These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Promises, Promises

Posted on May 23, 2011 by Aviva P.

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Prior to coming to Israel, my mother tried made me promise her three things:

  1. I won’t date an Israeli
  2. I won’t move to Israel/want to make aliyah
  3. I won’t become orthodox

While somehow I believed that there was no reason for my mom to be concerned (1) Israelis are difficult, 2) I liked living in America, 3) I liked wearing pants), something in me knew the proper response was that I couldn’t promise her anything.

Good thing I said that, because all three of those promises would have been broken at some point or another.

Ok, so I didn’t quite date an Israeli, at least not the kind to which my mother was referring, which was a Sabra (a natural born Israel).  However, I did date an American oleh (an American who emigrated to Israel) for a little bit and for the real reason my mom was telling me not to date an Israeli, this was basically the same thing.

And ok, I’m not moving to Israel…at least not right now.  But, considering I came to Israel with my “I’ll NEVER make aliyah” attitude and have since eased off of that, going as far as even considering it and making [half-jokes] with my friend Ben that we will be on the same aliyah flight, I’d consider that going against promise number two.

And ok, I didn’t become orthodox…not even close. However, over the course of this year, I became more comfortable with mehitzot (separation between men and women sections of a shul) and grew more convinced that leading a more observant life would be rewarding and the right thing to do….Admittedly, it’s just not yet (to channel the great Franz Rosenzweig,…my Jewish thought teacher DLK would be proud).

Despite having the foresight that there was a possibility the promises my mom wanted me to make couldn’t be kept,  I was overall naïve with the effect that this year would have on me.  I came to Israel with a plan for the next two years.  I would come to Israel, spend my year at Pardes doing Pardes things. I would then go back to NY, finish my degree at the Jewish Theological Seminary, graduate and move on to the next leg of my life journey.  Essentially, I expected to clip myself out of my life in NY, do what I wanted to do in Israel and when that was over, neatly place myself back into the space I left behind, almost as if this year never happened.

Have you ever worked on a puzzle, and one piece got wet?  The cardboard expands and warps.  While the piece still resembles that of its original form, it no longer fits with its adjacent pieces the way that it was intended.

From the moment I arrived in August, I was not the same person as the one who left New York. Though, it strangely took several months for me to really accept that my year in Israel complicated my “plan” more than I intended.

I came to Israel excited and feeling even a little smug that I knew what I was doing after Pardes ended, that I didn’t have to think about it, unlike many of my peers and fellow students. While I am ultimately looking forward to carrying out this plan, part of me feels envious of those who came as free spirits, not knowing what was coming next, leaving themselves room to accommodate the growth they would experience in Israel.

I am leaving Israel tomorrow morning and I cannot quite comprehend that I will not be waking up and walking the 15 minutes from my beautiful apartment on Mishmar Ha’am, to the space in which Pardes operates, unassuming and humbly on top of a Mazda Dealership….

  • …that I will not be returning to Yakov Maimon, an Ethiopian absorption center in Mivaseret Tzion, to spend time with my “adopted” Ethiopian children, Kalkidan and Biruk.
  • …that I will not have to think in multiple languages
  • …that I can’t just decide to go to Emek Refaim and get a kosher hamburger or chicken salad (not that I really eat chicken salads…)
  • …that later this week I will not be joining the Pardes community for their end of the year Shabbaton in the Galil.
  • …that I will be 5,000+ miles away from the people who became my family this year
  • …that I have to say farewell to some of the greatest teachers I have ever had and the relationships that I built with them and, in some cases ,their families.
  • …that I will no longer be part of majority, but just another Jew in the Diaspora
  • …that I no longer will be surrounded by, living in and helping make history that so significantly affects my and my people’s existence and identity

My chest feels tight. My heart beats fast.  I am short of breath.

A friend of mine recently checked in to see how I was feeling over my quickly approaching departure.  He said “It’s a good thing if it’s hard to leave Israel.”

I’ve never had an easy time leaving Israel but I know this time will be much more difficult.

Farewell Israel.  I will miss you, but I’ll be back.

I promise.