39 Minutes of Aimless Wandering

Just a short post here. You know when something big is about to happen? And you know its about to happen, but it doesn’t feel like its about to happen? That’s how I feel now. My week as a “tourist” has come to an end. In about 40 minutes I will begin meeting the people on my program and we will start our orientation.

Its exciting stuff, I’m starting this whole new phase of my life, but it doesn’t seem real to me. I will probably get nervous 39 minutes from now, but for now I feel nothing. Probably why I writing this post and not finishing up my packing.

Once a procrastinator always a procrastinator?

I even woke up this morning thinking, “maybe my my sister, Goldie, and I can go out on the lake today.” (hah, I wish! Its so humid.)

I am trying to enter this year with an open mind and absolutely zero expectations except to have a good year, learn Hebrew, and learn more about who I am and where my place in this world is.

Ok, so maybe I do have some expectations, but for the most part, I am trying not to think to hard about how I want my time on Bina to turn out. Maybe that is why this post, which was supposed to be short is not so short anymore. I don’t have any direction right now. No direct thought process anyways. I am aimlessly meandering till I get to my destination, where ever that may be. I just want to be happy.

Here are a few photos from my time in Eshkol.

Actually date trees.
Actually date trees.
Pomegranate Tree
Pomegranate Tree
My friend Or underneath grape vines.
My friend Or underneath grape vines.
Me with a horse on my friend, Roni's, moshav.
Me with a horse on my friend, Roni’s, moshav.
A friendly dog who joined up for a walk to my friend, Liron's, grandfather's house.
A friendly dog who joined up for a walk to my friend, Liron’s, grandfather’s house.
Me and my friend, Oren's, youngest sister, Metav.
Me and my friend, Oren’s, youngest sister, Metav.

Tattoos and Clues

(Disclaimer: Don’t worry Dad, I’m not getting a tattoo.)

It is amazing how little so many Israelis think of their country. Jews from all over the world look at Israel in awe, wanderlust, and protectiveness. Well, at least some do. But Israelis cannot wait to leave. Many don’t leave, but they yearn for an easier life they see on American TV. A cheaper life, not having to live in a small country where everyone knows everyone and is always in your business, and not having to be afraid all the time. I understand this, but it is just such a different perspective than the one I have.

As I have been reconnecting with old friends, making some new ones, seeing new places, and revisiting old ones, I am at once seeing Israel through my friends’ eyes and my own. The people are loud and rude, but they are genuine and friendly. The cities can be run down and squashed together, but they are also extraordinarily making do with what they have. People come from all walks of life, just like in the United States, and just like in the US, they have their problems with racism, but everyone has community and their own customs and traditions that they have stayed true to throughout the generations and change. In the US they would be considered practicing Jews, but here they do not consider themselves Jewish at all.

Ashquelon Beach
Ashquelon Beach
Oren and me (with her little sister Leianne in the back) at the Ashquelon Beach
Oren (left) and me (with her little sister Leiame in the back) at the Ashquelon Beach
Or and me at the Ashquelon Beach
Or (right…or up?) and me at the Ashquelon Beach

The more time I spend here, “living like an Israeli,” my excitement to start my gap year program, Bina Gap Year, grows. In Israel, you are ultra-orthodox, not religious, or a tourist. There is no popular choices of Reform, Conservative, and Modern-Orthodox. (Unless you are a tourist who moved to Israel). Part of my program is to study at a secular yeshiva. This means a non-religious religious school for Jews. A bit of an oxymoron, but it’s purpose is to bring a new perspective on Judaism to the country. Slowly, as I see more and more, I am truly realizing why the work my program does is so important.

Oren, my friend I have been staying with, wants to get a tattoo on her arm that says “Perspective.” She wants to be able to look down and remind herself that there are always more options, reasons, and perspectives to consider when a problem arises. While I don’t plan on getting a tattoo, I think that if one plans to permanently engrave themselves, “Perspective” is not such a bad word to do it with.

Food for Thought

Today is my second day staying with my friend, Oren, in the Eshkol Regional Council. Her house is in a moshav, which is kind of like a neighborhood that has nothing around it accept farms and greenhouses and other moshavim with their own mini-market. It has been awesome getting reconnected with Oren and meeting some of her friends. Last night we ordered sushi delivery (sweet potato is a normal sushi item, I learned) and talked about almost everything under the sun. From boys and celebrities to the differences between the countries and what life is like for Israeli teens.

Today we are headed to the city of Beer Sheva. Beer Sheva is possibly as old as Jerusalem, dating back to the time of the Torah, but as I am writing this on the bus, driving through the city, all I see are houses, apartment buildings, palm trees, and high rises.

The bus has always been a great place for me to think and it hasn’t failed me yet. One thing that’s been going through my mind is a girl Oren mentioned last night in one of our various conversations. Her name is S (just for privacy purposes). S is the only Palestinian girl in Oren’s grade. Let me tell you, if you look at a map to find the Gaza Strip, you are pretty much also looking at Eshkol. Some places in Eshkol are less than a mile from the border.

This girl, Oren told me, is one of the nicest people you could talk to. Oren expressed that she felt inspired that she could have such an amazing personality while coming from a minority background as the only Palestinian in an Israeli school that gets greatly affected by the rockets fired over from Gaza. Oren even expressed that it made her reconsider some of her beliefs on the conflict between the two nations.

It gives me hope thinking about S and at the same time I also realized something strange about myself and the North Amercan Jewry: In a Jewish country, surrounded by Jews, I just may be able to identify more with S than I do with my Jewish-Israeli friends. As a girl who grew up in the minority herself. I think this is a concept that many American Jews may not realize.

Just some food for thought.


