Hmmm….this is tougher than I thought. I’ve known for a while that I was going to have to write this post without having put much actual thought into what I was going to say. While the suspense is presumably building, let’s dismiss what I’m NOT writing about before anybody gets too scared:
1) I am not leaving Israel.
2) I am not pregnant.
3) I am no Jack Kennedy.
I am however moving to Jerusalem in the next 48 hours. The rumors and subsequent confirmation has been out there among those who know me and it’s happening. When I reread fellow blogger Gila’s post a few weeks back, I thought, “Wow, that really hits home.” I too like Tel Aviv. I too have badmouthed Jerusalem since before moving here. So what gives? This gives.
Once upon a time, I came to Israel with Young Judaea on a six week summer program, and then on Year Course, a nine month program after high school. (Cha-ching! That’s the sound of 10 agarot entering my Bank Leumi account, and them charging me 20 agarot for the transaction. Gooooooo, Israel!) When I came for the summer of 1990, we probably spent one week in Jerusalem for every one day in Tel Aviv. Why? Because that’s where everything is: the Kotel, the Israel Museum, Yad Vashem, etc. Tel Aviv? Not so much history. When I came back for the year, we probably spent a grand total of three weekends in Tel Aviv: the first one, the last one, and one in the middle. Meanwhile, I lived in Jerusalem for 3 months and spent many more weekends there.
I remember thinking, “If only more American Jews knew about Tel Aviv…” While Jerusalem is the religious and spiritual heart of the country, there is no doubt that the city that never sleeps is the cultural center. (By the way, can we get our own nickname, please? Doesn’t New York have rights to that name? Isn’t this a little embarrassing? If some dude Brian Goldberg from Cherry Hill, New Jersey starts dating Angelina Birnbaum, do you think they walk around calling themselves Brangelina? Sorry, we already have one of those, but thank you for playing.” On that note, can we kick off the suggestions for a new city name? How about the City that Always Sweats? The City with No #&$@ Parking? The City with Scantily-Clad Grandmothers? Don’t judge.) But seriously, most American Jews who don’t live here never had the opportunity to get to know Tel Aviv. And from a hasbara perspective, if we’re going to great lengths to showcase Israel as a 21st century democracy which has so much in common with America and other countries of the west, don’t we NEED to show off the modern, cosmopolitan, and, yes, secular lifestyle of the City that Always Sweats?
When I visited Israel in 2005 for a conference, things concluded on Thursday and most of the attendees headed to Jerusalem for Shabbat. Meanwhile, I hopped in my taxi, headed to Ziv’s and thought “Freiers…so many of them just don’t know what they’re missing.” Fast forward to 2006…I moved to Israel and there was never a doubt where I would be. As I spent more and more time in Tel Aviv, I felt myself sometimes feeling a little like a New York snob who doesn’t acknowledge life outside of the City. And though I certainly didn’t become less religiously observant than I was in the States, I felt myself starting to resemble some of the Tel Avivim who were completely turned off from Jerusalem because of its overly religious nature.
Each time I came to Jerusalem, I just didn’t feel like I fit in, surrounded by people who didn’t look like me, dress like me, or act like me. Walking around Sderot Rothschild in Tel Aviv, I couldn’t have been happier soaking up the sun, surrounded by people who did look like me, dress like me, and act like me (aside from the tacky t-shirts). I spent my first Erev Yom Ha’atzmaut as an Israeli in downtown Jerusalem, surrounded by hundreds of annoying teenagers, thinking, “Get me OUT OF HERE!!” Still….I noticed that while I usually found myself wanting to stay in Tel Aviv over Shabbat, when I did go to Jerusalem for the weekend, I usually had a good time (with that post containing a less detailed version of the Benji-Tel Aviv-Jerusalem triangle story.)
So why the hell am I moving to Jerusalem after two years here? Well, the short answer is my job. But if I ended it there, you’d all say “we spent three minutes reading for that lame explanation?” So I guess it’s more complicated than that. Although I feel like generally I love Tel Aviv, it’s not so simple. The last two years of klitah (absorption) haven’t always been so easy and in fact, they’ve at times been really hard. (Should that go without saying? Perhaps all or many olim feel that way, I just don’t know.) There have been two prolonged periods in the last two years where I’ve really struggled and thought, “If I don’t make SOME kind of change in my life so I’m not feeling tortured, I just can’t continue to put myself through this (i.e., LIVE here).” A lot of my frustration came from my grasp (or lack thereof) of Hebrew and various obstacles I had to deal with because of the language, and an equal number related to whatever job I may have been doing that either took over my life or provided zero fulfillment or challenge.
To compound that, I at times secretly wondered if something about Tel Aviv was keeping me from being completely at peace. When I turned 25, I moved to Atlanta from Texas and had four of the greatest years of my life. When I turned 29, I moved to New York from Atlanta and had three years of personal emptiness. Why? Lack of community. In Atlanta, I found the most inclusive and amazing Jewish community imaginable, large enough to rank among America’s biggest, where I constantly met new and fantastic people, but small enough that I could see the same people again and again at a variety of Jewish events, Shabbat dinners, parties, etc. New York? A great place to visit, objectively an incredible place with everything….except what I found in Atlanta. Granted, it becomes harder to keep creating a new circle of friends the older you get, but with too many social options and Jewish events to choose from, too many people to see, and too many people having packed calendars who say things like “you live on the West Side, I live on the East Side…I think I can fit you in around 3 months from now”, it simply was not for me. The kind of tight community and feeling of belonging I found in Atlanta, I just don’t believe exists in New York. Every time I went back to Atlanta over the years, I saw a place I could live forever, with people settling down and replacing their attendance at 20-something parties with synagogue membership or Jewish day school dues. New York was transient and a place that was fun for a few years in your 20s or 30s.
