Finding Florentin

Florentin, I found you.

Through your sand storms, incredible sunsets, torrential downpour, and your crazy, stinky, loud, warm, dog-loving residents, I found you.

I also started to find myself, Eyal the sexy pizza man, another bridesmaid, a love for cold coffee, an obsession with cafeing, a balcony that felt like home, a view of the sea and the many military helicopters in the sky, a parking spot for all of the cars we rented, shawarma pitas comparable to the love of my life, cookies from a grocery store I’ll never forget, and days with the sun and nights with bottles of wine where I found the people who helped me find myself.

Five months ago I wrote a letter to February 7th me hoping I made it through the suckiest adjustment period of my life. The letter vulnerably said that the next time I would see these words, whether the last five months were just another experience, or the adventure I thought it would be, it was time to go home to my people.

That letter has been opened, a necessary third suitcase has been purchased, and the burning ball in my throat filled with tears is every confirmation I needed that these last five months were the time of my life.

Until we meet again Floretnin…

xoxo

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Being Someone’s Lovebug

I’m ready to share.

More than just the mouthwatering ratatouille I had last week or the feelings I had walking towards the Western Wall with my mom for the first time.

I’m ready to share with the world wide web what Israel has done for me over these past four months.

When my Nannie passed away a couple of years ago I had this weird new feeling of my senses being heightened. Colors seemed brighter and my days felt more vibrant. Losing one of the loves of my life brought the cheesy meaning of our lives right to my core and it made me see the world in a more positive light.

What I realize now is that during that stage of growing up, where you feel loss for the first time, was when I began to see myself for who I am; for what she saw me as, always knew me to be, and why I will always be her lovebug.

She made me feel important and loved and admired everyday, but why couldn’t I feel that way about myself without the words coming out of someone else’s mouth? Somewhere between the ages of 6 and 10 I lost a whole load of confidence and I’ve been missing it for a long time.

What was it going to take for me to like me, love me, accept me, and just be me?

Israel.

It took Israel, and it’s finally clear why I picked up and left everything in Chicago.

In the time between my last post and now I’ve realized that I am not a functioning person when I’m sick, my mom makes me laugh more than anyone else, I actually like mushrooms, certain foods (not mushrooms) really turn me on, and the reason for me coming here, what I will remember most about my time in Tel Aviv, why I’m going to fly back to Chicago ready to take on the world…

is that I’ve started to really love myself.

And that is terrifying for me to type to all of you.

Forget all the boys who have made me feel vulnerable, admitting that to myself, and now to you, has taken the most guts I’ve ever used for anything.

I’m finally really seeing myself the way my Nannie did, the way my mom and dad, and some of you do; it feels like I’m understanding myself for the first time and it feels better than I can describe with words.

Some other fun facts that I’ve recently learned:

I love Justin Beiber, his music

I like talking about politics and starring at art, for a minute

I can’t cook, I can try, I’ll keep trying, but I’ll always want to buy the ingredients and eat them after you mix them together

I’m so in love with the friendships I have with people back home

My family is my ride or die

PMS is a very real and scary week for me, every month (full of Sam Smith and chocolate cereal)

I know what I want to be when I grow up

I’m seeing Judaism through a humanistic approach instead of a religious one

I like wearing lipstick

I can get a date, or two, without my nails painted, hair straightened, or eyebrows waxed (none of which have been done since before September 7th, don’t worry I have a friend who plucks my brows here)

I can sit at a cafe and talk the whole time or sit in silence and sip my tea and have an equally good time

I have a backbone

People like you, when you like you

Finding Florentin changed my life…

The ultimate goal is for everybody to find their Israel, but it’s one of those things you can’t go out searching for; it’ll hit you like a ton of bricks when you’ve found it, hold on to that feeling, never let it go.

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Status Update

Okay, so here’s what’s happening.

My body did me so good for the past three months.

I never got sick through all of the hummus and pita, repelling off of waterfalls, smoking my first cigarette, jeeping through Jordan…the list goes on for 90 days.  I made it through all of that without a sniffle and in the last couple of days I’ve officially crashed and burned.

