The Second Half / What 13 Years Can Do

Hopefully, friend, the last posts were to your liking. This one will be slightly different, as the experience of traveling alone in Israel was fairly different from being taken around from place to place in a bus. Both experiences were completely valid and wonderful in their own ways. A sizable group from the birthright trip extended their trips, most of us planning to head straight for Tel-Aviv, so a pile of us got on the train at Ben-Gurion and headed to the city. I was getting fairly sick by this point (some food poisoning I believe, but I’ll spare you the details) so I spent the next couple of days in a hostel, trying to sleep off the sickness. Once I was up for it, I bid my fellow birthrighters adieu and took the train north, where I intended to spend the next 3 days in my old village, visiting my 100 year-old grandmother. Arriving in the city of Nahariya was as surreal as it had been the last time I visited, two years before. There was significantly less rubble in the streets this time around, but the city is still much dirtier than my childhood memories of it. I decided to get some food rather than hop in a taxi and head straight to Shave Zion, and I knew where I wanted to go. Walking along the Ga’aton, I saw shops I remembered and sights that looked familiar; it was a strange counterpoint to the birthright experience, seeing places I remembered so vividly from my childhood. I made it to my destination, The Pizza Penguin, ordered two slices and a bottle of water, sat with my bags and ate while watching the locals pass by. Then, “Can you feel the love tonight” came on at the frozen yogurt shop next door and an arab family joined me at the pizza place. We exchanged smiles, and the children were so fascinated by a traveler and his bags that they stared openly at me until their food arrived. It was a slightly uncomfortable experience. (Being stared at by children while eating is unnerving. Who knew?) I hopped in a taxi and headed about three miles south, to Shavei Zion, where I spent the bulk of my time in Israel as a child and where my grandmother is currently staying. I had a reservation at the Beit Dolphin Village hotel, about a 5 minute walk from the “Founders’ Home” where my grandmother lives. The woman who runs the hotel remembered me from my childhood and was both surprised and confused that I had made a reservation at the hotel rather than stay with any of the many families who no doubt remember me and would have me as a guest. I was still feeling pretty unwell from whatever it was that I had, so I was glad to have my own space, and I said as much to her, which she understood. That night I visited my grandmother. Seeing her completely changed my perspective concerning my trip. My frustrations, concerns and desires to end the trip early completely vanished when I saw her. Being with her was simply more important than anything else. In that first visit I could tell how much her condition worsened since the last time I’d seen her. She wasn’t speaking much–hardly at all–and just wanted to hold my hand with her eyes closed. At one point that night she spoke only one complete sentence; one of the three or four she had used during my entire three day visit. She opened her eyes, looked at me and said: “I’m so glad you’re here.” It was one of the more profound emotional experiences of the trip without a doubt. Over the next three days I spent a few hours each day with her–all the time she was awake, more or less–most of which was spent in silence, holding hands, listening to classical music while she kept her eyes closed, making small noises with each breath. Since there was plenty of remaining time during the days I spent in Shavei Zion, I decided to call an old friend whose number I had and see if he was still in town. It turned out that a good number of the people I knew as a kid were still there, so we decided to meet and catch up a bit. It was incredible to see the changes that take place in a person over a thirteen year period. No doubt change is an expected result of the passage of time, but that didn’t reduce the impact that seeing the changes had on me. Another result of seeing old friends was further incredulity that I was at a hotel rather than staying with any of the families still in Shavei Zion. A friend’s mom made a quick phone call and my reservation was cancelled; I was to spend my remaining time in Shavei Zion in a guest room of a house across the street. Once I had reconnected with the people I knew from my youth in the Moshav, I started remembering how open the community of Shavei Zion was. It’s incredible, really, how everyone’s doors are literally open to you. I socialized between visits to my grandmother, went to Akko for Hummus (some of the best I’d had on the trip by far), and generally felt very much at home in my old village. The trip had to continue, and I had to make an important stop, so my friend Ronli took me to the bus station in Akko, where I hopped on a bus heading to Nazareth. I have relatives that live in Tzippori from my father’s side, allowing me to completely geek out about being Welsh (more on that later), which was a pleasure. In addition, they own and operate an organic olive press which produces the finest olive oil I’ve ever tasted. I spent the night in Tzippori–after seeing the litter of puppies just born, the goat trying to eat through the fence, the chickens being chickens, and the general relaxed chaos that defines the Noymeir residence–and was given a ride to the airport, accompanying my hosts as they took a young German woman who had been volunteering on their farm to catch her departing flight. From