A Jewess on a Mission

January 31, 2010, 12:22 am
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Sitting on my parent’s couch, back in Charlotte, I question the meaning of the word “home.” The word has come to mean several different things over the last month.

In some ways, “home” is wherever my dog and Walter are. So long as I have those two things, I feel like I belong and like everything will be ok. In this sense, home is a place where, regardless of whatever else is going on, I can trust I will be ok.

“Home” was my apartment in Carrboro. It was where all of my stuff was. It was where I would sleep at night and where I would prepare myself for my day. This is actually my least-favorite type of home. This is the home of obligation and of function. It was only my home because it had to be my home. The times when it made me feel safe were when Walter and my dog were there. The space itself had little to do with it. It was a material home.

When I landed in Israel, the first thing someone said to me was “welcome home.” Someone told me ahead of time that this would happen, but the impact was not any less for it. A chill ran through me. I found a completely different kind of home in Israel. This time, it was a home established from generations of history and culture. I don’t speak Hebrew, I didn’t know the streets, and I didn’t know anyone before I got there, but I felt at home. I was home in a way that permeated all the way down to my marrow. It resonated.

But now I am back in Charlotte, in my parents’ home. In a home that was mine before I could make my own. I carry Israel around inside of me like a song stuck in my head. It is constantly nagging me and begging me to come back.

I think the hardest thing about coming back to the US is figuring out what it means to have found a home someplace without all of my things and all of my loved ones. What does it mean when you can find a home that is completely divorced from friends and family? I am still wrestling with this. I am still figuring out what my new relationship with Israel has done with my preexisting relationships with others and with myself.

I think the idea of home is at the heart of all of these answers. It is reassuring to know that I can create a home wherever I go. However, carving out the spaces in my heart and mind for friends, family, dog, and boyfriend is a trying task. It’s not nearly as easy as it should be. It’s hard when you cannot reconcile two understandings of home. I feel like I have to go back to Israel, that I need to be there; but if I go, then I am leaving behind my family, my surroundings, my stuff, and Walter. Can it be home if it is lacking all of those elements?

For now, my solution is to fill out job applications here, program applications in Israel. We’ll see what I get (assuming I get anything). Once I have choices…I’ll have to choose.


Learning about yourself
January 20, 2010, 3:47 pm
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I’ve been in Israel for the better part of a month, and at this point, I’ve begun to take inventory of myself, both before I came and now.

I’ve surprised myself a great bit. For a long time here, I’ve been troubled by a sense of longing. I came to Israel assuming that I’d be drenched in religion by the time I came back; that is not the case. It is at once quite comforting and confusing that my faith lives completely within me. While Israel may hold more people who express their faith similarly to the way I do, my religion is contained within me. It is nice to be in a place where I’m told “Shabbat Shalom” on a Friday evening, but other than that, my faith is almost the same as I left it.

That is comforting because it means that it really is a part of me. While the world may twist itself into a knot trying to define, defend, and degrade religion, my personal spirituality is intact because I make it so, not because anyone else does it for me.

It is also unnerving though, because it leads me to question what it is I am learning here.

The answer to that question is too much for one post…several posts…any publication of any kind. However, I do think there are some things that I can try to explain.

For instance, I’ve realized that I am quite prone to loneliness. I always say that I like to travel alone, but that is a pretty uneducated statement. I’ve only traveled by myself once before now, and that was New Orleans, and for a week. Truth be told, I really like being around people. When you are seeing and experiencing such amazing things, you want someone by your side to share it with you.

I’m meeting so many people here. People from Russia, America, Germany, Brazil, Poland, and of course Israelis. Not having anyone with me has pushed me to be forward and brave. I have to introduce myself to people first, not wait for them to do it. It is great to know how capable I am at meeting people, but I also now realize that it could very well be easier and safer with a friend by your side.

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a hermit. Compared to my outspoken and gregarious siblings, I always felt a little bit behind, socially. I think it is actually that I am intimidated by people. I know that I am so lucky to meet them, I never imagine that they think they are so lucky to meet me. It is this type of self-talk that I’ve had to rid myself of in order to thrive here. I realize that I must feel very confident to go out with people.

I have also learned that I am still intimidated by bars and clubs. I’m not sure why I am so against them. It has never been my scene. It’s really strange when you think about a typical 7th grade Jew’s lifestyle: you work hard all week in school, and then you have a party every single weekend in the form of a bar or bat mitzvah, in which you dance non-stop until the DJ (or parents) kick you out. It is like training for when, 9 years later, you get to go to bars. So why is it that I can’t bring myself to do it?

