I’m sitting in an airport with too much time to spare, no free wifi, coffee that isn’t Turkish, and Skittles.
Obviously, I’m not in Israel anymore.
Right now I’m in the Newark airport, domestic terminal (finally), but first I want to go back about two weeks and start talking about what was happening when I still walked the Land of Milk and Honey…
Needless to say, our last few weeks were jam-packed full of activities, cleaning, feedback, and ceremonies. From the lovely night the Southerners created for the Northerners (despite all the food some of us couldn’t eat), to the Etgar dinner in the Small Hall it was weird. About a month ago, all I wanted was for it to all end. I felt like I had gotten everything I could have out of the program and that the things that were frustrating me weren’t worth the things that I enjoyed. Looking back, I still feel that way about that particular point in time. I felt like I was climbing uphill, struggling to make it to the top to where the end of the program awaited me. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved being in Israel and I loved my friends and the classes were still as educational and exciting as ever, but for me it was time to go.
About two weeks ago, it all changed. We had to start packing things away, grocery shopping meant thinking about what we’d be able to donate if we didn’t use it, and we started having our one-on-one feedback with the staff. From about the last Etgar weekend on (when we made the Etgar Lipdub), instead of climbing uphill, I felt like I had reached the top and I was sliding down. As happy as I was that I wasn’t climbing anymore, sometimes I felt the need to dig my heels in and slow it all down, take it in and not let it go by too fast. Watching Mean Girls with everybody during our last Etgar night, for example, I wanted the movie and all the jokes and comments we were making to last a lot longer than it did.
When Etgar finally ended, I was mostly happy. A little bit sad, of course, for the era that was coming to a close, but I was looking forward to Sikkum (closing) Seminar. Despite my reservations about spending five full days in a very close environment with a group of people who I know are able to get on my nerves, I was excited because I was on the tzevet (team) that was leading the weekend.
When we all (Northern and Southern, Machon and Etgar) got on the bus, Kitty and I sat next to each other and talked about all the crazy, sad, fun, and ridiculous things we did. We questioned our judgment at times and praised each other for different things. At the gas station stop, we got three ice creams, a bag of sunflower seeds, a box of Oreos, and energy drinks. We finished all the ice cream unhealthily quickly, and then tried to fit four whole Oreos into our mouths at the same time. I won. After, Kitty sucked all the salt of my sunflower seeds and put them back in the bag for me. What a weird relationship we have…
At Caesarea, we took a group picture and then played a very common game. A circle of people either meeting or leaving each other and a ball of yarn is required, and you pass the yarn around tying a bracelet onto each person but without cutting it, so that everybody is connected to one another. We played with maroon colored yarn and a twist: when you pass the yarn, you have to pass it to someone and tell a memory. Alyson gave it to me, telling me about how when she first saw me she could tell we were going to be friends, and I passed it to Dan Rattan, telling the story, again, of how we all first met him.
When we got off the bus at our youth hostel, I was surprised at how sad I was. I didn’t think I had made such a connection with the Southerners, but it turns out their departure made even me cry a little bit. That, however, couldn’t last long, because a Camp Newman-esque hill had to be climbed to get to our rooms. My assigned room was 35, with Naomi S, Emily, and Abby. We dropped off our things and headed down for an average hostel dinner.
Most of sikkum week was very standard with the types of things we did, so I’ll just briefly explain the activities and go into more detail with the ones that stuck out to me and the emotional roller coaster I felt like I was on.
Alyson’s birthday party for the summer-born kids was great. She led a lot of fun party games like Pin the Piercing on the Shnattie (my idea!) and everyone came away with smiles and glittery party hats. Feedback session with Michael was great, listening to other people’s opinions about the experiences they had with the same things that I had done were so very interesting.
That second night we had a “Shabbat service” and I use the quotation marks because I hesitate to call it a service. I’ve come to realize that the term Reform Judaism means different things to different people even when it shouldn’t, and their idea of what a service is does not at all coincide with mine. Luckily, Dana felt that way too and helped me in my ma’amad education (I missed that class) by helping me figure out all the things that were missing from the service.
Alyson led another theme night, this time comedy based, and I thought it was great. Lots of fun, lots of laughs, and then up to the rooms for movie night in room 32. From then on, I was considered a ‘graetz’ member of room 32.
