Savory and Sweet: My Experiences Living in Israel By Shira Lobron, TRY 2023
Pictured above (left to right): Madrich Eytan Layman, Maayan Bromberg-Seltzer, Delia Saft, Lily Green, Leo Winston, Isaac Shertzer, and Shira Lobron
Back home, my favorite snack is peanut butter and apples. The savory peanut butter fulfills my protein quota while the apple provides the sweetness, crispness, and fiber. On TRY (Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim), however, the shekels in my wallet and the space in the fridge are limited, so I can get only peanut butter on a regular basis. Life away from home is full of compromises. I sleep in a comfortable bed, but it’s a different size. I have a shower, but I use Israeli products. I sleep, go to school, and eat, but I do so in Israel.
Israel, which is supposed to be my home and the home of all Jewish people, often feels unnatural and unfamiliar. But, that’s not always the case. Last Saturday, we had the opportunity to choose a synagogue to go to for Shabbat morning services. I was assigned to go to Tzion, a Conservative partnership minyan, with about 10 other kids and a madricha (counselor). Because it was Shabbat, we were not able to go on Google Maps and we got pretty lost. Back home, I know the route to shul (synagogue) like the back of my hand, so it was a new experience to be lost. Luckily, a kind woman noticed the huge pack of confused looking English speakers and directed us to the shul.
When we arrived, we were still a little confused. Instead of a traditional North American shul, the minyan was located in a school building. We double checked the address, then we hesitantly walked past the lobby and into the gym and sat down as a group. At first, I felt very out of place. The service was being conducted in Hebrew, I was in a school gym instead of my sanctuary back home, and all the faces besides the ones of people from TRY were unfamiliar. But when we reached the Shema, the most critical prayer there is in Judaism, I felt something change. When we were all reciting it together, it hit me just how united we are as Jews. I could be in a completely new space and country, but the Jewish community surrounding me would be the same. In Israel, this idea is even more apparent. Nowhere else could I say “Shabbat Shalom” to anyone on the street or hear the same language as in the prayers surrounding me everywhere I go.
Within the community of the shul, upon a closer look, there actually was a familiar face: my former counselor Aaron, who also happened to be a TRY madrich last year. At first, I wasn’t actually sure if it was him, but he recognized me and made his way over. We caught up for a little bit, chatting about TRY and the experience so far, and to close, he let me know that he is available if I need any sort of help or a host for Shabbat. One of the important values of the Jewish people is ‘welcoming the stranger,’ and I could not have felt more welcomed or supported. Everyone in Israel is there to help each other and this was the perfect example.
Even the Rabbi, who none of us had met before, made us feel welcomed by asking us if we would like an aliyah. This was a huge honor, so we naturally accepted with enthusiasm. When we finished saying the blessing, the Rabbi blessed us as well, wishing us luck on our adventure. When I first think of Israelis, I often think impatient and mean. Yet, in reality, the support, welcoming, and love that Israelis show are unparalleled.
Even though living in Israel has been a huge adjustment, I know the other students on TRY, the staff, and the people of Israel have my back. There will be moments when peanut butter and apples are available, only peanut butter, or sometimes neither will be accessible.
Sometimes everything feels new and strange, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, it can be beautiful, too.