More than three months before our adventure in Israel begins and it already occupies the majority of my thoughts.
While in the future I hope to include pictures of beautiful landscapes, transcriptions of multilingual conversations where something was clearly lost in translation, stories of humorous haggling interactions, and accounts of Israeli oddities, this post will be devoid of such content as it will be largely informational. The journey to reaching adventure in Israel is, after all, an adventure in and of itself.
I’ve had a general desire to live in Israel for a year between undergrad and law school for some time now. In late 2010, my amazing boyfriend Doug (who insisted on having a descriptive adjective included before his name for his first introduction in the blog) decided he’d like in on the trip as well. And so we find ourselves organizing a year-long trip to Israel. It was mostly an abstract idea until a few weeks ago… something I thought about as a vague aspiration rather than a plan. But now it’s finally a plan! (Or it’s gradually getting to be one, anyway).
A year in the making, the details of our trip to Israel are beginning to fall into place. While I’ve traveled to Israel countless times in the past, I’m almost as complete a stranger to the Israeli method of navigating life as Doug, who has never been to Israel before, is. So, in the interest of not being jobless, homeless, and purposeless upon our arrival in Israel, Doug and I decided to apply to some sort of organized program.
After perusing many websites, emailing a lot of people, and thinking about our priorities and interests, we decided to apply to Career Israel, a program in Israel that sets participants up with an internship in a field of their interest and includes accommodations, a Hebrew class, trips, and health insurance (which I totally wouldn’t have remembered that I needed had my parents not constantly nagged at me about it). Thanks to Jewish philanthropy, the program is ultimately pretty cheap… which was crucial considering there’s an impending storm of $200,000 in law school debt in my 365-day forecast.
As we jump through the hoops of fire that comprise the applications and financial forms, we’ve started thinking about the less mundane parts of our upcoming trip, one of our favorites being no homework and the ability to read recreationally. We both just graduated from NYU: Doug got his MA in Middle Eastern History and I got my BA in History and Spanish. Needless to say, we’re both a little burned out from academic-readings.
I’m also pretty excited for consistently beautiful weather. The novelty of being able to see a heat wave aside, I’m thankful that we’ll miss most of the disgustingly-hot summer months since we plan to leave the US in late August 2011 and return sometime in early summer of 2012. Which means we’ll spend the majority of the year enjoying 60-70 degree weather and sunshine. Goodbye muggy, humid summers and cold, wet winters of New York. Hello flip flops and sundresses!
Oh and the food! Let’s talk about the food. The last time I could eat kosher meat outside of my home was when I went to an expensive Midtown Manhattan steakhouse designed to be frequented by wealthy Jewish businessmen who kept kosher and their business associates. The last time I bought halloumi cheese (a Mediterranean cheese) was at a gourmet grocery store where everything costs double what it should. The last time I had great falafel was when Doug got some from Taim, a hole-in-the-wall “restaurant” in Manhattan, and brought it back to the NYU library, where I was probably “diligently” working on my senior honors thesis. The last time I could buy enough fruits and veggies to make a 3-course meal for an army for less than it cost for Starbucks’s wine-bottle-sized coffee in New York was… well, the last time I was in an Israeli shuk (market). Needless to say, I’m thrilled not only that I’ll be able to afford great food and produce, but also that I’ll have the time to prepare and enjoy delicious meals!
I think the most glee-inspiring notion for both of us, though, is the ability to travel the country, region, and nearby areas. Granted, time isn’t ripe for traveling the Middle East. While we both would have loved to visit Egypt, the pyramids may have to wait a while before our rendezvous. Our foray to Istanbul may also be temporarily delayed, but it will be made. Marrakesh and Fez are on the itinerary, along with Athens and maybe some Grecian islands. Reaching Asia is surprisingly expensive from the Middle East, so that’s been effectively nixed. Some European destinations may make the cut depending on how much it’d cost us. We’re both interested in traveling almost anywhere and everywhere, so if it isn’t dangerous or expensive, we’re down.
But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. We’re excited to travel outside of Israel, yes, but I’d say equally excited to travel within Israel. With an extraordinary range of geographical and topographical environments, we could spend weekends kayaking down the Jordan River and exploring the valleys of the lush north, climbing to the top of Masada and floating in the Dead Sea, or fish-spotting in Eilat and trekking through the Negev deserts of the south. Our options are pretty limitless.
But I am getting a little ahead of myself.
I recently said to an Israeli, in Hebrew, that I was “going to Israel” using the word “to go” that technically meant by foot. I have no intention of making an already arduous trip via plane even more difficult by attempting to walk across an ocean. Which means we need plane tickets, which we have yet to buy. To buy plane tickets, we need to know exactly when we’d like to leave. And seeing as we don’t know yet, it appears that a series of events needs to occur before we get rolling on the traveling inside/outside of Israel plan.
Step 1: get accepted to the program we applied to
Step 2: figure out how this VISA business works for Doug
Step 3: figure out how my military exemption works for me–as excited as I am to spend a year in Israel, I’m not sure I want to spend it doing push-ups and peeling pounds of potatoes for my unit
Step 4: decide when to leave the US
Step 5: buy plane tickets
Step 6: pack (step 3.5 being to figure out how many suitcases we can check without paying a fee)
Step 7: go to Israel
Step 8: everything else
Some of those are interchangeable, but step 7 and 8 are sort of locked in. So there’s a ways to go till we get there.
Guess we should get started. Here goes.