I finally made it (like it would never happen?). I am pretty exhausted after my red-eye flight out here, but my mind is working overtime. I’ll try and get some sleep, but tomorrow I will be heading south to Eshkol where I will visit some friends. A little mishap just happened; a friend of mine who was supposed to host me for part of this coming week cancelled last minute (like, my plane touched the ground, I tuned on WiFi, and got a message from her saying that she had an unexpected change of plans). It happens, but realizing you might not have a place to stay for a little while is (again) scary.

I don’t think everything is actually scary, let me just clear this up, but between traveling alone and everything mostly being new, my senses are a bit overloaded, anything can seem daunting, no? I knew that my family here wouldn’t let me go homeless, but still, it didn’t sound fun to have to organize all that.

But if this isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is. About half an hour later I got a call from my friend who will be hosting me tomorrow saying that a different friend of ours could host me for those couple days. So in the end I believe it will all work out, but it sure was unexpected.

My program starts on August 28, I can go to my program’s building on the 27. I think that, while getting to spend time with my friends, having fun, beforehand and (specifically) acclimating to the climate (it’s so  humid) and the timezone is important, I will be a bit less overwhelmed once my program actually starts. Thats the way everything is though, right? Until there is a little bit of structure, most tasks are very overwhelming.

Some parting words my dad shared with me from a recent conversation have been playing in my mind a lot. I thought I would share them with you: It can’t be an adventure if nothing goes wrong. I guess I have been having a great start to an adventure!

My passport and airplane tickets
My passport and airplane tickets.
View over Montréal
View over Montréal.
Last family photo before my dad and I made our way through security in Montréal
Last family photo before my dad and I made our way through security in Montréal.


Just Like Driving a Car

As I said goodbye to my family (twice since I flew with my dad to Toronto before he split to go on to Alaska), it hadn’t hit me yet that I was leaving my family for ten months. My time with my father was pretty rushed at the end unexpectedly and while I wasn’t prepared for it, the emotions came tumbling out all at once. Being alone, even in just an airport, for the first time with a daunting task of flying half way across the world and managing yourself and yourself alone for the first time ever is overwhelming.

It was rather like a movie, an emotional, heartfelt goodbye followed by a walk alone. And I do mean alone. The hallway to the international gates was completely empty. As the thoughts that maybe I wasn’t headed in the right direction flooded my mind, I thought to myself, “It’s just like driving a car, Jaz. Just like a car.” And I realized that, to an extent, I was right. When I first got my license, the thought of driving alone, navigating alone, was also daunting. As a new driver you make mistakes, and sometimes it is very dangerous (a teacher of mine once called a car a weapon and how right she was), but you get to a point where you just have to realize that if you stay fixated on your past mistakes, then you are just going to keep making new ones. You won’t be learning. Its a dangerous mindset that has even more dangerous consequences.

This was a lesson I must have learned in one of my earliest weeks of being a licensed driver after accidentally cutting off a car (I swear, he must have been speeding a least a little!). And if I, a “small-town” girl from Saratoga Springs, could manage to safely navigate the 5 Boroughs and Long Island (well, parts of the 5 Boroughs at least) then I will be O.K. Gaining independence is a part of growing up – one of life’s many steps to climb – and while it may seem scary to me to not have my parent’s leading or helping me lead the way, it will soon become part of my everyday life. Because after all, driving is now second nature; if every child who set out had mommy and daddy with them all the time, there would be no real adults in the world.

I have a few hours left of my layover here in Toronto till I leave for Tel Aviv, but until then I will enjoy test driving my new car.


So It All Begins

This time of year is always nerve wracking. School is about to start, it’s a new season, new year, new clothes, new people. No matter who is reading this, change of some magnitude is coming soon. It’s just that time of year. For me, it’s coming now. “Now” as in tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. I graduated from high school back in the end of June. I was seventeenth in a class of 481 students and had enough AP credits to skip my freshman year at college. Needless to say, I was a hardworking student. As my friends all talked about what they were most excited for at university and when they should start the dreaded college shopping process, I was going through a slightly different transition. For here I am, sitting in an airport hotel in Montréal at midnight, mentally trying to process that I am leaving for Tel Aviv, Israel tomorrow for ten months.

Yup, you heard right – Israel. That small place in the Middle East that might always seem to be in the news? Yeah, that one.

It is a bit of a story how I came around to choosing a gap year instead of university right away and why I chose what I did, but that may be a story for another day. The gist of what I will be doing is volunteer work and studies at a secular yeshiva. More information will definitely follow soon. For those haven’t guessed it yet, I am Jewish and ever since my first family trip to Israel three years ago, I’ve been hooked. (I’ve been twice more since then).

Leaving home is scary no matter where you are going or how prepared you thought you are. This is something that I am only now realizing. It is O.K. to be afraid about what is to come. Humans naturally fear the unknown and when we acknowledge that we fear it, this is when we can overcome the fear and have all the adventures. This is what growing up is about and if you are commuting to college an hour away or if you are traveling halfway around the world and not returning home for a year, it is O.K. to be a little afraid. I recently read an article about this, mentioning some things the writer themselves wished they had known as a freshmen: Everyone is at least a little nervous. And just like way back when in Kindergarten, we all want to make friends. The way I am trying to look at it is why should a group of twelve or so eighteen year olds in Israel be any different if we are all experiencing a change?

I think missing my family will be half the battle, but I hope to be making a new family pretty soon, with any luck. Either way, I expect lots of tears tomorrow. Now, when I get there, I just have to figure out public transit in a language I don’t know yet and I’ll be all set! Should be almost as fun as fitting my life into the two 50lb weight limits… I guess I did ask for adventure.