Not a pity post.

The point of the above information is that last night I wrote a blog about how much I miss you guys; my family, lovees, hawkeyes, greenheart babes, and my new people here who I haven’t cafe’d with in a week because I’ve been in my bed. I wrote the post, some people read it, and it sounded really sad.

I’m not sad, I’m sick!

I’m sick and I wanted my big bed, own room, American chicken noodle soup (I tried to make my own here, it tasted like carrot water), and wrote a post about everything I’m realizing I’m really missing, which is all of you.

I wrote about how with you, my stone cold pack of weirdos, I have found people who are letting me be all the sides of me I always kept away, the sides I didn’t know existed, the sides that are ugly and weird and uncomfortable, and I get to be those sides and smile right now because you love me more for them.

I’m sick, I was listening to all of my sad, quiet music on iTunes, and I wrote a somber post.

In a couple of days I won’t be binge-watching Gilmore Girls in my bed (I’ll actually be bike riding through northern Israel stopping for wine and cheese along the way, for real) but I’ll still miss all of you.

Squeezes are coming, February 2016, and I can’t wait.

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Because I’m Happy

You probably read my posts and think, “She has no idea how lucky she is…”

There have been a lot of times throughout the years when I do think, yeah, things are good, but somethings missing; usually, most of the time, that something feels like it should be a boy.

Right now, it feels like everything is there.

After weeks of planning and days of wondering if I was crazy, I said be seeing you, got on a plane, and left my whole life in Chicago. To a lot of people, this move looks like a pause from reality, some time to mess around, live in a foreign country, and work towards figuring out what I think I want to be when I grow up; and they are right.

But the bigger reason why I picked up and left everything was because I had (probably always will have) a lot of things to figure out. Some I’m just starting to delve into, some I won’t even get to before I leave.

It’s the normal issues we all have, that most of us have, and never talk about; so they feel like these big secrets until you open your month to the right person about them and see that you really aren’t alone. This awakening began before I fled North America, and it has continued in the most positive way since landing in the Middle East.

My blogging mind isn’t ready to share all that I’m learning about myself, all that’s changing and growing and forming, but I will tell you that this 23rd year of my life has been the most freeing, refreshing, and vulnerable couple hundred days.

I’m thinking some of you have experienced this stage in your life as well, and if you haven’t, know that it’s coming. Static and stuck in your ways is not how things have to play out. Find your person, or if you’re like me, your people, and start talking.

How much more could you squeeze out of life if you weren’t so afraid to show all the weird, ugly, confusing, quirky, not so #flawless sides of who you are?

I’ll tell you, for me, it’s more than I thought possible.

I know how lucky I am.

Who Run the World…

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These are the girls I play tennis with every Monday and Thursday night.

They come from different backgrounds, religions, households, and socio-economic groups. You don’t see a mix like this coming together and laughing at YouTube videos or taking snapchats during this time of extreme divide. This group of teenage girls break all the rules from 6-8 PM and are an example to all adults who advocate for this terrible separateness.

Two nights a week they come together to escape from the trouble that is their daily lives. The conditions they live in (the neighborhoods I avoid once the sun sets), their single parent homes (because Israel does not recognize some of their fathers as citizens), the necessities they are missing, extracurriculars they can’t afford, and the lack of a safe place to be themselves that I took for granted as a 14, 15, and 16 year old.

The goal of the program is to make them feel empowered. On Mondays they sit in a circle and speak with a woman about different topics like feminism and sex ed. Once all the awkward giggles are out they move on to strength-training and kick my butt in all things exercise. After I catch my breath, we walk to the courts and goof around for 45 minutes. Their first session on Thursdays is a lesson on nutrition and a chance to ask which cereal is the healthiest. Some of them sit next to me and translate the discussion so I can make a fool out of myself and pick the wrong answer to whether or not fat can turn into muscle (they all knew the right answer).

I’m constantly impressed by their intelligence and resilience. These girls are changing my life and they have no idea. I’m worried about not having enough time to adventure around the entire world; they just want to know what candy corn tastes like and if Halloween is as cool as it looks from 6,000 miles away.

