Sunday, September 17th, 2017, 10:31 AM
Hello, everyone! I am sitting right now in an adorable, bustling cafe called Cafe Shlonsky – a beautiful 5 minute walk from home. After accidentally ordering a humongous breakfast unaware of how much food it included, I am actually happy that I am forced to sit here for the next few hours in order to work my way through all of this delicious food. It gives me plenty of time to update all of you on my first week in the Holy Land!
The “Shlonsky Morning” – two scrambled eggs with mushrooms and onions, Israeli salad, Iced Caffe, bread, and lots of spreads
Time is so confusing here. On the one hand, I feel like I haven’t been in California in ages, and have to consciously remind myself to think about people and places from the Bay because I am adjusting so well to my new life abroad (sorry everyone. I still love you!) But at the same time, it feels like just yesterday that I was with my best friends by the shores of the Bay during sunset, at the dinner table laughing with my family, swimming with my sister during the heat wave, or snuggling with Manny on the weekend mornings. Though my understanding of time is anything but clear to me at this point, it doesn’t change the fact that my first week in Israel has come to a close, and that is something to write about! This week was a week of firsts. First day of work, first time taking Israeli public transportation, first time legally drinking at a bar… exciting! So, let’s go back in time a bit, and start from the beginning: the terrible 14 hour plane ride.
Friday, September 8th, 2017, 10:20 PM
I can’t believe it is finally happening. Just some months ago, this whole thing was just a crazy idea, a dream, and now it’s a reality! Wow. Im tirtzu, ein zo agada, amiright?! It really doesn’t feel real yet. I guess it’s because so much is changing in my life and it’s unlike I’ve ever experienced before, so it is impossible to grasp or know what to expect.I guess that’s the beauty, though, of this whole thing. I have no huge responsibilities but at the same time have the huge task of taking care of myself. I don’t have to answer to anyone but I also have the privilege of having so many people to see in so many different places. The best part is that I have ample free time to read, write, explore, observe, and learn, both about myself and the places and people around me. Before I land, a few pieces of advice:
OPEN MY MIND. Be receptive to and ready for new experiences.
Let myself RELAX.
PLAN so you can see the amazing things these countries have to offer.
Find at least one reason to SMILE every day.
- It’s OKAY to NOT BE OKAY.
Most importantly… I CAN DO IT! Even in tough times, never doubt my strengths.
Fia on the Fly
Monday, September 11th, 2017, 3:26 PM
Hello, hello! Today was my first day of work. I woke up at 3:30 AM and was bummed because of course my first night of bad jet lag had to be the night before I started work. But, part of this year is about making lemonade when life gives me lemons. So, I hopped out of bed, made coffee and oatmeal, and got on the bus right on time.
What’s an Israeli gap year experience without getting yelled at by an impatient Israeli bus driver? It simply wouldn’t be authentic. So, picture this: I – short, nervous, and incompetent in Hebrew – stepped on to the bus with no idea how to use my RavKav (Israeli bus pass). After some shouts of impatience and frustration, I figured out that I had to leave the card in the machine so the driver could charge me for the ride. After working out the transaction, I darted to the first empty seat I could find. A few moments later, I noticed a sign saying that the first row is reserved for the elderly. I was immediately relieved that I didn’t sit in the front row (though I almost did), but then got self conscious about my 3rd row seat being “too good” (close to the front) for someone of my age. So, I traded it for a more modest seat, falling into people and banging my body parts on the plastic arm rests as I attempted to walk the entirety of the bus while it was in motion. Finally, I made it to the back just as the bus driver halted to a very sharp, sudden stop, and I collapsed in a seat in the 2nd to last row.
Though expecting to arrive to work 55 minutes from my departure, I soon realized I could not have picked a worse time for my morning commute. The streets were almost at a standstill because of rush hour traffic, and it took an hour just to get out of Ra’anana (where I live). I checked my Moovit app, and my stomach churned as the ETA changed from 8:20 to 8:26 to 8:29 to 8:32… I was supposed to be at work a few minutes before 8:30, but clearly that was not going to happen. I consoled myself by saying I would be fashionably late (though I knew deep down that “fashionably late” to work is not something you want to be). However, my fashionably late plan assumed that I found my work easily, because if I didn’t, I would just be plain old late. And for any of you who know how directionally and navigationally challenged I am, it will come as no surprise to you that finding my work was no easy feat. (If you don’t know my challenges, all you need to know is that I used directions to get from school to my house every day because I didn’t trust myself not to accidentally get on the high way or go the wrong way down a one way street in Central San Rafael). Of course, finding the building proved to be an embarrassingly difficult task. After getting off of the bus at 8:32 and circling the 2-block radius a solid 4 times with a clueless look on my face, I asked a grocery store clerk smoking outside, who pointed to a gate just a few feet away, which I had already walked past a few times during my search. To be fair, they should have had a sign, or at least a street number, so I could have had some idea of where to go.
