Why I will never apologize for loving Israel.

“Man is affected not by events, but by the view he takes of them” ~Epictetus

12243470_10208618446884322_476002580491541011_n.jpg

I consider myself a fairly rational human being. I read various newspapers before forming an opinion, I consider consequences before making a decision, and I always look both ways before crossing the road. Yet two years ago I lost the most important man in my life, my grandfather, and somehow spirituality has crept up into my reserve of pure logic. My mind became a battlefield boasting the most vicious struggle between faith and reason, and it seemed a stalemate neared. However it was the weekend of November 13th, 2015 that this internal struggle was swayed by a terrifying external one. It is a date that will soon be written in international war textbooks and in history’s tragedies eternally. It is also a date I found myself standing on Israeli soil, quite literally in the hot bed of international conflict while holding my own inside as well. This is that story.

On November 13th I took a flight from a tiny British airport to a high security Israeli one. It was a journey I had done many times before, a journey I relish and feel so passionately about making. Upon touching down on Holy soil, I was greeted with endless sunshine and a quick cab ride into the Old City of Jerusalem before Shabbat and sun down. After making it to the hostel, a friend and I quickly made ourselves as modest as possible and set off to partake in a program I like to call “Shabbat with a Stranger”. As students, we were set up with a random religious family in the Old City and proceeded to have the most wild and unexpected Shabbat of my life.

On November 13th I made it to the Rabbi’s home on time.   It was a tiny home, carved into the stone that so beautifully adorns Jerusalem. Steps from the Kotel I found myself welcomed along with ten others from a plethora of backgrounds. To my left sat two very palpably secular female soldiers and to my right sat a very religious young woman my own age and her husband. The evening that followed perfectly encapsulates the beauty of Judaism, as it was full of people seemingly different in every way who gathered together to rest on this holy evening. The evening was full of food and wine and even homemade flavored vodkas. Wisdoms were rattled off from the old wise religious man, until some began to blur together and I began to wonder if I was simply not enlightened enough to understand what he meant. It wasn’t until he so causally mentioned, “I did Acid and THC for 15 years” did I realize his wisdom was even more psychedelic than I had originally thought. Nothing in Israel is ever boring, and this Shabbat was surely one for the books.

On November 13th I walked the winding stone paths of the Old City with a belly full of food and a heart full of peace. I talked with my friend of our incredible Shabbat evening, the spirituality felt when being in Jerusalem and what the reason behind it all could be.

12249923_10208618446964324_8334591780336790280_n.jpg

On November 14th I awoke early to pray at the Kotel. I approached humbled, as I have so many times in the past. Regardless of how many times you turn the corner to see the Western Wall, each time it takes a little bit more of your breath away. After clearing security I approached the women’s section of the Wall (which is in of itself an entirely different article that can be written, but I will save political conversations for a rainy day). It was Saturday morning, which means I was surrounded by religious women, yet not exclusively Jewish. My favorite part about being Jewish is that I can pray at the wall and the woman next to me can be wearing a giant “I ❤ JESUS” shirt and we can get along just fine.

On November 14th I touched the Western Wall with trembling fingers. I closed my eyes and let my forehead rest on the cold stone. As I spoke in my mind I carefully placed my note in the nearest available crevice and what happened next was truly indescribable. As previously stated, I consider myself fairly rational. However rationality goes out the window for me at the Wall. For I stood there, knees trembling, as I felt the most incredible electricity in my bones. It ignited my joints and awakened my flesh. And suddenly, he was there.

On November 14th I spoke to my grandfather once again. The cold stone kissed my palms as I felt his spirit there with me. Eyes closed I saw him too, in a way that words can never truly capture though I’m not sure that they should be able to anyway. Sometimes a feeling can be more powerful than any scientific principle, and a feeling can change everything. My cheek became painted with warm salt as I slowly backed away, as it is tradition to never have your back facing the Wall. It was upon backing up that I saw a small bird land so gently on the spot my palms once kissed. It was the same kind of bird that so peculiarly flew into my home in Philadelphia one August morning when I opened the front door. It was the same type of bird that flew inside and directly into my room and perched on my dresser so softly. It was the same type of bird that I was named after, that my Hebrew name refers to. It was the same type of bird that my grandfather named me.

12235135_10208618451204430_2895678982509289884_n.jpg

On November 14th the sun set and my world changed. I had spent the day ruminating on the powerful spiritual experience the last 48 hours had brought to me, and it wasn’t until Shabbat ended that I could look at my phone once again. My serene trance was immediately interrupted by text messages and emails and news articles about a devastating terror attack in Paris. My thoughts immediately went to a good friend from London who I had shared lunch with before we both set off to different travels for the weekend. I headed to Israel as he headed to Paris, and I immediately feared for his wellbeing. I stood on the holy soil reading of the most heinous showing of human indecency one can imagine. Once I confirmed everyone I knew was safe, I began to compare the last twenty four hours in each place. I quickly felt guilty for my spiritual peacefulness as so many were forced to feel fear and loss.

On November 15th the war of Rationality vs Faith climaxed as France declared war on ISIS. I made my way to Tel Aviv to finish my weekend Israel adventure. My thoughts tried desparetaly to make some sort of sense out of the recent events. I pondered how drastically different my weekend was compared to my friends in Paris, and began to ask myself and my spirituality just how both things can exist at once. How could I feel so connected to a higher power when another group of people a few countries away feel such pain?   How could I feel so at peace spiritually when people within the borders of Israel itself feel the same pain and fear as Paris felt, every single day? My thoughts continued as I relaxed on the beach, my favorite beach in the world.

