m not completely alone. Dascher told me that I was brave to move to another country when I had such a hard time in London. She’s the first person to ever say that. She and Jade also told me to stay focused on the positives. I made it a point over the time I spent in Dascher’s room to remind myself of why I came here.
A sampling of why I’m here:
To pay Israel back for Her kindness during Birthright and for the help she offers to the US and other countries when there is a crisis.
To help my students learn English and to, most importantly, love learning.
To become more educated about Judaism. To be as half as good a teacher as the teachers who inspired ME to become one in the first place.
After going to Murphy’s in Poleg with Dascher, Jade and a few other Fellows that night, I felt so much better. I don’t know what I would do without them. I have a sliver of guilt that I even have any feelings of sadness when I think of the people who believed in me and said that Israel needs me. I want to believe in myself and in others and so I should try harder. I need to step aside and let Israel love me—the locals, the teachers, my students, my cohort. They cannot possibly love me as much as I love them, but they can certainly love me in ways I can’t. So I walk forth, with my head held up high, a small smile on my face and a silent thanks that Israeli—whether from the born or the pseudo—hospitality exists.
Where’s your smile? my Fellows ask me, usually when I’m sweeping my floor, trying to get my Wi-Fi to work or coloring signs for my students, forgetting that that should feel more like a privilege instead of a chore. Now when I’m moody or cranky or just 24 and trying to figure out the world or when I’m on my way to becoming someone I’m not quite sure of, I ask my Fellows the same thing. It’s hard to hide your smile when someone wants to see it.
The beach makes me smile, though. I notice on my daily late afternoon walks around the beach here in Netanya how shadows slant differently at the end of the day, marking the beautiful, impending sunsets. I doubt my fellow inhabitants of Netanya notice the endorphins the sun brings to one’s skin. I get envious of these people; they are still busy acting like the sun rises and how it offers a smorgasbord, like the sun sets out a feast as it falls below the sea. These people eat it up, like the sky is one big buffet with the sand and the rocks and the ice cream and the stray cats. I sense it though, the relief and the regret, that another day has gone by.
Apart from what happened this past Tuesday, I do my best to not let myself get into my head—this past week I explored some Sukkot celebrations down on the Promenade, watched random television shows and movies in my Fellow, Aliyah’s room and talked with Fellows who I don’t often see. But there are so many things left to do and see in this country—bodies of water and museums and monuments and flowers. This month, full of days I recognize as memories even as they’re happening, feels as fleetingly precious as my students’ young selves.
It also feels incredibly sad, in ways I cannot even explain to myself, that a month has gone by. I start teaching next week and I find myself wishing I could read Hebrew so that I could’ve traveled more because my next vacation isn’t until Chanukah. And unless I can get financial help from my father, I will not be able to visit my cousins or my younger sister in London. Having lived in Israel for a month is just another of the milestones I must cautiously wrap my imagination around, lest I completely lose my mind.
I know there are going to be tough days ahead. I knew this from the beginning of this journey and I’m not as naïve as I was in London when I thought that I’d have a support system with that cohort or that I wouldn’t miss my life in America. I know that I’m still trying to find my place in the sun and even if saying goodbye to September means that I can only wave to the sun’s warmth for just a little while, my Israel cohort still brightens every prospect for the future.
My cohort was made for happiness. We all are.