My friend Roni Sokol of the hilarious www.mommyinlaw.com is smack in the middle of telling her Israel story… here’s the long awaited part 2 – just in time for she and me to travel to Israel in 10 days. Thank you Roni!
Send money, I’m not coming back.
After I cancelled my flight back to the states, my Israeli family unilaterally decided that I would sleep on Great Aunt Rivka’s couch for the duration. This ended up being 6 months. The tricky part was that, although she allegedly spoke fluent English, Rivka could not understand my “American accent.” Accordingly, we had to communicate with a writing tablet for the entire time I lived with her (and her numerous pet cockroaches).
It didn’t help matters that at 3:00 in the morning the first night, my friends from LA called to inquire whether I was being held hostage, or even worse, joined a cult. They demanded explanations to the following questions: “What are you doing there?,” “Why are you staying there?,” “Did you meet a boy or something?” Yes, they were all convinced that I met a boy and that is what was keeping me there. When I told them they were wrong, they would not believe me. So, I decided to go along with it. Yes, I had met a nice Israeli soldier boy who only came home from the army base on weekends, and I decided to hang around and wait for him. Interestingly, that answer actually satisfied them more than my previous answer–that I just liked it there.
The truth was, I had no idea why I was there or what I was going to do. I just wanted to stay. I was intrigued by the people. They were blunt and honest and real. They sort of reminded me of myself. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get away with sunning myself on the beach all day everyday (or would I?), so I decided that the first thing I needed to do was learn the language. I mean, if I was going to stay there indefinitely, it would be a good idea to know how to properly ask for my burgers well done.
So, I went to this place called an” Ulpan”. This is where people go to learn conversational Hebrew in a hurry (reading and writing optional). This is where my grandparents met when they came over before the war. I went there every single day for months. And you know what? I learned the language pretty well. I was able to communicate fluently with 4 year olds and the elderly. I made lots of friends from all over the world at that Ulpan. I became friends with a German boy named “Ari.” I decided that when I had a son, that would be his name (not because I liked the guy that much, but because I liked the name). I still love the name (and my son, Ari, of course).
Well, I needed to do something else besides study Hebrew day in and day out. My parents were asking a lot of questions and the money was drying up. Fortunately, my Great Uncle Aaron would slip me some sheckles here and there. He was pretty cool for an old guy who didn’t speak one word of English. Not one word! He grew fond of me, though (thanks to my cousin who would translate).
Aside from Uncle Aaron, everyone kept asking me what I was going to do next and I got tired of not having an answer. So, I took Bus No. 4 over to Tel Aviv University and walked in the office marked “Overseas Student Program.” I filled out an application right then and there. They wanted money. I gave them some. I was accepted for the coming semester. What did I tell you? Israel is AWESOME!
I moved into the dorms and became a student. When we started, some University officials took the women aside and told us to beware of the Israeli men. They would flatter us and wine and dine us in order to get to the US of A. They warned that our hearts would be broken in a million little pieces. They also warned us to expect to get mighty chunky, as the women always tended to get fat on this program, while the men wasted away to nothing. This could have something to do with the falafel, but I’m not entirely sure.
The semester was incredible–an experience like no other. I learned more about the history of Judaism and the culture than I’d ever known. And then June came. The best year of my life was over. I had become a different person. I had matured tremendously, and yes, met an ivy league boy (or 3). I was pumped up, motivated, ready to take on anything. But now, it was time to fish or cut bait. Would I go back to the U.S., back to college, back to life as I knew it? Or stay there, bum around, sleep on that lady’s couch, get a job?
I decided to return home. One year had passed since I left. I needed to finish college and get on with my life. My Israeli family took me to the airport. We were all sullen. As I got ready to board the plane and was giving all my hugs, Great Uncle Aaron said in Hebrew that he did not want me to go. I told him in my broken Hebrew that I would be back. I promised. He responded that no one ever comes back when they leave for America. By then, he had tears flowing down his face. I told him I’d be different.
But, I wasn’t. Although the country always held a place in my heart, I did not return until 20 years later, when I visited with my husband in 2005. My Great Uncle had already passed. So had the aunt whose couch I slept on. But, the memories all came rushing back. Although the country had changed substantially since I left, so much was the same. It took me right back to when I was 19.
In two weeks, I will return to Israel. It will be 25 years since I pleaded with my mother not to send me to a sand dune. I expect (and hope) that this two week trip is just as magical as that unplanned, impulsive, and completely incredible year in 1985 which changed me forever.