On November 15th I was sitting on an Airbnb couch in Central Tel Aviv as my phone erupted with calls. France was bombing Syria, a mere 500 km away from the couch I found myself on. I silenced the fears of my loved ones then proceeded to turn off my phone, and tune out altogether. I walked the short distance to the beach and sat in awe of the sunset in front of me. I began to talk to myself, to my grandfather, and to whatever higher spirituality hears my prayers. I wanted to be rational, logical, but before me was the most beautiful mixture of colors that only my grandfather could have created on his easel as he did so often when he was alive. I remember distinctly asking, why. Why was this happening? If I can feel you so strongly, if I know in my bones you really are there, why are such horrific and grotesque things happening in the world?

12247000_10208614461544691_5740721333296574827_n.jpg

On November 15th a small bird answered my prayers. The internal battle seemed at its worst as I pondered the depravity of the outside world. It was at my lowest moment of thought that a small bird landed just next to me. It was the same type of bird from the Kotel, and for a second I imagined it had followed me here. I knew instantly what it meant, against the backdrop of the beauty of this desert paradise. I knew instantly it was a sign, it was a gift from my grandfather, from whatever floats above us. I knew instantly that while the world could appear a terrible place, this bird was proof that innocence and justice still existed. I thank that bird, that holy land, and those incredible Israeli cities for making me see the good left in a world full of fear and hatred. I took the picture above as that bird flew away, into the beauty that I was meant to see in a time of such darkness.

On November 16th I headed back to London, full of contemplation for the events which had just unfolded. I spent the weekend with my grandfather’s spirit, that fact was clear despite all the rationality I know I possess. I do acknowledge how crazy that may sound, and maybe to some it sounds purely of wishful thinking. But I know what I know.   It wasn’t until I arrived back on British soil that I looked at a calendar, and had the most incredibly revelation. The weekend I found such spiritual serenity was the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. The day I stood at the wall and felt his presence was the exact hour he left us just two years ago. And the time I felt the most connected with myself and with my spirituality was the same weekend both things were shattered just two years ago. Some things are just too odd to be attributed to chance, and I thank the powers above for the weekend I spent with my Poppy.

I suppose the war of rationality versus faith will never be won, for me or for anyone else. But I can say with absolute certainty that while the world faces terror now more than ever, it is this same time that we must have the most faith. I did not go into this weekend with hopes for anything but some good food and some time on the beach. What I came out of the weekend of November 13th 2015 with was an entirely new mindset, a reminder that it is in the darkest hour that we must make our lights shine the most, and the understanding that there are some things that logic won’t ever be able to explain.

How I feel about being called a Murderer.

“As A Jew I am aware of how important the existence of Israel is for the survival of us all.  And because I am proud of being Jewish, I am worried by the growing Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in the world.” -Steven Spielberg

10922492_10206223187364331_8428361964534276861_n

Tonight I was called a murderer. Interesting insult choice for the girl who spent the last few months working (for free) for refugees internationally. Tonight I was told that everything I stood for was wrong, and that it was ‘sad’ to see. Interesting choice of phrase, that for any other religion would be discriminatory, but for some reason is okay to say to a Jewish girl. Tonight I was mocked for my decision to move to Israel, and labeled a supporter of terrorism for doing so. And, not so coincidentally, tonight is the night I realized I could never fucking live in Europe if you paid me.

I arrived less than a month ago, and this piece has been brewing since I boarded the plane in New York. Upon finding my seat, I made small talk with the two young women my age sitting next to me who were from England. We chatted of interests and passions, and I told them about my summer living in Tel Aviv. I was greeted with a scoff or two, and a complete shift in their attitude toward me. Small talk was over, and their European Anti-Semitic indoctrination had taken over.

So I write this tonight because I’m pretty fucking angry. Pardon my language, but I’m absolutely tired of shutting up and dealing with the “culture differences”. Cultural differences are unfamiliar meals and spices, new styles of dress and fashion, or even a foreign tongue. Blatant intolerance and Anti-Semitism cannot be brushed off as “Cultural Differences” simply because this culture isn’t educated enough to form their own fucking opinions.

While being berated for my personal beliefs tonight, I heard the same lines recited from this man’s lips that falls from all Europeans lips when discussing Israeli conflict. And now, I want to address them. Because the real issue with modern Judaism and Israel is not our inclination or support for genocide or inability to assimilate, it is our historically calm temperament and inability to scream back to those who scream at us. Religiously, yes we should always be the bigger person. But the sad reality of politics today is that the man with the loudest voice gains the most credence, because most are too lazy to educate themselves. So tonight, I raise my voice.

1546010_10206223184844268_3350186370141131160_n

Before you read on, I want you to close your eyes (after reading this I guess, though the concept of eye closing doesn’t led itself to reading.. so rather go with the cliché and imagine yourself in the position I am about to expose) and picture yourself waking up one morning to a newspaper headline on your front step. This headline tells you that there is not one, not two, but hundreds of terrorist organizations who would kill you at any chance they got simply because the religion you believed in. I’m sure you’re thinking, well no I don’t want to think that, it’s horrible and clearly no one would stand for that. But now imagine yourself hearing from the educated and ‘tolerant’ community of the world similar things. Imagine being told from a professor or boss or peer that those groups are justified in what they’re saying. Not only are you faced with irrational hatred calling for your death and absolutely destruction, but now the rational population finds credence in their claims. Where do you feel safe now? Because that’s exactly how I feel right now, and support the only state in which I know I’m safe.