I think the most obvious first point is because I find the whole thing over-sexualized. Women go through the rituals that they think will lead men to want to dance with them or buy drinks (such as shaving their legs, putting on make-up, strategically placed perfume, etc), and men gather their cash, put on their “lucky” jeans, and practice their pick up lines. The whole thing is such a charade to me. Whether the people at clubs are actually looking to hook up with people or not, everyone going wants someone to want to hook up with them…if that makes sense.

We all want to feel attractive, wanted, and needed. I think that we do things every day with the intent of receiving approval as a man or woman. We want approval and acceptance. At a club, you have been “approved” when a worthy guy starts dancing with you, buys you a drink, or gets your number.

As much as I’d like to stand on my high horse and pretend like I think I’m just above the whole thing, I have to admit that I think that a large part of my distaste for bars and clubs is that I don’t think I’ll measure up. The fear of rejection is so strong, that I’d rather not bother. It is easy to get away with this when I have a wonderful partner who loves every part of me. I don’t need other guys to accept me, I have Walter.

However, I’ve realized while I’ve been here that I haven’t really been single in 7 years. That’s a long time for a 22 year old. I think it is beautiful that I don’t need approval from men aside from my boyfriend, but what happens if I am ever single again? Will I stay at home by myself as opposed to going out?

Can I be alone?

This leads me on to the other big thing I’ve learned about myself. I am terrified of being alone. I think it is a natural feeling for someone my age. Especially someone who is a serial monogamist. While being here, I’ve noticed that I talk a LOT about my boyfriend. Of course I love him and admire him and think he’s the best man I could ever hope for, but I have realized that I also hide behind him.

Rather than allowing someone to size me up as an individual, I have to let them know immediately that I have a boyfriend. If they don’t know that I have a boyfriend, then I am afraid that they will think that I am looking for one and either hit on me or feel sorry for me.

To define yourself as a person in a relationship is really destructive. It’s so easy to do when you are in a relationship as supportive and fulfilling as mine. However, he is not with me here, and I have to stand on my own two feet, and let people know me as Courtney. Not Courtney-and-Walter. It’s scary.

I recognize that I have a tendency to respect my boyfriends more than I do myself. I hide behind them. I always date spectacular people who have qualities that I feel I am lacking. By doing so, I feel that I can claim, at least a bit, of those qualities in myself.

It’s been an interesting set of realizations: I tend to be lonely and I fear being alone. I suppose they are actually about the same thing. As much as I thought I’d be learning about religion, I’ve learned about my relationship with myself, and how that impacts my other relationships.

I hate to be so reflective without mentioning what I’m actually doing here. It can be broken down as such:
-meeting people
-frozen yogurt with fresh figs, pomegranate seeds, persimmon, and honey
-meet more people
-buy things just because they are from Israel

As I read over the entries, I see that this blog has become less about traveling and more about living. I guess that is because I’m not really traveling anymore. I have been a resident of Tel Aviv for a few weeks now. What I deal with is day-to-day life….A really fucking cool day-to-day life.

I miss everyone back home so much. Shout outs to my parents, my incredible boyfriend, my siblings, my best friends, and of course my Xi brothers and sisters.

Friendships and Day-to-Day
January 17, 2010, 9:12 am
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When I first arrived at the hostel, I met a lot of people. A lot of very interesting people. Interesting, I have learned, does not always mean good to hang around.

It’s not necessarily that people here are dangerous or anything; a lot of them are just idiots. Especially the younger people. The people my age have three things on their mind: beach, sex, and alcohol. I don’t mean to judge them, but it’s so weird to me to come to a place like Israel and only want those three things. Go to South Beach. Maybe that way I could possibly sleep completely through the night as opposed to waking up to your drunken revelry. Ok, kvetch over.

The people I have met and bonded with over the last several days are not the people I would expect to feel close to. Nobody I have bonded with has been under the age of 30. Many of them left careers and families to come here. Several of them lost everything in the economic crisis. This has a two-fold effect on me. First, it makes me really really nervous about entering the job market and being an adult. I suddenly feel very not ready to do that. The second effect is this bizarre flood of hope. So many people have told me that not going to the kibbutz was sacrificing the “opportunity of a lifetime.” The number of times I’ve heard that phrase… But seeing these people, these adult people, prioritize a trip to Israel for themselves, makes me believe that even if I were to get married and have kids and find a career the millisecond I get back into the States (please God don’t let that happen), that there are always going to be opportunities to go and see and wander.

I don’t think it’s fair that life has to end as soon as you take up a career, husband, or children. I understand that there is a bit of reality to it, but I think that really, people just use it as an excuse not to live. I understand that there are certainly more things to take into account when you have one or many of these responsibilities, but there is always a way.

My days here have gotten increasingly comfortable. I have a few dependable friends (which is really all you need). Our time together is always full of amazing experiences. Yesterday, it was iced coffee, taking the city by foot, sitting and chatting on the beach for hours, and eating frozen yogurt with pomegranates, figs, dates, and havla. Everything is so fresh and delicious here.

