I used to feel naked without my rings.
Turquoise, carnelian orange, matte gold, silver, and sea-green together formed a playful palette of colors against the monotonous peach of my hand.
They weren’t the kind of rings I’d take off at night or switch to match my outfit or even put on the counter to wash my hands. My rings were a part of my hand. Albeit large and bold, they worked with fancy and casual attire, always adding a touch of personality to the ordinary.
I used to reach out my hand when greeting someone new and would often hear, “wow, what special rings! What’s the story behind each one?”
I’d go on to explain how I bought the big turquoise one at a Tibetan store in The Village after High School graduation; how the one that looks like a puzzle ring (but actually isn’t) is from California from my first solo-visit to my sister; how the gold-and-silver-engraved thumb ring is from a Tel Aviv crafts fair; how the green sea glass ring—that my mom made me swear to never lose—is from my grandmother whom I never met.
I’d explain how it’s made of “Roman seaglass” found on the beaches of Israel many decades ago. I’d show them the engraving under the pendant—made in Israel—a small detail that excited me every time I noticed it.
These tiny pieces of silver - of replaceable material - gathered meaning from years of wear-and-tear and experiences-turned-stories, embedded in the rings’ dents and scratches.
|wearing (most) of my rings|
|sporting the roman seaglass ring|
Wearing 5-6 rings at a time was always the rule and removing them—the exception.
The only time I would (willingly) take them off would be before yoga class, which often necessitated ring-free hands. After the class, I’d put them back on instinctively, because seeing my hands bare was an unusual experience.
The first time I unwillingly took my rings off was during my enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces.
It sounds silly.
You volunteered to join an army and then complained about removing your rings?
The truth is, I really hated taking off my rings.
Along with my style, language, and general freedoms, the army just had to strip me of the last (external) thing that reminded me of my individuality: my rings, dammnit.
I remember how naked my fingers were during a ring-free, month long basic training, and how afterward, during the Education Course, my fellow soldiers and I gained the privilege (!) of wearing two small rings, which immediately made me feel “fancier” and more “stylish” in my saggy green attire.
Naturally, when the army ended, I went back to my ring-wearing, genie-pants strutting self.
Leora’s back again! She’s free!
And I didn’t waste a second of my newfound “freedom.”
Immediately after completing a yoga training course in India, I prepared to actualize another dream of mine–hiking the National Israel Trail.
For two months, I spent my days walking 12-25 kilometers – through deserts and forests and valleys and mountains—and my nights around the bonfire, playing music and cooking dinner over the fire.
Optimistic, I started the hike with all of my rings on.
I quickly learned that rings, dirty outside living, and sweltering heat do not go together.
Indeed, after just one week in the desert with rings, my fingers were covered in rashes from sweat and blew up to the size of sausages from the heat.
Inevitably, I took them off.
In retrospect, this was a small part of a bigger process that I was going through—namely, returning my natural self—a process characterized by minimal showers (replaced by springs and streams), no bathrooms (replaced by rocks and bushes), no makeup (replaced by sun-kissed cheeks), 5 items of clothing (lots of hand-washing), and one backpack of possessions.
I felt incredibly free—from societal expectations, from materialism, and from a “need” to express my inner self through some external display. Though I occasionally missed proper showers and “dressing up” (primarily on Shabbat), the benefit of this rawness was a sense of inner peace and strength that no material object could provide.
As such, it is not too surprising that Alon came into my life at this very real and vulnerable place in my life.
We met on the 3rd day of the hike in the southernmost part of the desert.
I was with a group of hikers called “Walk About Love,” and he, with 3 friends from his Moshav (small agricultural settlement) in the north. We exchanged smiles, noticing that we were both slightly lost, miles from the campsite, and the sun was intimidatingly low in the sky.
We introduced ourselves and during the 5-minute conversation, Alon teased me about the battalion I served in, since he happened to have served in the “rival” battalion.
The second time we talked was on a bus.
My hiking group (“The Walk”) had organized the bus in order to skip a specific part of the hike for logistical reasons, and Alon and his friends hopped on for the ride.
I was after almost a week of not showering and had just run through some enormous sand dunes. There was a huge crack in my lower lip that (I felt) could challenge the grand canyon, and my lips in general were peeling all around the edges.
To my embarrassment, Alon noticed and offered me some natural chapstick that smelled of sage. I remember feeling surprised that someone of the male species wanted to talk to my straw-haired, sweaty, peeling self, and actually seemed a bit interested, too.
Oh, the miracles of the desert!
After that encounter, Alon and I continued to run into each other throughout the trail until our meetings became intentional, thanks to the spotty cell-service in the open desert.
It went a little like this:
Our first “date” was a 10-hour hike up and through desert mountains, during which we covered your generic first-date topics such as life, death, religion, south park, racist jokes, and life goals and dreams.
The following “dates” looked rather similar—as in, walking for hours on end—while the backdrop became increasingly green as we made our way north.
