Monday, September 22, 2014

May it be sweet.

Celebrating the holidays in Israel reflects all the reasons why I love living in Israel. Feeling part of the normative rhythm of my surroundings, I smell the change of seasons in the air. The advertisements shift their focus. Everyone on the bus and in the office discuss plans and recipes. It's this cultural atmosphere of Judaism. It's the completeness of traditions feeling current and sincere. The authenticity of the holiday season gives me another layer of gratitude besides the vacation time and spiritual renewal. The calendar in Israel stands as a logical order, not a burden of using sick days of work or school. I am here in Haifa, where I start my second year of Sherut Leumi as a tour guide in schools. I take note on my successes and missteps from my first year in Sherut, thankful for my growing experience in Aleh Negev, the rehabilitation village for adults with severe disabilities. I stand humbled before Hashem, focusing on my trust in his plan for me. I am ready for this new year of challenges because in our land, the challenges are the tools for improvement. The Israeli society of community has welcomed me in with love and support, appreciating my service and cheering me on for the guts to choose the path less traveled.

Rosh Hashana will be three consecutive days this year, just like last year. Yom Kippur will be on Shabbat, following suit to the pattern of our last day of atoning. The difference of this year is that as we step away from chag, we walk straight into a year-long chag with Hashem- Shmita. Personally extremely excited and nervous for the new Halachachic practices and tighter focus on Hashem, I study in anticipation. This year is my first time practicing Shmita, and as a proud Olah Chadasha, I am dumbfounded in the opportunity to connect to this land that I now inhabit. The usual excitement for chagim is now doubled as we greet the sabbatical year, breathing in our role in the partnership with our father. 

As every bus, every pair of lips, every radio station voices "Shana Tova," I consider the greeting/blessing/promise. After the most excruciating summer, we are still cleaning up our battle wounds. After losing so many husbands, fathers, children and fianc├ęs; we are desperate for a sweet release from survival mode. Barely scraping by this summer, my tank is on empty. At certain pitches of noises, my heart jumps, shooting me with anxiety and resounding aches of the remnants of the war. And when I hear that Southern Israel received a few rocket attacks this week, I gasp in frenzy, terrified that the small break in this nightmare is ending. But then I catch my breath and center myself in the collage of the memories and know that despite the war, it was a good year. Despite the pain of the summer, I literally witnessed miracles every day. Despite Racheli Frankle's son being kidnapped and murdered by Hamas, she teaches us that in Hashem's confusingly complex world, there is goodness. Whether we are currently aware of the good, it is here. Despite the 72 Israeli deaths and 1,306 wounded, Israel's population is reaching 9 million, thanks to the 24,000 new immigrants. Despite it all, we are here growing and flourishing.

Racheli Frankle says that we wish a "Shana Tova U'Metuka" because everything from Hashem is good but it's not always with the sweet taste on our lips. We wish each other for honey to pour out of every moment, for us to see the beauty in the goodness and the joy in the future events. We bless each other because Hashem is listening to us and we believe in our influence in the partnership. We promise a good and sweet year because after a summer like the one we just experienced, anything would feel good and sweet.

We are starting a new year, washing off our missteps and regretful actions. We plead for forgiveness from Hashem but more impossibly, from ourselves. I ask friends and family to forgive me for the barriers I have unthoughtfully placed in our relationships. I write a letter to Hashem, addressing the sins that I have committed, apologizing for my selfish acts and my apathetic waves. The list for my goals of self-improvement and organization fill my tank with hope and motivation. Thankful for it all, I play in the sand, meditating on the change in the wind, the opportunity for a new start. The cycle of time is now more relevant than ever and as I start my year of serving Israel, I refocus on the reasons guiding my actions and the sweetness found in the path.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sending myself away.

