I left Cleveland Wednesday afternoon, on a flight to New York. No exciting international layover this time, just a few hours in JFK. I didn’t realize how big JFK is; going from terminal 8 to terminal 4 required exiting security. I had to check back in and get a new boarding pass, which meant going through El Al’s rigid security questions. It took about 5 minutes and I was made to answer questions on chagim (holidays), Jewish text, and various practices. I eventually got through and got to my gate where I talked to two girls my age who were on my flight; one was going on Birthright and the other is enlisting in the IDF. 11 hours later, I touched ground in Tel Aviv. After waiting in a long immigration line, I got my big suitcase and made my way out of the airport. Everything was remarkably familiar; I was able to find the shuttle I needed to take to Jerusalem, and I was able to communicate my address to the driver and ask which van to get in all in Hebrew.
I had a grand plan in my mind of what it was going to be like to make the trip to Jerusalem. I had pictured watching the thicket and arid ground give way to cities, and watching Jerusalem become larger and larger until I finally entered. This plan went south when I fell asleep twenty minutes into the drive and woke up in Jerusalem. It felt almost anticlimactic-this city that I had dreamt of returning to for months was finally in front of my face, and reality hit that this place isn’t really my home, at least not yet.
The driver wasn’t able to drop me off at my address because the streets were too narrow, so he had to drop me off a few streets away (this was the point at which we switched to English). I had no map and no real idea where I was, so I had to ask people to help me. After pulling two suitcases up multiple flights of stairs, I made it to my address and was greeted by Tracey, the woman I’m renting a room from, and her cat Kitzu. After resting for a bit, I set out to get groceries to last me through the end of Shabbat. The shuk, the big market in Jerusalem, is a mere 30 second walk from my house. I decided I was too tired to handle the shuk, so instead I walked to Agron street to go to the Supersol, the grocery store across the street from the Yeshiva. Instead of thinking of what would be practical food to have, I went straight for the foods I’ve missed most over the last year.
I sat down near the entrance to the shuk and watched the sun begin to set, casting a magnificent golden glow over the whole city and its inhabitants. As I took this in, I thought about how much has changed since last year, yet how much has remained the same. The city is still here, and looks much the same as it has for generations, and yet it feels different. Maybe it’s me who is different. I know my way around the city and can put together enough words to begin to speak. I know which synagogue feels like home. I know not to touch the cats and which bus to take and where to get juice and how to eat soup like an Israeli and so much I didn’t know a year ago, and yet I have so much to learn. I have so much to learn that can’t be taught in an ulpan classroom or the Beit Midrash.
Yesterday (Friday) morning it occurred to me that all have to eat for two days is unidentified sliced meat (it’s chicken, I know now) and half a can of beans. With this in mind, I made a beeline for the shuk before it shut down and got some bread and mangoes. I’ve missed the mangoes here so, so much. Real mangoes, the kind that feel tingly on your tongue and run sticky juice down your face. After lunch I began to prepare for Shabbat, which I’ll write about soon in a separate post.
I’m sitting here eating a mango (my writing made me hungry) thinking about what it means to return to a place you’ve longed after. The words to the Carlebach song Return Again come to mind, inspiring the title of this post:
Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul
Return to what you are, return to who you are, return to where you are
Born and reborn again
On a closing note, I now have a camera which can record videos, so I’m trying to film as much as I can. The video I made of my arrival has finally uploaded, so here it is: