Friday, March 8, 2013

Life without a phone

It’s been almost two months that I haven’t had a phone. But it's not entirely true. I have my iPhone and can pick up WiFi. It's unbelievable all the ways I can stay in contact with people without having to make a phone call. I can text on Whatsapp, I have email and I can Facebook. I can Skype if someone else has Skype (I haven't increased my credit to make outgoing calls but that's a different story). Everyone else has Internet so it’s no problem to communicate like this.

Also, the temptation to look at my phone when I'm at the bar or a party is gone. It's contagious, when people look at their phone, I want to as well. But I know if I take mine out I'll just be checking the time, information I don't need, and looking at the uselessness of my mini computer without internet. 

Yet then I find myself more present. I become aware if I'm getting bored. I feel the urge to look at my phone, to see if I can disconnect from the current situation and find a more interesting one. 

But since I can't, I have to find a new way to entertain myself. Without putting my head down and hiding in my phone, I start a new conversation, or listen in to someone else's, or stare off into space and sip my drink until something interesting happens.

If I can't text, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Four-square, Twitter or any of the other absurd modes of social networking and communication, I'm back to basics.

I've taken to going old school with meeting people. We arrange a place and a time to meet and it’s agreed upon. But the people who rely on their phones have stopped giving out the necessary information.

When I ask where someone lives, I first only get the cross streets. 

"But which apartment?"

"Oh yea, building 34."

"But which apartment?"

"Oh yea! 15D."

I idled by a coffee shop to soak up WiFi, Facebook messaging my friend, hoping she sees it because I'm in the area of her apartment but I have no idea which one. Last night, as everyone was walking into the bar, I awkwardly stood next to a table of guys eating hot dogs because I knew the exact spot I had to stand to get the best Internet connection from the restaurant and wanted to Whatsapp my friend.

The other night I was invited to dinner at an apartment and a neighborhood I've never been to. I tried to get as much information as possible before I left. I had the address; I knew which bus to take and when to get off. I knew that I would be able to walk in to the building and it would be "on the second floor, a little hallway to the right past the elevator." Sounded simple enough.

But we know these things never are.

I arrived and there were three apartment buildings all with the same number. They were recently built and not all the units were filled. Some floors had lights while others just had wires hanging from the fixtures. I walked into the first one and went up the first flight of stairs. To me this would be the second floor, but we're in Israel and this floor was marked "1." But my friend is American so maybe she meant second floor after the first flight of stairs. There was an elevator but there was no hallway, just a door to an apartment on the right. There was a hall light and I could hear people inside, maybe this was the dinner party?

But one more floor up there was a sign for "2." There was also an elevator and a small dark hallway to the left. The apartment door to the right was dark and quiet, did anyone even live there? I went back to "1" and knocked on the apartment door. 

"Mi ze?" 

I was interrupting. An older woman opened the door, clearly getting ready to sit down with her husband for a nice evening meal on a Tuesday night while watching the latest popular singing competition as background noise on the TV. This was not my dinner party. I apologized and backed away quickly.

I figured that was embarrassing, I might as well just try the door upstairs as well. When the man opened the door I thought he was a squatter. I could see a stand alone TV next to a mattress on the floor. His face was drawn and his beard was unkempt. I thought for sure I was just interrupting his shoot-up time. I also tried to apologize quickly and leave the situation as soon as possible. But he asked me who I was looking for and which apartment. When I looked closer I could see that he had just moved in, that was the lack of furniture. And his beard wasn’t unkempt; it was just full and a conscious style choice. He let me know that there were a couple of buildings with the same number and maybe I should try the one next door.

I walked outside and there were some young people on a balcony having a party. Was this my dinner party? I called out my friends name to see if she was up there. Nope. I walked into the building to see if the mystery directions would be fulfilled here. Again, the stairs were dusty with recent construction and there were no hallways. I walked up to a dark floor and stared out a window onto the street.