The thing about a year is that it only gives you one try at every day. It only allows the holidays to be celebrated once and the months to be prized for their unique variance. The knowledge of the year's limitations contrasts the strength in serving as a foundation for another year. There is this sense of purpose for him standing alone, for accomplishing something within that time frame, and for appreciating his existence in the grand scheme of history.

Trying to pay attention to the Hebrew geology lesson, my groggy eyes wander to my watch and notice the date. I'm in the middle of my 3 week extensive course for tour guiding in schools when I realize that today is my Aliyah anniversary. My mind races back to exactly a year ago, landing in Tel Aviv and meeting my friends at the airport for the welcome ceremony. I watch my mental movie play out and it feels like someone else's story. It's just so long ago. It's just so different now. I look at her naivety and her impossible goals and shift in my seat, uncomfortable feeling so distant from who I was before starting this journey. I try to force myself back to absorbing the information for my course, knowing that these three weeks are giving me the basis for my next year of National Service. Unsuccessfully, my English speaking daydream allures my attention.

My first week of National Service at Aleh Negev presents itself on the screen. The silent film plays as I stare at the world I am entering. The world of the disabled. The faces and behavior that raises questions of humanity finds me squeamishly guilty. Determined to stride in optimism, I squeeze my commitment to succeeding in my new life here. I swallow my wish for a challenging year and repeat affirmations of finding beauty in the process. Soon enough a smile from a resident of a very low functioning house grabs hold of my mental games. Maybe I don't love this place now, but I believe that I will in the end.

I am here in this year. I am speaking in Hebrew conversations differently than I did a month ago. I am now understanding jokes on occasion. I form deep friendships with my sisters here. I dance with my sons and daughters. I witness some of their first steps. I listen to first words and improvement in independence. This is the champion of respecting time. This is honoring the moment and cheering on the future.

By joining the world of this veiled population, I now realize that it's me in fact that learns the grand lessons of humanity from these brilliant individuals. I am here because when I hold them tight, I am embracing their love. When I take them for a walk, they take me on a journey to appreciate every step that my blessed legs can tread. In this mutual friendship, I see our places in the spectrum of diversity as a gift and celebrate the growth in abilities that Aleh Negev brings about in us. Everyone in this village improves in one way or another. We invest in attaining movement because we recognize that progress is never easy.

I take a peek at the photos on my phone of my Aleh Negev family. A part of me is forever there; laying out on the lawn, petting the horses, diving into the pool, stretching out in the winds of the Negev. Aleh Negev is eternally with me in whatever steps I take. Elan will be with me, giving me trouble. Being opinionated is the real test of intelligence. I will think of Meny and Rachmah's unstoppable hugs and excitement, their sensitivity to the world, and love that they have blessed me with. Inbal and Shachaff and their glorious smiles are inspiring me to crack a grin. Smile for the sake of the capacity and for the celebration for it's basis of the language of humanity. It's all with me  in my memories, in my life ideology and dangling on my wrist as I jot down notes about the magically complicated system of cells growing from the power of the sun. I am here because I was there. I am a year later even though it feels like a lifetime later. I step forward in merit of the strides behind me, waving hello to the fresh demands waiting to greet me in my second year of national service- Shelach.

Monday, August 11, 2014

At home in war.

As I notice the aches of the war surfacing in my body, I try to tune out the constant booms that terrify the soundtrack of my day. There are no words that can fully explain the existence taking place here. Every song on the radio is interrupted by announcements of rocket attack warnings in numerous cities. Every move outside is companioned by the question of 'where will I run when I hear the siren?' Every smile escaping with a joke lifts up the energy, enabling our continuance. We wear the same exhausted glance in our eyes. And when that 30 second siren rings, my heart blasts out of my chest as I run with the residents of Aleh Negev to the bomb shelter.