Israel is a terrorist organization” To this, I would point any uneducated person to a crazy new invention called a dictionary. Terrorism: violent action for political purposes. You know who would fit this definition quite perfectly? Hamas. Because Hamas is a terrorist organization. Hamas has a funny little slogan involving death to the Jews and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel. I challenge anyone reading this to imagine if a group rose up in popularity, solely dedicated to destroying your country and everyone inside of it. Now, imagine what your government would do to stop it, to protect itself. For the American readers, this is not a stretch. Would any American consider themselves pro-Murder because they support the destruction of ISIS or Al Qaeda? Would any American think it necessary to invite Al Qaeda or ISIS to the table to discuss how to deal with their issues through peace? Or, rather, do we famously “not negotiate with terrorists”? I challenge you to truly ask yourself this question. For this is the reality Israelis face, the double standard of being responsible for the wellbeing of a terrorist organization while it tries to destroy and kill every Israeli citizen while simultaneously painting Israel as the bad guy. In no other modern nation would a government be condemned for protecting itself against bombs, for being proactive in its defense and even, and I fucking stress, even trying to use peaceful methods with a group set on its complete annihilation.

It’s so sad that you value some lives over others. You don’t care about Palestinians” I, personally, love getting this one. Because it’s so clearly rehearsed and brainwashed as it makes absolutely no sense. For some reason, my inability to support a terrorist group called Hamas means I want every innocent Palestinian to die. Weird, because that’s fucked up and I don’t know a single Jew, Israeli or not, who feels that way. What I want is the destruction of Hamas, who calls for not only death to all Jews but also death to America. If a group of terrorists was calling for the destruction of America, we would immediately fight back against their attacks and it would be internationally recognized that such a group was extremist and barbaric. However, when death to the Jews is added, somehow it becomes more acceptable. Somehow we all of a sudden need to step back and think, Well, What did the Jews do to deserve this? What could have Israel done to prevent this?

            And I have the answer to that, absolutely fucking nothing. Are the Jewish people perfect? Hell no. Have we done fucked up shit? Hell yes. Are we often wrong and misguided, and can we learn from our mistakes? Yes, and certainly yes. However my aggravation comes in the unfair responsibility of the Jews. Has America done some fucked up shit? Yes. Has England? YES, I’m sorry, can you name something the British did that wasn’t fucked up during their period of expansion and imperialism? Let’s just take over Africa, enslave everyone and turn tribes against each other, take all their resources and leave them with a brain drain void of anything to work with. Let’s just go into India because clearly we are more civilized than them. Let’s just do whatever the fuck we want because we are the more civilized culture and we are doing them a favor. Or rather, favour. YET when the horrific bombings in the tube happened so recently, no one stepped back and said, “wait, but what did they do to deserve it?” Because the answer is simple, no one deserves to the victim of terror and hate. And even simpler, no one deserves to be that victim and be robbed of any way to defend themselves.

Being Anti-Israel isn’t the same as being Anti-Semitic” I would like to end with this one, my most favorite line, because its just so clearly regurgitated that I can see remnants of last nights meal in there. I wish that I could say that the above statement is true, I sincerely wish I could say most people are educated enough to see the difference between Israel and Judaism. Perhaps, for the one percent who follow Israeli politics and policy and somehow understand the chaos that is the Knesset and hold strong and key word, educated, opinions, yes I suppose it is possible to be Anti-Israel and Pro-Judaism. However, most people are fucking stupid. We live in a world where most people read the headline and count that as reading the article, both of which are completely inaccurate and poorly reported. I challenge you to have a conversation with someone anti-Israel (if you are highly educated on the issues) and watch their frustration when they run out of prepared statements. You are absolutely in denial if you think that shit doesn’t turn Anti-Semitic real quick when they run out of what they were told to say.   I answer this line with the hope that one day maybe people can be educated enough to know the difference, but if you don’t think there is a huge majority of people who hate Israel because it is a “Jewish” state, then you are living in a fantasy world.

I am tired of being told what I believe in is wrong. Have Jews fucked up sometimes? Yes. Have Christians? Hell yes. Throwback to the Crusades, or the casual burning of women at the stake, or complete domination of “inferior cultures”. Have Muslims? Absolutely. Have Hindus? They seem pretty chill, but I’m sure they have too. Because no one is perfect and everyone does terrible stuff. Yet for some reason it is the Jews alone who have somehow earned the terrorism they are currently receiving. And I’m tired of being quiet, I’m tired of being told to simmer down and calm down and let it go. I will not let it go, because when something is unjust you do not let it go.

11900084_10208034907456201_4463538678668611164_n

The Jewish people have not done anything to deserve the pain they are currently receiving. The Israeli people have done nothing to deserve the terrorism they live with on a daily basis. And I feel that way because while no one is perfect and no hands are truly ever clean, no one deserves hate and violence at this magnitude.  If it were being put upon any other state, it would be immediately labeled unacceptable. And those that want to tell me how wrong I am, have lived nothing to support their opinions. It’s all fun and games to condemn others from your tiny flat of comfort in Europe, but until you have lived where I have lived and met who I have met, and run into the bomb shelters I have run into and felt the fear I have felt, please refrain from calling me a Murderer.

I want to end this glorified stream of consciousness with a final thought and piece of advice to anyone who reads this and still thinks I’m misguided. If you want to help Palestinians, like I do, stop looking at the nation who is defending itself and start looking at what it is defending itself from. If you want the terror to end, stop expecting Israel to let down its shields from the constant attacks from Hamas. If you want peace, stop the terror, stop Hamas, stop Hezbollah, and stop expecting a nation of innocent people to stop defending themselves when you sure as hell would be running for the hills if a terrorist group called for your death simply because of what you believed in.

שנה טובה ~ New year, New country

“If you don’t do things while you’re young, you won’t have anything to smile about when you’re old.”