there I took the train back into Tel Aviv, hopped in a cab and headed straight for Rabin Square. I needed to eat at Dabush, an incredible Shawarma joint that I absolutely love. I sat in the square with my bags, eating Shawarma and reading Werner Heisenberg and I thought to myself: “This could be my life. I wouldn’t mind this at all.” After several unsuccessful attempts to reach my hosts for the remainder of my trip, I called Shara, whose wedding I was to attend on the 1st of January. Shara and Eyal are hospitality embodied. I asked if I could come by with my bags while I continued working at reaching my hosts, and they were more than accommodating. In fact, I ended up meeting them at Shara’s parents’ vacation rental apartment where I was promptly introduced to the family. I was never able to get a hold of my hosts, so I left my bags at Shara and Eyal’s place and headed out to meet a friend from Santa Cruz for dinner. It was awesome, sitting in a Hamburger restaurant in Nahalat Binyamin with an old friend from SC and having the whole event feel so natural. I guess that if I had to describe how it feels to be in Israel, that’s what I’d say: it just feels natural to me; like I belong there. I spent that night on Shara and Eyal’s (comfortable) couch, was invited to brunch the following morning, and finally reached Talya, my sister’s best childhood friend, who was to host me in her apartment for the remainder of my stay in Israel. I found out how to get to her apartment and headed out with my belongings. Talya lives with Yonatan (her boyfriend) in a neighborhood of Tel Aviv called Neve Tsedek. It’s a neighborhood with artsy boutique shops, good cafes and restaurants, and a generally awesome vibe. The streets are too thin to functionally navigate with cars, so while there are cars parked along the roads and the occasional car slowly making its way down the street, it’s much quieter than other areas of Tel Aviv. The neighborhood is closer to Jaffa than downtown Tel Aviv, but I was able to walk to both from her apartment on separate occasions during my stay. While I was staying there Talya and Yonatan were practicing a different lifestyle. They were living “unattached,” that is to say they weren’t using electricity in their home. Candles provided light at nighttime, showers were heated by the sun, and the refrigerator became a spare bookshelf, since fresh food could be acquired as needed from the Shuk nearby. It was an interesting adjustment to make, but I found it to be fairly comfortable once I had settled into a groove with them. Being with Talya and Yonatan challenged my Hebrew in a way it had never been challenged before. We discussed topics I find interesting, but expressing abstract concepts with the capacity for Hebrew of an 11 year-old is difficult at best. Ultimately, we were able to understand one another and I found myself greatly enjoying my time with Talya and Yonatan. On the evening of January 1st I headed to Shara and Eyal’s wedding, where I represented the Samuel clan as a whole. It was terrific. I had a great time eating delicious food, dancing and meeting friends of Shara’s, friends of Shimone’s, and relishing the expressions on the faces of people learning about my family and our relationship to Shara. I made it back to Neve Tsedek at about 3:00am in the pouring rain with an enormous smile on my face. After the wedding I had two days in Israel left, which I spent reading my books and eating at Dr. Shakshuka (seriously, eat there), decompressing from the powerhouse of an emotional journey that the last month or so represented. Here it is, (hopefully) condensed into a single paragraph: Being in Israel felt like removing a weight I had forgotten was there. I felt more comfortable being myself than I have in years, more confident in who I am and the choices I’m making, more proud of my achievements and the achievements of my family and more like the real me than ever. Going to Israel reinvigorated me. Remembering who I am in a way is tied to remembering how I am connected with Israel. This is a thing–at least I believe it is–I share with my siblings. The hardest part of visiting is just that: it’s only a visit. I hope some day to live in Israel again. Not necessarily permanently, but I already find myself craving to be back in my motherland. At the same time, it’s great to be back in California. I’m working to maintain the positivity I felt in Israel, and so far it’s going well. I’m working toward goals that will really challenge and benefit me, and I’m very, truly happy. Thank you for allowing me to share my trip to Israel with you. I hope that in reading about my time in the motherland you’ll have the desire to learn more about it and perhaps visit some day. If you do want to visit and are eligible, I heartily recommend birthright and IsraelExperts. Back to our scheduled programming…

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5 Responses

  1. Abstract thoughts from an 11yo. Loved that. And I feel you on the “visiting” part. Sometimes I feel I can’t wait to go back and other times I feel going back would only break my heart all over again. In the end, Shara is my island, the reason I can visit and the reason I can return to my other home back in the US. Knowing she is there is like knowing I am there. I am in her heart and her heart is in Israel.

    Thanks for sharing your journey!

  2. Awwwww…mishpachat Samuel. The love I have for you guys is just…overwhelming, actually. You’re all in my little heart over here and I carry you all around me every day. It’s part of what keeps me grounded 🙂

    Much love.

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