Embark on an exciting journey into Israel, the homeland of the Jewish People and my home for the next year! I will be adding my new observations and perspective of student life at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Israel. Enjoy the ride!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Almost Hanukkah Vacation...

I realized that after my last blog, I sounded a little bit depressed and like I was trying to write something meaningful and important, instead of letting it flow naturally like I usually do. The truth is that I was trying to look on the sunny side of things because I was a bit sad that day, but things are looking up. Firstly, I was waiting for some kind of internal change to happen within me, where I would start to feel satisfied in what I have been doing this track, and it is happening. I am starting to form real relationships with people I have met, whom I interact with every week at the same time and place, and have really been enjoying myself. I had a particular moment yesterday, when I was sitting at a table that has been designated mine, with one of the Holocaust survivor's I met, Yehuda, and just realized how lucky I am and how special my time here is. Yehuda came to Israel after the war at the age of 7. I haven't actually heard his entire story yet, but he always talks about this man, John Gordon, who he met during a trip to Los Angeles who is also a Holocaust survivor. He desperately wants me to meet John when I return to the states, and speaks highly of him every time we meet. Yesterday, Yehuda brought pictures of his family and his trip to LA with him to Cafe Europa. There were scenes from Universal Studios, Disneyland, the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and a the other Cafe Europa that meets in LA. He also showed me a picture of his wife when she was in her twenties. I just kept thinking to myself that he was letting me into his life. Actually, I am now a part of his life, and most likely I might be creating a memory that will last him the rest of his life also. I know he certainly is doing that for me. I just am so happy that I get to meet with them week after week, and I actually am starting to hope that my internship ends up being in Tel Aviv so I can continue coming to Cafe Europa.
This leads me to my next thought... I have been evaluating myself a lot lately. I just have been analyzing what I enjoy, what I am good at, what I try at, and what I give up on. I'm coming up with some interesting answers. Primarily, I know I am good with people. The truth is that I didn't have much experience with working with all age groups until I came to Israel and started volunteering here. I actually love working/hanging out with senior citizens, babies, kids, teenagers, and adults. I find it challenging to connect with them on a certain level, but once I figure out the repoire with them, I feel really good about my ability to work. I am initially shy at first. I know, that sounds crazy, but it is true! I generally find myself checking out a situation before really diving into it. For better or for worse, that is how I deal with new situations and new people. I find more intimate settings more comforting, but I also am very outgoing with a large group of people I know and am comfortable with. I am beginning to trust myself, more than anyone anymore, which doesn't mean I don't take advice, but means that my gut reaction is usually right for me. I am comfortable in my own skin now, which feels really good, and I feel like I have much to offer the world, as long as I find the right outlet to do so. I don't think I will actually ever be good at music, as much as I dabble in it, because I just don't have the patience to practice for hours on end. This doesn't mean I don't love it, but it means that possibly I won't ever reach the potential that I have in that field. And, I am adventurous, even though all my risks are actually calculated. I love love, and I believe that one day I will find that person who will be my partner in crime, whenever that is destined for me. I actually don't think I have much control over when that will happen, although I wouldn't mind if it came sooner rather than later. I love my family and my friends so much, and being away has actually only made me realize how integral they are in my life. I'm not sure what all of these self-realizations amount to just yet, but I am getting ideas. I don't want to come off as self-centered, but this year has been a lot about discovering myself and I wanted to share what I have come up with thus far.
So, I am on to my French getaway on Thursday, and I am really excited... I spoke with Michael before Shabbat, and he is planning to pick me up from the airport when I land and this will begin my Paris adventure. When we were discussing plans, he said "We will just be like 'tayerim' (tourists in Hebrew)," which means I will be busy when I am there! I am interested to see what has changed there since I was there last, and how the spaghetti sauce actually tastes (Dad, that joke was for you). Honestly, I am ready for a little break from Israel, some new scenery and some French wine, chocolate, and pastries. I will take lots of pictures, so not to worry, you won't miss a thing! And, I hope to have some French romance stories too... :)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tel Aviv Update