11997246_10208222845394532_1925724175_n

I think growing up is realizing that there will be people who don’t like you, and being content about it.  It seems odd to lead my first post from London with such a seemingly negative statement, but I insist there is nothing negative about it at all.  What I have learned from my nearly five days here thus far is that I feel more at home in a land of foreign tongues than the current British one upon which I walk.  It is an interesting transition from Israel to England, bringing with it a very unexpected culture shock.  Going into my Tel Aviv experience I had assumed I would be greatly overwhelmed and surprised, and found no such effect.  Though here, in a country which boasts my own mother tongue I find myself a complete outsider. And it’s okay.

I have enjoyed every English second thus far, with challenges and struggles along the way. I was fortunate enough to have a few close friends from home on this journey as well, making the transition not as daunting.  Yet I find myself stuck on the feelings I left behind in the Middle East, in a nostalgic and FOMO kind of way.  This is not to say I have not and will not enjoy this new island in the coming months, as I am positive that I already have and will continue to.  It’s not bad, just different.

I can categorize the culture here (so far) as a tad repressed, quite the shock from the loud and flavorful people I left behind.  It was a nice change, with life clearly more organized and less chaotic.  I found that there is safety in tradition here, with a nice sense of peace and safety in the protection of history.  That point in itself is the best to describe the juxtaposition I face, leaving a culture of future uncertainty and the constant struggle for survival.  Again, it is not bad, just different.

I cannot put into words how truly grateful I am to be able to write this post from a dorm at Kings College London.  I am well aware that I am doing what most wish they could, and I remind myself every second how lucky I really am.  After a hectic few days of orientation, full of pubs and papers and plays, we moved into these rather cozy flats yesterday.  I am overjoyed at the set up, with the rather run down Beit Leni in the back of my mind.  With a week left to go until classes start, I cannot imagine the adventures that lay before me.  And that, my readers, brings me to the most important part.

Shana Tova, I sincerely hope a new year brings to you new joys and growth galore.  I sit in a new country starting a new year and am forced to reflect on what the last has brought and left behind.  In the past year I have truly began my mission to see the world, spending time in the country of Israel with which I absolutely fell in love.  This year has brought my family great joys and pains alike, and I think back now to all that I wish I could have done better.  I am taking this moment of reflection to remind myself where I came from, where I am, and just where it is I want to be going.  Because while life brings with it ample unknown, it also brings with it the chance to get to know your own capacities.  I feel all too often we as a society try our hardest to do it all, to get more make more and know all there is to know.  Yet we forget to even know ourselves.  So tonight, instead of continuing this lengthy post of international travel, I will sit down with myself for once.  I unfortunately have found that I numb myself with motion, packing schedules and adventures to overtake any time I may have alone with my own thoughts.  To commemorate this new year, I will turn off the chaos and tune into myself.  I hope that you too can do the same.

~travel limbo~

Wanderlust (noun): a strong desire or urge to explore and discover the world.

london-england-open-campus-1

Today I find myself in a cluttered room.  A room full of boxes and suitcases and unanswered questions.  I find myself unpacking from the past three months only to repack for the upcoming five.  Spending the summer in the Middle East exceeded any of my wildest expectations, and now I sit in my childhood bedroom reviewing the memories that passed by far too fast.  I read post after post of my Hopkins peers moving into houses and apartments, and beginning Junior year at our beautiful campus.  Yet I find myself yearning, yet again, to see something new.  So I sit, looking at the piles of clothing I should be packing and think about what the next few months abroad will bring me.  I chose to study abroad in England, coming from months of a language barrier I took solace in the English culture.  Yet I have a feeling that regardless of similar tongues, I will be once again completely out of my element. And I just can’t wait.

So come Monday, September 7th I am off once again, to schlep around the world.  And I am terrified and excited and alive in every way I desire to be. I have no idea what is about to happen and for some reason I find comfort in the complete unknown.  So here I go again, granted I ever finish packing…

From Holon to Holot

“Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure & flourish. It is the child of hope & the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy & it honors the sword of freedom.” -John F. Kennedy 

10410875_10153987493365016_7596958259101214376_n

As an American Jew in Israel I feel the experience I am currently having has been painted and sculpted years before my plane ever landed.  Growing up one learns about Israel in an almost idealistic and utopian way.  And coming to Israel to stay for these few months is a lot like the first time you see your parents cry.  You question how something so incredible could have anything wrong with it, and slowly each layer is peeled away and what is shown before you is a country like any other.  For some, it is this realization of normality that crushes them and their experiences.  Yet for me the moment I realized that Israel was a real place with real problems was the moment I began to fall in love.  For loving someone’s flaws means loving wholly.

11742629_10154002628945016_3273777669783338131_n-1

The first flaw I discovered was less attributed to Israel and more honestly caused by my own anxieties.  This week I found myself on a day trip to Jerusalem, and with the words “Day Trip to Jerusalem” one imagines the standard Kotel/Old City Jewish experience.  Yet we decided to take a different turn, spending time in the Arab quarter and enjoying a heated debate between an Ultra-Orthodox man and an active member of the progressive feminist group Women of the Wall.  And while all of the above resonated with me deeply, it wasn’t until we reached the City of David tour that I was forced to face my own flaws, and shortcomings galore.  The thought of an underground cave tour sounded lovely, and immediately reminded me of the cave tours I had taken in Slovenia.  The caves were massive, so large that European groups would hold special concerts in these Slovenian caves for their wonderful acoustics.  With that past image in mind, I was a bit shocked at what I found…

11753839_10207771002698747_237643071_n

Claustrophobia is not just a fun word to say, but it’s also a super fun worry to have when walking through a six foot underground cave for three miles with water up to your thighs.  While, in typical Jewish fashion, I kvetched the whole way through, I can honestly say it was one of the most interesting experiences I have had thus far.  My mind was constantly running, convincing myself I had unknowingly gone into a “Final Destination” world that would ultimately cause my demise.  Fortunately I was wrong, and even more fortunately I can now say I walked three miles through the underground City of David.  What stuck out to me most was just how much my handling of the cave time so perfectly represented my handling of life.  I was absolutely terrified, yet I never stopped walking.  I guess Israel has shown me that 98% I am far too hard on myself.  That even though I may not have any clue where my journey will end, and even though I am not nearly as perfect as I want to be yet, I have never stopped moving forward.  Not once.  And for that, some credit is deserved.