I know exactly what to do. I'm expecting it. I'm prepared. I know where the bomb shelters are and I know how to protect myself and my loved ones. The adrenaline filled panic of rushing so many people in wheelchairs into the centrally located safe room always catches me feeling overly motherly. Hearing the boom of the Iron Dome intercepting the rocket on it's mission to kill everyone in it's path, I finally allow a breath to enter my shaking body. We got everyone in. We survived. Now it's time to carry on with the day. Let's sing a song, do a little dance, distract ourselves from the miracle that just took place.

And that's how it's been for a month and a half now at Aleh Negev, the rehabilitation village for children and adults with very severe disabilities located 18 miles from the Gaza border. All of us doing National Service here have moved into the village in order to jump up in the middle night as the sirens sound; to extend our normal working hours to just be here, to support the community that brings us so much fulfillment. The punishment for existing is an exhausting yoke to bear. The only alleviation is found in the pride of being part of the experience. I am proud to support Israel not only with thoughts and prayers or a status on Facebook, but to literally be here in the land of my ancestors and to give my heart and all my energy to helping the diversity of the people who inhabit it. I am proud of the unity found in the streets, in the care packages to the soldiers, in the volunteering for the wounded.

Furthermore, I am proud that even in a war of self defense, we are still anti war as an entity of destruction. No one enjoys the pain drifting in the wind, catching my nose by surprise for the sensations of war are foreign to this San Diegan. Contrasting the familiar trees and climate that makes me feel at home in this coastal desert, I dare to live in a location that boarders neighbors much more unfriendly than San Diego. I chose to follow my dream and move independently to Israel because I wanted to actualize my link in the chain of my nation. Even when the link gets rusty in some sections or the tension pulls too tight, the challenges help in enduring one's identity. It's the zoomed out version of the picture that brings me comfort. It's the future links that are depending on me. It's the authenticity that I want to practice, guiding me to define myself by my actions.

Swimming upstream in the tide of anti-Israel events in America and Europe, I find myself feeling more safe where I sit here in the Middle East. The threats and hate pouring out against Jews via the Internet and protests, through the disproportional critic of the Israeli Defense Forces while thousands are murdered in Syria and Iraq without a thought of reducing causalities.

I wrap myself in a blanket, staring out at the stars, totally and completely homesick. I could not miss my family more, but so thankful to have my sister Ilana in Israel with me. I miss the glorious San Diego summers and simmer with jealously at the photo updates from my family. I am forever connected to San Diego, waiting to come back to my birthplace to visit. Nevertheless, snuggling into my new home, I whisper to the skies words of gratitude that I am in the place that I belong.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Here we sing.

I'm standing in a sea of Jewish people. I look to the right and see the names of Naftali, Gil-ad, and Eyal light up the side of the Tel Aviv city hall, their faces on t-shirts and signs that swim around my dizzy skeleton. The spiritual anxiety I pat in my pocket can't compare to the pain of the three women embracing the nation as the mothers of us all. The sting in my eyes and the chills rolling up my arms, the cracking voice joining the unified singing... I look over to a father grasping his young son, tears building up in empathy of every parents' nightmare.

The rally continues to mold into a celebration of the individuals we are in search of and as Naftali's mom talks of all their summer plans including driving lessons, I contemplate all the plans I am in the process of actualizing, including the same driving lessons. Their short lives were so deeply lived. I rock back and forth, breathing in the rhythm of my nation, the ache of our constant challenge in survival and continual dedication to support our family members.

I am amazed by the difference in sensations; existing in the location of the Jewish story in contrast to growing up in the footnotes of the evolving chapter book. I feel on page. Current. As if I am sitting right next to the author, peaking over his shoulder, watching each letter flow from his pen. I can smell the ink drying and witness the smudges that we wish wouldn't occur. I don't need my character in the story to snag the lead role, but the fact that I transplanted myself into the plot allows me the freedom to flourish into whatever role I dream of.

