Onward Israel 2017: Week 8

Shalom Cincinnati,
40 hours later and we finally made it back to Cincinnati! What would our returning travel experience be without (another) flight cancellation and night spent in a Newark hotel?

For our last post, we will be reflecting on our individual experiences with Onward Israel this summer. 

Six months ago, I read an excellent article written by a fellow Tulane student with the title, Feeling like an American in Israel, and an Israeli in America. At the time, it seemed that the author was simply reminiscing on her extended trip to Israel; it has taken the past two months for me to understand how the title reflected the true nature of living in Israel.

When I first arrived in Tel Aviv, I was met with the usual delight of being in my home country, including the fondness of being surrounded by Jews, the odd joy I got from reading Hebrew, and, as you have seen in past blog posts, delicious Israeli foods. However, I quickly experienced emotions I had never felt before in Israel: culture shock and fear.

I had traveled in Israel for over a month during high school and returned for a short period just before starting college. Although this country had always felt like home, I was hit hard with the realization that I had never truly been on my own in Israel. I had never dealt with the many complications—such as transportation, currency, and culture shock—of living independently in a country that seemed increasingly foreign. Nonetheless, these unexpected feelings quickly faded as I was inspired by the ambition and resilience of the rest of the Cincinnati group. Within only days, we were riding the bus, spending too many shekels, and ignoring any sense of others’ personal space like true Israelis.

As work began, I tackled new challenges in the culture realm, particularly surrounding communication. Although almost everyone in my office spoke English, most did not use it conversationally, and I often felt awkward interrupting Hebrew conversations as I was unaware of their subject matter. However, my supervisor told me to overcome my ‘shyness’—a word that I had never heard used to describe myself—and demand that my coworkers speak English when I was nearby so that I could be part of the company culture. After following her instructions, my coworkers adored my newfound directness and “Israeli attitude,” as they called it.

Over and over again, these nuances of Israeli culture pronounced themselves throughout my journey. Whether in formal settings, such the educational seminars, or during everyday activities like shopping at the shuk, I could feel these cultural aspects becoming engrained into my behavior and personality. Furthermore, this summer strengthened my love and admiration for the Jewish people. Although I do not consider myself religious or spiritual, I believe that the quick, unyielding bonds formed within our group are incredibly special, and would not have developed had we not been a Jewish group.

Being back in the U.S. only makes all these feelings stronger. With every day that passes, I miss our (unclean) apartment, daily bourekas, Tel Aviv dogs, family movie nights, and beach sunsets more and more. However, being home has also helped me understand what the author of that original article was trying to articulate. Although I may be American by birth, and that fact may follow me wherever I go, Israel will always have a permanent home in my heart.

Words cannot express how genuinely lucky I feel to have had an experience as incredible as Onward Israel. Thank you to the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati for the opportunity and summer of a lifetime. 

Above: Our home.

Above: A beautiful last night in Tel Aviv.

Above: A beautiful last sunset in Tel Aviv.

It’s really difficult for me to put into words how much this summer meant to me. It was absolutely everything I could have ever dreamed of and so, so much more. From living with 13 strangers who quickly turned into family, the loud and lively energy of Tel Aviv, the culture shock that soon turned into the way of life for us, allll the good foods, the sunsets on the beach, the family movie nights, the laughs until we cried, the jellyfish stings, the let’s just say not very tidy apartment that turned into a home we couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to… it felt like a dream. I feel so insanely lucky and my heart is so full, but I am missing it immensely. 

This summer I learned so much. My internship provided me with skills such as communicating despite a huge language barrier, it taught me to be empathetic and compassionate, and it made me feel much more confident in my area of study. Living in Israel gave me lots of chutzpah, it forced me to be more confident in myself, it taught me to love every bit of every moment, and it gave me the most incredible people to experience it all with. 

Being back home in Cincinnati has been extremely hard for me. There has honestly been more of a culture shock coming back home than there was going to Israel. I miss the unnecessary honking of cars every second of every day, the crowds of people walking around Tel Aviv at all times, waiting 20 minutes for a bus that may or may not ever come, Tamara instead of Starbucks, cats instead of squirrels, and a beach as my backyard. 

This country has so much to offer: a country that will continue to flourish despite too many attempts at destroying it; that embraces people of all races, religions, backgrounds, etc.; that is loud, sometimes rude, and unfair; that is lively, vibrant, and insanely beautiful; a country that is filled with people with so much hope and love; a country that is home. It’s comforting to know I’ll always have a home in Israel.

I cannot thank the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, and Onward Israel enough for making this all possible. I will always remember this summer as the best summer of my life.

Shavua Tov, for the last time,
Andrea Goldstein and Yael Friedstro


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