Keeping the American traditions alive in Israel

Last Thursday, a group of American 20-somethings gathered around my dining room table and enjoyed a vegan Thanksgiving dinner. The meal wasn’t even intended to be vegan - everyone was just too poor to buy meat. The night was consumed by loud indulgent English conversation, cheap bottles of wine, sweet potato in three different forms, and pastries bought from Shuk HaCarmel. The highlight of the menu was chocolate chip pumpkin bread, which someone miraculously found all of the ingredients for (try finding canned pumpkin in Tel Aviv, I dare you).
This meal could have been seen at any Thanksgiving table across the US, minus the rugalach and lack of turkey. But, we weren’t in America for this holiday. Instead, we were 18 American orphans in Tel Aviv, far away from our families for the first time in a long time. We were a collection of young single people from all sorts of “Zionist aspiration” backgrounds, struggling to pull this dinner together in my small kitchen without burning down the whole apartment. Some were lone soldiers, others were recent college graduates, and some were here for long-term programs. I wish I could say it was Thanksgiving as usual, but it just wasn’t in the same spirit. Yes, loving friends surrounded me, but the reality was that I was sitting at my table stuffing my face with plain pasta, dreaming of how much easier life would be if I had stayed in California.
Similarly to parenting (or at least from what I hear; I’m definitely not a parent and quite frankly it sounds terrifying), there is no rulebook for making Aliyah. People make plenty of generic suggestions – take Ulpan, don’t let the bank screw you over, don’t grocery shop if you have anywhere to be for the next three hours – but really, nothing can truly prepare you for this. Being 22 is already a complete mess. Not only are you suddenly thrown into this terrifying world with complete mobility and freedom for the first time in your life, but you’re expected to pretend to be a real adult. Your parents want you to move out and get a job, your school wants you to be a donor in their alumni system the minute you graduate, and your friends are all crying to each other on the phone about new age-appropriate expectations, like dinner parties and reading the news. It isn’t some grand announcement that American college isn’t real life. Now, take that lost 22 year old and watch her deliriously pack her things and move to the Middle East alone in the name of Zionism.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, I made Aliyah in August to begin my life here as an Israeli. This was the most intense and meaningful decision of my life, which I have to remind my self of on a daily basis while I fight with the bank clerk, a bus driver, or a random elderly person on the street who attempts to push me out of their way. Nothing about this place is easy, much like being 22. But I think that most people in my situation (that being delusional and wandering single olim trying to avoid homelessness) have a great deal of pride. We feel a part of something much bigger than ourselves, with a mission that reaches far beyond our physical and emotional capacities. So, when I’m sobbing in line at the post office in my second hour of waiting, I’m able to remind myself: woah, Lena, this whole Zionist thing goes WAY beyond post office drama. Pull it together and realize the difference you’re making in the Jewish story.
Zionism isn’t dead to my generation. With the amount of relentless anti-Israel sentiment seen across college campuses today, I know this is hard to imagine, but I can promise you that young people are still coming. We might seem crazy to our friends, communities and families, but knowing that my physical presence in this land has the potential to impact the future of the Jewish State gives me chills, motivation, and purpose every day. Yes, I am a very young person attached to a big idea that drove me to make a ludicrous decision like this. But I’d like to challenge more people like me to do the same. Israel needs your love and your bravery, in whatever capacity you're able to give. Even if it means suffering through daily occurrences, like dealing with the Israeli job market and being force-fed Coca Cola, it's nothing you can't handle. This is the biggest chance we have to take risks, discover unknown passions and cling to farcical possibilities. I promise you that it will be hard, but you won’t regret it. And trust me, it will impact a lot more than just you.