I wanted to cry. Why did I need to have a phone? I wanted it to be ok to go somewhere I’ve never been before and find my way without having to make a phone call.

What was my friend doing? Was she wondering where I was and that I was lost? Was she looking at her phone in helplessness because she couldn’t call me to see where I was? Or was she blissfully drinking wine, content in the knowledge that her directions were crystal clear and I would have no problem finding the place.

There was nothing I could do. I needed to call her. Embarrassment is short lived and I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I need to look foolish to accomplish my goals, it really doesn’t make a difference.

I walked outside and looked up to the balcony of the dinner party that was not mine.

“Excuse me, can I make a phone call?”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The whiskey debate

Only in Tel Aviv do I find myself in a debate with the Arab affairs reporter of a popular English daily on what best constitutes citizenship in Israel. Six months in this country and I think I can have an opinion on such things? I’m from small-town Long Island.

But in that moment it didn’t matter. The most fun part was the show we put on and a jab I took at the reporters’ 93-year-old grandmother who had just made Aliyah - low blow Laura, low blow. In my own closing argument I mumbled something like "we have to build the Jewish dream" and sheepishly drank my whiskey.

Thankfully, due to much alcohol, the panel of judges wasn’t at their most sharp to disqualify my argument entirely.

But let‘s back up for a minute. How did I find myself in an informal setting at a formal debate, suddenly a loud and proud Zionist? Let’s start with a few hours earlier…

It was the last day of my internship. The only job I ever had that gave me purpose and really excited me. But it had to end and sadly, it was pretty anti-climactic. Despite my fantasies of being viewed as a journalistic messiah, I was slowly coming to acceptance with the reality that I was free labor. Sure people were sad to see me go, but they were more upset with the fact that the time consuming and menial tasks now had to be done by actual people. It was on to the next for them. It’s ok, that was the deal. I was just sad.

But earlier in the week my editor had given me an invite to a curiously conspicuous “whiskey debate.” At this point it was the only thing keeping me going. The email invitation gave the impression of exclusivity and prestige. I didn’t know what I was getting into so, with what felt like my life in shambles, I put on a nice dress and flat-ironed my hair.

I stood outside the apartment door which had a piece of paper, ripped from a notebook, that said “Whiskey Debate” in English cursive. It was myself, the newly appointed economics reporter for the JPost, and a random woman who assured us this was the right place.

And then there I was, sipping whiskey in someone’s living room watching two people face off in a timed and organized debate about the pro’s and cons of democratically electing the Rabbanut. I was definitely not in Long Island anymore.

And that’s what made me realize I can’t leave Tel Aviv. This place constantly amazes me. Maybe things like this happen other places too, but in America I can only imagine hipster liberals facing off against yuppie conservatives. They would throw out words like “debt ceiling” because they heard it on The Newsroom or “fiscal cliff” because the media made a big deal about it.  

It’s different in Israel. Being an American I’m constantly confronted with how my upbringing has colored my views and opinions. If you bring up the death penalty, the first thing that comes to my mind is punishment for reprehensible crimes or innocents on death row. Here, it’s a question of how it fits within the Jewish religion, the Adolf Eichmann case and then reconciling what it means to have targeted assassinations of terrorists.

The debate was organized so that two people would volunteer, they would have a few minutes to prepare and then they would face off. After they finished the room would comment on arguments made, style of arguing and then vote on which person they thought won. 

It was unbelievable to me. To have people, for fun, put them selves on a chopping block to be judged for their views and style of arguing. But that’s Israel and that’s Tel Aviv. If you’re not ready to argue, you’re not ready to live here.