You don’t need to know their whole story to learn something from them. Take that picture above and check out all their smiles. They’re not growing up like we did. For most of them, there is no escape from life except the tennis center. Own all that you have. Remember the years you spent slamming your door and pouting over your cellphone being taken away. Look at where you are now. Think about the weekends you get to plan. All that your futures hold. The door you get to walk out of and return home to every night without the slightest bit of dread. Those girls up there are going to rule the world. They’ll get their taste of candy corn and use the voices they’re developing these two nights a week and make a positive impact whether in Israel or beyond.

For now the tennis center is their safe place.

And they are my escape.

Israeli 9-5

My life in Israel has always had an end date.

If you’ve met me since I’ve moved here you know that on February 7th my butt will be seated on a double decker plane headed out of the Middle East towards the city where I left all of my friends, lovers, long sleeve shirts, good sushi, and deep dish pizza.

For a lot of people interning and living alongside me, this program is a trial run for their future lives as Israelis. When I touch down in the states, they’ll be making aliyah (moving to Israel with a lot of perks from the government), an act of immigration I have never considered, one they all know the answer to when they hear new friends ask if I would ever make the move.

But this past week made me think.

The life I lived. Work I completed. Waterfalls I rappelled down. Food I made (cut up cucumbers and tomatoes). Mouth-dropping meals I bought. The not so tasty ones I tossed down with chilled glasses of riesling. All the boulders I climbed. Trips I planned. And the people I jumped, ate, walked, talked, cooked and sat with, made me rethink everything.
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Mom don’t worry, I’m still going be booking a flight back to North America, but last week was the first time I gave this country a chance at showing me all its got. You all know I love the food, the culture I’m being immersed in, the new things I’m learning and the people I’m meeting, but I’ve always proudly defined myself as an American, and nothing else.

I’m all in now.

I’m pulling the Israeli card. I feel a commradidrity with these people as they undergo constant terror. The sand and setting sun over the Mediterranean sea are all mine. I’m realizing that every part of this program I thought was a long vacation, is actually my real life.

On Sunday I went to work and left with every intention to mad plan, with my mad planning friend, a weekend up north that would probably never happen (it did). I walked home from her house after googling the life out of my computer for hostels and how to rent a car, stopped at my favorite bread shop on the way and continued my carb-binging diet with a brick-oven cooked calzone and a coffee on the house. That’s right, I drink coffee now, sometimes, once in a while, when it’s free. Full disclosure, I had my first drag of a cigarette in a club a couple weeks ago, I also wear a bra as little as possible these days.

I’m Israeli.

Sunday finished with scrubbing the bathroom, skyping with my people back home, and passing out with Netflix on at a normal hour for the first time in forever.

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Monday had the same comforting, smiling on my bus ride home from work, completely satisfying vibe as the day before. I volunteered at the Israeli Tennis Center in Jaffa that night and played tennis with teenagers for two hours. It was incredible. I’ll be playing with them two nights a week for the rest of my time here and can already tell some of my biggest tears in February will happen on those courts.

I get a little nervous when I know my day is over and I don’t have a DVR to turn on, but Monday night changed that. I walked in the door, caught up with my roommates, kept all our doors open, blasted Amy Winehouse, colored on our living room floor and forgot I was in a foreign country.

On Tuesday I went to a museum with my program that lets you experience life as a visually-impaired person for one hour. It was terrifying, beautiful, really hard, so much fun and a life changer. We walked through a market, went on a boat ride, danced, and had a conversation all as blind people and walked back into the light with a new perspective on everything we see everyday. Coming off the bus from that field trip a couple of us went to our market while most Israelis were still at work, which is weird, it seems like they’re always eating and enjoying life instead of working, but the shuk (market) was quiet that afternoon and I walked though it sipping on freshly-squeezed lemonade and my mouth full of samples of cheese without being bumped into or stepped on.

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Tuesday and Wednesday night looked the same, but were full of different tastes and people.