Well, I haven't written in a while basically because my internet access is much less in Tel Aviv. I haven't found a place close to where I live with access, so I try to check email twice weekly and find some more significant time once a week to write. Last week I was just too tired to try and make conclusive thoughts in a blog entry, so I decided to wait.
Shabbat has just ended here in Tel Aviv. I decided to stay in Tel Aviv this Shabbat, and some of my friends joined me here for the weekend. It was wonderful, and refreshing. I realized that I still truly am adjusting to the new atmosphere I am living in here. I am also still finalizing my schedule, where I am volunteering, trying to find a routine, and it is slowly happening... I have a lot of free time here right now. In fact, for me, I have too much free time. I really feel like this track I wanted to be working full time, and it just hasn't worked out like that yet. I feel myself wanting to put in significant time, to make significant differences in the lives of those around me, but am a little frustrated at the choices I have been given. Here is what I do:
Sunday: Free morning, volunteer at Cafe Europa (which I will explain in a bit) from 3:00-7:00PM
Monday: Ulpan 8:15AM-11:45AM, Volunteer at the local elementary school from 3-4:30PM
Tuesday: Free morning, teach English 1:15-2:45PM, Jaffa Institute 3:30-6PM.
Wednesday: Ulpan until 11:45AM again, local elementary school 'til 4:30PM again, volunteer at the place I am living 4:30-6PM
Thursday: Volunteer at the day care center for endangered kids 9-12:30PM

And that is basically my week thus far. I still am trying to work in other things, but for now that is what my life looks like. The good news is that I live in Tel Aviv, and there are plenty of things to do and people to see. The not so good news is that there are less people to do it with. I love some of the new Israeli friends I have met, but there aren't enough of them yet. Just give me time though.

Every Sunday night, I spend about 2-3 hours with Holocaust survivors. However, I don't spend time with them at a museum, or a lecture, but instead I drink coffee, listen to music, and two-step with them every week at Cafe Europa. I know I have mentioned this in previous blogs, but this is something truly amazing and worthwhile for me to be participating in every week. All of the survivors speak fluent Hebrew. They have crazy hair colors, crazy love triangles, and each one of them smiles through the warmth in their eyes. These are some of the most amazing, inspiring people I have met thus far. I had a realization the last time I was there, sipping coffee and eating rugalah with one survivor. He was asking me where I have been around Israel, what I have seen thus far, and then proceeded to add to things I need to make sure I see. I was suddenly struck by the fact that this man couldn't speak about anything like this 60 years ago. 60 years ago he was a boy, living in Poland, whose whole life was about to change for the worst by no fault of his own. He was speaking to me in Hebrew, and language that just was starting to be resurrected at the time of the Holocaust, and telling me about these places that are his own now. This was one experience. The first time I was at Cafe Europa, I was being taught the two-step by a survivor named Shlomo. He made it through Aushwitz because he could play the harmonica, and the Nazis liked to hear him play so they let him live. He was telling me the story while we were dancing. I have only heard maybe two stories, and the truth is that I am not sure I fully understand each of them because I am listening to them in Hebrew. I know that each one of the people that walk into that room have a story, similar because they survived, but different in how they managed to do so. Their stories don't stop at the end of the war, and that is what amazes me. Each of these people picked up where they left off, not right away of course, but came to Israel and had families and lives after the Holocaust. Whenever I feel frustrated or discouraged, I remember these people who smile at me so brightly when I see them, are so happy that I am there dancing with them each week, and start to realize that whatever I am going through can't actually be that bad. I could not have had this experience anywhere else, and I might actually be the last generation to have an experience like this. One of my fears is that the memory of these people will pass when they do, and I am making a promise right now that they will never be forgotten.
So, one more quick thing, in less than two weeks I will have been here for four months. On the actual anniversary of my arrival in Israel, I will be leaving to go to Paris for my Hanukkah break! Truth be told, I am totally excited to go on one hand, and completely freaked out on the other hand. I am excited because I get to return to France as more of an adult than the last time I was there, and I am going to spend time with Michael who is living there now. I actually bought a guide book so I will know where I want to go and what I want to do, so I hope Michael is ready for me... On the other hand, I'm a little bit nervous about entering back into the secular world. Sounds funny, right, since I have lived in America my whole life, but is actually something that has crossed my mind quite a bit. I will be spending Christmas and the beginning of Hanukkah in France, a country that is apprehensive towards the Jews (not all the time but that sentiment certainly exists), and a country where I do not speak the language or really understand the culture. Basically, I am going back to being an outsider again, a stark difference from the four months that I have only felt like an insider here in Israel. I know there is something much deeper to this. I just feel myself here, like I can wear my Jewish star without being nervous and I see my traditions and holidays all around me. I have basically forgotten how to deal with living in the secular world and having to create a Jewish life for myself, because here it is already created for me. I know I don't look Jewish, believe me I have been told that plenty since I have been here, and my last name isn't Jewish. More than anything, I've realized my soul is Jewish, and here is the place that I feel it and can express it the most. I just think it will be interesting how I am going to relate to things, and what my reactions will be again to the rest of the world that is not Israel during my time in France. Thankfully, I will have Michael who will help ease me into this, but is is something that continually crosses my mind. I leave a week and 5 days from today, not that I am counting ;), on December 22.