Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : June 26, 2012
By Arielle Wasserman, Midreshet Lindenbaum
It’s June, and the packing and planning for your year in Israel has begun in earnest. Running to Walmart and Target making sure you have enough toothpaste and socks to last you the full ten months- because, you know, it’s not like you can get these items in Israel. Obviously not.
It’s not just the physical preparations that are making you excited and terrified and breathless and have your heart pounding so fast and so loud you’d swear it’s about to come out of your chest.
It’s the mental ones too. The questions that keep you up at night. Am I going to change? Do I want to? Is the learning going to be too hard? Too easy? Am I going to make new friends? Am I going to lose my old ones? 
You just got off the plane and are currently attempting to juggle your 3 pieces of luggage, messenger bag and over-the-shoulder carry on. You glance at your watch and take note of the date. September 5th.
Significant because you just left everything you’ve ever known and because you are desperately scanning the sea of unfamiliar girls for just one friendly face and all you want do is sit down on the scaldingly hot pavement and cry. But you don’t, because you’re a big girl now, and you have things to do.
So you take a deep breath, surreptitiously dry your tears and introduce yourself to the girl standing next to you, looking just as lost as you do. In 3 months from now you won’t be able to imagine your life before knowing her. But you don’t know that now. All you know is that she’s got a friendly laugh and it turns out you went to camp with her brother’s best friend’s cousin. 
Channukah is everywhere—from the unbelievable sufganiyot being sold all over Jerusalem to the life-size menoras that have sprung up in every corner of the Old City. It is the first time in your life that December 25th passes by unnoticed.
It’s also the first time you managed to actually get through a page of gemara without your teacher holding your hand through it. It’s not muchjust half a daf, nothing to be proud of. But you are. You are ridiculously, unapologetically proud of yourself and your chevruta. You feel this insane connection to those unfairly long pages with their tiny black script and slowly-becoming-familiar wordsyou’re that next link in a chain that was forged thousands of years ago.
It’s a shockingly intoxicating feeling. You don’t ever want to lose it. 
March 23 seems way too early to start Pesach vacation, but Israel disagrees. Everyone warned you that ‘time would fly’, but you laughed them off, completely dismissive of their overused clichés. Turns out, they were right.
How is it March already? When did that happenthat moment that time ran away from you, became the enemy? How do we make it stop? You already know the answer- you don’t. You can’t. It doesn’t work like that.
Several of your friends have chosen to cry over the ever-imminent end. While that’s certainly a tempting option, your teachers urge you to choose another. To take advantage of every day, of every remaining hour and minute. Another cliché. This one, however, appeals to you in a way the other did not. 
Back to Ben Gurion airport, laden once again with bags and memories. The unforgiving June sun seems to penetrate even the cool recesses of the airport.
You can’t help but experience an unsettling sense of déjà vudidn’t you do this already? Didn’t you already say goodbye to the things and people you love?
You feel the childish urge to stomp your feet and refuse to move. You don’t want to do this again. You repress the desire, barely. You’ve never been great with goodbyes, and you’re terrified that this one may be more final than most. You don’t want to lose this girl you’ve turned yourself into- the girl who’s driven and persistent and who refuses to let go until she’s found the answer. Or, at least, the next question.
It’s time to board, and you can’t push it off any further. Taking one last look around, you take a deep breath and hand the clerk your passport. Even as the tears are making their way down you can’t bring yourself to feel fully sad. 
You may be leaving Israel, but Israel isn’t leaving you. 
Published : June 20, 2012
I arrived in the United States early this morning, passing a team of Israeli shlichim from the same flight as me. Carrying my heavy luggage with me, I boarded a bus down the East Coast toward Washington, DC. I fell asleep instantly, and I woke up in the middle of the bus ride.
The bus was whizzing by green grass, tall trees siding the highway, and glimpses of furrowed fields beyond the hedge.
We stopped at the Walt Whitman Rest Area, in Cherry Hill. At this point we had been driving for more than an hour, past a pastoral painting of rural land. I recalled the long drive that took me, just yesterday, out of Israel – the taxi from Jerusalem up the highway to the airport, passing bush, shrub, bits of desert, bits of farmland.
This bus ride felt different. I felt relaxed about abundance of water on the farms surrounding me. I felt like I had regained my bearings.
The day before I left, I had a conversation with the man who comes once a month to clean our apartment building, Ahmed, a Palestinian Muslim. The conversation began with our understanding that true apricots - the really good, natural ones - cost four times as much.
The cheap ones are grown with the help of plastic, covering the tree, sprayed as chemicals on the fruit. We discussed the ethic of do-it-yourself. Today, he complains, lots of things are made in China.
What about using the pits of apricots to string a necklace for yourself, the way he and his friends used to do when they were little, before computers and prefabricated goods had come to the region?
Then Ahmed commented on how he doesn't like the apartment buildings he sees in Jewish Israeli cities. He lives down by Armon ha-Natsiv, at the bottom of the Tayelet, with several thousand olive trees surrounding his house. “That's how to do it,” he explained: "don't build high, and surround yourself with trees."
I agree with him. In fact, sometimes I wonder if we Jewish people have a natural aversion to connecting with any land. It would be understandable – we were forbidden from owning land in most places that we lived for most of our history. In Poland around the First World War, some 4/5ths of the country's population were rural, yet only 4% of the Jews were.
I have loved my time in Israel. I ache and cry at my departure – and there are still more tears in me that will only come out over the course of the next several weeks. I have deepened my Jewish learning and identity, met new Jewish friends, met local Palestinian Muslims and Christians, and learned a lot. Israel is a home of mine. But it's not my homeland.
Passing now, on the bus, the deepest depths of green, continuing for hours along the Eastern seaboard, I suddenly feel more at ease, like my soul is singing.
bell hooks writes about this feeling of returing home in her book Belonging: A Culture of Place. For her, home is the southern United States, specifically Kentucky. For me, it's the Midwest and the Northeast. The pine trees that the Jewish National Fund has planted in Israel just give off a different smell – a smell of confusion, of attempting to adapt to a place where they're not fully acculturated.
I appreciate Israel for what it is. Israel, I believe, is essential to the liberation of Jewish people from oppression. It is a safe haven where those facing discrimination can come, can be safe, can be loved.
It is a “next step” in the war against anti-Semitism. Yet it is not the end of that war, as Herzl and later Ben Gurion thought it would be. For me, the ultimate goal is different. I claim, as a Jewish person, the right to know deeply the smells of the country of my birth, the plants, the agriculture, the climate. I claim the right to live in that, to dwell in it, to delve deeply into green.

Explore The Blog