I ran through the gate, breathless, and unfortunately, very late. And not in a fashionable way. Time check: 8:55 AM. But at least I made it! I was immediately thrown into the balagan of the Gan (daycare) – crying kids, smelly diapers, and exhausted staff, but nonetheless, incredibly grateful and excited to begin my new adventure as a volunteer at the Gan. So, yeah, that was my morning. How was yours???
Tuesday, September 12th – Wednesday, September 13th, 2017
Wow! The past 2 days have gone by so slowly but at the same time so quickly. Time is so weird here. I never really know or pay attention to the day/date/time, but I also don’t care or feel the need to, and that is pretty cool.
Monday after work I went to the beach. At first, I felt very lonely and was suddenly very embarrassed about going swimming without anyone to go with, so I resorted to reading even though it was very, very hot (we are in a bit of a heat wave). As the beads of sweat rolled down my back and forehead, I reminded myself that I AM HERE TO PUSH MYSELF AND TAKE RISKS! So, I got in the water, and though I got bit (attacked) by some fish, the water was smooth, inviting, and refreshing. I stayed in for close to an hour, and made friends with an older woman from Tel Aviv. It was at that moment that I realized the fun in being alone, giving my undivided attention to the people around me, and giving them the potential and opportunity to become friends even for a matter of minutes.
Eventually, I got out of the water, read a bit more, and then began to journal (which I hadn’t done since the plane). As the thoughts overflowed out of my purple Papermate pen, I remembered why I love to journal so much. Time stopped as the words spilled out. I was so worried about being bored at the beach and on my gap year as a whole that I couldn’t allow myself to realize how much fun it is to just sit and write. The same happened yesterday when, after work, I walked to the delectable Shakshukia for lunch. There, I sat and read for a solid hour at least. It was probably the most relaxed I had been the whole trip so far. I have to keep reminding myself to not over schedule and to sometimes plan to have nothing to do, as counterintuitive as that may sound. With my anxiety, it is easy to overschedule and fill my days so I never have to worry about what to do, but the best times so far have been those times where I can completely surrender myself to my pen or my book. Remember that.
~ Book Check-In: First book is finished! Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan – 10/10! ✓
Onto a bit more introspection, I have been going through anxiety swings. The past few days I was feeling 100% and #thriving, but today I feel sad, homesick, and alone. It’s really hard to be here as a resident and not as a tourist. I feel like I have to rekindle the feelings of home and belonging that I once felt toward Israel, because lately I’ve been feeling like an outsider, especially because I don’t speak Hebrew. I’m getting a little snapshot of how hard it would be to make aliyah (move to Israel) and be an oleh (immigrant). I hope by the end of these 7 weeks, I regain a new, probably more clouded and confusing feeling of home. But maybe I won’t! And that’s okay too. Only time will tell.
Ta ta for now,
Sunday, September 17th, 2017, 1:53 PM (back to the present)
Well, I just spent the past 3 hours writing and compiling this blog post, except it all got deleted! Baruch Hashem for auto-save and revision history, though that definitely pissed me off. Let’s try again…
This past weekend was my first full Shabbat in Israel, as I spent most of my last Friday night on the plane. For this Shabbat, I invited my friend Rachel from home to join me in Hadera for a Shabbat with my cousins on the moshav (cooperative agricultural community). My cousins on the moshav are very casual, lighthearted, and secular. They celebrate Shabbat every weekend by saying the kiddush, lighting candles, and making hamotzi, but they still drive and use their phones. Like me. So, as I began to pack for the weekend, I knew I did not need to be super fancy or modest for Shabbat, and threw in two casual sun dresses and my dirty white Vans. Then, I left to pick up Rachel from the bus station near my house.
Shabbat in Israel is unlike anything you will experience in any other country. The crazy thing about Shabbat in Israel is that the whole country shuts down when Shabbat starts. Buses stop running, stores close, and the streets grow quiet and empty as people head home to welcome in the Shabbat. This is generally very soothing and relaxing, but not if you are on a very long journey via public transportation, and the buses might literally stop running before you make it to your destination. As the hours ticked away, Rachel and I both grew anxious that we would literally not make it to Hadera for Shabbat because there would be no buses or cabs left to take us. So, we made an executive decision together – I would pick Rachel up from the bus stop near my house and we would cab together to the moshav. Sure, the cab would be expensive (and it was) but at least we knew we would get to the moshav before Shabbat and would not be stuck in some random city with no way to leave.
