My Israeli Diaries

By Alisa Itskova, WUJS Fall 2014 Participant

Tel-Aviv, 31 January 2015

A week from now my Masa programme will be over and I will open a new chapter of my life. But as I’m writing these lines, I realize that the understanding of this fact hasn’t quite been processed by the right side of my brain. Ironically it feels like things have just got familiar, but time for a change has already caught up with me. Today I woke up with this confusing sensation of… sadness perhaps? I guess it’s always a little hard to break those habits and routines that we took a while to establish. I will miss those Tuesday tiyuls (trips) together with my WUJS group, our cozy evenings with the girls in Merhaviya apartment when we’d tell each other about our day, our amazingly delicious Shabbat dinners that would tear to pieces any hope of ‘becoming healthier and eating little portions’. I will probably even miss a little things that I’m certainly not fond of now, like waking up at 8 a.m. to the volcano-like sounds of drills downstairs as the municipality of Tel-Aviv is relentlessly working towards improving the quality of asphalt in our beloved Florentin neighbourhood.

Yet I know that this momentary melancholy will pass away. Eventually the fresh wind of change and novelty will blow away these nostalgic impulses like the mighty dark waves of the Mediterranean wipe away a lonely wanderer’s footprints on the sand.

I remember that soon after I came to Israel five months ago, we sat in a circle on the floor with my new WUJS friends and as we dipped apple slices into honey, we talked about what we wanted to wish each other and ourselves in the new year (a beautiful tradition on Rosh Hashanah that I hope I will not forget). Then I wished to become a more accepting and optimistic person, who’s embracing her experiences and looks bravely and with gratitude at the past, present and future, whatever they may hold. And while this is something I’m continuously working on, I’d like to take a moment and look back at my time here in Israel and recall the brightest moments of this beautiful journey.

One of the best things that came my way is definitely The Stage, an English speaking community theatre group in Tel-Aviv. I was introduced to The Stage by Jessica, a former WUJS participant who stayed in Israel after her Masa programme and eventually made Aliyah. At the meeting with Young Judaea alumnus, Jess mentioned that on top of her start-up business and her day job she was also involved in the Production Committee of The Stage and they always welcome new volunteers into the organization. The idea of being a part of an actual theatre group seemed thrilling to me, especially as I was about to intern for a film production company and I was eager to get as much hands on experience as possible. Soon after this lucky encounter I was participating in the Production Committee meeting for an upcoming production (One Act plays) that The Stage was putting on for an Arts Day in Tel-Aviv under the slogan “Art in unexpected places”. I was coming to every single rehearsal and learned a lot about how The Stage operates and organizes itself in order to produce amazing shows. My first role was working with Lighting and as a member of the Front of House team. Soon after that show, our creative Arts Committee came up with a new idea of Miscast!, a musical where all the parts are performed by singers who have been deliberately miscast. I joined the production team as an Assistant Producer and I was involved in every single stage from planning to auditions to rehearsals to the final two days of show, which was a great success. We sold out and received a great deal of positive reviews from the audience. As a result there’s going to be Miscast! “Part 2” in April with new performances and I’m very happy, honoured and excited to be once again a part of the amazing team who will bring this show to life.

On top of this project I’m about to start working on a new original production, a play by an Israeli author Hanoch Levin that we translated to English as well as assisting our Business Development team in importing the infamous musical Rent from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv (for the first time ever!). None of us is making any money at The Stage, it is a fully non-commercial volunteer-run community project, but I’m extremely proud of dedication and professionalism of our group. It is a wonderful feeling to be a part of it, to see how the efforts of your continuous work bring such great results, to meet talented and inspiring people, to hear how much the audience has enjoyed the show…

Besides the shows, The Stage is also running a number or workshops in acting, singing, musical theatre etc. During the last couple of months in Israel I’ve fulfilled one of my long-forgotten dreams and finally joined the acting workshop. We are about to have our last class soon followed by a final performance showcasing the skills we learned during these amazing eight weeks. It’s OK that I won’t be getting an Oscar any time soon, but I’ve definitely had tons of fun, made new friends and I feel like I’ve become much more confident when it comes to speaking in public.

There was also another great thing that happened to me here in Tel-Aviv. Exactly one month after I had landed in the Holy Land I found myself sitting at the table with some amazingly talented and inspiring women discussing contemporary issues that female leaders have to face in their everyday professional and personal lives. The organization or rather the community that’s organizing these meetings is called Lean In Circles. In a nutshell these are small groups for women that gather once a month “to encourage and support each other in an atmosphere of confidentiality and trust”. The goal of these circles is to empower women by providing them with tools and know-how to achieve their goals through “an open exchange of ideas and information”. Sometimes our organizers host a successful female guest speaker to lead a round table, other times we simply share some personal stories with each other on a given topic. Through these short narratives of moments in life we “lean in” or “lean back”, supporting and inspiring each other to achieve bigger and bolder goals. After every such meeting I find myself truly empowered, no matter what is happening in my life at that moment. I come back home with a bright flame of hope in my heart.

I think that feeling of interconnection with people around me is what made me fall in love with this unique country in the first instance. Surely there are plenty of wonderful organizations, movements and communities in other places around the world to feed my mind and soul. But only in Israel I found this amazing feeling of belonging, which is growing stronger and stronger every day. I think we all did. As I discover more interesting initiatives, movements and groups of people, I am always surprised to find out that already a few of my friends from other circles are also a part of it. Whether it’s a political panel discussion, a lecture in a bar, a yoga class or a group hike in the desert I keep meeting familiar faces and it doesn’t stop to amaze me. My local friends joke that Israel is one big village or a kibbutz if you like it. No matter how diverse we all are, what countries we come from, what views we have on political matters, what being Jewish means to each of us, we all feel somehow connected to one another. What unites us even more is that we all want the best for this country. I haven’t made Aliyah yet (although I’m about to), but I already find myself preoccupied with the future of Israel and its people, and even more so now in the view of upcoming elections. I started to feel the continuous urge to follow all the news related to Israel, to understand its social and political intricacies. And despite all the complexities of life here, all the differences in people’s backgrounds and their stances, I am deeply fond of the warmness that so many Israelis have for one another. I mean in what other country you get invited for a cup of tea when you buy your camping gear or receive hugs and high fives from your boss? I also admire Israelis’ reverent relationship to their land, nature and environment, their universal love for good and healthy food, their true care for one another in times of hardship and even their amusing need to always tell you that they are going to pee now (yes, you can definitely add this point to the list of common Israeli features).

As expected, I’ve also fallen in love with Tel-Aviv, and just like Carrie Bradshaw with New York, I am happy to say that I’m enjoying a very unique and fascinating relationship with my city. I love its beautiful beaches and cozy bars, its creative graffiti scenes and green boulevards with colorful arty benches, its dog-friendly… everything really and its countless cats that give the city even more character. I love its randomness, its free spirit and its hidden surprises many of which I am yet to discover. It’s been hell of a ride, full of discoveries and revelations and even though I don’t know what future might hold for me, I’m now embarking on this new journey more inspired than I’ve ever been in my life.