The melodies of thousands of individuals humble me into a dreamy recollection of the holiness of communal singing. It's Purim at Shachar's grandparents' home, overlooking the hills of Samaria, gathering around the festive meal with drums and guitars, singing Dovid's poetry and the tunes of our ancestors. Instead of alcohol distracting us from spirituality, it's an induced ecstasy of celebrating with the soul. The thick power of song feels too intense to even exist; too powerful that maybe we should start harnessing this force as alternative energy.

I watch the three inspirational mothers thank us for the support and efforts in joining together. I snap a photo of the lights spelling out "Bring them home" and in less than 24 hours hear in disbelief that we have found their bodies. Flashback to 2nd grade when my parents sat me down to tell me that they found Danielle's body. My buddy in Girl Scouts that was kidnapped was now back. I feel an immense emotional confusion of grief covered with completion in a search dipped in gratitude for the answering of prayers and smashed in the heartbreak of humanity.

Three days later I am singing again with my people. I am disgusted by some of the responses of revenge to the finding of the three boys, wishing to reject the murderous criminals from my family. I am terrified knowing that rocket warnings blared at Aleh Negev. I am overwhelmed from the flood of blogs and scanning news articles and just breathing seems like an unfair challenge. But the long awaited Idan Raichel concert for soldiers and those in National Service is today and getting lost in the swaying voices once more stitches my wounds with hope of our story's continuance. I am taken aback by the normality of the concert clothing that apparently exists outside of California. The sunshine that taunts my initial gloominess soon says goodbye and the non judgmental night sky swings in to the internationally diverse musical experience that his project has to offer. Singing with the thousands in the audience, I can savor the same complex taste of singing with my family; crunching on the passionate palette of our anguished story of self redemption.

Friday, June 20, 2014

As the American.

Standing amongst a group of all native born Israelis, I have never felt embarrassed about growing up in America. I stand proudly as an Olah and all the strength that dances in the two intertwined flags. I know my ascent sounds misplaced and my mannerisms don't match everyone else's but I find a subtle confidence in my identity. Having dual citizenship has been an honor and when I think of the democratic process and worldly education I have received, I couldn't be more thankful. I connect with American ideals of rooting for a success in journeys via hard work ethic, and when I hear someone speaking English, it brings me indescribable amounts of joy. I am American.

But, I am a Jew. First and foremost, my identity card is the one that put my people in death camps, the one that kicked us out of Spain and the one that suffered in pogroms. The DNA that flows through my twenty year old body connects me to the people who experienced the miracles I celebrate, and passed down a book of our story of finding morality. I inherit it all regardless of acceptance so I guess I choose to follow nature here; even when the tides of action twist in contorted figures.

Daydreaming out the window, my phone vibrates with a what's app message from my friend notifying me that three sons of my people were kidnapped on their way home from school. Later on, news updates drown out the world with details. Not just kidnapping, but by a terrorism organization. Trying to make sense of the sudden weight in the air, I find an angst of unease in the silence from my birth country.

It's tough to be the only American. The jokes. The random questions. The frustration in the lacking materialist ease that I am used to. But nothing is harder than the self disappointment in representing a country that cares more about celebrities and sporting events than crimes against humanity. It's tough to swallow the embarrassment of voting for a President who hasn't made a single comment about innocent boys being held captive by terrorists, a president who hasn't mentioned that a citizen of The United States was kidnapped by terrorist. I find myself doubting the beauty of my first passport, not because it's not a good place to live, but only because it's not my place to live.

Last night, my roommate woke up at 2am from the boom of rockets nearby. In San Deigo, that sentence would never make sense. Last night, there were mothers clutching their children, praying for the return of others. In San Diego, the news taking place on the other side of the world notifies about the hostage of human beings. Last night, I went to sleep in a Jewish country. In San Diego, the graffiti on the side of the bridges often resembles swastikas.

