First up though is my birthday! I always like to keep my expectations low so that way I’m nothing but pleasantly surprised when my friends and family make my day magical. But this year, expectations or not, the third of May truly was a perfect day. I got to sleep in and help work off my jetlag (I had just flown back to Israel the day before), and my cousin Shelly came over first thing! We went to my favorite PTK hotspot, Café Hillel (ok, maybe not a hotspot but it’s the only café in the merkaz and the staff literally knows me there by name) for classic Israeli breakfast. And what better way to continue the longest brunch ever than by moseying over to happy hour? My PTK crew and I spent the next few hours at JEM’s Brewery and we got the chance to catch up after Passover vacation. Straight from there, I met my cousin and aunt for sushi!! As soon as the day winded down in Israel, everyone in America woke up and I was flooded with birthday love from across the pond. And the festivities only continued to the weekend, where I did my third escape room… this time as a patient in a mental asylum trying to break free. I even got the hospital band to prove it! I can only smile when I think back on the day I turned 23, and am truly grateful to everyone who showers me with love not only this day, but everyday <3
Just as I was coming off cloud 9 from a crazy week (and still fighting off jetlag at this point), it was Yom Hazikaron (the remembrance day for Israel’s fallen soldiers) and Yom Hatzmaut (Israel’s independence day!) While I went to a war memorial ceremony at Latrun at night and a school ceremony at Yeshurun during the day, the somber tone strategically rolls into excitement and appreciation for our fallen soldier’s efforts as the country energizes into a frenzy celebrating independence. Because in the Jewish calendar days start and end at sunset, just as Yom Hazikaron ends, so begins Yom Hatzmaut.
Seeing as it is my first (although certainly not last) Yom Hatzmaut in Israel, I wanted the archetypal Israel-loving experience. This meant going to Rabin square in Tel Aviv, just a couple of kilometers away from where the Israeli Declaration of Independence was signed back in 1948, and feeling a part of the festivities. Thousands of people showed up for performances, fireworks, and to spray silly string everywhere… apparently its an Israeli Independence Day must-have. Everyone was decked out in Israeli attire, I even made a few fun purchases from the PTK shuk earlier that day. And of course the celebration ended at a pregame in Tel Aviv! The walk from Rabin square to Rothschild was one I’ll never forget. People of all ages running up and down the streets with blue and white everything, silly string and foam covering benches and cars, and happy mobs of people in the roads. What I don’t think I was expecting, was for me to feel a part of and included in the energy. Israel became my home the second I stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion. But, after living here for more than 9 months, I feel integrated and included. And I couldn’t be happier to be living in the only Jewish state in the world.
The same feelings propelled right into my Poland MASA. The next morning I went to the beach and saw the warplanes fly over the water; later that evening I was at the airport welcoming my grandma, aunt, and cousins to Israel; later that night I was back at the airport for my own trip, which you can read about here.
Fast-forwarding a week, I landed back in Israel on a Friday morning and headed to the Isrotel to spend the day with my grandma and cousin. We went to Yaffa and walked around shuk hapishpashim (the flea market). I finally got a pair of earrings I’d had my eye on since January (thanks grandma). Lunch at Puaa and the day ended with Shabbat dinner in Ramat Gan—the first time I’ve ever seen my grandma and all of her siblings together in one room, a true Kodak moment. Saturday was yet another beach day that ended at the Namal (TLV Port) for Coffee Station, and Sunday was my grand return to Tzfat!
We rented a van with a driver (thank you Zvika), who took us up to Rosh Pina and Tzfat for the day, with a detour on the way home through Tiberia. I hadn’t been back since my family tiyul back in December, but things had certainly not changed there. We walked through the artists’ colony and ate lunch at my favorite, Ha-Ari 8. It was a quick visit, but an important one, seeing as I was returning with my grandma to her hometown. So many times I’d been to Tzfat thinking of her and her life there back in the 40’s, and now I was able to share in the experience with her, something I will never forget.
The week flew by as my co-teacher Emily and I began furiously shifting into “English Day” mode. My cousin even came to help with preparations! Before I could unpack my bags from Poland, I was already at the airport saying goodbye to my grandma on the eve of Lag B’Omer. This is pretty much just the bonfire holiday, where the scent of burned wood permeates the entire county…we could even smell it from the airport in the middle of nowhere. There was also a bonfire next to my house until 3 AM.
The next day was more leisurely as all I had on my agenda was my cousin Hadar’s 4th birthday. Besides yummy food, seeing the whole family, and birthday cake, the highlight was her pacifier’s “goodbye ceremony,” where Yael proceeded to tie every balloon at the party to the pacifier and “Up” style we watched it fly away. Tears streaming down my cousin’s cheek, I couldn’t help but laugh uncontrollably. Sorry Hadari <3
The rest of the weekend included a visit to Sarona, seeing Civil War in theaters (underwhelming and over my head seeing as the only superhero movie I’ve ever seen is Deadpool), and hitting up the TLV bar scene.
And last but not least, leading us up to the end of May, I had my סיכום (see-coom, or summary) meeting for Poland. Only a week and a half after the trip and it was so nice for the entire group to come back together and reflect, rehashing our experience and what it’s been like to be back in Israel. To end on a happy note, a few of my friends and I went for some drinks by the Namal and enjoyed the first wave of summer sun.
So friends, this takes us to June and even though we have school until the end of the month, it definitely already feels like summer! With mid-90 degree weather every day and no more rain until November, the earth here is starting to turn slightly more barren. The transition is only beginning to echo the transition I will soon be facing as I plan my next step post-MASA.