Jess’s peula wasn’t very memorable, but only because no one knew what was actually happening. She basically just made us do weird things for no reason. Confusing, indeed.
At one point, I had my one-on-one with Michael. We had the option of sitting down with him and talking, or just taking the letter with a meeting, but Michael didn’t give me that option. I really do love Michael. He talked to me about the kinds of things he had seen in me as a leader, a participant, and a team member. He told me lots of nice things, which I, of course, really appreciated, and when he told me the things I could improve on, he made them come across in a way that showed me how I could take those traits and turn them into good qualities. For example, something that doesn’t work in this situation could work better somewhere else or with someone else. He showed me another way to look at the positions I was putting myself in and when to use certain skills that I have or could have.
Later on, right before a program that I was going to run, I got very nervous. I was nervous before- I really do hate leading things for this group- and I started overthinking the discussion part. I sat down and wrote myself at least a page of notes and questions I could ask to prompt different conversations. Michael walked in and asked me how I was doing so I told him about how I was worried people wouldn’t respect me and I wouldn’t be able to control the group well enough to give them what I wanted out of the program. Michael sat with me and talked to me about it. He explained that although he understood (and I know he did, I had seen it happen to him as well), there were certain things that I could do to help. He went through them with me and gave me an entirely new perspective that actually really did help the second the group all walked in. It was amazing.
That program, Shnat in Two Hours, started off not so well, considering it started late because a certain German was still sleeping when it was supposed to be starting. I mentally adjusted the timeline and started. The first things I had for them were a few slides on the computer. Preferably, they would have just been quiet and let me talk, but with Michael’s advice still echoing in my head, I gave them a few moments to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the pictures on each slide before I started talking. It helped wonderfully. The first activity was for Group Experience; we had made a song during our closing week of that time so I had them write a new song to the same tune as a reflection. It went so well in all aspects: time, productivity, focus, etc. The second activity, the options period skit, ran a little long and shorter attention spans waned, but in the end I think it went well. The last was hardest because in the two groups of Machon and Etgar, those who were not participating got rowdy, but in the end it wasn’t too bad. When we all sat down for the discussion, I saw that I had a lot of time left, and I was worried that it was going to end too early. I started asking questions and, to my relief, people started answering. I didn’t need to provoke too much, people were willing to talk. I asked about the things they were proud of and the things they were not so proud of. What could they have done differently? How had they changed? In the end, almost every single person had something (or multiple things) to say about how they had either changed or had wanted to change but didn’t. This went on for a while, but I could tell that a few people were getting restless with the discussion format while others still wanted to talk. This wasn’t a topic that we had every touched (or would again) and everybody had strong feelings about it. On a whim, I grabbed a stack of papers and pens I had handy and passed them out. I instructed them to write a letter to themselves in a year about the things they felt they had changed this year, whether or not they liked and wanted to keep those changes, things that didn’t change, and things they wanted to start changing. There were ten minutes left so we all sat in silence writing to ourselves. When they were done, they folded them up, wrote their names on the front, and handed them in. As they walked out, the majority of my peers whispered ‘thank you,’ ‘great peula,’ or the British equivalent (I think) ‘cheers.’ I was so proud.
The other activity I ran was the Saturday morning service. I had found a CCAR written service and made copies of it for this well ahead of time. I think this has been the only time all year long that we have had a proper service with enough copies for everyone. I had asked Jeff and Dan R to lead it, knowing how well Jeff leads and how amazing Dan R’s drashes are. Unfortunately, Dan was late coming back from his dad’s birthday party and when I texted Jeff reminding him not to be late, it came in at the same time as his alarm as disabled it. They were both a bit late to my dismay, but they service went really well anyway.
The other activity I had to run was the t-shirt program. It went confusingly and not at all how I had wanted it to go but in the end the purpose was filled and we all had beautifully signed shirts to proudly wear.
One night, the hostel director came into the classroom to tell us about a pig that was on the site. We were all confused about why he was telling us, until about ten minutes later he explained that it was a wild boar and we had to stay out of certain areas. Later that night, while sitting on the balcony of room 32, we saw it but my roommates wouldn’t let me get any closer.