The event was billed as a post mortem to the elections and it was apt timing. For weeks we had been hearing Israeli politicians tout their party’s platforms, ad-nauseam, to what seemed an increasingly apathetic and jaded Israeli public. But then a debate like this inspired me that these are living issues that we can participate in. This is a young country and its constantly changing and figuring itself out. It’s also an immigrant country. When people went to the US for a better life to make their dreams come true, they participated and found ways to add or improve to their new home. That’s the sentiment here. People definitely don’t come here because its easier, they come here for the adventure, to be part of something they believe in. Life here is ever changing and it’s always up for debate. An emphasis on liquor is just a bonus.

I’ve started a new job. I work nights in order to call young American Jews to tell them they too can come to Israel. I have a new apartment, a sub-let with an older Belgium gentlemen and an Italian woman. It’s yet to be seen how I plan to participate in this morphing country, if I can, or even if I’ll stay much longer. But for certain, I can’t leave yet.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

High highs, low lows

High highs and low lows, that's how I describe most of my weeks here. The highs came from feeling like I belong in this city, in this country. The lows come from the uncertainty of wanting to stay, but having no reason. I've never yearned for a city as much as I yearn for Tel Aviv. Every time I leave, I can't wait to come back. There is something here, between the manicured boulevards or the graffittied back alleys. The cafe culture where people meet up to chat about who knows what or take out their lap tops and work on whatever it is that keeps them typing away. A city of dreamers. People who work here either do what they love or are scraping by because they love this place and can't leave, like me.

I can't leave. I felt it when I first arrived in the disgusting heat of August. I had my travel backpack and was heading to the Central Bus Station, reluctant to travel more but with no where else to stay. Tel Aviv is not Israel, but its one of the best representations of it. Its beautiful in its people and diversity. Perfect bodies sun-tan on the beach while desperate African migrants steal their bags. Homeless men sit on the corner with festering sores on their legs begging for change and teenagers shriek with excitement to be on the street in the evenings. A shirtless, curly haired, young guy sets up a drum kit and bangs along to a speaker blasting Michael Jackson on the corner of the street. Young couples, better suited to be partying in a club, walk with their baby carriage and a dog on a leash. Bars fill up and pour onto the street and if you're an English speaker you're sure to get picked up.

I've never felt like I belonged more than I have here. I've also never been so scared that I'm not wanted. I get this city, but then I'm constantly challenged on my beliefs.

The buildings are old. They are falling apart and dirty. But they each have a balcony and the sun is shining and the air is sweet.

Its been six months in Israel and I've had the most amazing time. I started out my trip with a lay-over in Istanbul, calling in sick via skype to my former job from a cafe surrounded by Turks chatting, smoking hookah and sipping coffee. I learned the first amazing reality about traveling alone, you're really never alone. I visited mosques with an Italian girl, I talked with young Turkish boys in the square, I shared an amazing seafood dinner on the Bosphorous with a complete stranger, we were only put together by a mutual friend. I arrived at Tel-Aviv Ben Gurion at three in the morning to be greeted by the most amazing, loving, smiling friend I've ever made. We had only known each other for five days, six months before, but now we are sisters. We spent three amazing days together bonding, laughing and partying.

I traveled, I stayed, I left, I explored. I volunteered in a dairy, in a moshav, in the South of Israel. I thought I would hate it but found it to be one of the most fulfilling two weeks I've ever had.

I met boys. Lots and lots of boys. I had fun, I made mistakes, I had my heart broken.

I made a best friend. An unbelievable person that I didn't realize I needed so much.

It's the end. No, it's AN end. I was so fearful in the beginning of being on a "program" and I did my best to separate myself from it. Now that its over I feel like I'm clinging to it like its my last hope. This program gave me an opportunity I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. Working at The Jerusalem Post was an unbelievable experience and I've never felt such a loss with it being over. The people I met were inspiring - in their abilities and their modesty. They work so hard to only sometimes feel the rewards of working in the news. It is the most exciting job and in the most interesting place.

