The First of Zion
My first few days in Israel were a bit of a blur. I hadn't slept in days, and I was filled with anxiety. I kept thinking, 'where am I', but mostly, 'what in the world am I doing here?' Then I was reminded of what my father always tells me when I doubt myself. In short, he says that once you make a decision, don't look back. Go for it. And if something in you changes over time, you can always start from scratch. I was also comforted by the fact that nearly all of my new friends felt the same. A group of 30 from all over the U.S. and Canada, joining together at this random point in time. Deep down, I kept thinking that we were the one's who were about to learn the most. This journey would teach us a thing or two, indeed.
We began in Jerusalem, the city of gold. As the sun set on Shabbat, I saw the holy sites glisten and sparkle in a co-existing peace, even through the underlying questions in the atmosphere. Everything began to unwind, and things felt as they should be. Our group walked to the Western Wall, and the senses began to flood in; religious men chanting and mumbling prayers, women softly singing to bring in the holy day, the smell of dry sweat from a hard week mixed with freshly baked bread in the Arab market, children giggling and running in circles, dozens of languages swaying in unison, and an overwhelming sense of energy penetrating through the wall of the Kotel. I sat down in the middle of the square, and closed my eyes, listening to the tears, whispers, and hopes..And for some reason, I knew that this would mark the true beginning of our trip.
After descending from Jerusalem, we began to make our way to Rishon LeZion, our destination for the next 10 months. Well, we made a pit stop in some random place to herd sheep, draw water from a well, and grind up za'atar spices with a mortar and pestle. I kid you not. But I digress.. Oh yes, the First of Zion is a coastal city about 20 minutes south of Tel Aviv. We were placed in apartments, central to great restaurants, bars, wineries, nightlife, etc. Luckily, all five of my roommates are pretty darn awesome. Not to mention the gentleman in our group who live nearby, and made sure our fans were set up during the heat wave (thank you kindly).
Word got out in my group that I was a native Hebrew speaker, not to mention my family being from Rishon. So I seemed to be the go to for 'how do you say', 'what does ___ mean', and 'why do Israeli's____'. I was happy to help. I began to assist some of the newbies get acclimated by taking them to my favorite smoothie joint, dance club, bars, shop for groceries, and even help them set up their cell phone plans. Translating definitely helps the brain muscles get good exercise!
Other than a day or two of seminars and tours, we were fairly free to roam. We began with Tel Aviv, where we soaked in the sun, and ironically ended up grabbing drinks at 'Mike's Place', a bar for nostalgic Americans who miss home. And although I was born in Israel, I sometimes felt like a stranger in a strange land, mother tongue and all. I was afraid of war and of the general unknown, yet found myself in a paradox between a land where people live to their fullest with no hesitations. And as I sat at this 'American' bar on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, I couldn't help but feel out of place. I guess it's true when they say that people are most like themselves when they are away from their familiar elements.
Perhaps the best example of this was when we met a group of lone soldiers before settling in to our apartments. They were a bunch of young guys from all over the world, who left their country and their families to join the Israel army. We spoke in English, and joked about common outdated pop culture that they were no longer exposed to. I asked one of them why they came to Israel, and he replied, 'I'm not sure.. something about G-d, honor, giving back to the country.. but at this point, it's cause I knew I had to.. I felt it in my gut.'
Looking back, some of the best decisions, or at least the one's that grew me up the most, were those based on that unknown feeling right underneath your ribs and above your stomach, in the space between.
For past musicallyinclined articles, click here.