On our last full day, we ventured out into Haifa. Pizzur money in hand, we found a place with amazing fettucini for only 30 shekels. The boys, minus Ben L, plus me, all had a great lunch talking and joking about everything. When we went to get ice cream later, they all got McDonalds vanilla cones, but I wanted real Israeli ice cream, but the line was much longer. To my surprise and absolute delight, every single one of them stood there and waited the twenty minutes for me to get my ice cream to walk up together.
We went from there to the beach in our tiny Shirut. The boys had just found out how much I hate the song The Final Countdown because of pep band in high school and decided to change my memory of the song. They did their beatbox, rapping, singing version of the song in a way that had me in tears laughing by the time we got to the beach. While there, we spent quite a while in the waves complaining about the salinity of the water and tackling each other. Even now the phrase, ‘Mr. President!’ still makes me flinch. When my contacts could no longer take the salt, I got out and explored the boardwalk and then laid down on my towel. A short nap later, we got on the bus to go back to the hostel. After dinner, we headed out again to go go-kart riding on a professional track. We had to split into two groups, and our staff put me in the competitive ‘boys’ group. I had never driven such powerful go-karts, so it took me a few minutes to get the hang of that, but after a while I was spinning out on every turn and passing people like everyone else. We went to the mall after and I just barely lost an air hockey match.
Back at the hostel, we had a mediocre talent show and Shnat Confessions and then it was time for my real birthday party. Jeff and I had realized that his birthday was bad because he was allergic to his own cake and I didn’t even get one because of the concert, so we bought our own cake and different kinds of Yotvata chocolate milk. We celebrated together and watched more graetz movies. That night was a confusing night of refrigerators, balcony acrobatics, showers, room keys, and energy drinks.
The next morning, after a special wake-up from my roommates, we packed up our things and went downstairs for fun games with Noa and Guy. After that, it was onto the bus to Jerusalem.
Back at Beit Shmuel, we barely had time to throw on Netzer merch if we had it handy, and then we on our way to the Old City. Guided by Maoz, we walked through the Jaffa Gate (I know, exciting, right?), and wound our way through the city to an amazing restaurant. Most of Kita Bet and I ended up at the Hebrew speaking end of the table by chance, so we ended up pushing our language skills to the limit as we conversed. Delicious food and more delicious food and even more delicious food was brought out and served to us in true Israeli fashion. Speeches by Amy and Michael were heard, and we all received certificates signifying our graduation from Shnat Netzer. On the way back, we walked through Mamilla, and then to Beit Shmuel for a closing tekkes (ceremony). Abby and Tara led us through a relaxation process to reflect on Shnat and then we got the books that each of us had signed for everyone. Some surprising and some predictable, we all got seventeen notes from the people we had spent a year with. After, we mostly hung around the Etgar Flat doing the same boring things we always do: laptops and Bananagrams. After Dana came and checked that we had kept our things clean, we got our deposits back, and then Jeff and I headed out to Mamilla one last time. He bought a ridiculous shirt for an absurd amount of money, and then we got our last Israeli milkshakes that didn’t last nearly long enough.
Soon after we got back, Alyson and I started getting our things together and saying goodbyes. To my complete surprise, everyone in the flat accompanied us downstairs to the lobby. They even took my bags for me. We had rounds of hugs in the flat, in the lobby where we waited for the taxi, and then once the taxi came, a flurry of hugs that left the taxi driver honking at us to get on.
Another surprise for me occurred when I got on the taxi and started crying. Those people, whether or not they were my best friend or barely more than an acquaintance, had spent and shared a year with me and I was going to miss them. From Beit Shmuel, the taxi took us on an impromptu tour of Jerusalem while picking up it’s other occupants. Seeing all the places and streets I had walked and toured and shopped and partied and got lost on induced one more round of tears. I’m sure Alyson was getting fed up with me at this point.
At the airport, we had somewhat of a struggle getting our bags out on the taxi and onto the sidewalk, and that struggle continued into the airport and all the way until when we checked our bags, finding out that we had to pay for overweight baggage. We expected this, and Amy, having met us there, took us to the cashier to pay. She also managed to switch our seats so we could sit next to each other.
