The Things I Miss About Israel

I made aliyah in 1999 at the age of 25 and lived in Jerusalem for a year, and then for two years in Tel Aviv, working as an English teacher in high schools. I returned to London in 2002 for a break, feeling very burnt out by the intensity of life that is Israel. I needed to recharge my batteries and make a decision about whether living in Israel was really for me. I ended up being offered my old teaching job back at a girls’ Catholic Convent school. I realised at the same time how much I missed the breadth and variety that London has to offer, and its solidity—which is no small thing, having just spent two years living through the second Intifada. Then I met my husband so my fate was decided. While I love Israel deeply and go back to visit nearly every year, there are still a few things I continue to miss about the country:

  • The smell of baked tarmac and hot, moist earth the minute you step off the plane
  • The fact that December 25th is just another ordinary, sunny day
  • The road signs that loom out of nowhere in the desert for places called Sodom and Lot
  • The brilliant, white curves of restored Bauhaus buildings against an azure sky in Tel Aviv
  • The fading, crumbling colonial gems that appear like ghosts flitting between modern blocks, down narrow forgotten streets in South Tel Aviv
  • The existence of Modern Hebrew everywhere—screaming billboards, shop signs, radio jingles, the language of the street and the courtroom, of commerce and of lovers, of politicians and mothers
  • Eating chunks of sweet, fleshy watermelon mixed with salty feta cheese at a café on the beach at midnight—my toes in the sand
  • The sultry scent of oleander, its waxy flowers adding another ingredient to the olfactory explosion that is a Tel Aviv summer night
  • The sweet relief of rain after the relentless barrage of summer
  • The old, wooden poles that support loops of ugly electric cable that hum at night in Neveh Tsedek
  • The screeching of stray cats pursuing their amorous adventures at the back of every apartment block
  • The bliss of stepping into the cool, quiet luxury of air-conditioning
  • The blinding, biblical sunlight that strips the world of colour at midday that can’t be found anywhere else
  • The ancient city of Jerusalem with all its secrets, curses and shadows
  • The modern bubble of Tel Aviv with all its vim and vigour and love of youth and hedonism
  • The quiet and peace that steals over both cities just before sundown on Friday
  • The old, moss covered sycamore trees that look like old men with beards that line Rotschild Boulevard and the fruit bats that live in their branches and haunt your peripheral vision with their silent swooping
  • The smell of hot pine resin and crushed pine needles from the little playground where I used to play as a child near my grandparents’ house
  • The knowledge that if England were to ever throw me out for being a ‘dirty Jew,’ I would always have a home

The Visiting Scribes series was produced by the Jewish Book Council‘s blog, The Prosen People.

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