Dec 29, 2008

I'm baaaaaaackkk!!!

We arrived at Ben Gurion, schluffed through security, I managed to talk the woman at the counter out of charging me for a bag that somehow acquired 11 pounds on the trip, shopped at duty free, and sat down at our gate. I needed a window seat. I walked up to the Continental desk, requested a change, it was processed, and I was set for a row in the 40s on the window. I sat down, chatted with my new friends, and then it was time to board the three-cabin behemoth of a plane. I realized, after taking my seat, that I was rows and rows away from my new friends, placed in the midst of one of the other Birthright groups, for the nearly 12-hour ride home. I took out my journal (that Tuvia's stepmom got me) and began to attempt to write more notes about the trip and the Shabbat adventures I hadn't recorded. Then? The plane took to the runway and lifted into the clear, blue Israeli sky. And I?

I started to cry. Alligator tears. Uncontrollable drops that confused me. I watched as Israel disappeared behind me as we went up, up, up. I peered out my little window, watching as we went away, moving away from Israel -- like the women who walk backwards as they leave the Western Wall, like leaving a loved one, it's hard to just turn around and leave. I watched until my neck hurt from looking backwards and until I couldn't see the coast any longer amid the thinning clouds. And even when I couldn't see Israel anymore, I kept crying.

I can't really explain the emotion, but I feel like I've left something very special behind. Like a piece of me was buried in the desert, dropped while riding camels or sleeping in the Bedouin tent or watching the sun rise slowly and then quickly over the Judean desert. Something was left there, and maybe it's why my stomach feels so empty today.

When we first went on the trip, the trip madrachim told us that they didn't want to be so bold as to call us Israelis, but that they hoped that by the end of the trip, we would be proud and eager to call ourselves as such. I can honestly say, with a full heart and a steady mind that I am an Israeli. Albeit, more of the Jerusalem or Kibbutzim Israeli than a Tel Aviv Israeli (to be honest, T.A. just didn't jibe with me).

I have so many stories to tell. I have people to talk about. Forty and more new friends I made with varying degrees of Jewishness that is as beautiful as the varying terrain across Israel. I have stories to tell about people who touched me and people I touched, stories that are amusing ("welcome to pimp my camel!") and stories of tragedy (visiting the border with Lebanon and Syria and Gaza and the Save a Child's Heart program) that always, ALWAYS manage to defeat the odds in the pursuit of life and happiness.

It will take me weeks. It might take months. But eventually I hope I can really explain what Israel has done to me. Watching, while we were still in Israel, as missiles and bombs flew out of Gaza onto homes and hopes, I was devastated. I knew IDF soldiers who, after our departure, were likely heading there, into Gaza, in order to protect Israel and the Jewish people. One of the soldiers? His family's home was destroyed in the attacks. Listening to the stories and hearing how people live day-by-day and how they just want to do that -- live -- has given me a newfound respect for the Israel Defense Forces, the soldiers who are there fighting for ME, and the entire country and its hopes and efforts. So, being here, in the U.S., the place that the customs man called "home" when welcoming me back, is difficult. Incredibly difficult. Because I now know what is on the other side, and I know what I have left behind.

At any rate, I have lots of unpacking to do, a stomach to make better, more sleep to get, and pictures -- of which there are hundreds -- to look through. Until then?

Am Yisrael Chai!


Tuvia said...

Glad you had such a great time and got back safely. Can't wait to see the photos and hear all the stories!

KosherAcademic said...

So happy to have you back, and so glad that the trip was more than you could ever hope for. I can't wait to hear all the stories and see how it's affected you. Also glad you're safe.

Oh, and when are you coming to visit?? ;-)

LE7 said...

When I flew back from Israel, I flew through Turkey. I didn't cry on the flight leaving Israel to Turkey. I think I was too tired. I had been up all night so...

But on the flight from Turkey to Chicago I bawled the entire time I wasn't sleeping.

Kate said...

Seems like everyone I know returns this way - why is it that I just don't want to go? Strongly, adamantly do not want to go? I want to feel this strongly & beautifully... anyway, this is not about me, it's about you - and this is a beautifully written post. I'm so glad you enjoyed your time in Israel, & I look forward to pics & stories &, of course, tweets!

Nice Jewish Girl said...

Welcome back. We've missed you and can't wait to hear more about your special journey!

Mottel said...

Glad you enjoyed Israel . . . All those who have been understand your feelings, until you return, make sure to make your own Israel, in your daily life . . .

Daniel Saunders said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your trip and returned safely. I look forward to reading about what happened.

Tammy said...

Sounds like you had a terrific time....can't wait to see some pictures and hear more details.
I have heard others, who have been to Israel, say similar things about not wanting to leave. They said that they felt like they were leaving their "Home". Glad that you are home safe and sound!

chaviva said...

