Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rosh Hoshana and Getting Settled

My first three days in Israel were relaxing and productive; I spent time hanging out with my close family friend who I'm staying with in Tel Aviv (until I figure out my long term living situation). I made the necessary arrangements to begin the army process i.e. I had my first interview with the IDF and I learned in greater detail what the process of joining the IDF will entail over the ensuing weeks and months. I walked around and explored beautiful Tel Aviv for hours, trying to speak as much Hebrew as I could muster. Through it all, I was a whirlwind of excitement, energy and nerves as I was eager to get this new adventure going.

Rosh Hoshanna, the Jewish New Year, began Wednesday night, three days after I arrived in Israel. Throughout the summer I had kept in touch with a nice Israeli man that I had met at a conference in  July, and so upon my arrival to Israel he invited me to spend the holidays with his family in Haifa. I was excited!

After an easy hour-long train ride to Haifa, my new friend picked me up at the train station and drove me to his beautiful home on Mt. Carmel and introduced me to his family. It was the start of an unbelievable weekend.

On the Wednesday night of Rosh Hoshanna, they had their family (cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents etc.) over for dinner as well as two Russian lone soldiers and myself. I felt blessed to be part of such a special and intimate Rosh Hoshana evening with new family and friends. Within minutes I felt comfortable and at home with the whole crew; they were all so eager to learn about me, hear my story, and make sure I was eating enough (I was...and of course, the food was amazing).

Spending the weekend with such a warm and gracious family alleviated all of the nerves and anxieties I was feeling the first few days after embarking on this radical deviation from my expected life path. It was a warm, familial atmosphere that honestly made me forget that I was thousands of miles away from my family on the holidays.

I spent my days in Haifa with the family's son, daughter, her boyfriend, and their cousin, all of whom I had an amazing time hanging out with.  The son is 20 years old and currently serving in the IDF, and I spent a lot of time getting to know him and his friends throughout the weekend. All of his friends were great, even switching back and forth to english so I could follow the conversation and speak more than just the limited hebrew in my arsenal (though following along all weekend did wonders for my hebrew). We spent a night drinking coffee at a beautiful and picturesque overlook in Haifa. We spent Saturday morning hanging out in a gorgeous natural spring near Nahariah (see picture), jumping in and out of the water, drinking more coffee (yet another reason I love Israel-the crazy amount of coffee available at every occasion) and listening to music (I introduced country music to solid reviews) along the river bank. We enjoyed a delicious hummus lunch in the old Arab city of Akko (I think I have humus running through my veins) and we spent an awesome night at a nightclub right outside of Haifa just to confirm that I still hate/don't get electronic/rave music.

 It was also awesome hanging out with his sister and her boyfriend, both a bit older and currently studying at university (he loved all of the stories and ridiculousness having to do with “frat life"). I became really close with them as well; they had an older brother/sister vibe that made me feel completely at ease in their company to joke around, have fun, and be myself. Upon leaving, they could not have been more gracious and genuine in wanting me to come back as often as possible and to stay at their place (I'm already taking them up on their offer for Sukkot this week!)

I left from my weekend in Haifa knowing that I had met my “adopted Israeli family” and that I gained some amazing new friends. Living in a new place on your own can be scary and seem overwhelming at times…knowing that I have such great people that I can lean on, stay with, and feel like a part of the family with, is comforting beyond words.

I’ve spent the past few days taking care of some more army bureaucracy type stuff, all of which, thus far, has been easier than I anticipated (though it was certainly frustrating at times). I’ve taken care of the official Mahal (foreign volunteer) forms and signatures, received my army Visa (which only took 4 hours) and now I’m waiting for my Tzav Rishon (first army draft notice) from the IDF itself. I’ve also begun a pre-army training program that helps prepare Lone Soldiers physically for the rigors of getting into combat units (specifically special forces units), for which there are tryouts.  So far the workouts have been tough, but I’ve loved every second of them, as I realize each one is taking me one step closer to my dream. I’m also in the process of looking for a kibbutz to move into for the foreseeable future and I may be doing another pre-army training program as well, though I’ll save those details for my next post.

It feels weird at times being disconnected from life in America and my family and friends...especially for me. I was the kid at camp that was homesick and missed my parents my SECOND summer away. I've always bounced every aspect of my life off my dad; throughout college I spoke to my mom on a tri-daily basis; and there's nobody I would rather hang out with then my sister Gabby. That's why it's strange that I really haven't gotten homesick or down about how far away I am from all of the people in my life or how long it will be until I am home and back in something approaching my comfort zone. But at the same time, it's not strange. Because, being here, right now, feels right in every way; I feel at ease and I feel at home. Knowing that I will soon get to do my part in defending the Jewish state, that I will be a part of a legacy that has inspired me and been at the core of my identity for so long, fills me with an intensity, determination and sense of purpose that I wouldn't trade for anything.

On Monday night, I was training at the Namal in Tel Aviv…with the beautiful Tel Aviv beach line in front and the exquisite skyscrapers of Ramat Gan at my back. As I looked at the sky for a brief second, I was emotionally blown away. It felt like I was living a dream. At that moment, I was training with Jews from France, Australia, Russia and America who all came to Israel to defend our people, our homeland, and our history. While not yet in the army, at that moment, I understood.

I am training and fighting to defend the Jewish people. I am living the Zionist dream.

Shana Tova Chaverim.

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