Thursday, May 26, 2011

So long, for now.

When I folded my first shirt and packed it into my suitcase, never to be worn again on Year Course, reality hit me like a slap in the face: on Tuesday, I'll be home.

Not home as in Bat Yam home - or Jerusalem home - or even Arad home; but Rye, New York home - the place where I grew up. The place where my friends, family, and boyfriend await my arrival, because it's where I "belong."

As this reality inches it's way nearer and nearer, I'm faced with the challenge of balancing my extremely unstable emotions - one moment I'll be happier than ever, partying, dancing, and singing with my best friends in the country I feel I've become a part of; the next moment I'll be an emotional wreck, crying about the "end," about living in a secular country, about not feeling connected to anything. I've even felt, on the opposite extreme, excited to see the people I care about at home, to start my summer internship, to sleep in a cozy bed.

Until that time actually comes, I need to really be in the present, because I realize that predicting my imminent depression won't do me any good.

So, I made the executive decision to not write my last IsraeLife post in Israel. This is simply a temporary final entry until I can sit and reflect, clear-minded and devoid of distractions, back in America.

Israel, I'm not going to say goodbye because I know, for sure, Ill be back...

Lehitraot (see you later), it's been an incredible ride.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Matzah, Music, and Mantras

To fully understand my spring break, you must first have an image of Israel in late April: 75 degrees, sunny, a light afternoon breeze. A full pallet of brightly colored flowers in bloom on every street, roundabout, garden, and park - flowers that are naturally tie-dyed, enormous, spiky, and exotic to someone who grew up in New York, where purple crocuses are the exciting telltale sign of spring. Now imagine these flowers spread out across mountains in the distance, palm trees in the foreground, and a freshwater lake between the two. While all of Israel displays bountiful nature and a sense of rebirth during the springtime, there is truly no place like the north.

On the Wednesday before break, our section made the three hour journey north for a mandatory overnight stay on a Kibbutz and a hike on Mount Carmel. Since we are all money savvy year coursers, we decided to seize the free transportation and begin our break exploring the area. We made it to Tiberias later that afternoon, checked into a very respectable youth hostel, and dined on the beautiful boardwalk lined with restaurants catered to hungry tourists. After getting a full nights sleep we awoke early to embark on what I though was going to be a leisurely bike ride around the entire Sea of Galilee.

To say I was mistaken would be an understatement, though not necessarily in a bad way.

The first half of the journey was extremely pleasant—the incredible scenery kept us peddling, as well as our fierce desire to complete the journey. However soon enough, after our mid-way lunch break, my friend Izzy and I realized that we wouldn’t make the four o’clock bus to our friend’s house if we were to keep the same pace as before. In fact, we would have to shave off over an entire hour to make it. Out of necessity, we quickly shifted our worry to determination—we parted from the rest of the group and pushed ourselves as hard as humanly possible.

When we made it to the bus stop ten minutes early with a celebratory ice cream in hand, the pain of the second half became worthwhile. I was so proud to have conquered a sixty kilometer (thirty-five mile) bike ride in one morning, in one piece.

We arrived at our friends’ beautiful house smelly, tired, dirty, and ridiculously happy - happy to see our friend, to take a real shower, to have a home-cooked Shabbat meal, and to have a relaxing weekend in the mountains ahead of us.

A few days later it was Passover and I headed to my Grandpa’s girlfriend’s house for the Seder. I was surprised at how cut-to-the-chase the Seder was, but not disappointed. I feel like I experienced Passover Israeli-style - there was much more emphasis on the company and the tasty food than the reading of the prayers/ Hagadah itself. But in the end, I was happy to enjoy a fantastic meal and the company of my cousin, Shaked, who I hadn’t seen since Rosh Hashana half a year prior. We got some good bonding time in between schmoozing with the adults; we talked, watched a cute-chic flick, and relaxed on her outdoor patio eating fruit from the garden.

In these moments I see Israel’s beauty in its fullest, most organic state - the warmth of sun and family; the juiciness of freshly picked fruit; the sense of togetherness on holidays and celebration.

As guests began filing out with the sunset, I knew it was time to head back to Bat Yam, as I needed to prepare for my upcoming trip to Eilat. I went home from my family’s with a full stomach, as per usual, looking forward to spending the next three days at a music festival with friends.