It's been a week. A week of the unknown; except for knowing the pain. A week of tragic pride, of reactive Zionism; a tearful hug of my people. My expectation of American assistance is far-reaching; our friendship has boundaries. Overly involved diplomacy is also a messy business. I would just hope for words of compassion in trying times, like many other international leaders.   Maybe a mention of combating terrorism, a possible comment about freedom or the simply empathy for the parents of the boys..... Maybe I'm just being overly American in that way.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

It does Exist.

There's something very vibrant existing in the land; an authentically pungent yet invigorating quality empowering the country. Maybe it's in the soil that fuels the ridiculously incredible flowers blooming in every pocket of Israel. Maybe it's in the nods of helpful hands of strangers or maybe it's immersed in the geographic location of our home. Lately the news of naively hopefully talks have confronted the foreign relationship of my birth country muddling in the tricky politics of my new neighborhood. The problem of peace talks is that rockets from Gaza sent me a different message. The problem with the news highlighting a few quotations is that the real life stories feel silenced. The two democracies of the United States and Israel thrive under divergent environments and it's the differences that compliment the friendship. The reality of the day is the existence of Israel is dependent on the answering of the call to exist.

The magic in one of Aleh Negev's youngest residents finding a new family to adopt her in love and in recognition of her potential exemplifies the great hope in the quite miracles here. The past month of watching a 7ft tall Dutch volunteer care for the residents with such radiance that glistened from his blond locks, my heart grew from the undefinable energy he endorsed. Standing at attention for the siren of Holocaust Remembrance day next to Russians, Moroccans, Yemenites, and Arabs, one of the residents reaches out for my hand. The unity of the contradictingly non unified population stands in defiance of a pledge, in remembrance of innocent victims and paradoxically, in initiation of living together in a land that we all identify with somehow.

Touring Israel with my parents and Ilana introduces me to new lenses of locations and of myself. Giving them a thank you gift of transforming into an adult is not easy- for both parties involved. It's only with those guys that I can truly understand the quirks and traits that I have inherited. By studying the reflection, my own self definition crystallizes. And Beer Sheva and the beach in Eilat is the perfect setting to initiate the adventure, testing past versions of Israel against the modern infrastructure. We build the land. We build ourselves.

When bringing my parents home to Aleh Negev, it wasn't like showing off my 8th grade science project or my junior paper. It wasn't the new scarf or even a blog post. I think the words came out wrong. Or the trepidations squeezing through my fingers displayed my uneasiness. The level of comfort in my daily volunteering fell in humility as I attempt to conjoin my two worlds. Searching for that nod of absorbing that vibrant engergy of the land, I can't find it in their eyes. Not just yet. I introduce them to the individuals who have taught me the grand lessons of humanity this year. I share the newly finished mosaic signs for the safari created by the residents partnering with a local artist. The green house, medical ward, horse stable, therapy pool, incredibly thoughtful foliage and the fabulous mission statement that energizes strength through my veins. Showing off my home challenges my disappearing English vocabulary bank to capture the qualities about this location I want them to connect to. And only later as I hear this visit reverberated though my mom's lips am I able to comprehend that it's not at all about them getting my place, it's just them simply getting that it is in fact my place.

The actualization of our points of existence and the necessary changes in our relationship wraps every hug with a sigh of ephemerality. Every moment strains the clock clicking away our fleeting time together. The reality sinks in. I've moved here. In the hilarious   moments of the passover chag, it's the homeyness that's so evanescent in my current stage of life. I thought I had adapted to my two faced friend loneliness. I thought being the youngest threw me into the mud-pile of solitude when my siblings all moved away. I thought of my strut in individualism as a self embarked one man relationship with the world around me. Well, standing with my fingers interlocked with my mommy and daddy walking around in the north of Israel, the jarring cacophony of the siren in my mind welcomes me to the desperation of absorbing this moment.

