Many people visit Israel and often return home with the notion that they will one day return to this beautiful country again—as tourists.
As such, I considered ditching the “year in Israel” plan in favour of starting university, but I was steered forward by the unusual (and accidental) deferral of admission I received from my specialized university program coupled with the appeal of Midreshet Harova`s abundant course selections, plus three meals daily, of course.
As a student travelling alone, I found myself exposed to a new, “light side” of the general Israeli populace.
A frequent bus user, I was wowed by the readiness of seated passengers to give up their coveted spots on packed buses not only for cane-wielding seniors but for pregnant women, people carrying young children and even those approaching “middle age”.
And if you happened to be pushing a stroller, you could expect at least 2-3 people to offer to hold the child, carry the stroller or take your payment to the driver.
Additionally, I was surprised to find that even the most outwardly rough-looking Israeli, given the circumstances, could instantly transform into something akin to one`s own grandparent.
I never would have believed it myself, had it not been for a particularly special experience I had shortly before Purim.
A friend and I wanted to bake hamantashen for the holiday and we searched frantically for somewhere to buy prepared poppy seed filling (side note: I find it all the time on Israeli supermarket shelves...4 years later).
Unsuccessful, we decided to ask the scowling head cashier at the supermarket after an exhaustive search.
She told us, as we thought, that they did not have any, and as we started to walk away she called to us and began to—get this—write out a recipe she knew off-hand for poppy seed filling!
I could not help but smile from ear to ear, realizing that G-d had brought us to exactly the place we needed to be (as usual) and given me a most unique story that would help shape my incomplete view of the Israeli public.
Furthermore, my year abroad allowed me an opportunity to volunteer in the bone-marrow ward of Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, where I and one or two other girls would go to the rooms of terminally ill children, visit with them and bring some toys.
This experience was very trying, as it aroused within me a conflict that to this day remains unsettled: most of the children in the ward were Arabs.
To illustrate the conflict, consider the Arab woman from Gaza who, in 2005, was treated at the Soroka hospital in Be`er Sheva for burns and attempted to return and blow herself up in that same hospital that had treated her with the same care as any other person.
The humane treatment by Israel of anyone, regardless of religion or race, strikes most people as odd considering Israel`s volatile terror situation.
And yet, there I was, a Jewish girl visiting sick Arab children in an Israeli hospital; needless to say it started out pretty uncomfortably.
But the patients and their parents were at ease; in fact, they were often very grateful of our presence and although most could not communicate this verbally as they spoke only Arabic, they would nod and smile at us while one mother opened a fresh bottle of Coca Cola for us in a hospitable gesture.
I can only hope that we made a positive, lasting impact on those families.
Finally, there was something very unique that happened to me during that year.
You see, I still was not fully convinced that I could ever see myself living in Israel, but meeting my future husband put an end to that decision.
He was learning at Aish HaTorah and happened to be from Toronto as well, and although he came home for our wedding, 6 months later we were on the plane and save for two visits, we`ve been here ever since.
Now our little girl is a sabra (native-born Israeli).