I don’t know what happened somewhere between New Zealand and New York, but it is clear I am unraveling, piece by piece.
I have been living in The Big Banana for going on three years. Days turn into weeks, which turn into so many countless nights I can’t remember. Something about this city that never sleeps, that whips you into an insomniac. With each cocktail club, I explore all the same emotions, and each museum reveals the same tragic history. Something has to give right? This can’t possibly be sustainable?
WRONG. Nothing gives, you just eventually break.
Until one day your friend returns from the trip of a lifetime, glowing and encouraging you to do it. Now I am not one to just do something I am told, unless what I am being asked to do it risk-taking. A reasonable person would say, “No, you can’t possibly go on birthright when you’re not Jewish”. However I am not most people, and curiosity will take me on a trip across the dead sea for ten glorious days.
I cannot tell you how many nights I carried guilt leading up to this trip, however I was sincere in my application when I said I was looking into converting. What did I care for Christianity anyways? It let me down in Texas, New Zealand and probably anywhere else I would give it a chance. My grandmother converted, so why shouldn’t I? I am a divine creature of the universe, desperately seeking explanation, so I will take whatever path life throws at me.
Boarding the El Al Airlines plane was a trip in itself. I was filtered through TSA and customs pulled me and one other young male blonde aside. This was actually the most nerve-wracking part for me because I felt like it was the final part of the interview to get on this trip into Israel. We went through a series of questions before being pulled aside, and directed toward a smaller room where they would perform an explosive bomb check on our baggage. Despite my lack of explosives, I kept thinking this would be the pre-check that denied me entry into their holy land and thus smashed this dream into reality.
Well, needless to day I made it after just a bit of called-for harassment, and here I am, three days later, heading to the holy city. So far I’ve made friends easily, however I’m sure there are occasional stares and side remarks about my real heritage. How does one really define being Jewish anyway? Like I said, an enormous weight of guilt will follow me into every city as I realize I do not belong. In the meantime, the entire bus of 26 people has graciously accepted me as one of their own. Together we will explore the culture of Israel in ten jam-packed days.
I have already found my favorite people. Three girls from New York and three guys from Ohio. I met the guys on the flight when they saved me from a bad seat assignment. I was wedged between a group of hassidic jewish men (nothing wrong about this and in fact I was happy to sit next to them ). Regardless of religion, they were rather large and I was sandwiched in the middle seat. Their strict religion prohibits any touching, looking, smelling etc of other women, so naturally they threw blankets in between our armrests. I was about to go on a 10 hour plane ride in this misery if it weren’t for the nice guys behind me. They were also sharing the row with a man from that party and they kindly suggestion we switch seats. Thus began my ten hour ride with Jacob, the sweetest, dark-haired gentleman from Columbus, Ohio. He was charming, intelligent and brought up his mother in the first ten minutes, which was endearing.
The three girls from New York were more like my friends back home; sassy, creative and spontaneous. They joked that this was the trip where American Jews were encouraged to find Israeli husband/wives. I didn’t think it was that obvious until I realized that every trip included a handful of their Israeli armed forces who were looking to take a break from service. There are many handsome men and women in uniform that nobody on the bus was complaining about.
So far we have explored Tel Aviv, Golan Heights, and the Sea of Galea. During the day we walk around the landscape, enjoy group lunches of kababs where we get to know each other, which ends on a group activity. I usually don’t stray from public speaking, however these nightly activities were giving me so much anxiety as I was waiting for someone to call me out. I told the recruiters my entire story, yet what if I’m not supposed to be here?
Last night I had a dream that I was on trial in front of a Minyan of Rabbis. In the dream, the room was pitch black, with dim candles that illuminated their white, cotton, kittel robes. I was on trial for forging my identity and each Rabbi silently judged me with a stern, sad smile. Sleep paralysis overcame me and I jolted awake. Sweat beating across my forehead, I screamed “HEY!” into the darkness and across the shared bunkbeds. My new friends luckily were deep in sleep – all except one who asked me about it in the morning. I explained my dream to Mor, this lovely Israeli woman who recently left her family Kibbutz. She tossed her curly blonde hair in amusement and stated “I don’t think that dream is a dream, but something bigger for you to discover”.
I can only hope to discover why I am here. What led me here and if all my lies have a purpose. Hopefully the guilt subsides so that I can soak up everything I am meant to here. Next up, the Dead Sea where we will learn about the Bedouins!