You know that feeling you get when the roller coaster is making its last descent and slows down to a stop and you are glad to be back on Earth but you also wish it could have gone on forever? See where this is going? I am going to be glad to get back to family, friends and white meat tuna in three weeks, but it sure is hard to leave. What an amazing five months. So many only-in-Israel moments and places to cherish.
I will miss the holiday greetings on buses. After the electronic display shows the line number and destination, it flashes a “Happy Chanukah” or “Happy Purim” sign. I am going to miss that. Same for the oversize posters hanging in the supermarket that wish me a Happy Tu B’Shvat. Speaking of which, I am going to miss the notices above produce telling me what kind of shmittah category my bananas or carrots fall into – yevul chul or otzar ha’aretz and so on. Believe it or not, I am going to miss the signs I pass on my way to volunteer in Me’ah Shearim that say, “We don’t have devil Internet in this house.” Ooh! And the death notices and the event posters plastered on every which surface.
I am going to miss my classes at Matan, Nishmat, Pardes and the OU Center. The teachers were top tier. And the students were so passionate about their studies. There is a palpable thirst for knowledge in the air.
I will miss the energy of Machaneh Yehudah – the hawkers touting their wares, the multiplicity of fragrances that waft my way (including the fish), the cacophony of sounds, the colors of yellow peppers, green cucumbers, pink radishes, delicate fennel fronds, white kohlrabi, red tomatoes crammed together side by side. I hope that while I am gone over these next seven months they don’t gentrify the shuk too much. Any more boutique jewelry stalls and it will be a different, more common experience. Hold the fort!
I am returning to a New Jersey that is relatively homogenous from north to south, except perhaps for the shorelines. But I will desperately miss a country the size of New Jersey that features a grassy, mountainous North with grazing livestock, bubbling streams and the occasional hot spring; a dusty, arid South where the occasional camel crosses the highway, black Bedouin tents with goats and satellite dishes nestle in the hills, and wadis suddenly overflow with winter flash floods; and in the center my beloved white-stoned Jerusalem, dotted with flowers and palm trees and mansions and hovels and red roofs. I wake to the trilling of birds and aroma of citrus trees. Imagine that!
I will miss my shul, where the young chazzan has the exquisite voice of a mature cantor twenty years older – and I never liked chazzanut before. And I will miss the choir at the Great Synagogue – as much as I will miss the sweet soprano voices of the little yeshiva boys who sing Hallel aloud at the Hurva Synagogue on Rosh Hodesh. There is not much that would get me out of bed crazy early in the morning, but those delicious voices are worth the effort.
I will miss the outdoor cafes that are filled on Fridays with Israelis lounging around, enjoying their day off over a cup of excellent café hafukh. Friday in the States is all about rushing around, getting ready for Shabbat in a frenzy of anxiety. Maybe all the spare time that is missing in Jersey has been magically added to leisurely Fridays in Jerusalem. Some kind of metaphysical transference. Can there be any other explanation?
I will miss the buses and the light rail and the stone stairs and the arches and the arabesque ironwork and the exotic calls-to-prayer that I vaguely hear in the distance, and the bourekas (oh, the bourekas), and the tehina and the zaatar and the old guy who pulls his cart along the street calling, “alte zachen, alte zachen," and the pizza delivery guy on his motorcycle.
I will miss my family and friends and hummus. And I will miss the feeling of being in the center of the universe, and of feeling more secure here than anywhere else, regardless. The feeling of belonging and of being my authentic self here.
All of which simply means that I have to come back for good – in the best sense of the word.