“How was Israel?” “How much time do you have, and what flavor do you want this conversation to be?”
Now that I’m home, whenever someone asks how Israel is, I have to clarify if they want a 2 hour treatise on the history and status of refugees in Israel; a delineation of each time I felt uncomfortable with the status quo between secular and religious Jews, Jews and Arabs, rich and poor; a description of the beautiful sights in the north, south, and center; if they want to hear about how I have a better grasp of Hebrew than Spanish (and am trying to bring my Spanish back up to par); or if they want to hear about my friends, my relationship, my classes, my daily life. Usually it’s the latter, though if anyone wants that two hour treatise, please let me know!
Towards the end of my trip, I started realizing just how much I grew while abroad. When I got back, I felt it crystallize to become more my personality than my context. I’m not just different when I’m in Israel, I became different from my time in Israel. I think these changes can be equally attributed to the culture, to my wonderful friends and housemates, and the nature of the work I was doing. I don’t think I would have grown in this way anywhere but in Israel, but I also don’t think I would have grown this way under any other circumstances in Israel. I am so grateful to my friends, to Saar and his family, to the Bina staff, and to the people I met and got to know at my placements. I always felt lucky to have this experience, but I feel truly blessed to have had this experience with the particular people I met. I’m not sure how much they noticed, but they all helped facilitate my growth in major ways.
During university, I was constantly planning the next moment. Every night, I looked at my calendar to see what was happening the next day so I could plan when I needed to eat, study, travel. Every morning, I checked my schedule so I didn’t miss anything. And every day, I was planning the next several days, sometimes the next week, sometimes the next few weeks. As I went through my day, at any given moment, I was thinking of the next moment. Where did I need to go next? Did I have time to get there? This wasn’t the ideal way to live, but it was necessary at the time, and it enabled me to do a lot with four years of undergraduate. I know there will be times in my life where I may need to return to that, but in my time in Israel, I learned a new way to live. Come home after a day of volunteering/working and ask your housemates, hey, want to make dinner together? Make plans to travel out of town on the weekend. Find tickets to a basketball game and go. Not everything needs to be planned weeks in advance, and when you aren’t planning in advance, you can enjoy being present in the moment. Now, mediatation is great for some people and, historically speaking, not for me. But being in Israel, I found myself asking my usual questions, “what’s next?” and answering myself, “I don’t know, we’ll see!” Sometimes it means a long day or night, sometimes it means rearranging your daily tasks. But as we used to say in university, “it all gets done.”
Being present also helped me get better at saying yes. I know usually, for people like me who are compulsively busy, the difficulty seems to be saying “no.” But I think I’d become too good at saying no. I prioritized work, and devalued social time. In Israel, when the time arose to go out after classes, to go to dinner after volunteering, the first few months, I was the “no, I think I’m okay” person. But there’s a time and place for that, and sometimes socializing is self-care for me. I learned that if and when I was debating, wondering if I wanted to go or not, go with yes. If I was debating, there was at least a small part of myself that wanted to, and I should listen to that part. Again, sometimes it means longer days, but a shorter day can be more emotionally draining than a long day if nothing about it is fulfilling.
University was, in many ways, fulfilling. I loved what I was learning, I loved my jobs, I loved my friends. But sometimes I felt like my commitment to social justice sat on the back burner. There were occasional events I took part in, and I feel in many ways that my education worked to lead me to a life in which I could apply social justice to my job, but it wasn’t my daily life as much as I wanted it to me. In Israel, every day brought me face to face with injustice, and often with ways to act in response to it. I met people working second jobs so they could work in the evenings for a nonprofit. I met people learning new languages, relocating across oceans, finding ways to make their daily live engage with issues of justice. For five months, that was my life, too. Taking classes on the issues, spending weekends and weekdays volunteering, learning about justice theoretically and as boots on the ground. That life was fulfilling to me, and lifestyle I plan to cultivate from here on out.
Of course, the current question is not so much what or how, but where? I’ll be back in Ventura for likely a bit over a year and a half, with the grad school plan taking me back to the drawing board. Due to the costs of moving Soxy, I’ll be here likely until I know where I’ll be longer term…and that could be anywhere. Whether consciously or unconsciously, for a while, I saw my time in Israel as an experiment, or even as my last great relocation. Well, oops. More than convincing me I needed to be back, my time in Israel convinced me that I can live anywhere. I am hardier than I thought, and as long as I have or can build a community and a daily schedule that I find fulfilling, I can not just persist, but I can thrive. I don’t know where I’m going next, but I know a few things for certain: 1) I will be back in Israel the soonest I can, 2) Israel has changed my perspective and life plans, and 3) Israel has changed me. תודה רבה לכולם.
Alissa Charvonia was a participant on Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa program in south Tel Aviv this past Fall 2017. Alissa writes a regular blog, in this post she describes her thoughts and feelings now that she’s back in the USA.