Friday, September 4, 2009

Reflections After 1 Year

(My cooking skills in my new Apartment!)

Long time no blog. Almost 5 months to be exact. Since my last entry I have returned home to the United States for a brief respite from Kibbutz and have already come back. I went home on May 9ish and came back to Israel on July 7. It was a great vacation and I really wish I had blogged but no use in crying over spilled milk, right? What did I do at home? Histalbateti = sat around on my ass (isn't it great that there's a Hebrew word for all that?). I went back to work around July 15 and it was good to get back to being useful and not just a waste of space. About 1.5 weeks ago was my one year "anniversary" of arriving in Israel and it got me thinking about what Hannah Hafshoosh (friend of my Dad's) said to me. She said that my parents observed while I was home that I had changed and matured. I told her that I really did not feel as if I had changed that much over the past year and that I feel more or less like the same person. She responded very wisely that we never realize how much we change but the people around us pick up on it much more keenly. I guess that's probably because from our point of view we go through all sorts of transitions that we have to rationalize and work out in our minds so the changes do not seem that stark and glaring but rather labored and insignificant since we invested so much energy in the changes. Your friends and family do not go through your changes for you so when they see you for the first time in months you may seem quite different than that same person they remember you as from 5 months prior. I went back and read all of my blog entries from the past year and wrote down all of the changes that I noticed that I went through. The following are those changes.

When I was working in the Kindergarten during my Ulpan, my Hebrew was passable but I wrote down that I did not feel comfortable speaking Hebrew all day. I distinctly remember that speaking in Hebrew all day actually wore me out physically! Now I more or less speak Hebrew for most of my day without thinking twice about it. It's really good that I've gotten used to the language at such a high level before I join the army. I believe that it will make my integration into it much easier and less painful socially. While I would not say that I am as fluent as an Israeli I would say that I am at such a level where I no longer need my English. If there is a word that I do not know in Hebrew I typically have enough of a vocabulary to describe the word I am searching for. For example, a couple weeks ago I was looking for a spatula in the supermarket on Kibbutz. I did not know how to say spatula so I described it as "the tool you use to turn eggs over in a frying pan". That worked well enough.

My first entry was entitled "The Land of Soy Milk (I'm Lactose-Intolerant) and Honey". You will not find soy milk in my apartment on Kibbutz or any other products for the weak-stomached Americans. One of the things I have learned from being in Israel and working in Agriculture is, "Don't freak out if not everything goes your way." A month before leaving Israel in May, I was anxious about what I was going to do on Kibbutz because picking season was coming to an end in the avocado plantation and I was worried that I would be out of a job with nothing to do. I don't even know where to start about how irrational that fear was. Everything worked out fine and looking back I was irrational and unnecessarily stressing myself out. The wisest person I have met in Israel and possibly in my whole life is my boss in the avocados, Elisha Shelem. He is about 75 years old and is still out in the fields toiling from 5:30 in the morning until 1 in the afternoon. This work is no easy task; if an athletic 19-year-old has trouble getting through the day and comes home completely exhausted how is a 75-year-old veteran of almost every war in Israel's history supposed to do it? But he does, and with perfect patience and compassion. He is the kind of person who you want to ask, "What is your secret? How did you get so wise?" I have a feeling that part of it is working with nature for 50 years and his diligent nature. Elisha has taught me 2 things about avocado trees that are profound in ways that I still cannot fully comprehend. We were putting planks in the ground to straighten and provide support to the newly-planted avocado trees when Elisha explained to me that the planks were superfluous -- it is just the paranoia of the plantation manager. As it turns out, even if an avocado tree is crooked and bent it will continue to grow and if it is too unbalanced it will sprout a branch in the unbalanced direction in order to achieve equilibrium. While you obviously cannot simply leave 100 avocado trees to survive and thrive on their own, you don't have to bind them to a support. They will find their own way to grow. The second thing Elisha taught me about avocado trees is that they have an amazing sense of self-balance with regard to the future and the present. Avocado trees sprout 1 of 2 things at the end of each branch: a leaf or a fruit. A leaf is the tree's way of protecting itself. I assume that by sprouting a leaf it takes in more sunlight thereby undergoing more photosynthesis and yielding more energy to power the tree's processes. When the tree sprouts a fruit, it is trying to protect its future by spreading its seed. If the tree were to only worry about spreading its seed all the time, it would not worry enough about its own health and would therefore die before it had a chance to reproduce. At the other extremity, if a tree only focuses on itself, to what is it giving? Its self-preservation is useless and vain and serves no purpose for the future. If the tree is only for itself, then who is it? If it is only for others, then who is for it? I think Hillel the Elder worked in the avocados.

When I used to get up for ulpan at 7 am, I would be distraught that I had to get up at such an ungodly hour. I was quite uninformed of the definition of early. We typically meet nowadays at 5:30 am in our usual place in the orchard to drink coffee. This means that I get up at 4:45 in the morning. Even the sun doesn't get up at 4:45. There is no such thing as getting used to 4:45. There is just such a thing as coping with it. I guess it's all for the best since I hopefully will be going to the army sometime soon. With regard to the army, there are several updates. Last year I planned on going to the army in March 2009. I then pushed my intended draft date back to July. Then I pushed it back even further to November. All of these postponements took place because they were necessary in order to participate in Yom Sayarot. As it turns out I have to push the draft back one more time until February/March. As it stands, my draft date is February 14, 2010 and on September 30, 2009 I have a try-out for Yom Sayarot at the Wingate Institute near Netanya. We'll see what happens. While I am somewhat annoyed that I have had to wait so long for my draft, at least I now have a very high level of Hebrew and am used to my surroundings (Israel).

I was talking with my sister Ilana about a month ago when she suggested the idea of perhaps writing a book about my experience once I get out of the army in several years from now. I think it's a great idea and that perhaps all of my blog entries could either stand as a book on their own or at least provide a structure to build the book around. Even though there are already several books that have been published by formers soldiers who made Aliyah from the United States, I think every story is valuable because every one describes in its own right the unique experience that is making Aliyah at a young age from the United States. Also, all of the books that I read on this topic helped me immensely and I think it would be nice to do the same for those brave enough to follow suit. In any case, I first have to worry about getting through the army healthily and willing to write a book. I wonder what changes I'll be able to document one year from now. Happy start of the school year!

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