For those of you who’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know my neighborhood is a bit off the beaten path for American immigrants to Israel. It’s off the beaten path for most Israelis. My particular street is quite quiet, kind of like a Mizrachi kibbutz, but a two minute walk away finds you in the poorest neighborhood of Tel Aviv. And one of the most interesting. Filled with Moroccans and Iraqis and Eritreans and Bedouin (still figuring that one out) and Yemenites and Russians. And me.
The first reason I moved to my neighborhood was financial. The rest of Tel Aviv was too expensive for me to find a place by myself. Tired of living with roommates and not willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money, I looked where less people “like me” look.
I happened upon a great apartment and snatched it up. The price was right, it came mostly furnished, it included most utilities, and I was able to negotiate a good lease. A lot of hard work went into that- I saw easily 40 different apartments in person before finding this one. You can read about my process here.
One of the downsides to my neighborhood is it’s far from…everyone. Well, not everyone. Certainly not my Iraqi neighbor downstairs who likes to “role play” Abu Mazen in Arabic yelling at Israel (my neighborhood is many things but boring is not one of them). But it is far from other young professionals- some of whom flat out told me they’d be scared to visit me. Fortunately, I have many friends who feel otherwise and have come to my park for picnics. But as we say in Jewish English “it’s a schlep“.
That can make me feel lonely sometimes. Especially on Shabbat when there is no public transit and people are even less willing to make the trek. And it also becomes hard for me to visit them. I’ve spent more than a few Shabbat afternoons alone and bored.
My neighborhood has a lot of amazing things. It’s amazingly diverse, it has great food, it’s cheaper, it’s authentic. The owner of the Mizrachi music store around the corner was Zohar Argov‘s producer. It’s a place where almost all aspects of the conflict in this country come together and somehow things manage to stick together.
At night, better than anywhere in North Tel Aviv, you can truly see the stars. The moon calls out to you. It calms me to look towards the heavens after a hectic day, no skyscrapers around, and to just breathe.
Tonight, the most unexpected thing happened: I bumped into a friend. Feeling kind of lonely, I left my apartment and headed towards “the city”. “The city” because my neighborhood doesn’t feel like the rest of Tel Aviv. You wouldn’t know it was the same city if you visited here.
On my way there, I saw a group of young people. I was a bit surprised. I knew there were a few in the neighborhood, often living with their families, but rarely in large groups. As I got closer, a bearded man gave me a huge hug.
I was in shock. Who was this guy??
After a look at his sheyne punim, I knew: it was Omer! Holy crap! Omer is an Israeli friend from Beit Shemesh, a suburb of Jerusalem. We met in high school because his city was paired with my hometown of Washington, D.C. for an exchange program. We hung out in D.C., I believe I saw him when I came several years later to visit Beit Shemesh, and then reconnected on Facebook. Once I made aliyah, we got to see each other again in person.
Omer is an avid board games player. Turns out, so is someone in my neighborhood who was hosting a board games event! Delighted to bump into someone who knew me, someone who hugged me- spontaneously- in my neighborhood, I immediately asked him to invite me to the next event.
Living alone in a foreign country can be hard. And I don’t just live here, I immigrated here. I’m a citizen. I have no particular plans to move back to the U.S. although as a dual citizen I legally can. And since my work happens to be done remotely, I can bounce between countries, which is great. It’s also true that it feels different to live here as opposed to visiting or being on a program. Washington, D.C. will always be one of my homes. And what I’m starting to realize, to whatever extent I choose to stay here short or long term, Israel has become one of my homes too.
A place where I bump into an old friend on an unexpected street who cheers me up. A place where, just twenty minutes later, I bumped into another friend I met outside a nightclub weeks ago.
A place where for all its insanity and its toughness, I guess I just don’t feel like as much of a stranger as when I stepped off the plane on the Fourth of July almost a year ago. Hopeful, confused, anxious, and inspired. Jet-lagged and later coping with food poisoning and being stalked by toxic relatives and being yelled at daily by Sabras for no particular reason and being racially profiled as Arab and waking up to 3 A.M. air raid sirens and all sorts of traumas big and small.
Israel is whack. That’s how I’d say it in American. And Israel, I’m just not sure I can entirely live without you. And if you don’t think that’s the most Israeli way of saying “I love you”, then you’re probably not one of us 🙂
p.s.- my cover photo is a picture of teddy bears from the Arab village of Tira because this is a feel good story 🙂