Monday, June 24, 2013

The Longest Goodbye in the World

OTZMA is over.

It's hard to think about, let alone type that and see it there in black and white.

It's also really, really hard to believe. For more than a year now, June 23rd was a fictional date in the future when OTZMA would end and I would go home to my friends and family in Syracuse. Today is June 24th. That fictional date in the future is now in the past. "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" has been my mantra the last few days. But there have still been quite a few tears. I compared it to leaving CSL at the end of the summer....except longer and you know everyone won't be back next June. And then I cried again. I never could have imagined I make the kind of friends that I made this year.

The thing is, this year was really special. I could go on and on about our tiyul, our staff, the group, whatever, but I won't. I think what happened at Havdallah on Saturday night was the most perfect closing moment, and no one could have planned it if they tried. It's just the most perfect example of the cohesiveness this of this group of people. As the sun went down on Saturday and gave way to a full moon shining on the Kinneret, I tried to light the Havdallah candle. But it was windy. Too windy to light by myself. Aurel came over to help. Aimee stepped in to block the wind. We worked together to light multiple matches at the same time while blocking the wind. No go. A few more people came over to help. We struck the last match. Nothing. We could have given up. We could have done Havdallah without a candle. But it was definitely worth one last try. A perfect analogy to this year, we literally bonded together against the wind, tightening our circle enough to block the wind. As the 9 wicks on the candle caught fire, everyone's voices got louder and joined together. If we started to separate, the candle would flicker. Standing in the middle of that circle with the candle held high, I felt so incredibly loved. Maybe you had to be there, but it just felt so amazing to have so many people around you that truly care about you, celebrating the change from Shabbat to the rest of the week, from a year on OTZMA to whatever comes next. OTZMA 27, it was a heck of a way to go out. So much love for every single one of you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


As I sit in my office in Jerusalem (I just like typing that), I can’t help but think about how to make the absolute most of this last month on OTZMA. About how to soak it in and take every opportunity make memories with this incredible group of people. I meant to write about the future – about next year, about the things I want to share with my participants  and the things I want to take advantage of before I really start working. But then I realized that in order to accurately look ahead, I needed to reflect on the memories first.

Merc Roomies - we barely knew each other!
I’ve learned a lot this year. I learned about myself, my friends and my family. I learned about Israel – its people, its places, its cultures and its quirks. I felt its troubles and I rejoiced in its happiness. I learned some Hebrew (and now I’m learning more), tried new foods and pushed myself to do things I never thought I would. But the biggest lesson I might have learned is that 10 months in Israel can be at the same time the longest and shortest 10 months of your life.

Turning 25 on the beach!
Today marks 9 months to the day since I said goodbye to my family and walked through security at Newark Airport into the unknown with a group of strangers. From my vantage point in Jerusalem, I can look back over the past 9 months and say, “Damn, where did the time go?” And I look forward with a slight sense of dread because I know how fast this last month will go. (Also because I don’t even know where I’m going to be sleeping the night of June 23.) But I can also appreciate the incredible wealth of experiences that this year has given me and when I look back on events from the beginning of the year or even my parents’ visit in March I can say, “That feels like so long ago!”
I’ve been a part of a lot of groups in my life. Countless sports teams, school clubs, the trips I’ve staffed, etc. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING can come close to touching my OTZMA experience. Not with a 10-foot pole. It’s not even a little bit of a stretch to say that it changed my life. Just a few short months ago I thought I would head back to the States and get a Masters in Physical Education. But now, as my friends begin to pack up and look for jobs back home, here I am, employed (well, hired), about to become an Israeli citizen and playing on Israel’s National Lacrosse team. This year has been a series of amazing gifts, and now I’ve been given one more – the chance to pass this gift on to another group of OTZMAnikim.

