407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

When I come to Israel, I usually end up writing a lot and posting my thoughts, impressions, and the impact being in Israel has on me.  Arriving Thursday night, I haven’t written and it’s now Sunday.  A big part of that delay is that after the past 2+ years, I needed to have a chance to just decompress.  I came to Israel a few days before my formal trip began to do just that.  I picked a hotel that I love in Tel Aviv, centrally located, where I can walk everywhere.  And for the past few days, I have simply been.  I had nowhere to go, nobody to be responsible to, and no expectations.  It was the end of Passover and Shabbat, so there truly were no stresses.  And I got to decompress some.  Now that I have had some time to just be, I feel compelled to write.

Flying overnight from JFK to Ben Gurion is always a great flight.  I’m tired from the day, so I end up sleeping a good portion of the 11-hour flight.  This time, I sat next to a wonderful elderly couple.  She was born and raised in Tel Aviv.  He was born and raised in Austin, Texas.  They lived in Tel Aviv for years and for the past decade have been back in Austin.  We talked about Tel Aviv, Austin, and enjoyed each other’s company.  How often does that happen on flight?  Usually, you can’t wait to get off and leave whoever you were stuck sitting next to.  We only spent 11 hours together (5 of which I slept) yet I already miss my new friends.

Arriving in Tel Aviv, it was difficult getting a cab.  The airport was busy, my ‘Gett’ (Israeli Uber) canceled on me and I couldn’t find another one.  Finally, I found an exchange student at Tel Aviv University who shared his cab with me.  A 19-year-old from the Flatbush Yeshiva spending two years at Tel Aviv University studying computer science and a 54-year-old JCC and Federation exec had a great conversation as we drove.  It is the essence of Jewish community—different and yet similar.  I Venmoed him my half of the cab fare and again had a new friend.  After checking in, I took a much needed shower and went across the street for dinner before climbing into bed and getting a good night’s sleep.

Friday was my Israeli breakfast (truly the best meal anywhere) and off to the beach.  Unfortunately, most things were closed due to the last days of Passover, but the beach certainly wasn’t.  I grabbed a chair (16 shekels or $5—a bargain) and enjoyed the view of the Mediterranean Sea, feet in the sand, and a quiet and peaceful morning.  People started showing up around 11 and it got hectic with families, children, and fun in the water.  It was such a pleasure to lay back and watch.  I put on some Grateful Dead and enjoyed just being in Israel.  People took out the lunches they packed—matzoh of course because it’s Passover!

I smiled, because where else would you see a beach filled with people enjoying themselves and eating matzah, if not Israel?

Around 3 p.m., the beach emptied as people wanted to get home for Shabbat.  I walked back to the hotel, enjoying the vibe of Tel Aviv and Israel.  A shower and nap and then it was time for dinner.  I found a well-regarded Thai restaurant about 20 minutes from my hotel, so off I went.  Israel has been in the news this month for the violent attacks by terrorists and it’s easy to wonder why I would walk alone, in the dark, around Tel Aviv, to get to a restaurant I’ve never been to.  I learned on my first trip to Israel in 1989 that while the news reporting about Israel may be factual, it often isn’t accurate.  Yes, there were terrorists killing people here, however we saw the same thing this month in the USA (Brooklyn, Washington DC, even Miami when we were there for a conference).  I always feel safe in Israel, and this is no different now.  So I walked, in the dark, to find the restaurant.  When I got there, it was packed!  No space and no more reservations.  The host told me he would try to squeeze me in but it may take a while.  About an hour later, I had a table and the food was amazing.  I was so happy to have the 25-minute walk home afterwards, because I was so full!

Yesterday was Shabbat, so I took it easy.  Slept in, had breakfast, and sat on the hotel’s amazing balcony to enjoy the weather.  Other guests joined me there and we wished each other Shabbat Shalom.  It was restful and relaxing.  Walked to get lunch and dinner, but most of the day was spent on the balcony enjoying the sun, the breeze, and simply being in Israel.

Today promises to be filled with some new wonders and new experiences.  I have my first true Israeli Mimouna in Jerusalem that a friend invited me to.  The Shuk HaCarmel is open (finally) to walk and do some shopping.  Jaffa, another 25-minute walk, could be another option.  It’s one of the things I love about Israel – there is never a shortage of things to do, places to explore, or people to meet. Tomorrow afternoon or early evening, the trip I came here for begins and I’m so excited to spend the next 11 days with my JCC cohorts in exploration of Israel, of ourselves, and our mission and passion.

A Mimouna to remember…

…with dear friends!

For those of you who have never been to Israel, COME.  For those of you that have, COME BACK.  It is truly a unique place that can never be fully explained and can only be experienced.