Being Here

I’m back at my kitchen table in the stillness with good music and the Tel Aviv sun beaming through the non-shaded glass doors to my balcony. My roommates are at work, along with most of my friends, and their friends, and a lot of this country. Because I work for a University and the students haven’t come back from summer/holiday break my vacation lasts until Oct. 7. I couldn’t tell you what day of the week that is and to be honest the only reason I know today is Wednesday is because tonight at 19:00 I will be screaming every line to all the Yeezus songs I know.

Tonight is Kanye West. Tomorrow is camping on a beach in the north. Friday is Shabbat dinner with food we compare to crack (hummus, pita, chicken wings, cous-cous, hummus, mashed potatoes, wine, hummus and wine). Saturday is Bon Jovi. And the long days and short weeks keep rolling on with more art tours, late dinners with live music, and stand-up shows with comedians pulling me up on stage (this happened last night) followed by Amy Winehouse showdowns with a piano outside the comedy lounge and a tone-deaf me singing and dancing backup to all the lyrics I learned from Naya Riveria when she sung Valerie on Glee.

My current state is this weird but satisfying parallel feeling of being totally content and comfortable in Florentin but smiling every time I think about the things and people I get to go back to in February. The apartment I’m sitting in right now is what I currently call home. I couldn’t wait to get back to it last night after a three day hiatus from my smelly city with family in the beautiful settlement of Efrat (just outside of Jerusalem). After seeing my building’s elevator not-surpisngly broken after walking home from the bus station last night, I lugged my suitcase full of clean clothes up the five flights of stairs and loved the feeling of being back at 32 Washington. I downed half a box of cereal, went over to a friend’s apartment to catch up with my people, came home to get ready for a night of live music, which ended being one of my favorite nights of food and laughs with Israeli comedians and their horrible jokes. That is home in Tel Aviv. You really never know what’s around the corner. Last night it was a piano lounge hosting English comedy night and I can’t even begin to guess what will come from tonight, and Kanye, and the beach after dark.

Staying present in everything I do and every place I am is my biggest feat right now. There are so many walks to go on, seas to skinny-dip in, people to meet, work to finish, trips to plan, reunions to get excited for, and blogs to write that focusing on this blog, this song, and the keys I’m pressing, is close to impossible.

A friend of a friend gave me a great piece of advice while I was complaining about the amount of chocolate rugelach, wine, pita and hummus, chocolate wavers, and Ben and Jerry’s I’ve been consuming, “When you’re hungry, you’re hungry!” I’ve been hungry for a lot lately. For the bread basket at an American brunch place 15 minutes away from my apartment with avocado hummus, Nutella, and cinnamon butter as my spread choices, sushi on the beach while watching a sunset, time with family in their city inside the West Bank on top of a gorgeous hill with zero feelings of my safety being compromised, hugs with friends I missed while gone for only 3 days, soccer matches with so few women in attendance that the bathrooms are for girls and boys, and sand in my sheets from days on the beach with books, dogs, the hottest sun in the world, and cucumber and tomato sandwiches to keep me happy.

My hunger for life and all that I can squeeze out of it during these next four months is how I am going to stay present. Israel is my now, Chicago is my future, flushing my thoughts out with you and the world wide web is what’s happening at the moment and I can’t wait to press publish and move on to the next line on my bucket list.

The view outside my family's home in Efrat
The view outside my cousin’s home in Efrat
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The table that held the best shrimp cocktail and seafood gnocchi I’ve ever tasted
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Worst comedian of the night, made me laugh the hardest
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Slowing Down

Sitting in the hostel my first night in Florentin I knew that the minute I could be in my apartment by myself and enjoy the stillness I would be set.

It’s happening. Right now.

Blasting music from a playlist made in heaven from a new friend. Sitting in one of the dresses I bought yesterday during our mad hunt for t-shirt dresses, which was too successful; budgeting starts next month. I’m about to cook? Yes, you read that right, I am about to cook. Going to attempt to cook without tasting anything since it’s currently Yom Kippur and I’m fasting? Read that right again.

I’m starving.

Kicked off Yom Kippur with a walk down the middle of a major street with some of the semi-religious girls on my program. Followed them into the temple, walked upstairs to stand with the women, while the men stood downstairs with the breeze from outside cooling them off and their view of the service completely clear. The 30 seconds I spent upstairs I was dripping sweat and couldn’t see a thing. I wanted to see the separateness, I saw it, I felt it, and I left.

