I moved to Florentin, Tel Aviv on February 20th, 2017. It has been nearly two weeks since I left everything and everyone I knew back home in America and it only took 1 day for me to find a dog-friendly cafe across the street with superb free WiFi, great coffee, cheap beer, and chatty baristas who already have my coffee order (coffee eem chalav skedeem — espresso with almond milk!) ready for me in the morning and are offering me a bartending gig.
In the past 2 weeks I have done several sightseeing excursions, including an overnight trip down South to Eilat where I sat in the middle of desert sand dunes alone with my thoughts for 30 minutes, spent the night at a kibbutz, hiked in the Red Canyon, and snorkeled in the warm waters of the Red Sea. And while this trip along with the other programmed events included in my participation in a Masa-sponsored internship program have been awe-inspiring and informative, they are not the main reason why I am so happy to have done this crazy thing.
The best part about moving to Tel Aviv is the undeniable feeling of being at home in a country and city that could not be more unfamiliar and more familiar at the same exact time. Nothing about this place is anything like the small coastal town in Florida I grew up in, nor does it resemble New York City in any way, shape or form. But for some reason, the language, the people, the energy, the food, and the graffiti all come together in such a perfectly familiar way. So much so that I feel like I was always meant to live here. For example: I have been spending every day for the past week in intensive Ulpan (Hebrew immersion) and even though the Hebrew language sounds and looks nothing like English, hearing it and speaking it and writing it just feels right. When my teacher asked why I wanted to learn, I immediately responded that it was because I felt Hebrew was the language I was meant to know. Even being left-handed, as silly as it sounds, allows me to write in Hebrew better than I do in English. While I had struggled to learn French for nearly 8 years, within 1 week of Ulpan I am already very comfortable speaking and reading Hebrew.
I also very much identify with the spirit of the Israeli people. Everyone here is so direct. People say what they mean, and do what they want. It’s that simple. You never need to wonder whether someone actually wants to see you, or if they really do like you. And while this way of interacting might come off harsh, I respect the directness and appreciate the clarity (coming from a place like New York City, I definitely do not miss people being fake or flaking out on plans). I wasn’t surprised to love the Israeli culture or the people who live here — I have been fortunate to visit Israel several times throughout my life and have always managed to make friends (some I have already managed to see!). What I was surprised by was just how much I love the people participating in my program with me. In Tel Aviv, we have 13 participants (8 women and 5 men) from around the world (South Africa, Canada, England, America, and Australia) all interning in different fields ranging from consulting to journalism to social justice to science. While we all come from different places and are pursuing different career paths, we relate on a level that I have yet to experience at home. I think it takes a specific type of person to uproot their life completely to move to the Middle East for 5 months with a bunch of strangers.
So while I sit here at my neighborhood cafe with a Great Dane to my left and a Pug to my right, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for the opportunity to live in a country that, within 2 weeks, feels more like home than any other place I have ever been. I am so excited to begin my work at Tel Aviv University on Sunday (which is the first day of the week in Israel) and to see how research and academia differ in Israel compared to the states. Based on my initial meeting with my PI, I think I will feel just as at home in his lab as I do in my neighborhood of Florentin. And while I begin this journey knowing that it must come to an end so that I can begin my doctoral work stateside, I already know that making Aliyah (moving to Israel permanently) for postdoctoral work is on the table. I’m curious to see how my experiences over the next 5 months influence that initial feeling. Stay tuned!