I'm moving into a new apartment with an Italian artist and an Israeli named Ronnie. They both have twenty years on me easily. My room is a shoebox but I have three windows all at eye level. The apartment is only three minutes walking from the beach and just outside the Yemenite neighborhood and Ha-Carmel shuk. I made a deal for two months because I've started working a temporary job that will last that amount of time. It's the weirdest feeling to be moving and everything changing, but being in the same area and having life continue on as usual.

I don't want to be living in uncertainty month to month, but its all I can afford now - both monetarily and in life decisions. But the one thing that is certain, I freakin' love Tel Aviv and I can't leave yet.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday season and Election season

It's my favorite day of the week, shabbat shalom! Also equally exciting, we're back on track for holiday season in Israel, Hannukkah begins on Saturday night.

It's been a weird couple of weeks. I've been busy, but not in the same sense that I was before or during the war week in November. The election season in Israel has started and my favorite story is the birth of "The Tzipi Livni party." Tzipi Livni is an interesting politician to me. She is a woman who I find has a strong presence. She is most recently known for being the former head of the Labor party and won the majority vote in the last elections. Livni would have been the Prime Minister but in a story reminiscent of the US elections of 2004, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyhu was able to form a majority coalition within the government and he became Prime Minister, creating a "center-right" government.

When I was first starting to read Israeli news I would see Livni's picture and read her soundbites interjected on popular issues within Israeli news reports. I wasn't sure who she was or what she stood for but she always managed to stand out. In the beginning of 2012 she announced she was resigning from politics. I remember reading the story and thinking it was a shame, there shouldn't be even one less woman in anything, especially politics. Within the last couple weeks she had been teaming up with former prime minister Ehud Olmert and the rumor mill was running on over time if the two would form a party and run in the next elections.

I was in the breaking news room when Livni held her press conference to announce that she would indeed be returning to politics and with a new party of her own. She introduced her party as "The Movement," or "Hatanua" in hebrew. We immediately started making jokes in the newsroom. "If you can't join 'em, make your own party!" "The party is 'the movement,' I think it's more forward than the 'forward' party."

But what jokes we did make didn't stoop to bodily functions. This was unfortunate because apparently "the movement," for most Hebrew speakers, conjures up ideas of evacuated bowels. This apparently came to light to Livni and her staff because very shortly, maybe even 10-20 minutes after announcing, in a press conference, the name of "The Movement" party, it was then changed to "The Tzipi Livni party."

If ever there is a politician (and a woman) I admire, it's Tzipi Livni. I think she has balls. To have the audacity to come back into politics, make your own party and then name that party after yourself, that takes chutzpa.

I can't decide if Israelis view politics and politicians as much as a popularity contest as American's tend too. I believe Livni aims to be "center-left" in her politics, balanced but liberal. But I could be way off base and just put under a spell of a woman putting forth a strong presence and speaking out.

"Sorry, I'll pass"

That was the response I received from the op-ed editor of the New York Post. I had wrote a piece criticizing Fordham University President Father McShane for bullying the group College Republicans and leaving Fordham to look like idiots on Bill O'Reilly.

When I wrote the article, I was fired up over how stupid Fordham looked on TV. Its very easy, when you read and edit opinion pieces all day (as I do for the Jerusalem Post) that you believe you can really put forward a strong voice too.

After I wrote it, I didn't think it was too relevant for most news outlets, but I thought it could be used as a space filler somewhere, so I sent it to a couple places. I thought the response from the New York Post was the best (well the only one I received) because it so clearly cut to my soul. "Sorry, I'll pass." Might as well say, "Apologies Ms. Kelly, but you just wasted about 4 minutes and 32 seconds of my life that I will never get back, I don't seek to do that to anyone else. "

As if I had a roster of editors waiting on baited breath for my next ground breaking opinion piece. Nope, just wanted to throw my piece into the world and see if it landed anywhere.

So I will publish it here, and let all, maybe the 2 or 3 people who see this blog, see what can take up a full day of my life.