11692727_300476446789585_4220587553052710511_n

It was a Wednesday evening that I found myself surrounded by fellow Jewish Hopkins students.  But for once, I was not at the Smokler Center as I am every Friday.  This time I was in Holon, at a wonderful family BBQ that our amazing Israeli fellow was kind enough to invite us to.  After being picked up in our very own Israeli Blue Jay Shuttle of sorts, the four Hopkins students and our favorite Israeli fellow left the bounds of busy Tel Aviv to a quiet and beautiful suburb.  We were immediately welcomed as family, with food and drinks and conversation thrown our way.  In typical Jewish fashion, a few of us were jokingly set up with other Jews of the same age people happened to know.  For once, I was not sitting in Tel Aviv with the craziness of a busy city around me at all times.  I found solace in this loving family unit who treated four American students as if we had been part of their family for years.  It was a night of laughter, of wine, and of a peaceful wholeness in knowing that no matter where in the world I was I could find not only a Hopkins community, but a Jewish community to take me in.

11754258_1024093714292295_6969662270994825504_n

Fast forward 24 hours, and I found myself in a tiny cafe decorated with colorful art and the expected decorum of any hipster establishment.  The murals on the wall came to life in blues and reds and yellows, and provided the perfect ambiance for a night of open discussion and even controversial learning.  Who stood before me were some of the bravest people I have had the honor of hearing speak.  Two refugees spoke, one from Eritrea and the other from Darfur.  They spoke of pain so nonchalantly, pain that would cripple or nearly end anyone else.  Their voices were firm, and they never wavered despite speaking of torture, death, and the agony of family separation.  It was the man above who struck me first, who spoke of his dream to go to school for Economics.  A dream he was finally setting in motion, having been recently accepted to school in Israel.  And then I heard it, Holot.

524529350

Coming from the most wonderful family BBQ in Holon, hearing the eerily similar word of Holot made me stop in my tracks.  Working in the refugee community for the past month has made me very much aware of Holot.  Aware of the government’s intentions, grave injustices, and huge flaws.  I thought how lucky i was to be able to enjoy a peaceful evening in Holon, when this young man who stood before me was facing three months in Holot for simply standing on the same ground that I was.  It did not make me dislike Israel, but it made me passionate about helping create a change to make this land I love so much a place that all people can feel the same solace I felt only twenty-four hours before.  As he shared his stories, I wrote note after note of what he said to ensure I didn’t forget this man’s story.  What stood out to me most was his way of making hugely complex and painful issues and making them seemingly simple.

“I was not born to take 15 kilo of wheat from the UNHCR”

Those words echoed inside of me, for reasons I still am not quite sure of. This stranger who stood before me, who had escaped from Darfur only to endure more torture physically and emotionally from his travel through Sudan and Egypt before finally reaching Israel.  This person before me was me.  He was a young adult who wanted to learn, to study in University and make something of himself.  He was someone who wanted to contribute, to make the world a better place for everyone.  He was someone who was destined for greatness, someone who wasn’t born to take humanitarian aid as a livable income.  I thought so critically about the world’s treatment of refugees in situations like his, in the infantilization occurring via aid without education.  The man who stood before could change the world, and I wholeheartedly believe he will, but faces first three months in prison for trying to find a safe place in Israel.  And here is where my realization of Israel’s flaws became most palpable.

As a Jew, and as an American interested in making Aliyah, I feel personally responsible for the Tikkun Olam which each and every one of us should be doing.  The man who stood before me didn’t deserve three months in a “voluntary” prison, he was a student just like me.  He was someone who missed his family, someone who wanted so badly to go home but had no home to go to, someone who wanted nothing more than basic safety and the right to make his life as good as he possibly could.  Persecuted in the past, we as Jews should be doing all we can to assist those the world deems inhuman or unworthy.  For when hate is present, it does not discriminate.   Hate is the virus that knows no skin color, no language or accent, and no religion.  It destroys us all.  And if we allow this type of heinous discrimination to prosper, who says it won’t come for us next?

11218970_10154002630475016_7168279623396917706_n

Once again I find my verbose nature taking over, and I feel the only people still following this long blog post are probably either my mother or Courtney.  But I find when anything happens to me in this land of holies, I have about fifteen different reactions to it and two hundred different feelings.  Most importantly it has been my realization of what Israel does versus what I expected that meant the most to me in these last few weeks.  I love absolutely every part of this country, every nook and cranny and crevice I have found.  I would defend this nation to the end, and will forever advocate on the importance of a Jewish states existence in this increasingly hostile and anti-Semitic world.  Yet my support for my country does not translate into my complete promotion of each policy and piece of legislature.  This is a country, like any other, which engages in very questionable practices at times.  Coming from the United States, I am quite familiar with the phenomenon.  But just because something isn’t perfect does not mean it should be abandoned.  In fact, it means just the opposite.  It is because Israel is so flawed that I know I need to love it even more.  It takes people passionate about change to better the world, and I know for a fact the Jewish community has no shortage of that as long as we never forget Tikkun Olam.

