In 2012, I decided to move to Israel. Initially, I went to volunteer with the Ethiopian Israeli community and along the way, I had the opportunity to travel to Greece, Budapest, Petra, Germany, and throughout the entire state of Israel. My time in Israel was challenging. I did not know the language. I did not understand the culture. I was constantly frustrated at the aggressive nature of Israelis and my inability to understand what was going on. I was annoyed when someone I didn’t know gave me advice on a topic they had no knowledge about. I was so upset at the terrible customer service. I was confused by Israelis’ genuine desire to embrace you and also push ahead of you to get on a bus.
It took me a few months to recognize how to interact with Israelis and Israeli culture, which forces you to both be impersonal and exclusionary and yet welcoming and inviting. I was invited over for dinner by strangers more than once, but I had to fight to go grocery shopping or get on a bus.
I came to Israel with no support system in place, something I felt was going to make me feel free and unattached – an ability to make independent decisions for myself without my parents or my friends giving me input. I knew absolutely no one before I decided to make a leap of faith to come to Israel. It has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I did not know what meaning I would derive from my time in Israel, but I learned that being free is not what’s it cut out to be. The only way I learned how to live in Israel was because of people I met along the way. My host family and program facilitator specifically helped me learn things about myself and stay confident that coming to Israel was a great decision. Because of them and because I learned how to better interact with Israeli culture, I came to a point in my life where I had the confidence and, if I may, freedom to make decisions for myself. It was these decisions that led me to meeting my fiance, and to continue studying Judaism in a way that I never thought I ever would. After all the struggles I experienced I was able to find my way to freedom in a way that I never did in the US.
Every Saturday, my fiance and I would walk up to the Tayelet, a promenade that overlooks Jerusalem from the southern part of the city. It was there that we would feel the breeze coming in from the west and look out to the eastern and southern deserts. It was there that we would see the Old City, with the gold Dome of the Rock and be able to feel that we both belong and don’t belong in this city. And it was there that she proposed and we decided to spend our lives together.
None of that would have happened if I had given up or had not sought my independence or had not been open to learning about myself, another culture and country, and Judaism. It was only because I sought freedom that I found freedom. I’m proud of myself for being brave and making that decision back in 2012 to go alone to Israel.
Part of me will always remain in Israel. It’s where I gained friends, experiences, and a life partner, and where I came into myself in ways I never thought possible.
About the Author: Jessica is an Atlanta-born Jewish social justice and nonprofit professional. She is a traveler, writer, and life-long learner who is readjusting to life in the US after a year and a half in Israel.
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