Laying under the wind-chimes in Aleh Negev, I am whole. I am only the deeply feeling, totally present, ridiculously overwhelmed-with-life Talya. I can feel the sand between my toes and see the fish through my imaginary snorkeling goggles. I smile replaying the views of Mitzpeh Ramon, Banias and Gamla.... and the gentle kisses on my cheek. I am still playing "guess Talya's future" with my role models and walking with them around the location of my initiation into Israeli culture. I turn my head to the right and watch an ant carry a load beyond it's might. I whisper a prayer of encouragement- for both of us. I am fueling the energy of the land, preparing for my second year of National Service; exerting the unique call to existence, to success and to discovering oneself.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Muscles do stretch.

My mom's voice on the phone emits waves of pride, bringing chills of joy to rise on my skin while explaining the accomplishments that bless my life. The intensity of gratitude for the puzzle pieces of my Aliyah sliding into place rattles my excitement for next year. My mom comforts my understanding. "You exercised muscle in your years of dedicating attention to your education, volunteering, and programing as a counselor and now you are flexing those muscles to impact Israel." I take a breath and give another node of gratitude to the wisdom of her words that invariably guide me. I mumble over the thought again and digest the depth of strength in her analysis of my journey. Muscles grow by being broken down past their previous level of comfort.

Drenched in exhaustion from constantly exercising empowerment of self and the advancement of the residents at Aleh Negev, I smile up at the radiant skies. My joints weigh the bends of patience, acceptance, and explanation. My love and connection to my partners in combating confines of speech support my soreness. My joy of life knots with empathy to bond togetherness with comfort. And then my skin that unites all these muscles filters out the negativity from my focus, or at least attempts in that matter.

Assisting in therapies introduces me to phenomenas that overpower the technical instructions. The motivation that conquers doubt empowers all members of the involved party. The parameter of genuinely fighting to inspire another to accomplish a goal backfires the passion back at me and then it's transformed into our united mission: a two bodied muscle. The togetherness of improvement unlocks the mechanisms of the leg braces and the wheels of the walkers. The significance of accomplishment wraps pride in completing a sentence or in eating independently and challenges me to measure up in whatever tasks are on my list. The humility I absorb toggles a tinge of categorical response. Following the ratio of abilities I am given, I should be accessing and improving those capabilities at least proportionality, if not more intensely. Thus our muscle inspires me to build on the built for my sake and for proper appreciation.

The arduous dismantling of cells needed to produce muscle forces belief in the cause. To commit fully, I make peace with the uncomfortable aspects. I connect to the quote by fallen soldier Uriel Perez about the many thorny plants that prick his skin, realizing that anyone who lives in Israel must learn to love the thorns of Israel. The love of the intense process validates suffering through battles. It takes pain. It takes investment. It takes faith. It takes prospective and it takes will power.

My immigration absorption is far from easy, sitting on the extreme end of the spectrum. It's the "Survivor" version of starting my life in this country. Middle of nowhere. Challenging tasks. Lone contestant. Impossible living conditions. Trying foods that I would rather not repeat. Lots, lots, lots of bugs. But the days are filled the actualization of loving the thorns for the fact that they are the thorns of Israel. That's what my Aliyah teaches me daily- to love the pains because the pains belong to the land that I belong to. The list of challenges transforms into a gratitude list. The thorns prick at my layers, developing their ability to flex with might. They are my therapies, furthering my aptitude. The thorns of Israel are my guide to success in Israel.

My sore muscles throb from personal strives to make peace with my insecurities in expressing the truest caliber of myself in the limitations of my surrounding language. The pounding only intensified by strides of planning and questioning the future. What career to best advance my impact in Israel? Where to find the education that ignites the intellectual vivification for which I thirst? How to prioritize time for the more flexible goals I value for installation for the future? The potential captured in my muscles stiffen from anxiously awaiting the redemption of her growth. And then the thorns stick a resounding stab of reality into the aches, only ameliorated by the successes that trample onto the path of resourcefulness: the acceptances for a second year of National Service at a wide variety of extremely competitive locations, the expansion in my Hebrew understanding and the changes of responsibilities at Aleh, the connectivity to authenticity in my growing relationships with the residents at Aleh and my fellow banot sherut. I am a success not only in spite of the thorns, but in the merit of what they teach me as I stretch my well toned muscles, beaming with joy in the process of making it work in my land.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cacti don't shrug.

