i s r a e l : part two

This trip, in many ways, felt like sleepaway camp. As opposed to the simple “free trip to Israel” many of us imagined before landing halfway around the globe, this Birthright experience allowed me to develop several strong emotional bonds. I connected with my fellow travelers, who live across the US from New York to Laramie to Provo, in conversations spanning from introductory small talk to intense queries about the validity of relief when natural disasters reduce population size (Halley is a superb thinker.)

When traipsing around Israel, I felt a novel sensation of being intensely and barely Jewish at the same time.

Standing atop Mount Masada at dawn to witness the sunrise, looking out to the Dead Sea, surrounded by a mixed, mixed assortment of fellow Jews was astounding. Then, to hike over that mountain and imagine the thousands of years’ worth of events that had transpired atop the fortress, ranging from daily dove-tending to heart-rending massacres of Jews against Jews… this was so much more than a free trip. It required you up at dawn the first morning after a two-ish day day of travelling across the globe to get on your hiking boots and walk up a mountain. You were allowed the gift of meeting Bedouin nomads, drinking their coffee, and meditating on more stars than you’d ever seen while cloaked in the darkness of the Negev desert evening. Seven young Israelis ranging from soldiers to students to engineers accompanied you for five days. At first you were doubtful about their value, but after just a few days, you found yourself making silly faces with them and sincerely sorry when they left.

Even now, I’m not sure how Jewish I feel, or how to sort out the web of politics, history, and sorrow that the Jewish state has both endured and waged. However, I do know that because of this trip, I see Israel in a new light that’s framed with more understanding, support, and pride. I’ve strengthened my Jewish identity by holding onto the aspects of the religion I truly cherish such as universal respect, love, and the belief in education.

For the first time since high school, this trip gave me a huge community of young Jews to befriend. (I tried to enter the Wes group but it never felt right.) One of my favorite parts of going to Temple has been and will always be the multi-aged, family-filled community I can’t help but grow to love. Even though I’m far from most of my tripmates here in Connecticut, the idea that they’re all over the country is comforting, leading me to the thought that, when I do find a job and live somewhere, I can find another Jewish community to integrate myself into. Another home. To a lesser extent, I also now feel that Israel is another home for me if I wish it. That’s another incredible takeaway from ten days in a place steeped in meaning.

Second Semester Senior Year Realization #1

I wasn’t invited a get-together yesterday and my first reaction was feeling left out. Which, technically, I was. But then I realized that, had I been invited, I probably would’ve been kicking myself for going. I don’t like having to fangirl about Harry Potter all the time, or hyperbolize my homework load, or complain with the rest of my peers as they do so often. I feel a closer kinship with my professors, my home friends, my boyfriend and his older friends, and even my parents and family. Wes has been unspeakably wonderful for me in several regards, but after studying abroad, my lack of patience for being someone I’m not has proven fatal for several friendships. Although it’s an exercise in honesty I’m proud of, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that I have a readily available second friend group to turn to.

At the beginning of last semester, I was invited to a nearly identical gathering. When I arrived, I was excited to see the friends I hadn’t talked to since pre-London. But after being offered a G&T and settling onto a couch with a quasi-friend who almost made it but was decidedly too busy and cool for me, everyone started talking about what seemed like trivial topics. I became frustrated that I was wasting my time listening to my peers try to one-up each other with prideful stories that lacked substance. So I left, disappointed, visibly bored, and distraught.

I’m grateful for these moments where I internalize reluctance to stay in college. They act as boosters to get out into the real world and thrive. But it’s tough love.

i s r a e l : part one

How do I begin writing about a ten-day trip across a country with as much history, conflict, beauty, scents, and sights as Israel? Well, I’ve gotta start somewhere. How about

Before landing in Tel Aviv, I was so wrong about many aspects of this trip.

I prepared myself to fight the various types of Judaism-related brainwashing they’d attempt on us all. On the right (0) to wrong (10) scale, I was wrong by 8.

I imagined the Israelis who’d accompany us for five days would be difficult to interact with and mostly sent by the organization to make us fall in love and settle in Israel with them. I was wrong by 9.

As someone not intimately involved with current events, I imagined Israel would feel something like a war zone: safety not guaranteed. However, with our two personable medics/security guards and itinerary that took us mainly to rural parts of the country, I hardly felt unsafe. While we were hiking close to the Syrian border (still many miles away), we heard four distant booms akin to those from the Hunger Games. A bit unsettling but barely. We later learned from UN peacekeepers that those sounds were from Israeli military exercises. So in the end, I don’t think I was ever very close to danger. Wrongness level: 9.25.

In terms of company, I didn’t think much about the others joining Elior and I on our trip through the holy land. I purposefully chose to join the 22-26 group over the college-aged groups because I thought they’d be more mature and better partners to explore the controversial, highly complex land that is the birthplace of humanity. Turns out I was right- this was a CRITICAL choice in elevating my experience. However, I didn’t foresee how much I’d bond with them on a level approaching that of sleepaway camp.