For Shame Father McShane


Fordham University’s President has given the school its most recent notoriety for all the wrong reasons.

I am proud to say I graduated from Fordham University in the Bronx, NY. But recently Fordham has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons and giving a poor example of its ideals and the quality of its students.

On Monday’s “O’Reilly factor,” on Fox News, my alma mater was the subject of the segment “Watters world,” by Jesse Watters. The controversy that was the topic of the report began in the start of November. The campus group College Republicans invited controversial conservative pundit Ann Coulter as a guest speaker. The invitation caused such an outrage among the student body and faculty that the College Republicans very quickly rescinded their invitation. But what made this more than just an issue of cowardice was that the opposition included the influence of the President of Fordham University, Father Joseph M. McShane. In a personal statement to the whole student body on November 9th, the president wrote, “To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement.”

With those words, the President acknowledged his influence and value placed on his opinion. In an email sent to the whole student body, generally uninformed students suddenly had fodder for an opinion, but little information to back it up.

The “Watters world” video package showed an embarrassing picture of young students’ naiveté and ignorance on campus. Interspersed with “Honeymooners” spoofs and cricket noises when students couldn’t answer questions, the video package was a farce. “I read something on her opinions after 9/11 and I didn’t like them,” said one bubbly, blonde, tanned female student. Watters asked what Coulter had said after 9/11. “I don’t specifically remember,” the young girl replied. Watters then spoke to one student who was able to offer informed insight on his reasons for being against the Ann Coulter appearance. “I would not have wanted her to be prevented,” the student said. “I would rather her allowed, and myself allowed to protest the event.” Watters raised the issue of the University’s decision to invite Peter Singer, “a man with extreme views who agrees with infanticide and bestiality.” Watters asked if the young student went to protest Singer’s appearance. “No I didn’t,” he said. “I had class at that time.”

But the absurdness of the video speaks to the absurdness of the situation. The College Republicans were bullied into rescinding their invitation. The statement by Father McShane was meant to make a call to arms. “The College Republicans have unwittingly provided Fordham with a test of its character,” he wrote. “The old saw goes that the answer to bad speech is more speech. This is especially true at a university, and I fully expect our students, faculty, alumni, parents, and staff to voice their opposition, civilly and respectfully, and forcefully.”

Most students do realize that when they agree to attend a private Catholic University constitutional rights such as freedom of speech aren’t absolute. Instead of addressing the issue that Fordham actually does have a say in opinions which they offer a platform too, Father McShane abused his power and influence under the guise of free speech. He invoked the Catholic traditions of good vs. evil and gave uninformed students the ammo to take a stand on issues they know nothing about. “Half the people don’t even know why they don’t like Ann Coulture,” Watters said.

Watters said the University wouldn’t give him anyone to speak to and had to flag down an “innocent assistant dean” that wasn’t involved in the decision making process of inviting speakers to the University. The bottom line, as said by O’Reilly, is that this is embarrassing for a respectable school.

It is embarrassing. Father McShane abused his popularity to attack a decision made by a bunch of kids who appeared to be as uniformed as to the reasons they invited Coulter as the ones who opposed her. In a statement explaining why the College Republicans rescinded Coulter’s invitation they wrote, “We regret that we failed to thoroughly research her…that is our error and we do not excuse ourselves for it.”

The “Watters world” segment was a ridiculously produced news segment as was the issue it was sent to cover. However, it is Fordham’s shame too that it brought itself low enough to be made fun of in this way.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ready for shabbat

I hope the ceasefire holds. If I’m feeling I need quiet, I really can’t comprehend how necessary it is for the rest of the country. All I know is that for me, each day that has passed seems like a lifetime ago. Wednesday afternoon a bomb exploded. Wednesday evening I wrote a story about people sending letters and packages to the IDF and residents of the south. That night I went out drinking and dancing. The day before I went to a rally to support the IDF troops. Monday I went to visit a village for at-risk girls in Israel. 