Religion is still not something I’ve connected with, I’m not sure it ever will be. I appreciate the tradition that comes from it, the togetherness, the song, and the food, but the chanting and praying and reading from the torah hasn’t moved me, and I’m okay with that. The desire I have to fast comes with being a part of this religious state. It’s not just a minority in America trying to make it through a whole day of not eating a bagel with lox, it’s an entire country turning everything off, wearing white, repenting, being still and feasting once the sun goes down. You best believe I wanted to be a part of that.

I walked back to Florentin from the temple last night and devoured a homemade plate of chicken parm and pasta, what was supposed to be our last meal for 24 hours. Forget the bottle of red I bought from my vegetable man before he closed and the pretzels and turkish salad that I fully enjoyed post sunset (when you’re supposed to stop eating), and we can say the parm and pasta was my last meal.

The coolest thing is that I can see a certain bliss through my hunger. If I was sitting in Deerfield right now I know the hangrieness would be pouring out and the idea of three more hours with no food would for sure move my body to the pantry and binge on a bag of Doritos. It’s weird that I’m sitting here satisfied with the next few hours of nothingness until I hear the shofar and can throw down containers full of chicken, sweet potatoes, zucchini and chocolate wavers.

This bliss is different than I thought I would feel. Life in Florentin is pretty normal and normalcy was not what I expected. I fell asleep mid-movie yesterday and woke up to move to the couch and start a different movie. The wanderlust part of this program is still very present, like this morning when we left to find the highway and walk alongside bikes, skateboards and scooters on the busiest streets of Tel Aviv, it’s just evened out with the familiarness of Netflix on a quiet day.

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The Basics

For you Mama Ethridge…

You would think my first day on the job would begin a new reality, but thanks to this beautiful Jewish state I’m living in, I go into the office tomorrow for my second day and then have the next two weeks off for Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

God Bless the Torah.

This past week has been exhausting. Since the beginning of my time in Tel Aviv each day has felt a bit like the Birthright trip I took four years ago. After those 10 days I was beat and needed a whole lot of America and sleep. New twist, Birthright 2.0 is ending, but I’m not leaving. There’s no suitcase full of dirty clothes or sand spilling out of old gym shoes. Instead, the mesh bag hanging from my shelf in Florentin is full of sheets, towels and too many tops and my apartment floor is covered with sand from the beach, dirt from the street and pretzels from last weekend’s pregame (currently waiting for a broom and dust pan to magically appear at our door).

Laundry was something I needed to check off of my list of firsts in a foreign country. Same with grocery shopping, taking the bus, turning on a hot plate, and watching the sunset. Happy to announce that all of those boxes have been successfully checked and I’m already missing drying machines and dairy-free yogurt, a lot.

Another check, that was not on my list to begin with, is learning Hebrew, also known as Ulpan (Hebrew lessons) here in Israel. I just finished three straight days of intensive Ulpan, which totaled out to five hours a day with two much needed breaks every hour and a half. What has been confirmed from those 15 hours is that I never want to go back to school. My motivation to keep going are the people in my class who made the time go weirdly fast, the cookies I can buy from the gorgeous, air-conditioned, music-filled market three minutes away, and the idea that I will one day be able to understand the conversations my coworkers are having two feet away from my desk.

For now I point, speak English and say slicha (sorry/excuse me), a lot.

The next two weeks look like the beach, finding a yoga spot. Kanye West, visiting family, camping on the beach, Bon Jovi, swimming in springs in the north, trying to cook, doing another load of laundry, celebrating birthdays, spending too much money, red wine, nights on balconies, and hilarious conversations in broken Hebrew and lots of English.

I’ll let you know which ones actually get checked off the list, hoping for all 14.

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Selfie Sticks and Sunsets with these babes until 2016
Selfie Sticks and Sunsets with these babes until 2016

The Sounds Around

You know things are happening when I haven’t written a blog post in years and suddenly have all the feels to write two in one day.

This one is pouring out.

Music has always been an important part of my life. Like everyone else, I slip away from the sounds outside when I plug my ear buds in and pretend that there really is a soundtrack to my life. The difference in Israel is that all the sounds put together to make the melodies that I hear have been completely unplugged.

