“Why are you studying abroad in Israel?”
This was a question I frequently received prior to departing for my semester at Tel Aviv University, and it was a question that I struggled somewhat to answer. Usually my stock response was, “Because, as a Jew, I feel that it is important to create my own connection with the Jewish State.” While this felt like the right answer to the question, in my first weeks studying in Israel I have found that the answer is far more complex than this.
As almost a month has passed since I landed in Tel Aviv, I am starting to understand how important my immersion into Israeli culture truly is. Starting the first day, I could tell that this experience was going to be different than that of my friends studying abroad in Europe. Aesthetically, politically, geographically, and culturally, Israel is just different. Walking off the plane into Ben-Gurion Airport, beside new friends from across the United States, I could sense in the way people were walking, talking, eating, and interacting that my semester would be eye opening.
My first week in Tel Aviv was a whirlwind of newness and a bit of culture shock. From my 3rd floor apartment in a building with no elevator, to my kitchen with no oven, to the mesh of Hebrew, Arabic, and English being spoken around the complex, to my roommates from Middle Eastern countries I had barely heard of, I knew that my experience would not just be about Jewish identity.
After this feeling of culture shock began to wear off, my new friends and I were hurled into an intensive four-week Hebrew course. While I had learned to read and write the language as a kid and picked up a few phrases here and there, this course, from day one, immersed my peers and I in a language we knew little about. Committing to this course fully has proved to be one of the best decisions I have made since my arrival. While most people in Israel, and especially Tel Aviv, speak English, in order to truly feel the vibe of the country, speaking Hebrew is a necessity. Common Hebrew phrases thrown around such as “Ma La’asot!” (What can you do!), and “Ha Kol Beseder!” (All is good!) display the truly relaxed and laid back nature of Israel and it’s people. As I continue to practice and perfect my Hebrew, I hope to be able to use the language to learn more about the nature of Israeli culture.
As I approach the one-month mark of this journey, I look forward to continuing to immerse myself and understand fully and truly why I chose to study abroad in this incredible and complicated country, and by the end of this blog series, I hope to have that answer for you.