Thursday, September 22, 2011

My New Home Sweet Home

Thank goodness I bought so many hooks!
 When Ima and Daddy first met, they spent a magical year in Jerusalem, meeting for lunch on the lawn at Hebrew U, walking in and out of bookstores stuck in a corner, sharing botnim (roasted peanuts, which they buy every time they visit)... and now I am reliving many of those footsteps. My apartment overlooks the roads they took and my walk to work will be tracing theirs.

Precluding my journey, I gained new-found confidence in my Hebrew speaking when the Milah Institute, the ulpan where I will be learning Hebrew, called to confirm that I really am Level D. They put a girl on the phone so she could "chat" with me in Hebrew and test my skills. After literally 30 seconds of smalltalk she shouted across the room, "she really IS a Level D!" I've been functioning basically in Hebrew--even strangely forgetting some words in English--and today's confirmation that I'm indeed at the highest level of their ulpan has brought my confidence to new levels.

The JDC Israel Office in Giv'at Ram
Today's drive to Jerusalem, after leaving Saba and Nimla (who takes care of him by cooking delicious food and simply making his house feel like home), I had an interesting discussion, all in Hebrew, with my taxi driver, Yisrael. He immediately dove into how he dated an American once, who promised him "riches" if he moved back to Boston with her, but he refused to leave his country. Then he told me about his army service, his "little miracle," a granddaughter who is living with him for now, and about his sons, who, he told me several times, "If they weren't all married, I would have made them meet you." Yisrael is 62 years old, has a shock of white hair over dark grey sideburns, and wore serious, dark sunglasses. As he drove, he continually drummed his fingers on the wheel, humming and whistling to the music on Galatz, a popular Israeli radio station between thoughts. He asked me if I consider myself American or Israeli. I said that I feel like both; that when I'm in America, I don't feel like I quite fit in and when I'm in Israel I feel completely American. Yisrael slammed his fist on the steering wheel.  "You cannot choose both," he affirmed in a very serious tone, "A person cannot live between two worlds." I contemplated this stern remark. "I hope I do not offend you," he said more softly, "but I am a person who speaks my mind and don't like to sugarcoat. I tell the truth always." "Don't worry, you're not offending me," I answered, "It takes a lot, but I'm not sure if I agree with you." So I partly revised my answer and told him that my heart is in Israel but I will always be American. "Yes, then you should stay. I didn't see your face before," he turned swiftly to assess me through the rear-view mirror. "Yes, now I see your face, there's great potential for you to meet someone here, I didn't look at your face before but now I see, motek. If you stay and meet a real sabra then maybe you will be truly Israeli then." I just laughed. Maybe also turned a little red.

Squint to see my aunt, Dvora, in the photo on the top left, hanging at JDC.
This question of who I am keeps coming up. A few days earlier, my aunt, Dvora, asked me a similar question over Shabbat dinner. "Sivanne, do you consider yourself a Zionist?" I told her that living freely as a Jew in a peaceful, democratic country has changed the fabric of need in Jewish life and so maybe the definition of Zionism is different to me than to her. I feel I am a Zionist but don't think that needs to mean that I want to live here permanently. I, like the majority of American Jews, have a deep concern for the Jewish people and this land, and will always support it. And I absolutely believe in the dream of a Jewish homeland. But as to where I stand? Sticking on labels, cornering myself into specific groups, that's harder to say. It's interesting to think about identity: is it more about how people perceive you, or how you see yourself? Is it about where you're from or where you're going to? Is it about the language you speak, the clothes you wear, the food you eat or where your allegiances lie? Can it be both, or do you have to choose like my taxi driver insisted?

The bed is as thin as me, but cozy.
After mentioning how a shame it is that his sons are married a few more times, Yisrael helped me drag my two heavy suitcases into the apartment and before leaving, invited me to Rosh Hashana dinner at his home. I politely thanked him for his generosity and went back inside, wondering if I hadn't had family here to celebrate with if I would have taken him up on his offer. I would like to think that I would have. Minutes later, I met one of my neighbors, Amichai, who lives on the second floor with two other roommates. He's studying at the university and I pegged him for maybe 25 years old. He was wearing old, khaki shorts, no shirt, and had hair springing up in all directions. I walked up the stairs with him making small-talk, all in Hebrew, and he invited me and my new housemates to come over for an outdoor BBQ on Shabbat.  Later on, my housemate Ayal and I took the 30 minute walk through the heart of beautiful Rehaviah to Mahane Yehuda Market, a sprawling festival of foods, lights, people pushing every which way, and smells of fresh fish, ripe olives, and glistening cheeses floating through the air. I've been there many times before but never on a domestic errand. While we walked from stand to stand, sampling figs and mangoes, haggling over the price of a pomegranate (and learning that the way you know it is ripe is to put it to your ear and squeeze it, searching for a crunching sound), we picked up the fresh ingredients for our simple ravioli meal. Then we negotiated the buses, returned home, cooked up a storm, and ate while laughing so hard at different stories that we cried.

I've already hung up my jewelry and bags, unpacked and folded my clothes, laid claim to a shelf in the bathroom. Tomorrow I hope to find some time for various errands, some exploring and possibly getting lost, and finally to sit on our ENORMOUS balcony (and when I say enormous I mean that a full-blown soccer game could easily be played on it) and sketch. All in all my move-in day was full of new faces, renewed old smells and sounds, and most of all, turning four new white walls into a home.

No comments:

Post a Comment