I had a rough time sleeping last night. Lots of pent-up emotions that I’ve felt over the past week came pouring out. It has been really hard- meeting dozens of new people, escaping an abusive AirBnB host, finding new housing (then finding housing after that housing), hours of bureaucracy, jet lag, adjusting to the heat, and so much more.
There have of course been amazing and life-changing moments as well. Even those have the potential to stress you out as much as you enjoy them. When even the street art in Tel Aviv plays on biblical motifs, it is hard to escape Judaism even in Israel’s most secular city. It’s part of what makes it so cool to be here.
And so hard. In America, if I wanted to engage my Jewish identity, I could prepare myself. I could go to a synagogue or a Jewish Community Center, to Moishe House or a friend’s Shabbat dinner- and I could tap into my Jewishness. I knew what to expect and how to behave, even if I had never met the people. Because it was my American Jewish culture. And as soon as I stepped outside the event, I was back in American non-Jewish society. Sometimes that made me sad, as I felt I needed to check part of my self at the door. And sometimes it was refreshing as I could recharge myself in the broader society.
Here, everything is Jewish. When I say everything, I’m not exaggerating. Israelis might not see it this way. For me, as an American-Israeli, it feels that way. All the signs are in Hebrew. For instance, next to a parking garage, there’s a sign that says “Boachem Leshalom” which means “come in peace”. To a religious American Jew, however, this reads differently. It’s the beginning of a famous verse of the prayer Shalom Aleychem, something we sing on Shabbat. Next to a parking garage!!! I can’t think of an equivalent in the U.S. but perhaps it’d be like seeing “He is Risen” on an elevator.
It’s awesome and totally exhausting. I’m not used to having Judaism everywhere in my life. And such heavy duty politics mixed into casual conversations (and this is coming from someone who grew up in Washington, D.C.).
Sometimes, you just need a break from it all. This morning, I put on some bluegrass music from one of my favorite bands that I saw in Charlottesville, VA years ago. Something you will never, ever hear in Israel. Something thoroughly American and beautiful. I called an American-Israeli friend and made plans to talk about light, apolitical, non-religious things. I don’t know- football, college stories, old flames, who knows! The point is nothing serious!
As I sat down to eat breakfast (boy am I missing my shredded wheat, trying to find some in Israel), I went to Google Advanced Image Search and googled “pictures of hamburgers”. And I felt a wave of relief and comfort come over me as I scrolled through picture after picture of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, bacon burgers, you name it. Some of which I don’t eat. And to be honest, I didn’t really eat hamburgers much in the U.S.
But it just felt like home. Where I don’t have to extend myself, to explain myself, to go into the depths of politics and religion, where I could just be. I felt out of place often in America. And I also miss it. It took moving to Israel to make me feel truly American.