Often the question of the main difference between people in Israel and Americans flies towards me in conversations about my Aliyah. The words that respond usually depend on the slant on the questioner and reverberate a fluid non-negativity. "In a Jewish land, there's just some givens that alter the normative culture" or "I think it depends on the families in each location that emulate chosen values." If speaking in an open environment, I might venture to say that Israel breeds a level of authenticity based on survival and a pride in identity. In contrast to a land that blends cultures, Israel has no other option than to be Israeli and thus the members are more connected, more related- but hey, I'm no sociologist. It's hard to pin point a chief difference between two countries that are immeasurably incomparable in size and history.

Standing in the middle of Times Square after spending the last 4 months in the Negev hits me stronger than expected. Jaw dropping culture shock rattles my confused mind. The wrong language spills out of my mouth. Modesty crashes as mistaken concept. Noise of advertisements and the world rushing around me, the seriousness of pleasure and pride in presentation all corrupt my senses with overstimulation. The vast landscapes of my land seem legitimately placed on the other side of the world and I feel isolated, totally surrounded by millions of people. I dream back to the land of paradox: bonding with strangers, constantly exploring the new in a geographically small location, inventing a new reality in the land of our history.

The question of cultural differences lacks the needed complexity to capture the disparity between my birthplace and my homeland. A native born Israeli is nicknamed "sabra" (cactus) for the prickly defensive skin guarding the soft insides. In agreement to the perfect depiction of the mentality, Israelis will not stand timidly behind politically correct limitations while asserting their opinions and needs. Picking my jaw off the floor during  Sherut leumi meetings, I swallow the accepted nature of my surroundings and digest the straightforwardness that I start to hear from myself. On the phone with my childhood friends, the shift of speeds takes a warped turn and I balance the indefinable differences in the diction that fuels the long distance relationship. Meeting visitors at Aleh Negev, I share my Aliyah story: choosing this community as the scene for outpouring my energy. I catch myself becoming increasingly more inspired by the individuals here and the unity of thoughtfulness. To be a good person, a giving and loving volunteer to the world is nothing out of the norm in the land of survival, the land of paradox. In Sherut, we are giving everything and in return, receiving more that I could imagine. I look to my friends serving in IDF and cherish the unity of protecting our nation, and my peers volunteering in communities that thirst for the assistance to grow. We newbies are catching on.

My two weeks visiting my family teach me the definition of being home sick; home sick that is, for Israel. American culture doesn't sit well on me. I don't slouch in the American dress, concentrating on the snags in the fabric; it just simply is no longer my main wardrobe piece. My Jewish dress comfortably wraps around my frame, allowing my personal fashion sense to accessorize the gown of my people's history. I add one of my knitted scarves of American entitlement of freedom and some romantic shoes of literary inculcations, a belt of accomplishing dreams and some earrings of sophistication. By adjusting the straps and resewing the hemline, I turn my dress from a gift to a possession of my own, a mixture of the cultures that have formed me into only one that can work that outfit like I do.

Continuing a strong connection with the characters in my beginning chapters, I am enlightened by the individuals that we are transforming into. My Californian posture of going with the flow will strengthen the new positive traits that impact me in Israel. The openminded education from diversity of my childhood continually guide my appreciation of acceptance. My value of adventures strengthens in exploring the cultural waves and empowers my patience in absorbing it all. I chose and constantly reclaim the choice to live in the paradoxical land, making the non logical move of Aliyah and total immersion because I believe in the survival of the cactus, asserting it's right to be a cactus in spite of history's stubborn swings of clearing out a more malleable version of our identity.