Exploring myself in a new country

 Bonjour, mes amies! I am writing to you from the Latin Quarter of Paris, not too far from the Seine, the Notre Dame Cathedral and a lot of ham and cheese sandwiches. Talk about a shift from Jerusalem (minus hearing French everywhere…I was living in Baka, let’s not forget!). I had been in Jerusalem for just about 11 months and a few days ago picked up to travel a little in Europe with my mom and head back to the States before making aliyah. I’ve decided to take this time to reflect, dream about my future, and explore how much I’ve changed in the past year.

I love traveling. Going to new countries always helps me understand myself a little better and forces me to let go of what I know and am used to, mostly routines and food and language. I appreciate the opportunity to surrender a little, to see how I react in different situations, how I interact with different people, how quickly I adapt to my new surroundings. I’m also really interested to see how this will shift my feelings about Israel.

I arrived in Jerusalem last summer totally starstruck, in love with Israel, slipping right into the honeymoon phase, even as a war was going on. Our love affair continued, hence my decision to make Jerusalem my home. But the last few weeks have been intense, with a lot of shifts and changes. My Jewish learning program ended, I got my massage certification (which means classes with my beloved teacher are now over), a romantic relationship ended, and I packed up my apartment for good. I ended up leaving pieces of myself (aka my luggage) all over the country with family and friends, awaiting my triumphant return as a citizen. But I was really ready to leave, ready to get some space. The familiar streets I walked to school were no longer going to be my streets. The neighborhood where I lived was no longer filled with the people I knew: my peers at school, various rabbinical school students I had become close with, other transient travelers on their journey, crossing their paths with mine for a short time. I could feel the ghosts of experiences past as I walked the streets with no familiar faces in sight and the memories I had made with people imprinted in different restaurants, bus stops, and usual meeting places.

I’m not worried about making new friends next year (especially in ulpan), and I already have some fantastic friends who are making or have made aliyah, or who decided to stay on another year. But the transition of other people and myself has been hard; physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And while I haven’t gotten a chance to integrate everything that happened in Israel yet, I am not fully immersed in a new culture here in Europe.

There are so many different people here in Paris, from all different walks of life. I’ve heard Russian, English, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Hindi, Arabic…the list goes on and on. But not once have I heard Hebrew. And believe me, I’ve been keeping an ear open. There’s something refreshing about being around people who are REALLY different from me, not just different because they are religiously observant or Sephardi. It was lovely to have things open on Shabbat, to be able to catch a bus and explore the city on a day of rest. It’s nice to not worry about a restaurant being milk or meat, because I can order either anywhere. It’s amazing to have an actual weekend, where people get both days off to be human and enjoy and relax and get things done. That being said, I miss the quiet of Shabbat. I miss speaking Hebrew (even though I have still been speaking Hebrew with my mom, albeit in a French accent). I miss the Jewiness of it all, saying shalom to everyone, feeling like I am finally getting more comfortable with the way things work in Israel (or don’t, as the case may be). They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder…I can only hope that by being separated from my soon-to-be homeland, our love and bond and appreciation for each other will grow and deepen.

My blessing for you is that you may find the place that most feels like home to you. May you be fortunate enough to live there, to grow there, to sustain yourself there, and may you get back as much (and more) as you put into it.