I sat at the bus stop as Rachel texted me that she was arriving at my stop. A big, green Egged bus approached, and I saw her waving at me through the window with a big smile on her face. I stood up to greet her but was surprised when the bus didn’t slow down. Rachel’s face changed from one of excitement to one of terror as the bus kept speeding down Ahuza Street, right past me and past the bus stop she was supposed to get off at. Right at that moment, our cab pulled up. Had Rachel been there to get in with me, I would’ve been proud of myself for scheduling the cab at such a perfect time. But in that moment, I beat myself a bit – why did I have to be so timely? Why couldn’t I have ordered it for a few minutes later in case Rachel’s bus didn’t arrive on time, or in this case, in case Rachel’s bus driver didn’t stop for her to get off?! I got in the car, panicked, and was ready to apologize to the cab driver for needing to make an additional stop to pick up Rachel, but of course, he was on the phone. As we drove away, I saw Rachel running up the street towards us, so I yelled to the cab driver to please pull over. Rachel got in the car, and we exchanged a huge hug and a collective sigh of relief.
About 20 minutes into our car ride, my cousin Roee called to let me know that he was on his way to Hadera from Tel Aviv, and asked if we needed a ride. Of course we were already in the cab and we had already reconciled the fact that we were blowing $40 because we were so mentally and physically exhausted and didn’t want to take another bus or risk Shabbat starting before we got there. I chuckled to myself sadly at the irony of the whole situation. It would have been so much cheaper and easier to get a ride with Roee, but of course, me being American, I scheduled the cab so that we would get to Hadera early, and Roee, being Israeli, called me as he was already on his way and would be getting to Hadera a few minutes late. I told Roee we would meet him there, and I pushed the thoughts of frustration out of my head. If the transportation situation was any indication of how the weekend would turn out, the weekend would definitely not be going as planned. So, I took a few deep breaths, embraced everything that had gone wrong, and got ready to enter Shabbat with a positive attitude.
We were due to arrive right on time at 4pm, but as Israeli drivers tend to drive very fast and ignore any rules on the road, we got there 20 minutes early, at 3:40 pm. We were dropped off at the New Hadera Cemetery for my great uncle Yitzi’s memorial service. I called my cousin Oded to confirm that we were in the right place. Can you take a guess as to whether or not we were? We weren’t! So, Oded took a detour to pick us up on the way, and drive us to the correct cemetery, which we had actually passed in the cab on the way to the wrong one. After a lovely memorial service, we were alerted by my cousins that we were going to an orthodox shul for dinner, and would need to wear modest clothing. Rachel and I exchanged looks of shock and doom, as we had both packed cute and far-from-modest outfits for what we thought would be a casual Shabbat on the moshav. So, once we got back to the moshav, my cousin Gal walked us over to her neighbor’s house, where we borrowed long skirts and nice tops for dinner.
Then, we headed to the shul in Netanya. We were surprised when we were escorted upstairs to the women’s section of the shul, full of babbling mothers and screaming children. When you sat down in the seats, the wall was too high for you to see anything happening in the men’s section down below. There were nice wooden railings above where the wall ended, so even if you stood up, you could only peer below through the holes in the railings. We were shocked at how different this was from our synagogues at home, where everybody sat together and where women engaged in prayer. We still had respect for the people around us, but we longed for services back home where we could sing our hearts out to Yedid Nefesh and Mehera Hashem on Kabbalat Shabbat.
After dinner, all of the shul-goers erupted into song. Rachel and I were familiar with the tradition of singing emphatically after Shabbat dinner, but were saddened at the fact that we didn’t know any. There was no David Melech, Mipi El, or Yibaneh haMikdash which were our favorite post-Shabbat tunes from camp. So, we scooted our chairs together, and began our own little shira (song session) for 2. We freaked out with excitement when the community began to sing Gesher Tzar Meod, but then went back to our own private song session. After dinner, we headed out to a local pub at Kibbutz Givat Hayyim with all of my cousins. We laughed as we got carded, but my 14 year old cousin somehow strolled right in, and later ended up taking shots with us. “Welcome to Israel,” my cousins said to me. After a few hours, we headed back home, where Rachel and I passed out. The next day, we went back to shul and then came home, where we ate way too much Israeli chocolate (Tim Tam, Klik, and Kinder Bueno) before boarding our buses home.
This weekend was full of surprises, good and bad. Though it was uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, and stressful at times, it was probably a very representation of how things are going to go this year. To expect things to always go well and according to plan is naive and unrealistic, even if I would much prefer it to go that way. So, I am leaving this Shabbat a little bit stronger and more flexible, remembering that sometimes you just have to spend the extra money on a cab, borrow outfits from your cousin’s neighbor, or make your own Shabbat song session at the corner of your table while everyone else is singing songs you don’t know.