On Sunday I was in Jerusalem at Mount Herzl, walking around the graves of fallen soldiers praying more won’t come. I was sitting in on lectures about the role of religion in a democratic state when the sirens went off in Tel Aviv. Hearing about it through the news and not being there, I felt I was abandoning Tel Aviv. I wanted to get back and put my arms around my city and give it a big hug. Riding the bus back, my chest tightened a little, what if another siren went off? How would we all get off the bus without being in a panic? Where would we go?

That was just five days. The first siren was last Thursday. Since then every day has been a balancing act between putting my reality into context for friends and family but trying to figure out how I feel about this reality. Today is Thanksgiving in America but I don’t feel it. I need Shabbat. I need the excuse to say that I can’t do any work. I am really not allowed to participate in work. No reading facebook, no reading the news, no internet, no phone. I need Shabbat so I have an excuse to tell the world to leave me alone and have it be ok.

Sunset on Shabbat in Tel Aviv

For 10 months now I post “Shabbat Shalom” to my Birthright Israel facebook page every Friday. When I first started doing it in February, we had just gotten back from our trip and I was riding on an incredible high. On one particular “high” day I wrote that I would never stop wishing Shabbat Shalom. I forgot maybe once or twice and my friends called me out. I started getting a little self-conscious about my posting because I am usually very critical of annoying people on facebook, but I kept it up. A friend told me she really enjoyed seeing me post it every friday and whether she meant it or not, it made me feel like I was doing something good.

For some reason Shabbat has a hold over me. It’s different than just TGIF and happy for the weekend. Living in a city, everything is always so hectic. But when Shabbat comes everything shuts down. It’s not complete quiet, but the distractions of shops, cafe’s and most cars are removed. Everything slows down, forcing you to relax. It seems counterintuitive, “forced to relax,” but sometimes you need a reminder to stop and breath.

A vision like this makes me love Tel Aviv more every day.

Rally in Kikar Rabin Tuesday night.

"We are all with the South, support the IDF"

Iron Dome graffiti in Tel Aviv - the Kipat Barzel protects us all.

Opening of the Beit Ruth village for at-risk girls in Afula, Israel on Monday during the heigh of the rocket attacks in the South.

The ribbon cutting ceremony, the staff celebrates the newly opened center.

Internationals gather to make packages to send to the IDF and children affected by rocket fire in the South of Israel.

Writing letters of love and support to the soldiers.
Coloring chamsa's for peace and safety.

Friday, November 2, 2012

I am not my MASA program

It’s four a.m. and I’m sitting on the curb outside the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. It’s not the safest place to be waiting for a sherut (shared taxi) to start running so I can finally get home. “Coma dakot?” I ask in the general direction of an Israeli who looks like he might have some sort of authority on where and when the sherut’s operate. “Coma dakot!” He shoots back.

I’m confused because I asked, “how many minutes,” and it sounds like he made my question an answer and I should just accept it. I look over at the metered taxis, I already failed negotiating a price from 40 sheckles to 20, so I continue to sit stubbornly. An African man speed-walks past me, what does he have to be anxious about? The Central Bus Station is his territory.

Exhausted, frustrated, a bit defeated, I need to reflect on why I put myself in this situation; and why I continue to seek out potentially dangerous, ill-planned, mostly solitary adventures. Hours earlier, I was in a pressure cooker of excited, frenetic, Jewish Zionist enthusiasm. I was shuttled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with 80 other participants of my paid-for, all inclusive, five-month program in Israel. All of us had paid a decent chunk of change to pretend to feel like real people on this program, living and working in Israel, but with the comfort of an organized group. It is the opportunity to assimilate into Israeli society without the full commitment of making Aliyah or without the stress of finding work. Going about my everyday business in this country, I really started to feel like I was fitting in. But a shadow continued to follow me. It's the shadow that says “You fell right into their hands, build the Jewish state, you are doing exactly what they want.”

