I remember when I first fell in love with Israel. It was December 2005 and, as the wheels of the plane kissed the runway, the travelers around me broke out into applause.
“I’m here,” I thought, “I’ve arrived.”
I first traveled to Israel with Aish Birthright and then extended my stay for a week to study at the She’arim College for Women. During two winter breaks from the University of Miami, I again made the trip to She’arim. But, these were pilot trips for the ultimate goal - a year in Israel. Masa Israel made that goal a reality.
For the 2008-2009 academic year, I lived and breathed Israel, mostly in the heights of western Jerusalem’s Har Nof, where She’arim is located. In fact, the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen were the ones seen from the second floor of the She’arim building during Rabbi Cowen’s class on prayer (which has a sense of poetic justice now that I think back on it).
When I reminisce about my year in Israel, I think of the gorgeous views of Israel’s many neighborhoods: the orange-tree lined avenues of Rechovot, the sandy beaches of Netanya, the stone buildings and streets of Tsfat, the all-encompassing awe of the Western Wall of Jerusalem.
I remember the weather: the blindingly hot field trip to see a crater in the desert, the light dusting of snow in the winter, the rain that seems not to fall from the sky but coalesce in the air.
And of course, I think of the people at Shearim: from Argentina, Chile, Great Britain, South Africa, Denmark, Canada, America and Israel…
I loved it all. I loved every minute of that year. Most of all, I loved the learning.
There is nothing better than sitting in a class with women of all ages and backgrounds and delving into the ancient, yet relevant, beauty of the Torah.
My favorite class of all was Rebbitzen Pavlov’s Midrash class, where a class topic could extend three or four days. Classic Torah sources from seemingly disparate places were researched and reviewed, and then, after applying some critical thinking as a group, we would pull the sources together with the Midrash to reveal a new, deep and elegant understanding of what our Sages sought to teach us.
My year in Israel was everything I had dreamed of and more--so much, in fact, that I returned for another year.
Now, my husband and I discuss the possibility of returning once again because being in love with Israel is like any other love; it grows as we get to know each other better. It grows with commitment. It grows with giving to each other. Israel has given so much to me, and I look forward to giving back.