It took some effort for everyone to drag themselves out of bed on our last day in Israel, but since we went from relaxing at the hotel straight to relaxing in the Mediterranean, there weren’t any complaints. For the sleepier among us,1 it was almost like waking up at the beach. After an hour or so, we drove to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where we watched a movie and listened to a history lecture.
Next, in the department of ill-distributed free time, we were given two and a half hours to wander the Tel Aviv shuk, lackluster compared to Jerusalem’s. I teamed up with one of the Hannahs2 and I’m pretty sure we explored every street in a two-mile radius. I was searching for a Tel Aviv patch, which apparently doesn’t exist.3 We did, however, find a couple of beautiful nurseries filled with succulents I wanted to smuggle home,4 fresh fruit smoothies,5 a thrift store, a cactus tree, and a very friendly shopkeeper selling collectible coins, who insisted that we both move to Israel and find Jewish husbands.
We could have done a lot of really exciting things next, I suppose. We could have wrestled sharks, eaten rare delicacies, or crammed in five more historical sites. Instead, we walked to an oceanside park and sat on a hill for an hour, waiting for a tardy Birthright representative. Had this been earlier in the trip, no doubt we would have been forced to endure yet another summer camp-style game or ten more multisyllabic Hebrew words for simple things like “hot” or “bathroom”. But at this point, I think Mollie and Jake were done. It was our last day, they’d kept us all alive and out of trouble, and tonight they’d deposit us at the airport and their job would be over.
For once, we entertained ourselves. We chatted, yoga’d, looked out at the ocean, picked burrs off of our clothes, and wondered how long it would be till dinner. Eventually the Birthright lady showed up, gave us a pitch about returning to Israel on a volunteer program (you pay to work for free in Israel), and left much more quickly than she’d arrived. We had one final feelings circle, during which even I shared some feelings,6 and then we were off to dinner, pausing for glimpses of a breathtaking sunset as we hurried to the restaurant.
Shakshouka. Everyone was excited about shakshouka for dinner, even Jake and Mollie, who lead these trips all the time. We sat at enormous tables7 in the restaurant’s courtyard as an impressive spread was laid out before us. I almost laughed when I saw the famed shakshouka. It was something I’d eaten dozens of times in Morocco. Like many of the most famous Israeli dishes,8 it had been poached from Arab cuisine. It was still the best meal of our trip, though, and we all ate until we weren’t sure if we would be walking or rolling to the bus.9 The bus whisked us to the airport, where our group split up for the first time in ten days. About a third had decided to extend their trips.10 There were hugs, second hugs, third hugs, and some tears.
At the beginning of the trip, Jake and Mollie had referred to the group as “family”, prompting a few eye rolls,11 but by the end we really did feel like family. When the Israelis left, our family felt like it was beginning to break apart, but saying goodbye to even more of our group at the airport was the final blow. For days afterward, I would wake up in the morning and look around for my roommates. I’d wonder what Dima had planned for us and if I’d have to eat salad for breakfast. I obsessively checked the Facebook group to see who’d posted photos of the trip. The next week, we began planning a reunion. I started writing these blog posts.
I know everyone wants to believe they’re unique little snowflakes,12 but when Jake, Mollie, and Dima told us that our group was special, we all believed them. Everyone had been enthusiastic, accepting, drama-free (as far as I know), and incredibly supportive of anyone who needed a little extra. Before the trip, I’d been hoping that I would have a great experience in spite of the group. Now I realize that I had a great experience because of the group. Because of Hannah and Hannah, my wonderful roommates.13 Because of Dove, my first friend on a bus full of strangers. Because of Sonya and her contagious laugh. Because of Ben, who ties indestructible bows. Because of Megan, who made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Because of Seth, guitar seeker and cat lover. Because of Dima, whose voice I still miss when I’m planning my day. Because of Rachel, even though it took me till the last day to realize she was the funniest person on the trip. Because of Guy, who survived my museum antics. Because of Jake and Mollie’s infinite patience. Because of Yotam, who kept us safe and kept us thinking. Because of Orel’s music and Moran’s voice, whether in poetry or song. Because of Jeffrey and the circle of trust. Because of Allison and Sarah, who were the opposite of what I expected. Because of Andrew’s toes and the other Andrew’s long-suffering taste buds. Because of Shiran’s tushie. Because of Derek, my photography partner in crime. Because of the tall girls, the Utah kids, the sorority pair. Because of Alex, who was full of surprises. Because of other Hannah, whose Morocco was Vietnam. Because of Boris, who always had time for cats and smiles. Because of everyone who laughed at my jokes, however inappropriate.
I’m not a sentimental person. I can easily imagine seeing Israel without you guys. It would have been quieter, more efficient. I’d have spent all my time in museums and historic cities, camera and notebook for company. I would have walked up Masada an hour in advance and slept a full eight hours every night. It would have been peaceful, organized, meditative.
But I wouldn’t have had you.
- Okay, me. [↩]
- Did I ever mention that there were five? [↩]
- I collect patches from every foreign city I visit and sew them onto my bag. Though they’re never easy to find, this is the first time I’ve experienced patch failure. [↩]
- I didn’t, for once. [↩]
- The smoothie guy was incredulous when Hannah explained that she didn’t want any sugar added. It’s still mystifying to me why anyone would add sugar to fruit. [↩]
- Along the lines of “I thought you were all going to be horrible young people, but now I actually kind of like you.” [↩]
- Our group still took up three. [↩]
- Hummus, falafel, za’atar, harissa… [↩]
- If you’re ever in Tangier, the women at Darna make this even better than the Israelis. Sorry, guys. [↩]
- For the cost of changing your return ticket, you can stay in Israel a few days–or weeks–longer. I didn’t do this because I had to rush to my sister’s college graduation that weekend. [↩]
- Okay, they were all me. [↩]
- True story: an ex once told me that I wasn’t a unique snowflake, but rather a hard, cold icicle. And that was before we broke up. [↩]
- I’ve barely mentioned my roommates, but they were one of the highlights of my trip. They kept me sane when I’d had too much people time, they listened to my endless stories, reminded me to go to bed, and elevated brushing teeth to an art form. [↩]