~Photography by the fabulous Jessica Pupkin~

Israeli Insight

11739562_10207714209838961_108363959_n-1

Starting a new path in a foreign country is never easy, but it is especially challenging for the overly introspective and self loathing soul. In the time since I’ve written last, I have learned quite a few Israeli aphorisms that truly stand on their own, contextually set or not. The past few days have included adventures I could have never fathomed having, with people I now can’t imagine not meeting.  And through these adventures I have learned a few things…

  1. In Israel, there is no such thing as a line.  Pushing and shoving is encouraged, and a grocery store run can turn into a slight Hunger Game experience.  Find your courage, and don’t be afraid to throw some elbows.
  2. Religious homogeneity is a facade. A Jewish state leads the rest of the world to believe that something as simple as a basic definition for “Jewish” can even be deciphered.  The world of black and white does not exist here, and what is found is the most beautiful spectrum of Judaism’s interpretations.
  3. A good “afshar” can get you anywhere, and anything.  Learning a new language is hard, and learning Hebrew seems even more impossible.  But a quality “afshar” (is it possible…) and basic noun can do wonders.  With a smile too, that is.
  4. Finally, it’s okay to be absolutely terrified.  Social media has deceived us, brainwashing our generation into believing that everyone else has it all figured out, and it is only me who is completely lost.  It’s okay to have no idea what you’re doing. Because starting in a new place isn’t supposed to be easy, but it will always be rewarding.

11667309_10207663890261003_2673171159706688114_n

While four lessons are boasted above, I find myself learning something new about Israel and about myself every single day.  All clichés aside, I have found that upon discovering a new place, one discovers far more about himself.  What scares him, what motivates him, what angers him, and what ignites the passion which lay dormant in his soul.  Prior to embarking on this journey, I endured a year of loss and a year of challenge.  I have watched loved one after loved one pass, I have watched those I care deeply about struggle with addiction and homelessness, and I have consistently tried to remain invincible in my Johns Hopkins University bubble.  As I meet this Israeli world, I am truly meeting myself.  And for that, I’m grateful.

Some Sunday Stoicism

“A man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.” -Marcus Aurelius 

After a week of constant motion, my soul craved a sip of sweet serenity.  I could write about the work I’ve done, or the people I’ve met, or the desolate desert town which hosted me this past weekend.  I could write about names and places and tangible receipts of a week spent traveling a country boasting indecipherable tongues.

Yet to me, something is lacking in the mundane concrete actions we find ourselves unknowingly repeating day after day.  So I will not, and simply cannot, write a post regurgitating recent events and painting some facade of depth to them.  Instead I want to write about thinking, or rather overwhelming introspection that painfully gnaws at the grips of the mind without any methods to tame. And that is how I found myself so set on Stoicism.

I do not falsely claim to be an infallible historian on all matters, but Hellenistic philosophy can be seen as a niche of sorts.  Stoicism seduces with its implied personal power, whispering into your ear soft promises of individual capacities to overcome any adversity.  Stoicism reminds me that negative emotions are not a result of actions done upon myself, but instead attributed to my own interpretations of what the universe presents.  It is not how hard I am knocked down, but how much power I use to get myself back up.  And there is something magical in that.

It was a weekend in the desert that reminded me of my fascination with the ancient philosophy, and inspired me to pay my old friend Marcus Aurelius a visit.  It was this decision which presented me with my very own, pardon the horribly insensitive pun, Sophie’s choice.  Asking a Classics major to choose just one Marcus Aurelius quote is no simply task.  But after reflecting on the weekend I had endured, I realized what I needed most was the quote mentioned above.  While this weekend brought new and exciting adventures, it also brought with it ample time for self reflection.  And as the saying goes: an idle mind is the devil’s playground. 

11651016_10207597666725456_1961384454_n-1

The seams of my mind I so tightly stitched slowly came undone, and the past came pouring out.  It was this time machine experience that reminded me why I was in Israel, why I am choosing to spend the next eight months abroad, and why I seem to be unable to stay still.  It isn’t what happened to me that will define how I am seen, it is what I will become.  Marcus Aurelius, as he tends to do, captured so eloquently what I fail to be able to put into words.  It is a man’s ambitions which measures his worth, not the fortune with which he was born.  And that is why this weekend brought me back to my Stoic interests, and reminded me of my lost love for one of the few Good Emperors.  I was never one to let the external and unavoidable fates paint my picture for me.  How sad it would be if we were forever tainted by what we inherited, rather than the courage we possess.

While I may have grossly overpacked when coming to Israel, I am glad I didn’t forget to bring the bit of Stoicism I had so greatly loved and cultivated in the past.  To me, being in Israel is living every Stoic virtue I came to adopt.  This land is not about how you come, but what you do once you arrive.  This experience isn’t about how comfortable you can be, but how brave you can be in the face of absolute uncertainty.  Coming to a foreign country to not only live but also work, to be consistently surrounded by unintelligible tongues, and to do it all completely alone may be one of the scariest things anyone can decide to do.

Yet I know that it isn’t the fear that defines the experience, but what I do with it.  It isn’t the struggle but the resilience that will be able to tell the most beautiful story.  And I guess there is no more sophisticated way to say that to me, that sounds pretty darn cool.  Thanks Marcus, I’ve missed you.

