As I mentioned in a previous posting, once we got things settled here, I went through a few yucky days where all I wanted to do is go home. Since that time, I have found more meaningful ways to fill my time, so the number of yucky days has pretty much disappeared. Don’t get me wrong, at least once a day I tell Adam that I want to go home (either immediately or when our 20 months is up), but for the most part, I feel like I am going to be happy here during the duration of our stay, as long as things don’t continue to implode.
My mopey days weren’t completely unproductive. During that time, I thought about what we went through to get here and remembered that everyone I talked to kept telling me that this is such an amazing opportunity for us, that we are so lucky to be able to have this type of adventure, etc. Why though? At that point in our time here, we were doing exactly the same thing that we would do in West Hartford, except I was bored, homesick, and feeling overwhelmed with the language. So why did we come to Israel? How is it different here than at home?
I mentioned my concerns to Adam, and we realized that we had to consciously choose to take advantage of the fact that we are in a different country. Otherwise, it would be a wasted opportunity. We decided that once a month we would visit some place new to see things we wouldn’t be able to see back home. For November, we decided on Tel Aviv. Why? Adam was asked to participate on a panel for the United States-Israel Educational Foundation (USIEF), who is the organization that runs the Fulbright Program here in Israel. The USIEF has an EducationUSA center which helps students in Israel explore post-secondary educational opportunities in the United States. The panel discussion that Adam was a part of was for students interested in doing a graduate program in mathematics or science. Three other Fulbright members were also on the panel.
The panel discussion started at 6 p.m., so Adam thought this would be a great opportunity to explore Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv also has the added benefit of being the workplace of Adam’s cousin, Nancy. Nancy has lived in Israel for many years, so Adam only had the opportunity to spend time with her twice before this visit, and I had only met her once. Hence, we thought it would be great to use this visit to Tel Aviv as a way to catch up with her. We met her near the yoga studio where she works which is right on the water. We got to see the yoga studio itself and a chance to take in the beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea before we sat down to lunch at a restaurant nearby. It was a delicious meal with excellent conversation! We walked a little bit around the harbor area until Nancy had to head home. Then Adam and I continued on to the beach.
The beach we went to wasn’t that big, but it was all that we needed. Adam and I just wanted a chance to feel the sand and touch the water. The sand itself was extremely fine, and it was littered with beautiful seashells, a few of which I took home as souvenirs. I hope to turn one of them into a necklace. Then, just like on our honeymoon, Adam removed his shoes so that I could take a picture of him putting his feet in a new body of water. He found the Mediterranean refreshing and much warmer than the Pacific Ocean. I wasn’t wearing the appropriate footwear to join him. We will just have to go back I guess. 🙂
After this mini-exploration, we decided to make our way toward Ben Yehuda Street where the USIEF office is located. It was still very early, so we walked slowly so that we could appreciate the area. It was nice watching the waves hit the side of the boardwalk and to feel the sprinkle of water as they splash up onto our faces. It was also very cool to see the people fishing. The ocean air was refreshing and the atmosphere of the whole scene was calming. It was so easy to forget that you were in a city.
We found Ben Yehuda Street rather easily and began to walk toward where we had to go. Ben Yehuda Street is very long and we had to go all the way to the other end. We walked slowly getting a chance to look at the different stores and restaurants that lined the street. We stopped at a small grocery store to pick up some water and a small snack for the ride home. As we continued our way down Ben Yehuda, it slowly got darker as sunset approached. We both regretted not staying on the beach longer to watch the sun set over the sea. After walking a little bit further we came to a side street from which we could see the sun setting. We quickly turned and followed the street which led us down to a much larger beach. Adam and I quickly took pictures of the sinking sun from a parking lot because if we waited any longer we would miss it. Even after it was gone, the sky was painted with beautiful oranges and reds. We continued down to the beach where we walked for a little while. Once again, the sounds and smells of the ocean made us feel calm and peaceful.
When it was time, we made our way back to Ben Yehuda Street. We arrived at the building a little earlier than we wanted so we continued on a little further, heading back toward the beach. We found a gigantic fountain, which felt oddly placed in a country that has a water crisis. It was pretty though, so we sat by it for a few minutes. Then we made our way back to the building. We were the first to arrive at the USIEF office.
People slowly arrived and the room really filled up. It was exciting to see so many students interested in coming to America to learn. Adam and the other panelists (Adam S., Jessica, and Carol) began to answer questions put forth by the moderator. Each panelist had a lot to say and everyone spoke well. About 45 minutes into the discussion, just as Adam was beginning to say something, the air raid siren went off! It took a second for everyone to process what was going on. Then everyone got up and walked down the hallway to the stairwell. I have to admit I was pretty scared as were a few of the other panelists. The students seemed pretty calm, and we just followed their lead. When we got to the stairwell, I heard two large “booms” a few seconds apart. We waited in the stairwell for a few minutes longer until someone received a text that everything was all clear. While we waited we chatted with a few people around us. One of the students told us that he was from Be’er Sheva, which had been bombarded with rockets for the past few days. He had planned to stay the night in Tel Aviv to escape the sirens, which was ironic.
When we returned to the USIEF office, we picked up where we left off, literally. They had Adam finish his thought, and they continued with the discussion. It may seem weird that we didn’t stop to talk about what happened, but if you think about it, why should we? What is there to say? Also, returning to the discussion helped relieve the tension that the attack had caused. About 15 minutes into the renewed discussion I was able to forget about it. It all returned when we got home, but at least for a little bit, I didn’t have to focus on it.
The panel discussion finished up and some of the students remained after to ask questions of the panelists individually. We left and were given a ride home to Jerusalem which was nice. It was really good to be surrounded by people that we knew. When we returned to Jerusalem, we decided to grab something to eat with Adam. He took us to the famous Shuk (more formally Mahane Yehuda), a place that has amazing food and amazing prices which I have avoided thus far because it is extremely busy area that is not especially good for someone like me who gets “people claustrophobic.” At 10 pm, it is wonderfully empty! We quickly walked to this tiny sandwich shop that specializes in roast beef. The guy cooked the roast beef while we waited and put it on rolls that were freshly baked from another store in the Shuk. The sandwich was so good! And it only cost 29 ILS (about $7.35)! We had a really great time!
After we finished, Adam S. headed to his apartment while Adam and I walked home. It is a little bit of a walk but it was a nice night. The walk gave us a chance to reflect on the day, especially the panel discussion and the attack. When we got home, we had to inform our parents about what was happening.
In the end, we had a really good day. I wish I could just ignore those 5 minutes, but the reality is that something like that really shakes you. Even now, when I hear a siren, I stop to listen to see what kind it is and the sound of a door slamming makes me jump a bit because that is what the “booms” sounded like. It will just take time for that to go away. We have not experienced another siren since this excursion since we were with friends in Ra’anana when the siren went off in Jerusalem. We hope that in the near future there will not be any need for these sirens anywhere in Israel. Until then, we are staying aware, being prepared, and living our lives.
Until next time…
Pictures from all points during the day. The first one is a reminder that no matter what, you should be happy. And yes, that is a pigeon. They have them here too! The last one is the only one I have from the discussion. Sorry that it is blurry!