It has been tougher than I anticipated coming back to the Twin Cities. After living away from home for a year I was ready to come back to see friends and family. I was excited to see the trees, the lakes and even the Minneapolis skyline. But in the last two weeks, I’ve started to understand what everyone meant when they told me that this would be a transformational year.
Only a year living in Jerusalem has changed what feels “normal” in social public situations. A week ago, at Target Field, I found it frustrating waiting in lines to walk to my seat or to even walk through the concourses. Even stranger than that was feeling harassed by employees that are just checking to see if they can help as I shopped in different stores.
It has been strange to me because the exact opposite situations were irksome to me in December in Israel.
So now I’m sitting here in Minnesota reflecting on the different thoughts I’ve had in the last year. When it comes to the social experiment that was the Year in Israel, I am incredibly grateful for the chance to live in a completely different world for such a challenging year.
There has been one lesson that has been stuck in my head, though, since coming back to Minneapolis. There is a five-word, “throw-away”, phrase I found in Martin Buber‘s I and Thou; “all real living is meeting”.
In my mind this first year was the beginning of Graduate School. I went to Israel excited to start studying, debating and learning in addition to experiencing Israel and Jerusalem. Throughout the year I have come to realize that, although I learned quite a bit of information from my instructors, the lessons that stick with me the longest are the experiences and the conversations.
One Shabbat evening I had the opportunity to have dinner with an Israeli family in a community about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem. After services we talked all the way through dinner about the wide variety of customs they have being a family of blended heritage (Ashkenazic and Sephardic) and from different religious backgrounds (secular and traditionally observant).
With two of my classmates, talking to this family about how they have negotiated these differences in background was one of the more meaningful experiences I had of the year.
Another Friday night I had dinner with one of the Israeli Rabbinic Students and her husband. And again what I took away from dinner was the wide ranging conversation we had about everything from our programs and education to the political situation in Israel and the surrounding countries. It was another incredible evening.
While HUC’s administration and instructors put forth a huge effort to bring in amazing speakers and presenters to lecture, without my notes from these lectures, many of the lessons have not stuck so vividly in my memory as the things I learned sharing a meal and talking with people.
This is not to discount the value of our lectures or lessons, but sitting in Minnetonka, two weeks after landing back in Minnesota, I keep remembering the little things. The small group discussions, the one-on-one conversations and getting to know people are the memories I am taking home with me.
The other day I was flipping through the 2000 pictures I took while I was in Israel. As a last addition to this final post about my Year in Israel experience I wanted to share three pictures that popped out at me while flipping through. Aside from really enjoying these pictures, they spark vivid memories from the year.
Rabbi David “Gingy” Wilfond gave a small group tour of the Old City of Jerusalem on the theme of the psalms. This was one of the first “extra-curricular” programs that I participated in and had the opportunity to see the city from a new perspective and really get to talk with some of my classmates.
As the sun rose, I walked with a group of classmates towards the Kotel to support Women of the Wall. The minyan the men held was powerful and at the same time challenging. I had never had such offensive and hurtful things shouted at me by the traditionally observant men on our side of the Mechitza.
During Pesach I visited some of my Israeli friends up in the north of Israel. We spent a lot of time hiking outside and enjoying the woods and nature. It was an incredible break from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. Quite the spot to sit and enjoy a picnic lunch.