The experience I’m having here reminds me of my time in New Orleans. I was so startled to find that you could taste New Orleans, you could feel it. New Orleans had a sound, a rhythm to it. New Orleans had a personality. Compared to the squeaky-clean suburbs that I grew up in, New Orleans was filthy! But it was this griminess, this rawness, that gave the land life.

The same can be said for Israel. You taste Israel, smell it, touch it, and wholly experience it. It, too, carries a rhythm that is unmistakably Israel. There are drawbacks to any place, but I have definitely fallen in love with Tel Aviv.

So much so, that late at night, as I try to fall asleep, I script a life for myself here. I consider making Aliyah, moving here permanently. My loved ones better be glad that I love them so much and miss them so much, otherwise, I don’t know that I would come back.

But there are truths and realities to every situation which make it unsavory.

I have no clue where my day will take me, but with the sun shining brilliantly, I am sure it will be lovely and beautiful.

With love for: crazed scooter drivers, fresh figs, very VERY loud techno music, and GoldStar,


Serenity among the storm
January 14, 2010, 5:16 pm
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Serenity amongst the storm

To catch everyone up to speed, I am not at the kibbutz. I will not be going to the kibbutz. There are so many reasons why, none of which I thought would be the reasons I wouldn’t go. They aren’t particularly worth teasing through here, but just know and trust that this was the right call.

I am, however, still in Israel. I fall more and more in love with this country every day. Now that I am on my own, I am starting to grasp just how lucky I was to participate in Birthright. While there are many things that I maybe didn’t like or felt uncomfortable with, it has definitely given me the luxury of relaxing in these solo days.

I have been able to move at a pace only afforded to me by the fact that I have already seen many of the “must see” sights. Instead, I get to wander down the beach in Tel Aviv. Sit places and talk to people. I get to go with two Germans back to Jerusalem, and act as their tour guide through the Jewish Quarter.

I hope to go to the Zoo tomorrow in Jerusalem, or maybe to the Ba’hai gardens in Haifa. I really don’t make plans until the day of. There is no point. Inevitably I will meet someone who invites me to wherever they are going, to see whatever they are seeing.

Some of my favorite things I’ve done here must seem so mundane after the last two weeks. I spend much of my day talking to people from all over the world. We compare our experiences of Israel with one another. We dream of traveling to other places, of seeing each other’s homeland. We talk about relationships, religion, men, and women. It’s really exactly what I like to do, in a country I like to be in.

I’ve realized that most Israelis really like Americans and that, apparently, most Canadians to not (I was told this by a fellow hostel dweller). I try really hard to carry myself with pride, dignity, and acceptance in order to uphold our good name, and prove wrong those who, when they think of the US only think about George Bush. We are more than politics, religion, racism, etc. America, I have come to realize, has something ineffable that holds us all together. Sort of like in Israel, just on a bigger and more varied scale.

I’m glad to be able to tell everyone more or less at once that I am not going to the kibbutz. I’m not sure how long I’ll stay in Israel. It all depends on my mind, and frankly, when I get my passport back (long story). I’m sure I’ll be here for a little bit, meeting new people, and discovering new things about myself every single day.

Will I make Aliyah? Will I move to Israel, and settle here as a daughter of Zion? Maybe, maybe not. For now, I am one happy traveler, who cannot believe that I have this opportunity.

With love, courage, and excitement.

About the Decade flight
January 9, 2010, 4:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I just saw this article about the flight I was on to Israel. It more objectively describes what happened as I landed in Israel.

Very cool to see that it made the news.

A note on grammar and spelling
January 9, 2010, 1:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, I was reading through this thing for the first time and realized that the lack of sleep must have rendered me completely useless in the realm of spelling, grammar, and general proof-reading.  I thought about going back and editing, but I think that it’s better to leave all the mistakes there.  I feel like I’d be lying if I tried to pass off a pristine collection of posts as my actual experience.

I just thought I would let you know that yes, I do know that they’re there, but that no, I will not be editing them out.

In the future, perhaps you can look forward to better organized and written posts. 

In order to tide you over until my next post, here are some pictures!

Days 9-12: The journey has just begun
January 8, 2010, 3:07 pm
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That is what the caption on our Birthright picture says.

I am writing from a hostel in Tel  Aviv.  To those who questioned whether this place was going to be a hostel or a hotel, let me reassure you, this is definitely a hostel.  Grimy, busy, and even yet a little bit cozy, I am certain in reporting to you that this is not a hotel.  I’ll come back to where I am now, let me first fill you in on where I’ve been.