Past security, I bought a sandwich when I realized that I was hungry after not having dinner, and two Sprites. It was our last Israeli Sprite Day, after all. They gave me two 7-ups instead. At first, Alyson refused to blaspheme Sprite Day in such a manner, but gave in to her thirst later on. At the Duty Free store, we stocked up on typical Israeli snacks to take back with us; I got Bamba, cow chocolate, and Halva. We sat down to skype our friends at the Etgar flat and creepily spy out for Ruthie, who was supposed to be in the same terminal as us. We never found her, but we did end up taking a picture of ourselves with the 7-up and sad faces, posting it to Jeffrey’s facebook wall as our last game of Why Is Jeffrey Sad?
Our plane came and we got on. Dismayed by the poor selection of inflight movies, we both fell asleep. Alyson, having gotten the window sleep, had a better time with this. I listened to Israeli Pop Music from Galgalatz until I found a position comfortable enough to fall asleep in. I woke up for dinner: rice and chicken and other things I couldn’t eat. I fell asleep again and woke up for breakfast: an omelet, shomenet, and bread, along with other things I couldn’t eat. After that I tired to fall asleep. It was soon determined that the only comfortable position was to wait until Alyson was asleep and then lean on her. But then any time either of us moved significantly, we both woke up. It worked for a while, but when we only had about 3 hours left of the flight I stayed awake to watch the flight tracker on the screen.
When we arrived into the United States of America, our first priority was to find a bathroom. As we walked the daunting halls to get to Customs, we finally found one, brushed our teeth, and continued. An extremely long wait in line, and then another wait in line, and then we were told we had forgotten to fill out a form no one told us to fill out, so we had to do that, but the pen the attendant gave me didn’t work. At this point, I was already starting to stress over the amount of time I had left to catch my connecting flight from Newark to Denver to Sacramento. By the time I filled out that form, gotten my luggage, said goodbye to Alyson, found the ‘airtrain,’ gotten to my next terminal, gotten my bags up the escalator (NOT as easy as it sounds), and gotten to the check in counter, I only had about an hour left until my flight left. Upon discovering that I had to pay for my two overweight bags again, I began a frantic search to find the needed $100. Unfortunately for me, I only had about $17 and 150 shekels, which wouldn’t have amounted to enough even if the international airport had taken international currency, which it doesn’t. By the time I called my parents, crying and stuck in New Jersey, gotten them out of bed at an un-humane hour of the morning and hysterically persuaded them to put money on my card, pulled my bags down the escalator, and tried to pull the money out every thirty seconds for about a half an hour until it came through, and gotten back up to the check in counter, I had missed my flight.
Luckily, due to the amazing organization and wisdom of my parents, I was able to get onto the next Southwest flight from Newark to Sacramento. I checked my bags, paid the overweight fees, and started to go through security.
Now, I had always thought that the security of El Al airlines would be some of the best in the world. I would have also applied that line of thought to the over-an-hour process it took to get through customs to enter these United States of America. Neither of these security checks, however, caught the energy drink I had accidentally placed in my carry-on bag and forgotten about. Going into security to board an internal domestic flight from New Jersey to California did. Luckily, all they did was confiscate it and send me on my way.
When I approached the man at the desk for my gate to get my boarding pass, I gave him my papers and he loudly exclaims, “it’s you! Miss Karp!” and proceeds to tell all of his co-workers that Miss Karp had arrived. In a state of confusion, I just waited until he told me about how he had called my name on his microphone over and over again for the last flight that I was originally supposed to be on. He congratulated me on finally making my flight and handed me my boarding pass and all the information I was going to need to receive my next boarding pass in Las Vegas.
To re-fuel, I bought myself a bag of Skittles, a large mocha, and a chocolate chip muffin and sat down in front of the gate to await my flight. I opened up my beloved Macbook Air, and here we are.
America, (you know the rest)!
But, Israel, I miss you.
A Fun Addition:
I wrote this post at the airport but didn’t publish it, which turns out to be a good thing because there’s one more thing that happened on my way home. Getting onto the connecting flight from Las Vegas to Sacramento was not so hard. I mean, the computers were down, there was only one seat left and six people wanted it, and the plane was taking off, but eventually I got the seat. However, it turns out I wasn’t actually supposed to be on that flight, I was supposed to be on one of the other flights to Sacramento. So when I got to the airport in Sacramento (way earlier than expected), we had to wait for the next flight to come in because all of my baggage had been placed on that plane.