It's been two years, as of today... February 9th, since I stepped off that El Al flight into Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv. Two years since that completely anti-climatic first day as an Israeli citizen. "Here you are, Miss Neal. It's your Teudat Oleh (new immigrant card). You're now an Israeli citizen," the woman said in a 'matter-of-fact' way.
There was no one dramatically kissing the ground like I was told there would be, blessing the holy ground of Israel. Although my dad said they did on his trip to Israel, no one sang "Hatikvah" (Israeli national anthem) as the plane landed. I was 29 years old and traveling alone, moving alone to the other side of the planet. As if some sort of Divine tweezers picked me up out of Bakersfield, California and plopped me down in a West Bank village in Israel. Now, two years later, I find myself sitting in my cousin's living room listening to friends and family play music.
It's in moments like these, when I find myself lost in the beat of gypsy jazz, Israeli folk songs, and classic rock that I take account of both my blessings and how much my life has changed. In my cousin's living room with people who less than three years ago I didn't know at all, I feel at home. The wood burning stove and peach colored couches fill me with familiarity and a sense of belonging. The roughly 20 neighbors and friends all crowed into the living room singing along creates a feeling of intimacy and love.
"L'chaiim!" To life. Another round of shots are poured as toasts are made to a new week, a good week, a week of peace. May gladness rain, and joy increase.
This picture, this love filled living room reminds me of why I picked this place to live. My yishuv (village) is a mixed community of religious and non-religious Jews; Ashkenazim (those of European decent) and Sephardim (those of Middle Eastern decent); French, Russian, North American, and Australian Jews; Israelis of several generations and new immigrants. The common factor is a love of Israel: Zionism. My kippah (skull cap) wearing tarbuka playing friend sitting near my secular guitar playing cousin illuminates some of the many reasons I choose to live in a "settlement".
I never knew how lost I was. I never knew how much I longed for a Jewish community. I never knew how badly I wanted to forge a new life. It's impossible to know how lost you are until you are found. It's impossible to know what was missing in life, until that void has been filled. It's impossible to know how desperate my need was for a drastic change until I made one. Now, to the beat of tarbukah (African drums) and the melodies of the piano, guitar, violin, mandolin, and harp... I am found. Now, as I sit together with new friends and family I know that this is where I'm meant to be. That Ha'Shem had a plan for me all along.
Although I think some people in America think I've gone crazy, I know the truth. They watch gruesome news articles depicting zealous hill top settlers, toting guns, at war with Arab neighbors. That must be where they think I've moved. To some remote desert outpost, plotting the demise of everyone who doesn't think like me, act like me, pray like me. As the music continues to play, I laugh to myself. They don't see what I see. They don't know what I know. Yes, now I live in the desert on the other side of the "green line" in a small community in Judea, called Tekoa. I live simply and peacefully with new neighbors and friends.
As I sit together with friends in this room so far away from what I called home I flash back to what my life used to be. Fancy cars, meeting celebrities and wearing high heels feels like a whole other life time ago. Hitch hiking, wiping runny noses and sensible walking shoes is my new life. My life has transformed from discussions over the latest trend or celebrity sighting to talks about the peace process and where I am finding myself "religiously".
Now, after spending the majority of the last few years in Israel, I find myself on a path of religious, spiritual and political exploration and enlightenment. Although I'm still figuring it all out for myself I know that in a country of every type of Jew I could ever think of I can find what is right for me. I feel as though it is our obligation as human beings, not just Jews, to find truth. Truth, meaning and enlightenment for ourselves, not for anyone else... just for us as individuals. I think it's enormously important to ask questions and find purpose in our lives. To find a place within ourselves for openness and acceptance. A place of love, peace and harmony even if it means moving to the other side of the world to do it.
As we enter the Hebrew month of Adar we should remember that this is the month of happiness and joy. I bless you all to find as much as I have of both in the coming month!