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!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Departure from Tel Aviv and final Track 2 thoughts

Well, again the time comes to say goodbye to another sight, another part of my program. I must admit that one of the hardest parts of this program is making connections to the place I am living in, and then being told to leave just as I start to become really comfortable. As you can already tell I am sure, this was the last week of Track 2 in Tel Aviv. On Thursday, my apartment was packed up and shipped off to a storage room in Jerusalem for the next three weeks. As ironic as it felt, I was sad to see my home at the Rosalind and Joseph Gurwin Sheltered Housing for the Elderly be dismantled and moved out yet again. At 23 years old, I never aspired to live in an old age home until the time for me actually came. However, after getting a taste of an old age home for three months, I have come to the realization that I can wait!! I was happy to bring a little light into the lives of these people for the short time I was there, and admittedly I think I might miss some of my new suitors who have come to know me as "Bubba" or "Barbi." I received my last rugalach delivery from the old man down the hall, and disappointed him by saying that I wouldn't need any next week because I wouldn't be there. I am ready to leave the Old Age home, but am happy that I at least have funny stories to tell from my living there.
I love Tel Aviv. I apologize to those of you who read my email as well, because I am going to repeat myself, but I need to express my love yet again for this city. I feel at home here, more than anywhere I have lived in Israel as of yet. Before even coming to Israel, I had heard that Tel Aviv isn't worth visiting exactly because it is just like any other city in the world: big, crowded, modern, not uniquely Jewish. After my time here, I would have to disagree with that. Tel Aviv is special. Why? Tel Aviv is a modern, hip city with a Jewish flare. Shops still close on Shabbat. The atmosphere is still quiet and you can still find a lot of kosher food and restaurants around town. The history of the founding of Israel is in this city. Where as Jerusalem represents much of our religious history, Tel Aviv has much of our Zionist history. David Ben Gurion's home is here. Israel's independence was announced here. The top businesses and industries have most of their headquarters here. I think Tel Aviv represents much of what our founding fathers dreamed of when they envisioned Israel: a modern, bustling town that is intrinsically Jewish because of the people that live here. Many people argue that because of the modernities that exist in Tel Aviv, it loses its Jewish character. I would ask them to experience the High Holidays in this city and ask them what they think afterwards. Coming from my liberal roots, another thing I love about this city is it's openness towards all kinds of people. There is a large gay community here, and this is the only place they feel comfortable living in Israel. There are many foreign workers that live here. Tel Aviv is starting to recognize that these people exist and are offering them social services. Beyond my fabulous life of movies, sports games, fancy sushi dinners, bar hopping, jazz clubs, and trendy coffee shops, I love Tel Aviv because of the vibe and character of the city.
I should also briefly mention where I have been living for the last three months. My old age home is located in the neighborhood "Hatikva." Whenever an Israeli asks me where I am living, they respond to me by saying, "It's like Harlem there!" Not quite. The People of Israel live in this part of town. It is filled with characters; from the little boys with the trendy bleached hair, to the old grandmothers hanging laundry out to dry. This neighborhood in Tel Aviv is where it all started. The houses are small and built on top of each other. The roads are unevenly paved, and the pseudo brick-flooring sidewalks give it a particularly ancient feeling. I love it here. This part of town also lives. Running through the middle of this neighborhood is a large street called "Etzel." One can buy anything and everything that one needs on this street. Etzel is home to many wonderful meat restaurants, and I have become addicted to the fresh laffah bread and fresh fruit juices you can buy on each street corner. The Hatikvah Shuk is also located right off of this street, making it the center of this neighborhood. I think that Etzel will be what I miss most from my neighborhood in Tel Aviv. Even though it is not as trendy and cool as the center of town, I always felt like I was home.
