A short time ago I turned in my last paper for my University of Haifa classes. Yes, they were due two weeks after I returned home. Some universities operate quite differently when it comes to final exams, apparently. But I’m not complaining – it meant that I could make last minute day trips, talk with friends until the wee hours of the morning and squeeze the most out of my last week in Israel instead of having to write my papers while I was there. One night during finals week, a friend and I even went to Tel Aviv just for dinner – it takes about an hour and a half to get there by bus and train from Haifa. Now, having officially ended the most incredible semester of my life with the turning in of those papers, I am left with only an aching loneliness for all that Israel meant to me.
Right now, I’m back on campus at UR for the summer doing an internship, where I’ve had the chance to catch up with a few friends. While the quality of our friendships hasn’t changed, there is an odd distance between us. I was told it may be hard to adjust back to life at UR, but I didn’t believe it or understand why. I do now. I find my thoughts wandering while I am in the middle of a conversation, and I am back in Israel, hiking down into a rocky ravine in the north with the snow peaked Mt. Hermon standing guard above me, getting lost time and time again in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, watching a sunset from the beach in Tel Aviv, weaving my way through Haifa’s vegetable market on a crowded Friday afternoon, or just sitting beside a trail somewhere near the Sea of Galilee soaking in the freedom and beauty of the moment. Israel has left an imprint on me, the depth of which is almost impossible to convey to those who didn’t share the experience with me.
I miss Israel. I miss the hiking, I miss riding the bus, I miss the endless adventures, I miss my generous roommate, I miss cooking Shabbat dinners in my friend Emma’s apartment, I miss the glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea on my walk to class. But parts of Israel will always stay with me. The person I have become because of that semester, who is more confident, more willing to set out on adventures, and hopefully able to understand the world a little better, will remain.
Looking back on my thoughts and feelings at the beginning of this semester, I realize I didn’t come close to imagining what Israel would really be like. I imagined sites from ancient history, but I didn’t imagine how the land feels old, how every mountain, every ruined city, every coastal town has a story to tell. I imagined myself learning Hebrew, but I didn’t know about the pieces that would be added to my personality through the new forms of cultural expression I would learn. I imagined beautiful landscapes, but I didn’t see the colors of the desert sweeping up to meet the sky with a beauty that left me gasping for words. I expected spiritual fulfillment, but I didn’t grasp the depth of what it would mean to live in the country where the very events that shaped my faith took place.
My four and a half months in Israel were probably the most significant and formative of my entire time in college. I know I will be looking back and processing the experience in the months and years ahead, and drawing up the memories of moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.
One thing I particularly like about Hebrew is that ‘shalom’ can mean both goodbye and hello. So, shalom until next time, Israel.