From the moment I decided to just pause my life in Miami, take a leave of absence from my job, and leave my puppy, my boyfriend, and my family; people have asked, “Why?” My parents believe that I am trying to escape something. My brother is convinced I moved to leave my family. Others may think I’m trying to find myself or may be “lost.” But the truth is, I’m actually not lost at all… I’m merely just wandering.
I’m 23 years old and live a very content life in Miami, Florida. I come from a great family whom I love, have a stable group of friends that I can count on, and have job stability. Basically, from my point of view, I have everything I need. Which is why when I try to relay to people why I went on this journey, the easiest thing for me to say is “because I want to” or, as I would say it now, “?למה לא” (Why not?)
Since the first time I stepped foot in the Holy Land during my junior year of high school, it was love at first sight. My father, brother and I went with Temple Beth Torah. My dad knew Israel had made an impact on me when I wanted to go to high school in Israel, then Year Course, and then the Mission with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. I was denied all but the latter. Five months ago, I took a 10-day trip to Israel with the Miami Federation’s Mega Mission, which changed my life. One of the day activities they planned for my group was a visit to Masa Israel, which offers over 200 study, internship, and volunteer opportunities all over Israel lasting between five and twelve months. My particular program, Career Israel, the Israel Experience’s internship program, is five months long. Within two weeks of being back in Miami from Israel, I had contacted who I needed to contact and paid the non-refundable deposit for the internship program. After that, I told my family. To say the least, they all thought I was crazy. Oddly enough, I could care less. This was something I needed to do for myself.
Four months later, I was in Israel.
The first four days was orientation in Jerusalem. The first person I met while waiting in Ben Gurion Airport was Myah, who happened to also be the girl I would be sharing a room with for the next five months. During orientation, the 87 participants were able to get to know each other as well as visit all of the monumental sites of Jerusalem. The program guided us through Jerusalem with knowledgeable tour guides and made every activity mandatory, which I would have done regardless. We visited the Western Wall, also known as the Kotel, the Jewish and Christian quarters, Temple Mount, had a tour of the caves under the Wall, visited the Dome of the Rock (gold dome), participated in several activities, which included games within the shuk, also known as the market. We also had our own Shabbat dinner and celebration at the Beit Yehuda Hostel.
At the closing of the fourth day in Jerusalem, our program was ready to head to Tel Aviv where we were to start Ulpan, Hebrew classes, the following day.
Ulpan is basically a very intensive Hebrew course depending on your level, however intensive either way. I started in the most basic course, Aleph, since I knew absolutely nothing. I can say now I know a lot more than when I started, to say the least. Ulpan lasted 5 weeks, but only had enough classes for 3 weeks since Ulpan overlapped with the Jewish holidays as well as a trip to the North.
In a nutshell, the holidays in Israel are much different from what I am used to in the States. I spent Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem with family I never knew I had. They live in Har Nof, which is one of the most Orthodox communities in Jerusalem and also known as “little America.” Basically the whole area is filled with Orthodox Americans who have made Aliyah. It was a very different and memorable experience. I am very happy and fortunate that I have family here who like most Jewish families are very welcoming and enjoy feeding you until the point of no return—you are not allowed to say no. For future reference, dieting is prohibited (not that I diet anyway). After all, isn’t the motto in Judaism, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” Let’s just say I’m taking that motto seriously. Hummus, anyone?
I spent Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv. My roommate and I went to a very friendly and welcoming shul to pray before break-fast. It was also a very different experience than congregating at Temple Beth Torah. For one thing, everyone in the congregation spoke Hebrew. I always wanted to be able to understand what I am reading. I could tell without a doubt that people were more into the prayers and joyous when they understood the language. Maybe in a few years, I’ll be one of those people. Since the entire city of Tel Aviv shuts down on Yom Kippur (also the only holiday Tel Aviv shuts down for) as we left the Shul the first night, the entire city was roaming with bicycles. Everyone and their families were riding around on their bikes all night long. A big tradition in Israel is to walk to the highway and just sit and hang out without any fear of getting hit by cars. Since Israel has its own daylight savings time, the fast was easier because the sun went down earlier. Still fasted 26 hours. Thank g-d for bagels… and lox.
For Sukkot, Career Israel took us on a trip through the North. The first day we headed out at 7am and drove three hours north to hike up a mountain. The scenery was surreal. There were beautiful sights at all angles. After a four-hour hike, we headed to Misgav Am, a kibbutz where we saw a panoramic view of Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. Honestly, it was a bit scary when he pointed out the Hezbollah base. They know exactly where they are located as well as where all the other threats stand. The man who runs the Kibbutz was extremely passionate about who he is, what he does, and why he lives in Israel. Following the Kibbutz, we headed to the Hostel. The next day we embarked on another hike for five hours, which included a swim in the “pool” within the hike. During the last day we took a tour of Tzfat and had a dance party on a boat in the middle of the Kinneret. Such a tourist thing to do, if not American.
My time in Tel Aviv has been full of life. There is always something to do and if all else fails, you head to the beach. On Shabbat, the place to be is the beach. The nightlife here is one-of-a-kind. There’s a different place to go every day of the week for the whole five months I’m here, and I’m sure I still won’t have a chance to go to all of them. People don’t sleep here. They work really hard and enjoy themselves to the highest extent possible.
I started my internship a week ago. I am working at an organization that operates like a nonprofit called StarTau. It is located at the Tel Aviv University, which is awesome. Internships in this country are treated like regular paying jobs. There is no hierarchy within the workplace in Israel.
Keeping you up to date on my wandering travels.