I ate at the Argentinian restaurant down my street with a new friend, finished planning our trip up north, went to work and left once I had finished everything I needed to get done (sometimes this is at noon, sometimes at four, sometimes I work from home).

Thursday began the coolest weekend of my life. We rented a car and headed up to the Golan Heights. Driving so close to Syria in the pitch black at 10:00PM was not what we had planned, but it lead us to our hostel which housed us the night before we climbed, jumped, rappelled, fell, ate, smelled, and swam for seven hours through Nahal Yehudia. The next day we rode horses through Mount Carmel and I fell in love with an enormous white stallion named Puzzle.

So far Israel has left me with feelings for food and animals.

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Waiting for the gorgeous, almost done with med school, still has a full head of hair, loves his mom, will move to Chicago, Jewish prince my Nannie had always dreamed for me to marry, to be dropped right in front of my face before I leave.

If you made it through this whole post you’re probably my dad, or you had a little free time before going to Didier farms and taking a hay ride through the pumpkin patches with an apple cider donut in your hand, flannel shirt wrapped around your goose-bump filled body, and crispy, colorful, crunchy leaves falling all around you (please do this for me), then you now know why I would want to move here.

Israel is making me think about things I said absolutely no to two months ago.

Wondering what my thoughts will read like in 100 days.

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Days Like These

Some of you are comparing the constant violence in Chicago to the terror surrounding Israel, and I see your point, and to a degree, I agree. But it feels so different. When I walk around Chicago during the day, on any given Thursday, the thought of getting hurt doesn’t cross my mind. Today, this Thursday, around 4:00PM, I was walking around Tel Aviv, my home, and flinched every time I heard a car speed up or locked eyes with someone who didn’t look like me.

Unfortunately it’s something I have to get used to now and may be something I bring back to the states with me until the feelings of uncertainty subside. The reality of what’s happening is that I wake up with notifications on my phone of yet another attack, and I go about my day.

Today was great, and it feels horribly guilty to say that. So many people in this tiny country I’m living in are having the worst day of their lives because of the notifications I received on my phone. But I can’t let that keep me inside, keep me from taking the bus, standing in line for a club, or shopping at my usual vegetable stands. I can’t, and I won’t, and today showed me that I can walk around with that mentality, and survive.

The New Normal

FoodGasms and Rocket Attacks are new and constant phrases in my vocabulary.

Last night while waiting at the bus stop, after my 200 shekel (not cheap) homemade linguine with a spicy red sauce tossed with freshly seasoned shrimp, calamari and blue crab entree, followed by the best coffee gelato overflowing every side of the cone, which fell nowhere but into my mouth, my phone lit up with six notifications of rockets being fired at Israel.

This is my new reality:

Admitting that I literally smile when there’s a spoon full of Nutella in my mouth or cous-cous and chicken cutlets made by friends on my plate, and realizing that the country I now call home is in the midst of a wave of terror.

Ignorance is no longer blissful, at all. The knowledge I have on the tensions that have fully risen in Israel is limited. It’s complicated. Even attempting to wrap my head around who is fighting who, and why, wondering if it’ll ever end, failing at not generalizing while sitting on the bus to work, and deciding if a freak out is building inside of me, are all new and raw questions,doubts and feelings running through my mind.

What I see are good guys and bad guys. But the ones I see as good may be the opposite of how you feel. Our differences might be because of the sources we use to get our information. It may be that I am in Israel and you are in North America. Religion could play a role, the ideas you were raised with could make the difference, maybe it’s just the way we see the world. Regardless of how you feel about the situation, I am living here, through it, watching it pop up on my phone, in towns that I’ve visited, near a mall I’ve walked through and a city that I call home.

I’m the farthest thing from a bad ass. Unlike many Israelis who have this bold, brave exterior, I’ll be the first to tell you that I do not want to be here during a war, and for some, war is what they believe is to come. Because I’ve only witnessed soldiers peacefully escorting one man out of one of our markets, this constant violence is very out of sight out of mind. I’m reading the articles and having multiple conversations a day about the stabbings, but because I have not seen anything live, it seems very far away. Daily life feels just as it did when I  landed in September. I just got back from food shopping (cucumbers and tomatoes) and passed all the regulars with smiles on their faces. The run I’m going to try to make myself go on will be uninterrupted and end with me dragging by butt up the stairs to cook dinner before a bunch of friends come over to hang and chat and be normal.