After we left Jerusalem, the Birthright group traveled to Tel Aviv.  It was a fast paced journey through many legislative landmarks.  We journeyed to Independence Hall to see the place where Israel was declared an independent state.  Here we sang Hatikva and learned about the epic speech that told the world that Israel is here, real and legitimate.  While everything surrounding the politics of Israel are convoluted and controversial, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am glad for the State of Israel. In this same vein of politics, we visited Rabin Square and took the steps that Yitzhak Rabin took when he was met with his murderer.  It was very intense and real.

What I found most beautiful and moving about Tel Aviv though was not the sites or the political history, but rather the people and the ocean.  I love the beach.  There is something comforting, settling about being near the ocean.  This is the same ocean that brushes the shores of my loved ones in the US, and that is one of the most comforting feelings I’ve felt since coming here.

We left Tel Aviv and slept a few hours.  The next day would be my favorite day of the trip.  On Day 10, we loaded the bus and went south.  Somewhere ( I honestly could not tell you where) we unloaded and proceeded to an active archeological site.  The workers led us through an unexcavated cave, where we climbed up rocks, slid under narrow openings, slid through holes into the uncertainty underneath, and felt the heavy chalk walls.  It was phenomenal.  I’m sure my parents will laugh when they read this because it fully recognizes my childhood dream to become an explorer.  Once we were done exploring the caves, we went down into another one, a temple, and began excavating.  We shoveled dirt, finding shards of bone and pottery.  One person even found a perfectly maintained oil lamp.  This location, we learned was the site of the Macabees during the time of Hanukah.  It was so incredible to remember, yet again, that I was in the land where the magical stories of the Torah took place; regardless of God or divinity, the stories in the Torah are based on actual historical happenings.  This land is real.

After the caves, we traveled into the desert and settled at a Bedouin camp.  The people made us tea and coffee, told us about the reality of being a minority in Israel, and explained their culture.  They took us on camel rides (pictures coming soon!) and treated us to a drum circle.  It was so fun! It was fun and it felt like home. The coziness of that lifestyle was so refreshing.  After dinner, our group leaders and tour guide took us on a silent, pitch dark walk into the desert.  We laid on a hill and looked into the blazing night sky.  I was overwhelmed.  It was so beautiful, so powerful (I know that that “powerful” is probably the most used adjective in this blog, by the way, but it’s the only one that fits!).  The feelings attached to an open  night sky are unreal.   Laying underneath the massive dome of the universe, I understood that all of the fear and uncertainty would leave me, and that for now, everything was actually perfect.

The last day, yesterday, of my journey with Birthright, was a bittersweet one.  Climbing Masada was the one part of that trip that I was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading.  As we drove up to the gigantic mountain, I could feel my stomach rising into my throat, but as we began to climb, I felt relieved at the panting and straining of my body. Let me make sure to clarify to those who have never been:

There are 3 ways to reach the top of Masada.  The first option is to take a lift to the top.  A clear glass box takes to the top of the mountain and you get to see the complete 360 degree view of the area.  Option two is to take the snake path.  The snake path is a zig-zagged path up the eastern side of the mountain that combines lengths of slope with steep stairs.  It takes about an hour to climb up this way and is very strenuous.  The third option is the Roman Ramp.  This is a damn near vertical slope that has narrow, very inclined paths and narrow, impossible stairs.  This last option is the option my group chose.  The good news? It only took us 9 minutes to reach the top.

The view on top of Masada, looking out over the dead sea, was unreal.  It looked like a postcard, watercolor, or dream.  I made it to the top of Masada, what can I not do?

However, the Dead Sea proved to be less than perfect.  While the sea and the mud was wonderful, our whole group was cranky and exhausted.  Little fights broke out everywhere, and the sun stole the last of our patience.  We were ready to leave.  Some of us were to go off to the airport to catch our planes home, and others were headed to a hotel to spend their last night in Israel before a 9:00am flight.  I, however, was off to catch a cab to Tel Aviv, to the hostel.  Here, now, I am writing to you from this hostel.  I have made it.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that arriving to night-life Tel Aviv at midnight and finding a grubby looking hotel surrounding by trash cans scared the shit out of me.  It most certainly did.  I’d also be lying if I didn’t tell you that dragging my 100 pound suitcase up two flights of stairs was one of the most miserable things I’ve done since getting here.  Finally, I would certainly be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that the first conversation I heard in Tel Aviv was a guy on Skype in the hallway telling his friend that he “mt the Israeli anarchist punks and tripped balls with them all day on the beach.” But when I woke up today and walked outside, I found a bustling, exciting, and very hip population swarming all around.

I’ve bought my challah and wine for Shabbat tonight, and will enjoy saying the same prayers I’ve said every Friday night since I was 10 years old.  For now that is all.  I will update again soon I’m sure.

With infinite love for each and every one of you.

Shabbat Shalom.