So what? So while I found myself loving the young people, coffee shops, and city life of Tel Aviv, something was missing. I realized that while I knew roughly eighty-five thousand people in the greater Tel Aviv area, I didn’t actually see most of them nor could I articulate any kind of community place or event which could possibly bring a large number of them together on a regular basis with our different lives and schedules. Even when great things were happening in my life, I didn’t feel like my social life was right. I would sometimes think back to what my Israeli friend Shirly would say while doing shlichut in Atlanta: “Tel Aviv is like New York and Jerusalem is like Atlanta.” I feared she might be right. But move to Jerusalem??? Are you kidding me? No way.
Then I started my job in Jerusalem, for some of the reasons I described above. I needed to make a change and learn the language; to borrow the words of the presidential candidate, I thought this was the change I needed. Eventually, after two of the hardest months of my life, something happened and my life returned to a really great place where I was healthier than I had been in several months. My co-workers and office environment are amazing and my job is a place where I can truly make a difference. However, 4+ hours of commuting a day is simply impossible. What to do? I put off the decision for months, knowing it would at some point come to a head. It took me all summer to decide, weeks to even articulate the words “I am moving to Jerusalem”, and more time to decisively admit it to friends, but I decided I was less afraid of living in a new city than risk being unfulfilled professionally and in life again and messing up the progress I had made in recent months.
Is that the only reason I am moving? I don’t know. Perhaps my suspicion that I will find more of a community helped me make the decision, or perhaps it’s post-decision justification or being optimistic about the positive things that will come from my move. But whereas a couple of months ago, I was saying “OH MY G-D….I cannot believe I’m moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem” (and it doesn’t help when just about everyone in TA tells you you’re nuts, combined with the fact that I have yet to find a SINGLE other oleh chadash who has moved in that direction, despite being able to name 45 million who have fled Jerusalem for here), now I am becoming optimistic and, dare I say, even excited?
Regardless of how much Tel Aviv has to offer, I sometimes felt that I had missed the “Jerusalem experience” that so many people I know had had over the years. The neighborhoods, the Shabbatot, the coffee shops….even just the knowledge of how to walk to the Old City. I want to learn the geography, the politics, and actually feel some of the chagim which you can be somewhat oblivious to in Tel Aviv unless you go out of your way to seek them out. (This probably sounds shocking to those who have heard me go on and on about how amazing the chagim are in Israel, which they are.) I absolutely love and value my chumus club in Tel Aviv and I have another friend who is reading this who I’ve grown close to….but I need something more which I don’t know if I can explain. Maybe it’s new people; every time you move, I believe there is value in meeting new people who add something to your life at that moment, or challenge you to continue to grow as a constantly evolving human being. Maybe it’s Israeli friends, people who will challenge me to speak more Hebrew or help me in becoming Israeli. Or maybe it’s more of a physical community, a synagogue or organization where I have a sense of belonging, where I can go where everybody knows your name.
It took five months to upload this picture but here it is….
The chumus club visits the Ichilov hospital emergency room.
Yes, people, it’s the first ever intravenous chumus-fest.
Alert the World Health Organization.
At one point, I told my Tel Aviv friends, “Don’t forget about me, I’ll be back in 9 months.” But just like leaving America for Israel, who knows? Not me. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll stay, maybe I’ll return, and maybe I’ll settle down in Modiin with a wife, two kids, and a tub of chumus.
A couple of weeks ago, I began my apartment search. Within a few hours, I had found a great apartment. Here’s the only downside, in my opinion: it’s right in the middle of downtown. Noise, tourists, a bajillion teenagers. Reminds of Times Square. The upsides: right on my bus line to work, right by the sheiruts to Tel Aviv, central, right by the comedy club….and a great apartment itself. The night I found it, I went over to a co-worker’s apartment for dinner with her and two other co-workers. Just four of us eating dinner having a good time. It seemed like something bigger than just a dinner, like maybe a preview of things to come? In place of English conversation in a Tel Aviv cafe (which again, I love), it felt more intimate in another way. Tel Aviv may have the superior bar scene but do I really want to be going to bars every Friday night? The answer is no. I can however imagine enjoying spending my Friday at Machaneh Yehudah and spending a nice Friday night at somebody’s house for Shabbat dinner and even making a habit out of seeing these same people every few Shabbatot. At the end of the day, I feel like this will be another valuable life experience, regardless of how long it lasts. And isn’t that what life is about? Again, no knock on Tel Aviv. Just different.
On the way back from Binyamina after Rosh Hashana, Shirly’s brother Uri played the Hadag Nachash song “Hinei Ani Ba” for me, the popular song featured in Adam Sandler’s “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.” The song is about the singer’s love for Jerusalem, his desire to go to Tel Aviv, his experience there, and his eventual realization that he misses Jerusalem before going back. If Jerusalem is cool enough for Hadag Nachash, then it sure as hell can be cool enough for me.
I’ve already learned that Jerusalemites call King George St. “Hamelech King George” which is like calling the outgoing American commander-in-chief “Hanasi President Bush”. I am counting on many new blog postings about ridiculous local customs, practices, and of course….t-shirts.
So get ready, Jerusalem, because there’s a new American coming to town. (I mean, in addition to the 50 bajillion other Americans coming to town.) And don’t be offended, Tel Aviv. There’s enough room in my heart for both of you. There’s a good chance this will even make me appreciate you more.
2500+ words later….
HINEI ANI BAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!! (Here I come!)