The (Dirt) Path Less Traveled

11541291_10207525265715476_1818413358_n

 

 

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

Whirlwind would be an understatement when addressing the past week I have experienced in Israel.  My last post detailed my anticipation of the shattering of the vacation fantasy and transition into Israeli normalcy.  In only seven days I have started a job I love, learned how to make Shakshuka, drove a Jeep up the monumental Ashdod sand dunes, and even more.  It seems scattered to list these things which are so seemingly disconnected, yet that may be the best lesson I have taken from Israel thus far.  Everything is united, palpably or subtly, all things rely on one another and an average day can begin on the beach and end in the desert.  And I’m not so sure I would be able to say that about anywhere else in the world.

url

ORAM: Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration.  I suppose it would be futile to explain just how much I love my new internship if my audience remained ignorant of its nature.  ORAM is an international NGO which advocates for LGBTI Refugee Rights, the only one of its kind.  I feel honored to claim a seat in their cozy office off Kikar Rabin, as I am the youngest (and in my opinion, most boring) by a long shot.  When I imagined accepting an internship in Tel Aviv, I made the normal assumption that I would be surrounded by Israelis who would speak Hebrew all day and scoff at the dumb American who was too un-cultured to learn any other languages.  And this was only half true.  In a way.

Walking into the office I found it to be one room with two tables, on which everyone worked on his or her own agenda side by side.  An office existed, though it seemed an extension of the main room as the door was virtually never closed.  It was small, it was nothing fancy, but it was full of laptops and energetic people who really wanted to make a difference.  And it was full of something else too- language.  While I predominately hear English, my staff is a small representation of the United Nationals Council.  Together we represent America, Canada, France, England, Italy, Argentina, Cyprus, Turkey, Sweden, and Russia, though I’m sure I’m forgetting some.  All day I hear a plethora of beautiful tongues, none of which know any Hebrew.  It was definitely not what I expected but everything that I find absolutely amazing.

My co-workers are some of the most intelligent and brilliant people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Everyone has PHDs and MBAs and JDs and overwhelming experience in the world of Refugee and Human Rights law.  Every morning I feel blessed beyond belief to be able to share an office with people who already have and will only continue to make a difference on such a large scale in the rest of the world.  I strongly urge anyone interested in LGBTI advocacy or Refugee advocacy in general to check out our website (and take a gander at the updated “Our People” section which includes yours truly 🙂

http://www.oraminternational.org/en/

11536869_10207525263755427_549464462_n

Yes, work is immensely challenged yet hugely rewarding.  But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, am I right?  After a hectic first week of work, of finding short cuts to the office and finally psyching myself to order my morning coffee in Hebrew, I found myself with a weekend which would change my life.  As a group, we made our way to Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city in Israel which happens to be dangerously close to Gaza.  We were prepped on emergency and security procedures, and sent to stay with generous host families around the small city who agreed to host complete strangers.  I was nervous at first, with the concept of staying with someone who is not only a stranger but a stranger with a language I cannot speak.  However our first day was full of community service, and even included welcoming Shabbat with the most adorable Kindergarten class.  I thought to myself, if the community was so welcoming during the day, our host family had to be just as incredible.  And to my pleasure, I was right.

I was fortunate enough to be paired up with a girl on my program and sent with a solider our age off to explore.  His family not only welcomed us as guests, but as family.  Together we did Kiddush and enjoyed the most incredible meal prepared by Safta. We shifted gears from thoughtful Shabbat to a lively youthful night, and we were able to live as locals and meet our soldier’s friends at multiple bars.  It was through this experience that I realized how truly universal human nature is, and not just human nature- but jewish nature.  No one looked at us as foreigners, but as fellow Jews.  Language and cultural barriers alike, we immediately felt comfortable together and made memories none of us will ever forget.

The highlight of this weekend in Ashkelon was the off-roading through the dunes of Ashdod.  Our host family was benevolent enough to host us, feed us, take us out on the town- and they still did more.  Upon eating breakfast it was decided we would be taken out for Jeep ride and adventure ensued. The day was full of hot sand, loud music, and even louder laughter.  We pulled under a tree for a quick lunch of schnitzel sandwiches before leaving the dunes to make our way to the beach.  And it was with this experience that I went from feeling like a tourist to feeling at home.  I was living as our new friends from Ashkelon lived.  I was being silly and fun, racing through the dunes and later running on the beach.

And it was these last seven days which made that first quote resonate so deeply with me.  Like so many others, I found myself on the conveyer belt of academia.  But I am starting to take new paths, and some of them have been dirt (or sand) and it has been absolutely incredible.  With so many more weeks to come, it seems there is even more sandy roads in my future than I thought.  And I just can’t wait 🙂

My Ship Has Sailed

11425180_10207462111216653_3393073220646467463_n-1

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” -John A Shedd

Well it’s official: my ship has sailed.  I find myself with the daunting task of the first foreign post on this blog and I am faced with one overwhelming question, where to start.  It has been only about a week yet everything seems so different.  Upon arrival I stayed with an old friend and Olim who allowed me to see Tel Aviv through the eyes of a resident.  I wandered the crowded streets and tried my hardest to mask how absolutely terrified I really was.  The first few days brought with them wrong turns, momentary lostness, and delicious Israeli food.  While my mind seemed to be on vacation, my subconscious was eager awaiting the day on which I would meet my Onward Israel Group and this journey would truly begin.

