Friday, August 31, 2012

Employed but not getting paid? Still "unemployed"?

There are a list of questions that I should have prepared myself more for when I came to Israel. "Where are you from? What are you doing in Israel? You will make Aaliyah?" Yea, the last one is not always a question.

Where am I from? "New York," I say. "Ah New York! The Big Apple!" They follow up with. Of course then they ask more, is it the only New York that matters (Manhattan) or are you from Upstate? "Well," I start, "I lived in Manhattan for two years, I went to college in the Bronx for four, but I am originally from Long Island." Ah yes, a Jew from Long Island. That's all the Israeli asking me has actually been waiting for, confirmation that I'm like every other American here. I stumble over this answer a lot, but it usually provides good groundwork for conversation. Almost everyone knows New York, has been to New York, or knows someone in New York. It's nice to share a sort of familiarity with someone, an instant association.

Then I have the question that I'm still not really sure how to answer. "What are you doing in Israel?"

I should just say it plainly. I came here to intern in Journalism. It's the "How" and the "Why" that make me start to second guess my decision to come at all.

How did I find this internship?

Well, six months ago I made the journey that most Jewish young adults who aren't connected to their religion make, I participated in Birthright Israel. I had an amazing time, a life changing time. In 10 days, on a bus with 39 other people I didn't know, being run through a country I had never imagined, something bloomed inside of me. Every positive thought about myself had suddenly been validated. I believed that I was meant for something bigger, that I have the power to change and mark my place in the world. It was time to make a change and Birthright Israel was the catalyst for it.

The next step was committing to this change. I want to go back to school one day but I'm not ready. I want adventure, I want to travel, but I also want to gain tangible experience. The thing about being Jewish is there are a plethora of programs that you can pay for (but are also highly subsidized - cha-ching!) and participate in that have all these things. Done. I applied to Career Israel, a five month program that I pay for out of my own pocket, and once I'm "accepted," the program sets me up with a Hebrew language course for one month, an internship in the field of my choice for 4 months, housing in Tel Aviv, a group dynamic with other people in the program, and maybe a little brainwashing of how great Israel is and how one should move here and continue to build the country. It's that last part that always gives me reservations. But the good seems to outweigh the brainwashing. Shortly after returning from my Birthright trip, I put in my final notice at work, bought my flight, moved out of my apartment, packed my bags, and headed to Israel. Since my lease was up on my apartment in New York in August, I gave myself that month to travel in Israel on my own before my program started in September.

That's a pretty long answer and a loaded one at that to explain to someone making casual conversation over a beer. The "Why" Israel is usually a bit easier for me but a little less exciting for them. Most people think I've come back to the motherland with all the idealism of a new Jewish convert. It really was simply for the fact that Israel is host to this program and it seems a pretty interesting place to study and practice journalism.

What I struggle with the most in these explanations though is justifying myself. How can I take six months off of my life to pay to work and pay to live? It seems spoiled and superfluous. Another rich Jew from Long Island who doesn't know about hardship, struggle, fear, or what it means to search for the truth. I've paid for a program to take care of me, I haven't achieved anything on my own or of my own merits. Yet.

The "Yet" is what sustains me. I remind myself that everyone has a path in life and it can't be the same. This is my decision, my path, my journey. This is what I felt I must do for myself and I am in the position to do it. I don't know what will come of it, if I will succeed or fail, but what I do know is that I have to try. That is Why I'm here in Israel.

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