One aspect of the trip that I wish I hadn’t been wrong about was the food. I didn’t anticipate the daily buffets of plentiful cabbage and schnitzel, but had been hoping for more colorful and place-relevant dishes. True, we were offered roasted eggplant, various forms of sub-par shakshuka, and some okay hummus at these buffets, but it was at the markets and stands where the flavors really burst forth. Dare I admit that the hummus I tasted in London was better than the vast majority of the Israeli varieties I sampled? Reality check: I went with a group of 39 other young adults, on a practically FREE trip, for ten days. There’s no way I could’ve asked for higher quality food on the regular. Ultimately, I did expose my little tongue to some wonderful Middle Eastern flavors and for that I’m grateful.

At this point I’m still overwhelmed with the amount of information I wish to write and explore, so I’ll ease it by providing some pictures.

List: Remnants of London

  1. Strawberry black tea from Fortnum and Mason, a bag of cumin, bay leaves, green tea, top-notch quality vanilla
  2. Clothes, tea towels (one is hanging on the wall), jewelry
  3. Abel & Cole calendar with achingly wonderful British recipes on each month’s page
  4. My study abroad blog
  5. Delayed adoption of “s” in place of “z”. The words look softer and more intelligible.
  6. Lack of patience for obnoxious Americans
  7. Contentedness with having a few but trusted and loved circle of friends
  8. Deep-seated yearning to walk the Earth and meet people and bring my eyes to unseen corners and continue to add to my emotional catalogue.

Truth and Harmony

The fact that I cherish those two concepts makes me seem like my friends have white hair and just want their kids “to be happy”. Well, you’re right. My friends are increasing in mean age, and not just keeping up with the rate of age inflation (aka time.) Instead of mostly 21 year old friends, I’d say the average age may fall in the thirties.

Anyway, I receive daily poems via email and today’s struck me. Here it is.

Music
By Juhan Liiv
Translated by H.L. Hix & Jüri Talvet

It must be somewhere, the original harmony,
somewhere in great nature, hidden.
Is it in the furious infinite,
in distant stars’ orbits,
is it in the sun’s scorn,
in a tiny flower, in treegossip,
in heartmusic’s mothersong
or in tears?
It must be somewhere, immortality,
somewhere the original harmony must be found:
how else could it infuse
the human soul,
that music?

————-

What a word is treegossip!! Into my vernacular it goes!

I’m a Fresh Senior

I thought the extent of my reverse culture shock was my eyeroll at all the American travellers wearing sweatpants and sweatshirts. Transitioning back to life at home, working in the summer, was relatively painless. My parents and sister were still great, my relatives were still lovely, and my friends still understood me. Elior had been abroad and we’d kept up on each other’s lives, so there was little distance between us. Reconnecting with Marissa was great, being with Lilly and Cristina was fun as always. My work family at the restaurant was an amazing pool of new and old coworkers. Couldn’t get much better than this, besides missing London and travelling, but that’s to be expected.

So now I’m back at college and it’s here that RCS is impacting me the most. I knew I’d changed in some ways but that didn’t affect my relationships at home. Here, many of the friends I cultivated over 2.5 years look pretty different through a post-study abroad-colored lens.

True, it’s only my second day here. However, about 1/3 of the people I’ve seen aren’t interesting to me anymore: I’m not willing to extend my personality in ways I used to. Just like how I lost much of my bubbliness in the chasm between high school and college, I now lack the ability and patience to listen to BS. I demand realness from conversation and interaction. If we hang out, please tell me things that matter and don’t waste my time. After being abroad, I’m now especially prepared to be happy by myself somewhere else. Even though Middletown isn’t popping with culture, there are still many things I could do instead of listen to a bunch of people about whom I used to think highly chat about trivial things. I guess I’m happier being alone than I used to, too, so I’m not receiving that social self-esteem boost that attending parties used to give me. I’m happy with who I am, so although socializing is great (in some forms- see next paragraph), it’s not as powerful as it once was.

Now, I’m finding that I love to chat with cashiers and clerks and anyone with whom wants to actually talk with me. I like talking with people I don’t know. They’re each little boxes with untold facts and opinions and quirks inside. In comparison, these old college friends feel stale.

I don’t recognize the majority of the students here anymore. I feel like a freshman with the confidence and knowledge of a senior.

Yesterday, at a get-together with some kids I used to really like before London, Sarah said I looked bored. And I was. I spoke rarely, not hastening to assert my own point of view about what felt like an inconsequential topic. I dislike wasting my breath and energy.

Some people have told me that I act like I’m 25. In some ways, I agree. But knowing that makes looking at the school year ahead rather daunting.

I’m really excited for all the activities and classes to start up. Finding enough of my new chosen type of socialization will be a challenge I’m ready to accept, but not without first mourning the loss of a few friends. However, they weren’t that great to begin with. So, maybe it’s for the best. Closer to the truth.