So Florentin is where I’m going to stay for now.  The uneasiness is new but manageable, and I’m going to continue to follow in my Israeli friends footsteps and walk out of my door every morning going about my ordinary, foodgasmic day.

Art throughout Florentin
      Art throughout Florentin

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When You Know…

Lucky is beyond how I feel.

I knew it would be a special moment.

Finding the one has always been at the top of my list.

The minute it hit me I forgot about all the ones from my past. It was like they had never happened. Settling is what I was doing with them, I now see that so clearly.

With some direction from a friend and a craving for it that I’ve never experienced before, I stepped into the corner stand on Shalma and Herzl and ordered the pita of my life.

Filled to the top with greasy fries, Israeli salad, just a little of the spicy sauce, hummus, and fresh-off-the-grill chicken, this warm, napkin-needing, made me feel all the feels pita, changed everything

Expectations

My two-week bucket list bender is almost at it’s closing point and I’m exhausted!

When I set off to cross lines and check boxes off of my growing Israeli agenda I had a full tank of energy; it’s now almost on empty. People who can go go go without breaks, naps, or days with the shades closed and 27 Dresses in the DVD player are beyond anyone I can imagine. That is not me, never has been, never will be.

I need breaks.

Time to myself.

Moments to decompress.

And nights full of sleep.

All of those things are finally happening and the greatest part is that during the moments of silence I thought I needed, and right after, have been some of my favorite days/nights. It was the lines that were not on the list, expectations I didn’t have, and conversations that weren’t planned that are making this time in my life pretty epic.

I’m not going to downplay the big things you read about me planning on doing and say they were all a bust, they definitely weren’t, but my expectations for tickets I buy and nights planned in advanced are always way off the charts.

Kanye West was the biggest disappointment of all; he didn’t care about us, rapped 30-second snippets of his greatest songs, and lost my vote for the 2020 election. Bon Jovi killed it in all ways Yeezus didn’t. The camping trip setup on the beach was the coolest thing I had ever seen (big couches on carpets with tables, a kitchen with a pizza oven, stovetop, and bar, multiple tents with blow up mattress, the sea right in front of us, the stars and moon so bright above us and the lights of Haifa in plain sight).

The only biggie on the list I wrote about two weeks ago that exceeded all expectations was visiting my family in Efrat (a settlement in the West Bank). It was political, religious, relaxing, weight gaining, really fun and surprisingly thought provoking. Tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank have started to heat up again in the past couple of weeks and the safety of the people I met there, their land, and the people they’re in arguments with is a big concern, although they would confidently say not to worry.

I’m learning a lot of things here. Some are topics I should have remembered from high school and others are the life lessons I keep spitting at all of you in this blog. These last two weeks I’ve been reminded of the crazy high expectations I set for myself and the things I want to accomplish.

Yesterday I spent the morning and mid-afternoon in Herzliya. The night before I got a text to be at my friend’s apartment at 8 in the morning for breakfast before we got on the bus to a city described to me as the Hampton’s of Israel. I was feed a sweet challah bread and Nutella sandwhich at 8 on the dot and stepped off the bus a bit later onto the most gorgeous beach next to the clearest water I’ve ever seen. We spent the day trolling through the Ritz Carlton, not blending in with the wealthy European guests at all, lounging on the soft sand in the shade and weaving through the mall finding more Nutella spread on crepes and frozen yogurt, with chocolate chunks as sprinkles we’re brining back to America, before heading back home. Exhausted and sandy walking back into Florentin I was ready to shower and sleep and just be for the rest of the day. I laid, started The Holiday, couldn’t sleep, threw on some clothes, stopped at a corner store to grab a bottle of wine and some potatoes and went over to my friends place to cook, drink, talk, cry a little, laugh a lot and remember why I signed up for this program in the first place.

Yesterday was set with no expectations.

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