But will this trail-romance make it in the big city? And, which city? We both wondered.
Neither of us had a clue of what would become of us after the trail.
After all, we were “homeless” and jobless.
I was applying for jobs while on the trail, hopping off for the occasional interview, and Alon had just applied to university.
We walked with uncertainty about the future, but with wholehearted, full dedication to present.
Perhaps the only thing we could be certain about was that the next trail marker would tell us where to walk.
At the very least, I thought to myself, he’ll think I’m prettier in civilization after a shower or two.
Fast forward to late September—6 months after we met in the desert and 4 months after we “officially” began dating.
A return to urban life meant a return to ring-wearing life, not to mention a return to four-walls, technology, responsibility, and showers!
Alon and I were driving up north to his Moshav, where we were celebrating Rosh HaShana with his whole family.
It was my first time celebrating a holiday with his family, and I had no clue what to expect.
Every year, since living in Israel, my holidays have looked different – from secular homes, to hippie-religious-settlers, to friend-led potlucks, I’ve experienced a wide breadth of Israeli society through the medium that Jews do best – meals.
This past Rosh HaShana, I was lucky to have meal after meal with the Peretz family.
It was a Rosh HaShana glued to Shabbat, making it a very long and phone-less weekend. (Wednesday night – Saturday night)
Eat. Pray. Rest was the motto and we followed it religiously.
So, when the second meal came and passed, we went upstairs for a much-needed nap.
Hours later, I sat up in bed and peeked my head out the window, noticing that it was a bit before dusk – that magical hour when the first chilly breeze rolls in.
Wrapped cozily in white fluffy blanket, I was content staying in bed for the rest of the afternoon, while Alon insisted on taking a walk.
“Let’s get some fresh air,” Alon pressed.
Despite my food-coma induced laziness, I rolled out of bed and got dressed, realizing that walking off lunch would be a good idea.
It was late afternoon when we stepped outside and took the usual route to Mizpe Yahel, our favorite lookout point in Moshav Sarona.
He knows the place like the back of his hand—I thought to myself as we got closer—passing the familiar farmers, his horse-riding teacher, and the neighbors. Every house we passed had a corresponding family name and memory, like the stable where he used to ride horses and the surrounding fence that he and his friends painted in middle school.
With each step, I understood with greater clarity how every square meter of the Moshav is tied to a specific memory of his. I wondered if someday, I too will feel a sense of home in Moshav Sarona, who’s name is just one letter away from my mothers’ (in Hebrew).
The thought occupied my mind as we walked, skipped, and ran through the fields of wheat and corn until we arrived at “our spot”— the lookout point that had become our go-to havdallah location, where we’d exchange blessings for the coming week.
This time, as the sun set, we sat under an olive tree and reminisced on the past year.
Getting released from the IDF. Backpacking through Spain, Portugal, America, and a yoga teachers’ training in India. Hiking all of Shvil Yisrael. Meeting Alon on the Shvil. A month of wandering around Israel as a madricha. Subletting in Jerusalem. Studying at Pardes. Starting work at Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
Alon’s year was filled with transition as well, from working on a Kibbutz to TLV city-life and from Shvil Yisrael trail to preparing for mechanical engineering studies at Tel Aviv University.
Summing up the year helped me realize that my travelling and wandering instilled in me the desire for planting roots and grounding. It helped me understand life’s natural ebb-and flow of stability and transition and therefore, learn to accept it.
I understood that finally, I felt ready to plant roots in Israel.
Alon and I sat together hand-in-hand, in gratitude, and gave one another blessings for the New Year.
Though the tone of Alon’s voice hinted it to me, my jaw hit the floor when his New Year blessing came, and with it – a box with a diamond ring inside.
“Hatinasi li?” He asked, in formal Hebrew.
It took some time to process the shock.
The rush of excitement, nervousness, and joy came over me like a wave.
Of course, I understood in context that he was proposing. But then came a fadicha (embarrassing moment) that only my fellow new immigrant friends can relate to—that is, not understanding Hebrew at the most critical moments.
Indeed, I learned how to say “will you marry me” in Hebrew during my actual proposal.
With subsequent laughter and tears, I replied with an “of course,” while Alon put the ring– which fit surprisingly well—on my ring finger.
Perhaps a part of me knew this would happen when I decided to leave the house that day without my rings.
Something in my gut had said probably not, but maybe.
And, since Sept 21, those 5 rings sit neatly in my purse.
Now, my right hand, which once looked bare with nothing on it, is natural and feminine and mine.
And my left, which bears a diamond ring that I thought I’d never have (I was never so into shiny rocks), holds a new meaning.
This new “mature” look on my hands doesn’t indicate a loss of personal identity, but rather the transition to a life of partnership.
Now, I look at my hand and see the rectification of materialism. I see how the whole of this ring is greater than the sum value of the stone and the weight of the white gold.
Now, I know that value must come from the inside out, and not the other way around.
And when it does, its physical appearance will shine with the same beauty from where it came.
|The day after the proposal|