Hypothetically, this was supposed to be my easiest time in Israel. I’m already a pro at the packing and the plane ride, and I have a pretty okay sense of direction when it comes to the Greater Tel Aviv area. My Hebrew is decent enough to spend all of Rosh Hashanah English-less, and I have the buses down. I got an internship (sort of) and I get along with my roommate. Somehow I survived ulpan, which added to my character development. Despite seemingly having the surface level of Israel “down”, this has undoubtedly been my most difficult experience in Israel to date.
Being in Israel this time hasn’t been hard because of the obvious things. My computer broke and a company charged me $70 to tell me that it was broken. I cried. I wrote a review about how terrible the business is and how nobody should ever monetarily support it. Surprisingly, being without my computer for an extended period of time hasn’t (yet!) been the hardest thing about being in Israel.
What also wasn’t hard was when it was Zionist week in ulpan and we read pieces by Golda Meir and Tommy Lapid, in Hebrew—in the language they were intended to be in. I tried not to cry when we read those pieces, and I certainly did not cry when we watched HaKayitz Shel Aviha. Instead, I wrote an essay on that week’s ulpan test about how the characters in the movie treated the mother because she was a partisan. I wrote about how the Jews who had come to Eretz Yisrael before the Second World War often looked down on the survivors (nitzolim—important vocab word) that came to the already half-established land after the war. The halutzim and their children came to Israel for the ideology, while the survivors were there because they had no other option. Had the survivors wanted to come to Israel, they would have come during the First or Second Aliyah. But they liked Europe, so they stayed and they unjustly suffered or they fought for those unjustly suffering. It’s an interesting dynamic to consider, for the halutzim were reinventing the Jew in a land for the Jews as the survivors came to the land as the diasporic prototypes of the Jew that the halutzim so badly wanted to reimagine. The land was built for Jewish refugees by Jewish pioneers, yet when the refugees came, the pioneers did not welcome them to their Jewish refuge. But I digress.
Typically, anything related to the word Aliyah makes me nostalgic. In the same way that I occasionally cry when I think too much about Yitzchak Rabin liberating Jerusalem (which happens often—I pass Kikar Rabin nearly every day), I become consumed with emotion over an Israel that I don’t know. This is without question due to my extreme Zionist indoctrination that I recognize but still embrace wholly as a part of my identity (zehut—another essential to ulpan 4B). Part of my identity has become the Zionist collective memory, despite being raised as a Zionist abroad. There’s something so poignant about the concept of a “collective memory.” It’s as if I am part of the memory of the Jewish people. The memory of our land and what happened here. When I think too much about how Zionism has manifested into this miraculous country, I am swept with nostalgia and, usually, tears.
During ulpan, we were continuously shuffled between buildings. For the majority of the course, however, I was in the law building of the Tel Aviv University (TAU) campus. I was once struck by awe as I climbed the stairs to the second (even though it should actually be considered the third) floor. Beneath me were stairs. These stairs were at least ten years old, probably more. The Israelis had built these stairs. To me, that was a miracle. Perhaps it was because architecture takes too much planning to seem like an Israeli pursuit, or maybe it had to do with a temporarily myopic view of Israel, consumed within these stairs. The fact that I was walking and the stairs were not collapsing because someone in Israel had had a vision for this building utterly shook me. Then thinking about it on a larger scale, the Israelis managed to put together a complete campus for higher education. They even built a city with too many malls and roads. The Israelis built roads(!) so that they could tour their entire country. The Israelis built a country. To me, that is incredible. Israel is incredible. The stairs in the TAU law building are incredible.
I’ve cried at least once about the TAU law building stairs. (I’ve also cried on the stairs—but that had to do with the broken computer). But as I mentioned earlier, what always gets me emotional is the mention of Aliyah. My favorites are the Second and Operation Moses, but those are already embedded within the Zionist collective memory as tales of heroism, homecoming, and Zionist resolve. Now, when I think about Aliyah, I want to cry because I’m thinking not of the past, but of my future.
Israel has been a struggle for me this time around because Aliyah is nearly within my grasp. I can live here in practice, and I love the country so much that sometimes I cry about stairs, but I can’t move here yet. Once I finish my semester at TAU, I have two (it might only be one and a half) semesters left at my home university. To come to Israel with a degree is better than to come with two thirds of a degree. I am just within reach of getting my degree, but I’m here now, and all my mind can think about is Aliyah.
Because of this all-consuming thought, I’m thinking too much about the future. I’m thinking about how January is too soon and how I’m going to need to come back to Israel this summer or my heart might implode. I’m thinking about the two semesters I have left and how I love my school and I love New Orleans, but it’s not the same type of love that I have for Israel. I’m thinking about all of this instead of just appreciating that I’m here and I’m home. (I’m also recognizing that I notice my lack of appreciation, and I’d like to halt this train of metacognition before it becomes too deep).
When I visited a friend in Haifa for Rosh Hashanah, I naturally mentioned my plans after graduation. Somehow her father missed what I had said the first time, so when I repeated it later on, he had the expected response that I receive from most Israelis: “You want to move here? Why?”
I replied, “Why not?” (in Hebrew, of course), and then I tried to simply explain that I couldn’t live in the States. I didn’t go into my purpose tangent, and I won’t go into that here (I’ll save it for another post). I just said that I need to be here. A relative then derailed the conversation by going into how this was a country for the Jews, so of course I could move here.
The next morning, my friend’s ten-year-old sister said two very curious things that I can’t stop thinking about:
1) She asked how my driving was (in relation to her sister’s). I told her that my driving was not good. She told me that she thinks my driving is like my Hebrew: I say that it’s not good, but it’s actually very good. While I have a myriad of witnesses who will voluntarily vouch for my difficulties behind the wheel, I was touched by the compliment of my Hebrew. I’m self-conscious about speaking because I know that my grammar isn’t as polished as it could be, but the sister assured me that my Hebrew was much better than her English. (Maybe this was really a roundabout revelation that my Hebrew is at a fifth grade level).
2) The second thing that the sister said left me less flattered and more introspective. She said that she had to ask me something—she had been thinking about it all night, after what I said about wanting to move to Israel. I prompted her to continue, so she did, and she asked how/if I could move here alone—without family? I told her that I already live alone, so what’s the difference between living alone in New Orleans or Israel? (There are obviously many differences, but I didn’t get into any).
Thinking about Aliyah and how simple it would be to just stay in Israel forever has been the most difficult part of being here this time. I could live and I could breathe and I could be here. But in order to do that, I need to finish what I started and get my degree. I don’t want to go, and I don’t want to be here temporarily, but I know that it will ultimately help me in the long term. One day, I’ll buy a one-way ticket to Israel with no return flight. Until then, I’ll keep crying about my law school stairs.