Tag Archives: Israelity

Observations from home

14 Feb

I have been away from Haifa for just over two weeks now. I miss Israel and my life there far more than I thought I would. As I’ve eased back into life outside of the Middle East for this brief break – I’ve become pretty introspective about myself and my time in Israel so far.

As I catch up with people, the question on everyone’s mind is “What is Israel really like?” I still feel like I don’t have a good answer to this question. I usually blather on for a few moments about how it’s amazing, complex, fascinating, stymieing and just…Israel. I feel like I don’t have the ability to really explain to someone what it’s like – without them experiencing it for themselves. I’ve lived in several countries and have a “stock soundbite” for each place when someone asks me what it’s like. New Zealand – “Absolutely beautiful place, incredibly friendly people – go there immediately!” You get the idea. But for Israel – I find myself completely flummoxed for a succinct answer.  Someone asked me if it was what I expected and even that simple question stumped me. Though I did a lot of research before I left (reading blogs like this, guidebooks, websites, etc), I still went into this experience with the attitude of “let’s see what this is all about.” For the most part, it is what I expected – except for when it isn’t. I didn’t expect what we lovingly refer to as “Israelity.” When things take about twice as long as you expect, no never means no and you may know what you want, however, someone else will will you what you get. It’s a fascinating place on so many levels and it’s definitely working it’s way into my heart.

On a personal level, since I’ve been away I’ve slowly realized how happy I am in Israel and conversely (and a much harsher realization) how unhappy I was before I moved there. What continues to stump me is why am I so much happier there? I do live a much simpler life – my only responsibilities are school and my internship. I don’t drive (hello public bus!), I don’t watch TV unless I’ve downloaded it from iTunes, I read more and I’ve started writing again for fun. Is it the stripped down life that provides the happiness? I have good friends, great roommates and interesting classmates. I ended a messy personal situation shortly after arriving which – though it was tough – has meant my heart is open again in a way it hasn’t been in a while. I am able to focus on enjoying the moment instead of living my life electronically through constantly contact with home. I’ve been busting my tail in school. Learning how to be a student again has been a challenge and definitely has pushed my limits. But there is an incredible satisfaction in knowing that all the hard work, late nights and endless gripe sessions with classmates all result in bettering myself and expanding my horizons. It sounds ultra cheesy and I know it – but it’s true. I’m doing this for me and no one else….which is sadly a rare thing in my life. 

Whatever the reason for my happiness – I’m enjoying it. Next semester is already shaping up to be a doozy. We will only have a brief break between our spring and summer semesters. I’m going to have to dig deep to survive. I have my longest stretch in Israel once I return. This break away has allowed me to realize how much I miss Israel and the life I’ve built there while giving me a chance to appreciate my friends and family here at home.  I have no clue what the next few months holds or how I will feel when I pack my stuff up for the final time come September. All I know is I’m so thankful for this experience and for what is yet to come.

 

Another Week Gone

1 Nov

Well, another week has zipped by me. It’s been a good but productive week. I’m amazed by how much Hebrew I’m picking up just being surrounded by it. This week alone I’ve learned (& been using!) the Hebrew words for – excuse me, I’m alright, yes, no and latte (super important!). I keep a running list of words I’ve learned on the notepad on my iPhone so I can refer to them as needed. I’m slowly improving. Each trip to the store or shuk is getting easier. I was overwhelmed my first time at the grocery store but I’m learning my way through the store, learning which employees will begrudingly (at times) speak English to me, etc. I’m feeling okay. Though I had a hilarious encounter at the pharmacy trying to ask if they had flat irons. I was reduced to charades and repeatedly clamping my hair with my hands in an effort to mimic the iron. It was quite the scene. I try to pepper my English with the little Hebrew I do know. I’m a very enthusiastic thanker, I’ll have you know! Ha ha! Slowly but surely…

Between being surrounded by Hebrew, taking intensive German and sitting in on a Yiddish class — my English is suffering. Due to having so many non-native English speakers in our classes I’ve already slowed down my rhythm of speech and automatically switch to less slang and simpler words. I’ve even caught myself doing the classic…”Uhhh…how do you say…?” thing that is nearly universal with all non-native speakers trying to remember vocabulary. You are required to snap your fingers too as you say this, in an effort to engage your brain. I know everyone who works in International Education is familiar with this concept (and have probably done it themselves!). Too bad, I find myself doing this the most when I’m speaking ENGLISH! So all this to say – no making fun of my English.

On Facebook, I mentioned how last week one of our Israeli classmates made homemade hummus and brought it to class. This week, another classmate brought in fresh chocolate chip banana bread (delicious!) and another brought in fresh picked avocados from his kibbutz. We are slowly being spoiled by our Israeli friends! Dinner invitations and holiday plans are being issued left and right. Our local friends are incredibly kind enough to include us in their planning – especially those of us living on campus. We are lucky and we know it.

I had a good chuckle early in the week when one classmate invited me to dinner with her son who is 23. She told me she wanted to invite the younger girls in the group to dinner with him. So I listed out the three girls who recently graduated from college. “And you too since you are young too,” she said. I laughed and said she should invite Victoria too (who only 3 years older than me) if she was being so generous about who was considered young. “No! I want young girls!” When I pointed out that the other three girls were a full decade younger than me and I was closer in age to Vicky – she was stunned. “No! But you have no wrinkles for being so old! You look so young!” I had to show her my passport for proof of my age. For the rest of class, she kept daring the Israelis to guess my age. Guess I don’t need to invest in wrinkle cream yet.

As we have “struggled” through various situations since we’ve been in Haifa my friend, Victoria and I keep finding ourselves saying in jest, “That’s just the Israeli way.” Things just take more time here – even simple stuff like standing in line to check out at the grocery store to more complex stuff like waiting for our financial aid disbursement. This morning, our friend, Nathalie took us to the main bus station to get an annual student bus pass after we were told the bus center on campus isn’t able to issue passes to students. It took over two hours to get our passe, several trips back and forth between the pass office and the main cashier booth, and getting passed through no less than four employees in the pass center. It was a mess but we eventually succeeded in our goal which we could have never accomplished without our ally and fluent Hebrew speaker, Nathalie. At one point, even she was getting frustrated with the hassle of no one knowing what to do with us. Finally, she said, “Aww, that’s Israelity for you!” We have a new term for “That’s just the Israeli way” – Israelity – it’s totally their own version of reality. This concept describes things perfectly! I love it and will use it from now on!

On Wednesday in our Research Forum we had an amazing guest speaker who talked about how her family saved many Jews by hiding them during the war. Her family had 12 members who took part in the Resistance in Holland but they never spoke about it until the 1980s and even then they were very resistant to speak. Each of them had no idea the others were also involved. They have all been honored as Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem. Her parents alone took in a Russian family of three and a local dentist and hid them for five years. Keep in mind, they were also feeding six children of their own at the time! Her father was eventually arrested and died on the day of liberation from Auschwitz. One of her aunts took in several children and helped passed them through an underground network to get them to safety. Unfortunately, she only had two hours to tell us stories – I would have listened for as long as she wanted to tell us stories. She and her family were so fascinating. I really enjoyed having her visit us.

Finally, I am headed to Tel Aviv for the weekend to go visit my friend, David who lives there. I’m excited to catch up with an old friend and it’s nice to know that someone from home is so close by. I’m looking forward to getting an insider’s view of Tel Aviv too! I promise to post lots of pictures and tell you all about it.