That highly anticipated day has come and went, and I can say that a group of strangers is truly becoming a group of friends. A quick pit stop was made in Jerusalem, where the photograph above was able to be captured.  Being surrounded by such holy vibes while knowing our Sodom and Gomorrah awaited our return was quite the exciting feeling. After a quick orientation we answered Tel Aviv’s siren call. With the first day of work still one day away, our days have been full of sunshine and our nights with lively Tel Aviv nightlife.  Being blessed with the ultimate apartment location in Tel Aviv, we found ourselves with an 8 minute walk to the beach, a 2 minute walk to the mall, and a 5 minute walk from the Shuk.  It seemed the world was waiting for us to figure out our Google Maps and get out there. And when we ventured, the world answered, loudly.

1981977_10153342275369871_6093653148858693975_n

With a bit of luck and serendipity, the Tel Aviv Pride Parade was not only an incredible day for us all but it began quite literally right outside of our window.  The park next door began to fill up with tens, then hundreds, then thousands of festive people from all over the world.  I found myself in one of the happiest and liveliest crowds I had ever encountered.  It seemed equality transcended religious or cultural or national differences and all at once a city was shut down.  It was a once in a lifetime experience to witness such cohesion in a place painted by the rest of the world as chaotic and violent.

Yet as with any fantasy one fosters, the smoke must clear and reality must be faced.  While the last few days has been full of extraordinary memories and over the top adventures, tomorrow marks our very first day of real world work.  Tomorrow I will find my way to the offices of ORAM, Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration which focuses on LGBTI refugee right advocation.  It will mark the transition from vacation to everyday Israeli life.  Though it may sound upsetting to leave the stress free relaxation days behind, it provides an odd excitement with the prospect of living as an Israeli rather than a visitor.  I will wake up early, grab Cofix, make my way to work and assist in a cause I am passionate about.  I personally cannot wait to throw my tourist goggles away and really feel what it would be like if I were to live here.

And that is where I found my quote connection of the day.  I sit anticipating tomorrow, a day full of beginnings with ends unknown.  I would be foolish to say the notion of the unknown didn’t bring with it complete terror and dread.  Yet what I do know for certain is that my ship has sailed, and wherever it shall leave me is wherever I was always meant to be.  Let the adventures begin.

The Art of Living

Paul Gauguin captures the bare essence and fabric of absolutely everything there ever was and ever will be.

Paul Gauguin captures the bare essence and fabric of absolutely everything there ever was and ever will be.

What does a French painter have to do with the travel blog of this twenty year old college student? Great question, avid reader. Through all of my years in academia, from Physics to Latin to Shakespeare, this painting has stuck with me.  It seems somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious, this piece of art has not only been residing but inspiring.  First of all, the name!  Gauguin was a genius with a brush and a pen apparently, for one cannot forget a painting with a name resembling a Fall Out Boy song. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? This name has transcended from my Art History classroom to the most fitting way to start an eight month adventure around the world.  One cannot exist without each of this tripartite riddle.  Each branch relies so strongly on the others, causing a balanced relationship which any traveler is lost without.  it is here that I find the best beginning.

Where Do We Come From? The thought seems so simple on the surface, but I yawn at the superfluous. If I was satisfied with the facades of life then I don’t think this travel blog would exist at all.  I would be remiss to start this journey without addressing this first question, for where I intend to go finds its roots so deeply in where I have come from.  As Journey so eloquently phrased, I’m just a small town girl.  And while I know the art of moenia (latin: city walls) is no longer in its heyday, this small town might as well as had a guard tower and draw bridge.  It seemed my peers and even family members were sucked in by some invisible force, forbidding progress and rewarding stagnation. I come from a place preaching American normalcy. I come from a large family with even larger mouths. I come from a mother who could move mountains with her words, and protect her two children all on her own. I come from a small place with big challenges, but I come with even bigger dreams.

What are we? To understand the posts to come, you must know what I am and what I am not.  I am not the product of divorce, though I have seen my extraordinary single mother go through two.  I am not the wounded fatherless girl, though it is true that I am unsure of where my father is.  I am not the welfare case, though I have worked hard to earn almost a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins.  I am not the weakened woman, though I have watched violence and drug/alcohol abuse ravage those I hold dear. What I am is a Puerto Rican and Italian Jew, with a passion for helping others and speaking for the voiceless.  What I am is stubborn and hardworking and loud.  What I am is Sophia Farruggia.  While I have had those experiences and then some, they are not what I am but what I have learned from.  I have seen good people in terrible situations, and i have seen terrible people prosper.  I hold no fantasies about the reality we all face, and instead of inhibiting me these struggles have propelled me forward.

Where are we going? This final prompt takes us exactly where this blog intends to be.  I cherish where I came from, those who helped sculpt me into the woman I see in the mirror today.  I remember how hard it was, the one bedroom apartments and camp scholarships and look of disappointment on my mother’s face when she couldn’t give us all that she wanted to. I remember those things vividly for as I grew they have helped me make the right decision, when the wrong was far easier.  I thank the strife for the character I possess today.  And it is this character I will throw in my carry-on when I board the flight to Israel next weekend. Where are we going? I like to think I know the answer to this question.  I feign solace in imagining I know exactly where I’m going, but life has this funny way of putting me on paths I never knew where even possible.

I suppose the moral of this Art History exploration comes with those three vital questions.  Where I come from has impacted exactly who I am and what i stand for.  What I am is someone not labeled by experiences but strengthened by them.  And both of these thoughts are so crucial to really understanding where it is that I am going  And I can only hope to take this journey with you. For it wasn’t until Plato wrote down the work of his favorite teacher that the world began to learn from Socrates. I urge you to not take that as some sort of comparison of my cheesily-named travel blog to Plato’s dialogues, but the concept is the same. I find meaning in writing, in each and every letter I share with you on this site. And I hope that with the help of Gauguin and his distaste of brevity, you can better understand my adventures and their significance in the weeks to come!