So this is it — my final column from Tel Aviv.
How do I begin to sum up my experience here? The past two and a half years have been . . . intense.
I fell in love with Israel as a 16-year-old, during IST. From the sunrise at Masada and Shabbatot spent relaxing in the green hills of the Golan to covering myself in mud at the Dead Sea, the six-and-a-half weeks I experienced in Israel were nothing short of magical. Singing, dancing, laughing, crying and, ultimately, loving every aspect of this country and culture permeated every moment of that trip.
I remember returning to America thinking that Israel was my true home, the place I was meant to be.
Fast-forward to a degree in Middle Eastern studies and a semester studying abroad at Haifa University. I eventually found myself moving to Israel and rapidly discovering that life here, on a day-to-day basis, is not the magical bubble of IST, nor that of a study abroad program.
So what, you may ask, is life here? What did I discover from actually moving here, working here and building a life for myself here?
The answer is far from simple. I learned that life here is hard. People yell and push, nobody knows how to stand in a line, rules don’t apply and the banks and government institutions are a nightmare.
Moreover, the conflict is everywhere — from television programs and newspapers to soldiers and the ever-present reality of the military — and it can become exhausting.
The educational system is not what it should be, with teachers and students constantly going on strike.
There are far too many subcultures of immigrants in need of better jobs and higher pay. Bizarre social norms and behaviors that would never be considered acceptable in America are completely ordinary here.
On top of all of those things — the annoying experiences, the stressful encounters and moments of complete and utter frustration — I also learned that I could depend on anyone and everyone in my life here, be it for something simple or for a more serious matter.
I learned that relationships with new colleagues and acquaintances can be so deep, so real and so easily established that you actually don’t even remember a time when these people weren’t your best friends.
I learned that the most amazing relationships can be formed with your acupuncturist, facialist, local grocer, gym counter attendant, neighborhood café employee and hair stylist, and that even the man at the juice stand will consider you practically family after your second purchase of a strawberry-banana-date shake.
Still more: For the past few years, I have had the privilege of living in a Jewish society, with the entire country celebrating holidays and other cultural events together.
I learned that it feels absolutely delicious to speak Hebrew on a daily basis.
That family gatherings are a central and essential part of life.
That nothing cures a bad mood better than Hilton beach, that “Moon” has the country’s best sushi and my favorite meal of the day will forever be “aruchat boker yisraeli.”
I realized that the magic that I felt as a 16-year-old does, in fact, exist, and that this tiny little country is littered with treasures, passion and a nation comprised of fighters, of men and women who fervently believe in the existence of Israel, and in defending that right.
For me, however, America — and the world of academia — calls. But I will most certainly bring Israel home with me; in my connection to this culture, and most importantly, in my desire to spend time with, be close to, and truly cherish my family — both blood relatives and friends.
Fortunately, when I step on the plane and head back to Colorado (with far too much luggage, of course — you can’t live in Israel and avoid the incredible accessories), I know that I will only be saying l’hitraot — “see you soon” — and not “goodbye.”
After all, as I’ve learned before, it’s only a matter of time before that magic starts pulling at my heartstrings, bringing me back to this crazy little place we can all call “home.”