Living in a foreign country for 6 months is something I am fortunate enough to have done more than once.  I studied abroad in Nice, France two years ago; the program was small, the town was small, and I often found myself wishing I had instead moved to Paris, where my best friend was studying.  Looking back on my taste of la vie francaise I realize where I went wrong; I stopped noticing the little things.  I didn’t spend enough afternoons sipping cappucinoes at the beach-side cafes, I stopped searching for quiet streets to walk through, and I didn’t eat enough wheels of Camembert and Brie (okay, that’s probably a lie).

My life in Israel is, among other things, another chance to find that which I missed in France.  Sometimes it is difficult to notice the little things in Tel Aviv; it’s a huge, dirty, crowded, loud city.  However, I’m determined to pay attention and although it makes me feel like a cheesy, over-dramatic tourist, lately I’ve been stopping to let things sink in.

During my parents’ visit to Israel last week, I took them to a small and inexpensive restaurant, Odelia’s, down the street from my apartment.  The place literally defines no-frills food, although most Israeli cuisine would fit into this category.  The menu is small and the only reason the prices vary is because the items are offered in three different sizes; but incredibly enough, the most expensive dish is around 10 USD.  In my opinion, Odelia’s has the best hummus, and everything tastes exactly as it would if it was served up by a grandmother in a babushka.  Lately, they’ve been offering tea or coffee on the house.  Neither of these are standard; the tea is simply a cup of hot water filled with fresh mint leaves and the coffee is made from a thick and grainy sand that sits at the bottom of the cup.  At the end of my meals at Odelia’s, I feel absolutely fine handing over 10USD for a bowl of fresh hummus, vegetable soup, and warm pita.  The best part? They blast 90’s pop songs from the speakers.

Last night I went to the house party of a friend of a friend’s who had just been released from the army.  All of the guys there had been friends since high school, but as is common in the army, they had been separated for 3 years in different army units.  The party was in the backyard of the house where a couple of light-bulbs hung from tree trunks and there was a string of tattered and dirty Israeli flags around the chairs.  I’m not saying that it’s uncommon that a group of friends would get together to celebrate such an event in the States.  But watching them grill meat together in the backyard of a run-down house and talk about their upcoming two-month trip to Thailand made me envious of their contentment.  There’s no doubt that life is hard in Israel, but everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, no matter how little they have.

Today I spent my time picnicking at Park HaYarkon.  Because it was Saturday, the park was filled with families.  By sunset, several of them had set up picnic tables with dinner and were beginning to eat by the light of a candle.  I watched several fathers with their children; one was teaching his son to ride a bike and was jogging alongside and letting go of him every few seconds.  Another was playing basketball with his son.  Near the end of the park I came across a father who was lying in the grass with one of his daughters and singing; his other daughter was next to them in a wheelchair and was clapping and laughing along with the melody.  All of this was taking place around the Yarkon River which is  extremely unsafe and polluted; literally, if you were to swim in the Yarkon you would end up in a hospital.

What I’m trying to say is that Israel is a country facing an array of serious problems and conflict, but everyone around me seems to be finding happiness in the little things in life; or maybe I’m just getting better at noticing them the second time around?

Park HaYarkon

Tel Aviv

September 3, 2010

View of Tel Aviv from the walk to Jaffa.

I am writing from my apartment, 4 floors above Ben Yehuda, a centrally located street filled with boutiques, sushi bars, organic cafes, and the occasional falafel stand; all of this just two blocks from the sprawling Mediterranean beaches.  The past three days have been a combination of euphoria, disbelief, and an overwhelming desire to explore all of my surroundings.

It is nearly impossible not to feel at home; aside from a brief moment of stomach churning realization (I’m thousands of miles from home and can’t understand a word of Hebrew!), the city has already transitioned into a constant source of comfort and contentment in my mind.

Often times Israel and its people are compared to Sabra, a cactus fruit; it is spiky on the outside and contains a watermelon-like, sweet inside.  I have to disagree with this metaphor; sure, Israelis are a straightforward, no BS people.  But this exterior is hardly unpleasant and becomes immediately irrelevant in any one-on-one conversation.  On our first night in Tel Aviv, a waitress literally sat down and talked with us through our meal, leaving us her name and number in the hopes that she could help us adjust to the country and perhaps show us the best bars in town.  Since then we’ve met Israelis anywhere and everywhere, and each time they are beyond eager to hear about our program, our lives, and share in our experiences.  Here, a dinner invitation to one’s home is genuine and an offer to meet for coffee is a legitimate addition to one’s calendar.

I am surrounded by incredible scenery, unparalleled history, and generous people; I can’t imagine a better place to be spending the next five months (and maybe more!).