Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Green Lines and Grey Areas

Shachar May, 22 years old, raised in New Jersey, is a current participant on Tikkun Olam's spring semester coexistence track. Shachar is spending her time on the program volunteering at Gesher Clinic, a psychiatric clinic for asylum seekers and other persons without status in Israel, Porter Center Elderly day center, where she is leading an art class, and Etty Hillelsum Israeli Youth Theater. 

“Liminal” is a favorite word of mine.  Coming from the Latin “limen,” meaning “threshold”, the word originated to describe a person’s state while they are in the midst of a transformative ritual – the in-between state where they are neither here nor there. These days, it’s an esoteric term used in anthropology and gender studies to describe people who are “betwixt and between” – people who have fallen through the cracks of society and are neither insiders nor outsiders.

As a half-Israeli, half-American, the best word I have for my identity is “liminal”. Growing up, we visited my mother’s family in Israel every year. I half understood the language. I was half familiar with the culture. Coming to Shabbat dinner with my entire extended family feels half like a tourist visit and half like a homecoming. In the States, I introduced myself with my last name, “May”, for almost 5 years to avoid having to explain the pronunciation of my first name. In the social-justice oriented circles I lived and worked in, pro-Israeli stances were unpopular. I resented the time I had spent in Jewish day school because I felt that I had only received biased information. I saw that my upbringing was secluded and lacked diversity.
I often fielded questions about Israeli conflict and culture from non-Jewish friends, and my answers were always ambivalent. I lived with a dual identity in a double-reality. I didn’t know how I felt. I felt that being Israeli was incredibly important to me, but the more I read about the political realities the less I agreed with my country’s actions.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Tom Albert, age 25, born in Israel and raised in California, is a current 10-month participant on Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. During her time on the program Tom is interning at Latet, Israeli Humanitarian Aid Organization, providing assistance to population groups in distress. 

Never in a million years did I think I'd end up living in Israel again. I mean, I was born here, and all my extended family still lives here, but I grew up and was raised in the states.  Sure, I'd visit every summer and enjoy my time here.  Every day would be so packed- breakfast with one family, lunch with the cousins, and dinner at grandparents. Lather, rinse, repeat until the month was over and we'd fly back home.

Home. It's such a complicated word for me. I remember when it was time to leave Israel to fly back to California, our families would take us to the old airport, before the Ben Gurion Airport was built, and they'd stay with us as we checked in. In that old airport, the check in counters where on the bottom floor, and to get to security, passengers would need to go upstairs. I remember riding that escalator up, crying as I waved goodbye to my Israeli family. I grew to intensely dislike that escalator, and dreaded it every time we left Israel. We were leaving one home to go to another. I hated leaving but I loved coming back.

Over the years I had come to terms with the fact that my family life was different than most. My friends got to visit their grandparents on the weekends and were best friends with their cousins.  I saw my grandparents once a year, and as I grew older, knew less and less about the lives of my cousins. Despite this, I still had such a strong connection to my Israeli family. But I accepted the fact that I would carry out my life across the world from them.

That is, until my parents decided to move back to Israel. After 18 years in the states, they decided it was time to return home, to be close to the ones they love. This move was very difficult for me and I knew that it would change a lot. I was still in graduate school, and did not see Israel as a destination spot in my future.

However, sometimes life has a tendency to surprise you.  The first time I visited my family's new home, in Israel, after 5 months of not seeing my parents or brothers, I felt a connection to Israel that I hadn't in all the years past that I visited. It didn't feel like a visit anymore, it felt like this was where I belonged. Immediately after my visit I decided to look into different programs and options that would get me to Israel.  I wanted to discover if I could actually see myself living in Israel for…ever? I couldn't wait to explore this country, one that I had always called home yet also always felt like a foreigner. I couldn't wait to live near my family again and be able to spend Shabbat dinner with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

It has been 8 months since I moved to Israel. During this time I made Israeli friends, danced at Israeli clubs, visited my grandparents on the weekend, met my new baby cousin, and (re)connected with my Jewish identity. Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa gave me the structure I needed, and introduced to my life new best friends from all over the world. Living in Israel has given me the opportunity to spend time with my family, be there when my middle brother got drafted to the Air Force, watch the Superbowl with my dad and little brother, and attend my mom's daycare holiday party. I get to strengthen the relationships with my cousins, aunts and uncles that I missed out on for 19 years.

I am not ready to leave Israel once Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa ends. I have decided to stay, for now. However, I miss America. The culture I relate to, the food I love most, the hobbies I enjoy are all mostly American. My best friends and college memories are in the states. No matter where I am, I will be missing an important part of my life. But I'd like to think that my connections are strong enough to withstand space and time.

 They say that home is where the heart is, but what happens when your heart resides in more than one place? I'd like to say that it means I'm pretty darn lucky to have my heart be filled with so many people and so much love. If my hardest challenge in life is that I have too many loving people in my life who live far away from each other, then I think I'm one of the luckiest people in the world.