It is like a dream; from a young age, observant Reform Jews in the United States hear about Israel, are taught about it, given piecemeal impressions (through summer camp and Sunday school activities simulating the Wall and the Dead Sea) that are meant to inspire our love of a place we know nothing about. Through songs, stories, and pictures, we are somehow imbued, as children, with the age-old yearning to return to our Ancestral home.
At least in my case, the result of this inculcation is a somewhat overblown picture -like a Hollywood movie poster -of a place that exists only in our minds. Israel becomes akin to some sort of goal -one of the many prerequisites to fulfill before we really become Jews.
If we're lucky enough, we go on a Birthright trip and taste the sweetness of the Land of Milk and Honey. With the rosy blush of love's first spark in our faces, we want to make aliyah and give our lives to this fascinating, diverse, dangerous and wonderful place.
But the journey down the road of love is hard as it is rewarding, and there are many sides to this place that we call home. One visit is never sufficient.
It is always a mixed bag of emotions coming back to Israel for me, and I'm still in the limbo state where jetlag meets excitement in such a way that it's hard for me to process everything that's happening. When I first got here, I sat in the back of the sherut (shared taxi) as the familiar rush of emotions overtook me and I shivered. Thankfully, it was a sunny enough day to warrant the use of my sunglasses, so I put them on to disguise the tears that began to stream down my cheeks as we sped along the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; joy at being home again, relief, fear of the unknown, excitement, disbelief that I was back again after all that life had thrown at me in the past two years.
I felt curiously like the very first time I came to Israel in this life: I was so intensely relieved and surprised at the welcome I received that I actually felt embarrassed at having worried so much prior to my arrival here. After months of stress and anxiety, I finally felt that everything was working out.
Before my arrival (this time around), friends of mine told me horror stories about encounters with rude Israelis. But truthfully, I have never had such experiences. I am well aware of how lucky I am, because Israelis can be a tough bunch.
I feel grateful that my experiences on the whole have been positive thus far. Maybe it's because I speak Hebrew without an American accent, maybe it's because I tan well in the summer, maybe I'm just the kind of person that other people like. I don't know, and maybe I never will.