On the first night of Rosh Hashanah my friend Rotem picked me up from my apartment to take me and a friend back to her parents house to celebrate the Jewish New Year. It was so genuinely lovely. Her 93 year old grandma would burst out in songs from Fiddler on the Roof, in Hebrew and Yiddish, throughout the three course meal, and her curious, questioning soul made me miss the women in my life who I’ve lost, too much. Her mom and dad took us in as their own, poured us wine, wondered how we felt about Obama, asked us questions, and fed our bellies with food I can’t wait to screw up in the kitchen while trying to replicate.

Rotem has been a gem to me this past week and really throughout our four year WhatsApp friendship after meeting on birthright in 2012. She squeezed me right when I needed to be loved during that wretched homesickness phase, and has sent me pictures of maps on how to get places and texts making sure I’ve made friends (which I have, the pictures are coming ya’ll).

Tonight there was no beautifully sung rendition of “To Life” or “Sunrise, Sunset.”

Instead it was a sick Israeli DJ playing at a pop up radio bar in my buzzing neighborhood who made us dance and sweat and feel completely in the moment. Before passing bottles of wine to each other on the second floor of the apartment complex hosting this epic music fest, we toured the streets of Tel Aviv and half-listended to a guide explain the rich history and culture of this tiny city. I chimed in when I heard “If you have the destiny to do something, can you break it?” There are words missing, possibly an entire phrase, but the gist of it hit a chord.

When you’re with the right people, moving to the same tunes, thinking the same thoughts and feeling exactly as you should, why even think of breaking it.

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Every Little Bite

I’m still very much on a vacation.

The dust has settled, literally, the sun has come back out, and my skin tone is finally not a see-through, pale as the moon, white.

A crew is being formed and all my money is being spent on eggplant, mango sauce, hummus filled, cucumber and tomato topped pita pockets. It’s also going to nose-bleed seats for Kanye West, taxis from towns I can’t pronounce, pants with elephants printed down the entire length and beers on dance floors with live music right on the edge.

The extremely full and satisfying feeling I had right before leaving my beautiful life in America just over a week ago is still very present. I miss the people who have made 23 the golden year it was meant to be. It’s a good miss, a miss I can handle, and a miss that is making me appreciate all of you and who you are to me more than I ever knew.

In return for all you’ve done for me…(jealousy)

3:10 PM on the last day of Rosh Hashanah:

Sitting on a perfectly sized, form-fitting couch in the type of café you’re picturing in your head with chalkboards full of Hebrew, jars of bottle corks, big plants, little plants, people on their phones, people speaking English, Hebrew, maybe something else? A waitress who translated the entire salad I’m eating right now that literally makes me smile every time I take a bite. Fresh is what it tastes like. Fresh like the feeling of this fan on my face in the 90°, 70% humidity weather just outside café Rayza in my hipster, dirty, smelly, incredibly unique, graffiti-filled neighborhood.

So that’s me.

Yesterday was filled with sand and the sea.

Today is all about this salad, and the company I’m about to walk back to in my apartment, the room I already have to clean and the hot plate I have to plug in that’ll take all afternoon to heat up just to boil one pot of water.

Tomorrow this new reality continues, the one that feels like a long vacation I probably won’t want to end.

Hoping you all find your own vacations.

The ones that make you smile every time you take a bite out of a salad.

The Salad
The Salad

Time to Masa

Adjusting is not my thing.

There’s nothing about change that my mind or body appreciates. Some part of me believed that this adjustment, the biggest one of my life, the one where I move to Israel for five months, would be different.

It wasn’t.

There was a big, “What am I doing here” moment walking out of the airport in Tel Aviv one week ago and it was terrifying. That pit in your stomach, ball in your throat, can’t call your mom feeling was very present and it felt like it would last for forever.

But it didn’t. It’s gone and I’m well aware that there will be other feelings, different adjustments, and some moments of uncertainty, but for now, I am happy.

Florentin is home. 32 Washington is my Vineyard. And for the next 5 months I’ll be sweating and swimming, dining and wining, playing and dancing, exploring and wanderlusting with some of the coolest people I’ve met to date.

From the mouth of an agitated but compassionate sheet vendor on the streets of Israel,

“If you go to sleep happy, it’s the best way in the world.”