I left Los Angeles for Israel on August 15. Nothing about that Thursday morning seemed extraordinary. The sun shined down on the golden coast as it does every other day. Little did I know that this day was the beginning of a journey that I can only surmount as a modern day Epic.
I came to Israel seeking experience and adventure on a five-month program called Career Israel. Now, three months later I have made lifelong friends, voyaged to places of legend, fought heroic battles, found a job, and even fell in love. Yes, in three months, I was able to cover all the themes of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid.
Upon my arrival to the modern city of Tel Aviv, I experienced an overwhelming flood of emotions. What those emotions were I was not able to describe that day. But the longer I live in this amazing country, the more I begin to unravel their meaning.
As I stepped off the cold airplane and into the Israeli sun, I was immediately hit with the 90% humidity that the Middle East is known for. I got into my cousin’s car, and we raced down the Ayalon Highway to Ra’anana where my entire Israeli family was waiting for me trying to fatten me up with the dates, figs, goat meat, hummus and falafel.
While sitting at the table in a near food coma, I had my first understanding of Israel. I knew I was home. It was during this first meal that I realized my Jewish Identity has no repercussions in this country.
I pushed on beyond the loving (yet confining) arms of my family and began my voyage with Career Israel. I left the high tech phenomena city of Tel-Aviv and in 40 minutes I travelled 3000 years back in time to Jerusalem.
It was traveling to this ancient city that I had my first battle.
A cabbie tried to take more money from me because he assumed my American accent might be a sign of weakness (little did he know I speak Hebrew). After about ten minutes and a number of well-placed verbal assaults, we came to an agreement. Emerging victorious I paid him a price that I found to be fair. Rather than being upset with me, the cabbie seemed content. He cheerfully wished me a “Yom Tov” and drove away. This was my second understanding of the people and mentality of Israel.
People here are tough, they’re even tougher than the New Yorkers. Here they are bred with thick skin, and do not mind a little confrontation. But at the end of the day, this confrontation is seen with a certain respect. One must stand their ground and try and get ahead. It garners a certain status, never settle in this country; always know there is a better deal.
Once I was victorious in my first battle against the cabbie, I met the Career Israel group at the Ytizhak Rabin hostel in Jerusalem. At first it was like a middle school dance. Boys awkwardly huddling together making small talk, making friends, while girls were in another corner, also feeling out the strange new people.
A jumble of accents and cultures clashed during the initial week. It was a fight for friendship, a fight for not being judged, and a fight to find the true identity of each of these new people. In one week we had to make a decision of who our roommates would be for the next 5 months.
I only wish I could have been a third party observing because this battle must have looked like a cocktail of the Jersey shore, Real Life, Big Brother, and Greek. To put it in colloquial terms, it was a shit-show.
However, what unfolded that week in Jerusalem was something spectacular. The pressure and heat we all felt from our new environment took us in as pieces of coal and spat us out as diamonds. During that week I met so many people who have displayed their character to me, locking their place in my heart as true friends.
As my favorite author Kurt Vonnegut wrote,
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured”
I can confidently say that in a week, with Masa Israel as the catalyst, this group of 120 people laid the foundation of a community that has evolved and truly has cured any remnants of loneliness in my life.
The last and definitely most moving part of an Epic is the love interest.
First with Israel as a country, she has been sweet and sour and like in any relationship we sometimes clash but I love her imperfections and she has been kind.
Second with the friends I have met, they have inspired me to grow, encouraged me to evolve, and helped me shape who I am.
Third with a beautiful woman, but being the product of a Jewish mother, a gentleman does not kiss and tell.
All these experiences have made me stronger, helped me grow, and made me realize that my life, though complicated and undoubtedly human, has shaped me in a way that I am only beginning to understand.
I can truly recommend that spending a significant length of time in Israel is a necessity for any and every Jew, no matter of religious observance. It will only help you grow, answer many questions, and raise the right questions for the future.