35 days in Israel now. 182 ahead of me. That’s right. What began as a 60 day trip has basically tripled. I’d like to say I didn’t rush into the decision. But I can’t. It was probably 2 days into my trip when I knew I had to stay longer. But how? Apparently easier than you would think. In conjunction with the Israeli government there are tons of programs available that encourage people 18-30 to stay a while in the country. Of course they hope that by spending more time here you will eventually live here. After dragging my feet a bit after Jewel I got my act together and got the run down from Yaeli and her good friend, Diane, who moved to Israel from L.A. 2 years ago. Aug 22nd began my research my efforts. I learned very quickly through the girls, and online, that every program application deadline had passed and start dates were 2 weeks away. Not very promising odds by U.S. standards. But apparently it’s enough in Israel. Miracles apparently do happen in the holy land still. 5 phone calls. 5 emails. 4 forms. 1 resume. 1 essay. And I’m in. WUJS Intern Jerusalem. The program will help me find an internship, offer intensive Hebrew lessons, arrange living accommodations in the Jerusalem neighborhood, Baka, and set up trips around the country for the next 5 months.
I feel very fortunate that I’m at a place in my life that allows me to take this tangent. It’s a such an “Israeli thing” for me to do, I suppose. Every Israeli I’ve spoken to has another travel story better than the next. It is not uncommon to spend 6 months in South America, 3 months in the UK, and a month in Thailand by the age of 26. It’s important to remember it’s not all fun and games here. This is the Middle East. Reality and current events stare you straight in the face everyday. Following high school graduation at 18, “men” serve a mandatory 3 years and “women” 2 years. After that time, Israelis spend about a year traveling before enrolling in University or getting a job. It’s a more logical approach. Choosing your career path at 18 versus 22/23 seems a bit premature. It certainly makes for some interesting people who know what they want. In every way. People cross streets differently here. They haggle with taxi drivers. Argue with people over where to get the best humus. It’s all about survival. Some have confused this tenacity with rudeness. I haven’t met a mean Israeli yet. I’m the one fumbling around stepping on people’s toes with hardly a handful of Hebrew in my pocket. Typical crazy American girl I guess. But I’m forgiven anyways.
Amidst my applications and forms I still found some time to venture out in my new neighborhood. I’m completely obsessed with Rehavia and am already dreading having to leave it in 2 weeks. The apartment I’m staying at has many impressive features. The bedrooms are great sizes with plenty of storage. A spectacular rooftop view. And of course, close to my favorite cafes.
There are some terrific cafes down the street. Best. Shoukshuka. Ever. Tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, simmering away with two fresh cracked eggs bubbling away on top. All prepared right in front of you and served in the skillet it’s made in. No fork needed. A basket of bread does the trick. I don’t have a picture yet, maybe when I go for the fourth time I’ll snap one. Right across the street is a fresh made ice cream shop and an excellent cafe, Carousellas, that features a surprisingly good sandwich. The Benny. Sweet potato, caramelized onions, sliced hard-boiled egg, homemade mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, on a crispy chewy roll. Who would have thought? “Only in Israel” is what I usually say in moments like that.
Friday was a great day spent out with new Israeli friends complete with a crazy concert at Gan Soccer Park. I almost learned the hard way about making Shabbat plans in advance. It’s important to do any shopping ahead of time since all the shops, restaurants and banks shut down mid day on Fridays in Jerusalem. With hardly a minute to spare I picked up a loaf of bread and some humus at the “Best Market” (actual name) on the corner. Shabbat Shalom to me! Once everyone had enjoyed their respective Friday night meals we met back up for dancing and drinks in the city.
The following day my friend Elyse from the Jewel program invited me to spend the day with her family at the David Citadel Hotel. It’s a beautiful world-class hotel and I was lucky to spend my Saturday lounging at the pool with my book. You would think the place would be filled with tourists but instead we found the pool crowded with Israelis. Since everything is shut down on Saturdays the pool is really the only option.
On Sunday, with businesses reopened, I decided to brave a trip to the grocery store. Insert overwhelming experience here. It wasn’t a complete failure. Successful on a few levels. At least I have more than a bag of bread and tub of humus to my name. Shopping as an illiterate is quite the challenge. But I’ve survived. I walked out carrying self bagged groceries in my trusty backpack : 3 cans of tuna, can of pickles, plain yogurt, Turkish tomato-garlic-onion salad (more like a stewed mild salsa), lemons, onions, apples, sweet potatoes, parsley, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and my all time favorite labaneh. An extremely thick and creamy plain yogurt topped with olive oil and za’atar seasoning.