Literally obsessed with each other - and OTZMA
But while the job is nice (and I can’t wait to start working for this incredible organization), I think the biggest thing I will take away from this experience are the people and the relationships.  Day in and day out I’m surrounded by people who love me, care about me and are constantly inflating my ego (thanks Aimee and Sara). There’s always someone to eat dinner with (hi #JeruCrew) and the sense of community is just incredible. Second to none. Sha-pot lucks for life. I can’t wait to share these traditions with others and incorporate my OTZMA traditions into what ever community I may join next (or in 10 years). It is absolutely what inspired me to change careers and find a job in the Jewish community. 
Good roomies make everything better

We joke about how we all drank the OTZMA Kool-aid from day one. That’s not an exaggeration.  Whether we expected it, were taken completely by surprise, tried to avoid it or embraced it with open arms, OTZMA has gotten under our skin. They call it the ultimate real life experience. But doesn't that imply that it's not actually real life? Because if this isn't real, then I must be dreaming. And if I'm dreaming, please let me sleep a little longer. But actually don’t. Because I don’t want to miss a minute. I can't wait to see what the next month, and the next year, will bring.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Shabbat Shalom :) In the spirit of trying to blog more, I thought I'd fill out this fun little quiz I saw on one of the fitness blogs I read.
Image from

Current Book: "The Alchemist" by Paul Coelho

My sister recommended this to me a few weeks ago and as soon as I finished my last book (Again to Carthage, John L. Parker) I picked it up and have been flying through it. It has a lot to do with chasing your dreams. I read a passage today about how you have your whole life to accomplish your personal mission (I'm paraphrasing) but as you get older it becomes less and less likely that you are going to follow your dreams. It really resonated with me since that's precisely what I'm doing right now - quit my job and followed my dream (living in Israel). It's also exactly what I spent time convincing a bunch of unsuspecting Birthrighters to do last Monday :)

Current Music: It's not music, but I've had my headphones in constantly - every chance I get I'm listening to the Pimsleur Language Program....trying to get in as much Hebrew practice as possible. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to learn a language. I would have been the first to tell you I'm not an auditory learner, but this is working!

Current Guilty Pleasure: Hmm. Not sure on this one, but I just bought some ingredients to make Oatmeal Raisin once those are baked that will be it for sure!

Current Nail Color: The most ahh-mazing shade of slightly sparkly pale gold. I'm obsessed. Snagged the color at the store on Sunday night, painted my nails as soon as I got home, and the color has yet to chip...a miracle! This 9 shekel nail polish has lasted longer than any manicure I've ever gotten. (People in Israel: it's the Careline brand from Superpharm!)

Current Drink: Water! I've been trying to be better about drinking enough.

Current Food: Mom - this one is going to shock you. COTTAGE CHEESE. Only in Israel though. Please no one try to make me eat it in the States. It should be called something else there.

Image from
Current Favorite Show: Still Grey's and Private Practice, but I've started to watch old episodes of Homeland and I might be getting hooked.

Current Wish List: To go skiing in the Golan Heights or to see the snow in Jerusalem (though I might already be too late for the second one).

Current Need: Warmer clothes! Though I just got three sweaters, and I hear it's supposed to warm up a little next week, there's at least a solid month and a half of winter left.

Current Triumph: The Roasted Butternut Squash, Pumpkin and Carrot soup I made yesterday (without a recipe). It came out divine!

Current Bane of My Existence: Hmm. Toss up between the ses pool smell coming from my street and the temperature of the house (always freezing).

Current Celebrity Crush: Meh. Don't have one. I'm just not that into that sorta thing.

Current Indulgence: ? Same as the guilty pleasure above? Or maybe endless cups of tea with sugar to keep me warm.

Current Blessing: My sweet, sweet host family that's coming to take me to Shabbos dinner in a few minutes.

Current Slang: Anything in Hebrew. Mah? Lama? Ain li Koach are all sneaking into my English conversations lately.

Current Outfit: A cute one! Leggings, new turquoise sweater dress, scarf and boots!

Current Excitement: Being reunited with the ladies of 1410 next weekend. Can't wait!

Current Mood: Happy :)

Now it's your turn. What are you up to achshav (now)?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Halfway There...

Halfway there…

I’ve been yelling and screaming and waving my arms at anyone who dares suggest to me that we’re nearly halfway done with Otzma, yet here I am making it the title of my blog post. Ok. I get it. I promise to stop being dramatic. But while I’ve been busy living it up in Rehovot, celebrating Hanukkah (with too many sufganiyot), touring all of Israel with one of my closest friends and attending the wedding of another close friend, a lot of time has gone by. The world was supposed to end and didn’t, it’s 2013(!), we had a fantastic seminar about our options for future engagement in the Jewish Community and I’ve started looking for internships for Part 3 of Otzma.

Congrats Kaela and Maor!
But anyway, the reality that my time here in Israel (and particularly here in Rehovot) is slowly dwindling and I don’t want to let it get away without at least jotting down what’s been going on so I don’t forget what how amazing this experience has been. And you know, for all of the 3 people who might read this (Hi, Grandma!).