Late the next evening we finally arrived in the city of Eilat, six hours after our departure from Tel Aviv ( a real schlep and a half.) I was almost expecting a “Welcome to Disneyworld” sign upon arrival, as the skyline was so brightly lit up, like a theme park or carnival display. I soon realized that it was my first time in the city, as I had never before seen anything like it.
The next day, when I could observe Eilat in the daylight, I wrote my first impressions in the journal I took with me:

Enter the fantasy world that is Eilat - a city in the southernmost tip of Israel, where wealthy tourists splurge in the most glamorous beach side hotels, dine at world renowned restaurants, and fry their slender, toned bodies under the scorching Israeli sun. Where palm trees, mountains, sea and desert meet in one landscape, connected by a man-made boardwalk lined with American and European commercial merchandise. Built up only in the last few decades, Eilat is exactly what it was intended to be - a holiday destination resembling the Atlantis resort in Nassau, Bahamas, with a seemingly 2D mountainous movie backdrop. Indeed, it is terrible in its tackiness and the farthest thing from the “authentic” Israel I’ve grown to love - yet, like a cheesy romance flick, I can’t help but find it endearing.

On a few square miles of sand near the heart of the city was where they decided to place this years Boombamela, a three day long hippie music festival that takes place every year during Passover break. On Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon (the 20th to the 21st) Israeli preteens, American young adults, and even families flooded to the music festival en masse with tents and groceries in hand. Our group of about twelve Brits and Americans arrived Wednesday evening, the night before the festival began. Though frankly, it might as well have started that night, as bumping dance music blared from midnight until five the next morning right outside our tent. The same occurred the following two nights, so we ultimately replaced sleep with dancing throughout the duration of festival.

To sum up Boombamela by saying it was only a great time would be untrue, as I did incur a bit of a trauma in between the music, dancing, exploring, and laying out on the beach. I immediately knew something was very, very, wrong when I awoke the second morning to see that both my wallet and my phone weren’t in my purse. I felt that sinking, gut-twisting feeling you get when something important goes missing, and it soon dawned on me that I may have been robbed.

The next part of the story is predictable - frantic scurrying through mounds of matzah, clothes, and water bottles in my tent, running around the festival grounds, crying, and finally reporting the missing items to the police. I tried to pull myself together and not let it ruin the rest of the festival - and thankfully, supportive friends were there to help me do so.

Perhaps it was a magic, thorough searching, or just dumb luck that the same day, the police recovered my wallet. All the cash removed, of course, but all of my important cards remained. I was so beyond ecstatic when the police called my friend’s phone to tell me the good news that I stood up, did a little victory dance, and ran to the festival’s police tent. I was still phone-less and didn’t have a penny to my name, but I had my wallet so all was well. My friends and I celebrated by dressing up in strange costumes (all provided by a costume booth), running around giving people hugs, painting each other, and so on. Our bodies swayed throughout the night to reggae, techno, and hip-hop beats, and we ended the night in the holistic tent for an “unconditional love” hippie session.

The next day I experienced something that I truly wasn’t expecting - a spiritual Shabbat. Friday morning I relaxed at a Yoga session, swam in the sea, and listened to music until the sun began to set and we joined the crowds of people around the “religious” tent. Strangers held hands with each other and danced up and down the festival grounds to welcome in the Sabbath with song, creating the most picturesque, surreal scene. The evening continued with a quick Kabbalat Shabbat “service” and a free three course dinner kindly provided by religious volunteers.

By Saturday afternoon, after three days of matzah, music, and mantras, we were all exhausted and ready to go home. I was looking forward to taking a real shower and spending a few days at my uncle’s in Ramat Hasharon, as I hadn’t seen him (or my cousins) since the beginning of Year Course on Rosh Hashana. When my Uncle exclaimed upon my arrival, I can’t believe it’s been half a year since I saw you last! I was shocked and bit stunned at how quickly time has flown. I didn’t even know where to begin when he asked what I’d done in that time - and looking back on the previous trimesters felt like looking back on years of memories.

For the first time, I was forced to really think about the month ahead, and the preparation for my return to America.

Today, for instance, YC logistics sent me an email saying I need to confirm my flight back to JFK. I really wanted to respond: Stop sending me junk mail. There is no point in booking my flight home, as Year Course isn’t actually ending. Sincerely, participant in denial.

May 30th is the date we all twinge a little when we hear, and promptly “sush” the evil person who mentions it.

And although it is the last stretch of this incredible year abroad, I recognize that a month left in Israel is still a long time. There are many trips, events, and fun activities planned on my “bucket list” to look forward to…

I’ve just got to keep reminding myself to live in the present, so I can make these next twenty six days really count.

With my friend Alexis at Boombamela

Looking intense before cycling the Kinneret