@Tuvia Thanks hon :) I'm glad to be back home with you!

@KA No clue when I'm coming to visit, lol. I need to save up a bit of cash before I attempt a trip again, heh.

@LE7 Eep :(

@Kate There were at least three people on our trip whose siblings or cousins had dragged them along more or less against their will. They really didn't want to go. But by day two or three? Wow. They'd done an entire flip around. It was crazy. Sometimes, you just need to go!

@NJG Thanks!

@Mottel That's a really, really beautiful sentiment that I intend on living out!

@Daniel Thanks! I can't wait to write about it, though it might take me a while ...

@Tammy I'm also glad I'm home safe. I think we left at the right time, to be honest, as far as safety is concerned. But I miss it all the same.

Schvach said...

Welcome back Chavi. Aliya?

Esther Kustanowitz said...

Sounds like it was an intense and meaningful trip...can't wait to hear more and see all the subtle ways that you've been impacted by the experience. In the interim, maybe you'll appreciate this "denial diary," which may help you know you're not alone in your "Israel withdrawal."

Lorri said...

I'm glad you arrived back safely.

I know that you have a lot of emotions running right now, and probably all at the same time. It will take a while to sort it all out. But, if you never had a spiritual force, an innate illumination within you (I know you did have), this trip has heightened your spiritual senses in ways you can't even begin to fathom, right now.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you enjoyed your trip so much. Keep us informed.

Cookie Monster said...

Welcome back! Glad you had a great and safe trip. Looking forward to hearing more about it, and seeing the pictures.

Anonymous said...

It's posts like this that convince me that birthright is little more than an evil propaganda machine. I don't think I can say this without it sounding mean, so I'll just say it: you are not an Israeli.

You spent two weeks on a carefully orchestrated trip being exposed only to the most surface aspects of the country and its people: "riding camels or sleeping in the Bedouin tent or watching the sun rise slowly and then quickly over the Judean desert." This, of course, is what most trips are - but to come back saying that you are Israeli based on these things really demonstrates a very high level of uncritical thought.

I know that the group cohesion formed during concentrated periods of time together can be intense, and I know that there are aspects of Israeli culture which one might find very beautiful, and I know that the mixture of these things can make us feel very convinced about something - but keep in mind that this is precisely what the trip is supposed to do. It's a consciously manipulative effort - which isn't to say that your leaders and planners are good, honest people who really care about Judaism (or whatever), but that they have a very specific outcome in mind which the trip is specifically designed to fulfill. That, if nothing else, should give you pause.

avulpineheart said...

i have to reply to the anonymous comment above:

let's assume your premise is true - that taglit is nothing more than a propaganda machine.

it's not a propaganda machine that results in suicide bombers. it's not a propaganda machine that promotes blind hatred. it's not a propaganda machine that justifies qassam rockets exploding in kindergarten classrooms.

if birthright is propaganda [the love of israel kind, the fierce and JUST devotion to the state kind], sign me up.

not that anyone asked for my two cents. and not that i'm granting your premise is even true.

i just don't think that it's so bad, even if it is.

chaviva said...

@Schvach I wouldn't go that far. Yet :)

@EstherK That was probably the most accurate portrayal of how I feel, darn't.

@Lorri Such appropriate words, thank you so much.

@I-D Thanks!

@Cookie There will be pictures ... HUNDREDS of them, lol.

@Anonymous I don't take kindly to anonymous posters. I tend to not post their comments because I feel quite strongly that, if I have the guts to stand behind my posts and words, that those who comment should feel the same. If there are comments you have privately, then emailing is always a good way to have a dialog. But I think it's unfair to readers and to me to start a discussion anonymously. At any rate, I think Avulpineheart offered a very appropriate response. At the same time, I will say that I think you misunderstand my reactions. I'm not sure who you are, so I can't say whether you know me personally, but I can say that I'm not a "group think" kind of person. I think that my experience was likely different than 99 percent of the other people on the trip. I went into the trip expecting to come back feeling empty, and I went into the trip knowing that I would have a unique experience as a convert who had dealt with such tumult trying to even get to Israel. Yes, there are those few who up and decided that they wanted to make aliya and join the IDF and fight for Israel, and it will be interesting to see who actually comes through on those promises. Me? I'm not about to make aliya at this point in my life. When I say that I am an Israeli, I suppose I should be more specific -- I see myself as an Israelite. Not a member of the STATE of Israel, per se, but as a member of the Israelite nation, which largely resides in a neat and tidy little land called Israel. I hope this makes sense.

@Avulpineheart THANK YOU for your response!

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