Like every Otzma participant with a fear of change (yes, we all see the irony in this fact of life), I was nervous at the beginning of my time in Rehovot. It didn’t help that it started off on a rough foot with Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza and being evacuated from our new home. (Huge shout out to my phenomenal host family in Karmiel, who took me in for a wonderful, quiet Shabbat.) But before I knew it a month had passed and it was Hanukkah and now yet another month has passed and we’re halfway through our time in Rehovot. I’ve been teaching English in a high school here and we’re helping the kids prepare for their Bagrout exams (required for them to graduate and eventually get into college). It’s a 180° difference from my experience in the elementary school in Karmiel, but the Israeli school system is always interesting.

Some of the kids I work with, playing a Hanukkah game
In the afternoons, I trek over to Kiryat Moshe, where I help out in a “Moadonit,” an after school program for kids whose families receive social services. Many of them also have some type of learning disability. I (and the rest of the staff and volunteers) sit down to a hot lunch with them, play quiet games, help with homework and watch them play soccer. The kids can be difficult, but I honestly look forward to going there each day. It’s also been the single best thing to happen to my Hebrew since I got to Israel. Helping kids with math homework (I suck at math) in Hebrew is the surest way to stretch your comfort zone in a new language! There’s a lot of pointing, “zeh, ploos zeh, ploos zeh….oto d’var zeh caful zeh.” (This plus this plus this is the same as this times this, or 3+3+3 is the same as 3x3). Most of the kids are patient with my Hebrew and are willing to speak slowly to me when explaining the rules of a new game – another great way to learn a new language! The best was yesterday, when one of the staff members came over while I was playing a game of Israel Monopoly (think Tel Aviv’s Rehov Allenby instead of New York’s Park Place) with 3 of the boys and commented on how amazing I was doing with the boys and that she felt like my Hebrew was all of the sudden just flowing out! That really made me happy. I kept hearing how eventually you just get it, and so I was waiting and waiting and waiting for it to happen – apparently it did while I wasn’t paying attention!

I’ve also discovered old friends residing right here in Rehovot! It’s so fun to have a conversation with an Israeli friend I haven’t seen in ages, go something like this, “Where are you living?” “Rehovot” “OMG me too!!” Not to mention, Rehovot is also home to another MASA program, ITF Rehovot, so our two groups have become fast friends. It makes living a new city, a new country, without the safety net of being surround by 23 of your newest, closest friends a little less scary and a lot more fun.

Fun, that is, until the biggest rainstorm in Israel’s recent history decided to park itself right over our little plot of paradise in the Middle East. Yea. I came to Israel to get away from the cold, not to hang out at home in a sweatshirt, long sleeve shirt, leggings, sweatpants and UGG slippers while trying to stay warm in a house built to keep the cold in and the heat out. Not to mention the rain…it hasn’t stopped for nearly a week, there is snow in Jerusalem, the only ski resort in Israel is – get this – closed due to snowfall(!) and the Kinneret is just a few meters from being full again after years of being beneath the red line. I get it. Israel needs the rain, and apparently snow in Jerusalem is a blessing. But, it has rained so much here in the past week that no one knew what to do with it all. And Israel knows better than anyone about saving water. But when they built the water treatment plants and rainwater collection cisterns, they never even thought about what would happen if said cisterns filled. Well guess what? They filled! And flooded. And who would have ever known that Israel’s biggest highway was named after a river? Not this girl. At least not until said river overflowed, closing the road, the train stations built along it and effectively closing of Tel Aviv from the rest of the world. Also? Apparently Israel has lakes and rivers other than the 4 we learned about in elementary school. We heard about them one-by-one this week as they all flooded. Oy.

Major tree down on our street. 
Anyway, the good news is that Israel is looking incredibly green and beautiful (during the brief breaks of sunshine we've gotten this week), the Kinneret is (almost) full and if the weather app on my phone is to be trusted, it should warm up soon. 

I’d love to promise I’ll be back sooner this time with more updates and deets about my vacation, but I might be out celebrating the end of the rain. But until then, I’ve got Luke Bryan’s “Rain is a Good Thing” stuck in my head. (Thanks Liza!) I’m not sure which is better….that or Bon Jovi's, “Living on a Prayer” which is what I was singing when I started this post hours ago.