Beyond leaving all of this, I formed a strong bond at all of the places I volunteered. Honestly, I felt like I could have done more, but was always present and happy to be at the places I ended up. My last official day at Cafe Europa was hard. I had a really difficult time saying goodbye to these Holocaust survivors that I now feel so close to. When I was leaving, several of the survivors handed me their phone numbers and wanted to stay in touch while I was here in Israel and beyond. They even offered me a place to sleep for when I return back to visit Tel Aviv. This is the one volunteering that changed me as a person. It's true that we as Jews all have a connection to the Holocaust, especially existing in the generations that are still so close to it. However, for me, the Holocaust really was stories I read in books, pictures I saw, movies and documentaries, and the occasional survivor that I would feel obligated to go hear speak. Not saying that the Holocaust wasn't significant to me, because it was, but I just had such an abstract connection to it that in some respects I still didn't relate. This experience at Cafe Europa changed all of that for me. Slowly, as my time at this sight progressed, I developed relationships with these survivors and heard some of their stories, and the reality of this horrid event in history hit home. I never sought out stories from these people; that was never my goal of being at Cafe Europa. I always knew deep down that these people shared a common history, but that each of them has worked to grow beyond it. I was a part of their life now, and not of their dark past. Occasionally, however, my curiosity would overtake me and I would ask them what happened. I'll tell you one such story.
Shmuelik Mandelbaum had become one of my favorites at Cafe Europa. Each week he would come with a huge smile on his face, and we would always sit together and dance and talk. He kept asking me when I would be available so he could have a get together for people from Cafe Europa and Larry and myself. We finally made plans, and ended up at his house on a really cold, rainy day. Most people who were planning to come didn't due to the weather, which made the party more intimate. When I decided to leave at about 9PM, Shmuelik insisited to walk me to the bus stop and wait for my bus with me so I wouldn't be alone. So we walked, and talked, and ended up waiting at the bus stop for about an hour. During this time, I was asking questions about his life and eventually got to the topic of the Holocaust. Shmuelik was born in Poland, and when the war broke out he was about 13. He was deported, made one stop in Aushwitz, and then was sent off to a work camp. He learned to be a carpenter there, so he would be needed and not be killed ultimately. He was in the work camp when he was liberated. After that, he found his way into Italy and met up with other survivors of the war. They were in an underground plan to be smuggled into what was then Palestine. He ended up coming in on a British holiday, when they knew they Brits would be inebriated, and was snuck in on a small boating ship. He lived on a kibbutz in Nahariya, the far north, and trained on a kibbutz for the Hahagana. When the Independence Day War broke out, he fought to help establish the State of Israel. Ever since then, he has been living in Tel Aviv and has watched it grow into what it is now. I heard all of this while waiting for the bus.
This is really only one such story I have from my experience at Cafe Europa. I know that I have become a part of this living history of the Holocaust. It pains me to know that in 20 years from now, these people will be gone. It is my burden to never forget and pass along what I now know of these amazing people and their lives. I am planning to continue to visit Cafe Europa in my next track; Jerusalem is only 45 minutes away from Tel Aviv, but it won't be the same.
My other volunteering did not have quite as much substance, but I still developed strong connections with the kids I worked with and enjoyed the things I did. Unfortunately, my last day tutoring English was cancelled, so I wasn't able to say good bye to Nivin who I had been working with at Hassan Arafe. I hope that she enjoyed working with me in the same way I enjoyed working with her. She really was a lovely, cute girl and I loved watching her master concepts that we had worked on in English. At Golumb school, I became attached to the soccer crowd. I will miss being claimed by whoever saw me walking around the corner first, and impressing the kids with my soccer skills. They had such a hard time believing that a girl like me could play soccer well, and they reminded me about how I love sports with kids and being competitive! I might get back into that when I come home, who knows. These kids really did start to look up to me, especially knowing that I was volunteering and from America. I will miss their curiousity, and miss them in general. And finally, the nursery at Kfar Shalem for at-risk kids. My experience here just made me wonder how anyone could treat these children badly. By watching the behavior of some of these kids, it was obvious that their parents didn't know exactly how to treat them. They are so innocent and sweet at birth, and I am saddened at the social problems that some of them were developing at such a young age. However, the environment they come to every day is warm and loving, so I was happy to be a part of that while I was there. The babies started to recognize me, and I absolutely became attached to many of them. I guess they were good temporary subsitutes for my baby cousins at home that I miss so much!
All in all, Tel Aviv was amazing, and fabulous, and I am heartbroken to leave. I will always have a special place in my heart for this city. However, off I go to the army tomorrow morning! More to come next weekend...