I had kept the shadow behind me these past couple of weeks, shopping, working, seeing friends, I was starting to feel like I fit in. But walking into the MASA opening festival, all my insecurities of being an American Jew in Israel were thrown back in my face. I was confronted with the reality of who I am and the stereotypes I fulfill. I am the drunk teenager, exploring and testing my limits, feeling untouchable. I am the easily impressed American, swooning at the sight of an IDF soldier. I am the desire to come to Israel to be closer to Judaism, a sense of solidarity among Kippas and religious songs. These things are part of me, I just didn’t want them to define me. Even worse, to watch them reflected back to me in a hot mess of MTV styled video testimonials. A reworked pop-musical performance to mention Israel, Zion and Jews complete with backup dancers and a smoke machine.

I was overwhelmed. I needed to reassert my independence. I needed to show that I am not a blind follower. All I kept picturing was a situation-style room with a round table of rich Jewish American’s plotting how best to grab hold of the minds of the youth. “Let’s make Judaism and Israel the hottest club to get into. Strobe lights, house music, dancing. The only stipulation to the bouncer at the door, they have to be Jewish, everyone else gets turned away.” I never was one for the club scene.

Eleven p.m. Jerusalem. Shuk party. When do you ever really hear those words? Walking through the Shuk at night is like being in an empty theater. The vibrations and energy of the day can still be felt in the discarded cardboard crates littering the floor, or the bruised pears too far gone to sell, too much effort to throw away. It's the feeling of being able to be behind the scenes, that the sets are an illusion, and the actors are stripped down of their makeup and wardrobe. I wanted to get back to the real Israel, not the Zionist reality TV show I felt was my life. The bar we went to stood on its own in the empty alley. We sat on milk crates with cushions. I ordered a small stout beer and the DJ played indie tunes from 2004. As far deep as I had traveled into Jerusalem-hipsterdom, the conversational circle I inevitably found myself in was like-minded American Zionist Jews. The boy-girl couple next to me was studying at the Yeshiva. She had been here for four months and hailed from Seattle. Minnesota was home to the boy, go Vikings. Across from us, a young beautiful girl sat, she had converted and just made Aliyah. Sitting next to her was her friend from Taglit. Coming to join in on our circle, a young man, who resembled a 90’s heroin addict with a confusing neo-nazi haircut sat down and started rolling a cigarette. He may have been drunk, also overly excited, he had just come from the same event as me and was totally jazzed on the music and feeling of Jewish connectivity. He was also on a long term program, working on a farm not too far outside Jerusalem.

The image of the people before me wasn't me, but the familiarity of why we are all here was still present. It’s the reality of being an American Jew in Israel. The decision to come to Israel is a conscious one, laden with subconscious desires. I can’t deny that birthright shook me and awoke a desire to explore myself and people like me more. I also can’t deny I fit within this stereotype of impressionable, excited Americans. It's a stereotype because it contains a nugget of truth.

At 2:30 am I sat in a sherut waiting with three other people, they were two Israelis and an Asian girl. We were waiting because a group of young, drunk Americans were trying to decide if they could handle splitting their group up to go on the sherut back to Tel Aviv. They were loud, they were indecisive, and they were interjecting American-accented Hebrew in their English. The Asian girl leaned into her Israeli boyfriend and complained as to why we all have to speak in English even though we’re in Israel, as she said this in English. I leaned over and asked “What language do you want to speak in?”

“Any other language,” she continued to whine.

I was losing patience with her. The kids outside the sherut continued to argue amongst themselves, their speech drunkenly slurred. Even though these kids represented everything in the night that I wanted to distance myself as far away from, I knew that I was part of them. We are loud, we are annoying, we travel in packs. But we are here to explore the Zionist and Jewish dream, and want to have fun doing it at the same time. I can critique, judge and second guess myself, but I’ll never apologize to anyone for being me.