I am sitting on a bench in Jaffa, overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean to the west and the Tel Aviv skyline stretching to the north. The oppressive heat of summer has finally relented, and a cool breeze sweeps across. My stomach is too full from the large shawarma sandwich I have just devoured and my hands are greasy, but I am nonetheless content. My boyfriend and I have taken the opportunity – after a long morning of pre-Shabbat errands – to purchase this shawarma from this stand and to dig in on this bench because exactly a year ago from this day, it was my first full day in Israel and this was my first foray into a whole new chapter of my life. Now, blissfully consumed by a post-shawarma coma, I am able to reflect on my past year in Israel.
One year ago, I chose the road less traveled and proceeded to go down it at full speed: upon graduation from college, I moved to Israel having never visited the country (or many others, for that matter). Against the advice of those wiser and more world-weary, I had committed to Masa Israel’s Oranim Tel Aviv Internship Experience in a country I knew nothing about. I would be living and interning in Tel Aviv for five months, knowing only my boyfriend, who had arrived to do a Master’s program two months prior.
The first few months in Israel were some of the most trying of my life. Plagued by doubts about whether I did the right thing, struggling with a new language and a new culture, visiting a chilly and grandiose Europe only to return to the tyrannical humidity and decidedly aged architecture of Tel Aviv. I was angry at and spiteful of all of the American Jews I had come in contact with in California who had spoken so glowingly of Israel. I struggled to keep up an enthusiastic and happy appearance as I Skyped with family back home.
And then, only a few months ago, the feeling of contentment that I had so yearned for slowly began to seep through. A new friend in my program, Laura, told me that there are five stages in transitioning to a new place and period in your life: excitement, regret, acceptance, adapting, and full immersion. Maybe I missed the first step? Would I ever become fully immersed in Israeli culture? Somehow, I believed that I would always be the outsider, the other.
Yet, as I stare out over the Mediterranean Sea, I know that everything has changed in a year. In one year, the Middle East’s political climate has been completely altered. There have been weddings and new engagements. Babies have been born. I have made friends, lost them, and regained others. I have visited France, the Czech Republic, Jordan, and Holland. I have reunited with close and distant relatives. And yet, the thing that has changed most radically is, as cliché as it might sound, me.
When I first arrived in Israel, I was plagued with self-doubt. At times, I couldn’t even fight it. While trying my best to converse in Hebrew, shopkeepers, receptionists, and the occasional passerby often switched to English with pitying smiles.
But where my language skills have faltered, my world view, my knowledge of the world outside Southern California, and my sense of self have soared to new heights. I now know that no matter what I want to do and where I want to live, I need only put my mind and the weight of my effort behind it, and I can make it happen. From firsthand experience, I have learned that anything is possible as long as I am willing to devote the time and resources to giving it my best shot. Though I will never be an Israeli, I owe who I am today and who I will be tomorrow, to Israel. And for this, I am – and will always be –grateful.