The journey to Israel

By a Masa Israel participant studying at the University of Haifa
I never thought I could love one place so much.
I can't even fully explain what it is like living here. I know it. I feel it. It’s pleasant like fine sand between my fingers, but when I try to describe it, it slips through my hand.
It's because each grain of sand is like a memory. Each moment like a miniscule rock is so small that it would be impossible to describe them all. They are the mundane things, like walking to class every morning, watching the different people get on the bus as I ride to Mercaz Carmel. Every successful transaction in Hebrew, every failure to communicate, every night watching the lights of the city glitter in the haze, every fresh rain-washed morning. Each one is small and precious, together making up the experiences of these past few months.
Its 12:39 a.m. My roommate is brushing her teeth as she gets ready to go to bed. She’ll tell me lilah tov , "goodnight" in Hebrew. I sit in the kitchen of my dorm. It's a somewhat pitiful looking room by comparison to my dorm back home, but it is made cheery by a ridiculous fruit-print plastic table cloth that covers the table. We managed to hide the burn from the hot toaster oven plate by adjusting it strategically under the shelf that holds the fruit and little house plants. So many memories here. Like when Anne burned croutons and they caught fire in the toaster oven. She opened the door and flames came out and in a frenzy she obeyed Rebecca's instructions to blow it out. The flames only grew on the oxygen until I came running out of my room and sloshed water over the whole thing. A few days later she set a package of butter on fire when she forgot that the aluminum foil could not be microwaved. I put that one out too. I've resolved that it's just a proper christening of our kitchenware. Now we know it’s up to our standards.
A floor above, the hayalim or soldiers are making a ruckus. Sometimes when there is a birthday they count echad, shteim, shalosh, arba, hamesh, shesh, Sheva, Shmone, Taysha, Eser, Echad-Esre, Shtem-Esre, SHALOSH-ESRE, ARBA-ESREM, HAMESH-ESRE, SHESH-ESRE, SHEVA-ESRE, SHMONESRE, CHYAESRE, ESRREEEEEEEEEM!!!! getting louder and louder until they reach the age of the person. Other times, like tonight, they can be heard blasting music like “I Gotta Feeling” (which by the way, is mostly popular here only because it has the phrase ‘mazel tov’ in it) and it sounds like they’re dancing from the banging that can be heard above us.
One time it sounded like there was a wrestling match taking place by the thumping and yelling and screaming in Hebrew. We were almost convinced they were doing drills or beating each other up until one of our Israeli friends stuck his head out the window to hear better. 'I heard something about a mouse,' he said a moment later. The Israeli Defense Force vs a mouse. I'm still not sure who won.
And there is my amusing relationship with the guy at the coffee shop.
"Ma shlomech?" he asks me. He wipes his hands on a towel. He is as Israeli as they come. His olive complexion and dark hair mark him as Middle Eastern but the way his eyebrows come together and the constant amused expression make you feel that he is perhaps a bit cynical, and that he likes poking fun at things with that slightly dark Israeli sense of humor.
I step forward, Galgalatz blares loudly in the background. "Ani rotsa late katan bvakesha." I want a small latte please.
"Ma schlomech?" he emphasizes.
I glance at the menu. "Late katan!" Did I say it wrong?
"I’m asking how you are," he says, breaking into English.
"Ohhhh," I said, stifling my own laughter.
I've learned by now not to get too self-conscious, it wastes too much energy when most of my Hebrew encounters tend to look like this. He looks at me with amusement and I wish I could convey to him that the Hebrew center of my brain doesn’t turn on until after I’ve consumed coffee.
"Kol tov," I say, still trying to suppress my laughter.
"Late katan?" he confirms and punches some buttons on the register. "Taysha."
I hand him the nine shekels and set my bag on a coffee table.
That was our second encounter. The first time, he yelled at me for putting too much sugar in my coffee. I told him that I'm American and that I can’t help it. He knows me by now when I come up to the counter.
"Kemi?" he calls when my coffee is ready.
"Ken?" yes?
He looks as though he is memorizing my face to my name "Kemi," he repeats slowly with a look of approval, nodding slightly.
"Com'on, you should know that by now," I joke. I notice half of one of his fingers is wrapped in a big white bandage, only the kind a college guy could construct. "What happened?" I ask.
There is a hint of a smile on his face as he focuses on pouring the milk into the cup. "Oh, I cut myself," he says in nearly unaccented English. I wonder if he ever lived in America. He looks up from stirring the late katan and hands it to me, "I circumcised my finger."
I laugh at this and take my coffee, still putting in three packets of granulated sugar. "Well feel better."
Despite regularly embarrassing myself in front of him, he is one of the people I will miss. I don't know his name, nor do I know any of the soldiers who live above me, but they are the fabric of this adventure. They don’t even know how hard they are making this for me. They have no idea that my heart is going to break. What will I do when I can't hear the jingle of the army radio station? Gal-gal-gal-galatz. What will I do when the buses are no longer green and shiny with a big white Egged symbol on the side? And the ocean, how will I ever be able to look at Lake Michigan with love when I’ve sat and stared at a cerulean sea from atop a mountain?
I knew I had to come.
Then I came.
Now I’m here and I never thought I could love a place so much.

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