This blog post was written by Talia Eiseman, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living and working in Haifa.
As a person who prefers knowing what to expect in most situations, the idea of coming to Israel for nine months was out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know what to expect of Kiryat Haim, my experience living here, or my day to day life. Six months into the program, there are still many challenges I encounter like the unpredictability of grocery shopping on a Friday morning that continue to push me, but also have allowed me to find familiarity in other ways. In my placements, celebrating Shabbat, or spending time with my host family, I have come to appreciate the many similarities that have carried over from my life at home.
When I found out that I was going to be living in Kiryat Haim, I immediately looked it up on the map, saw an IKEA, and felt at home. There has always been an IKEA in close proximity to my home, and I have distinct memories of spending hours with my college roommates picking out cheap furniture and things we didn’t need. Knowing that there was going to be an IKEA close to my new home was the first of many similarities I have drawn between my experience in Israel and my home thousands of miles away.
In addition to finding similarities between my two homes, I see myself reflected in many of the kids at the school I volunteer at, particularly the kids who are quiet and shy, but know all the correct answers in class. Before I started working in the schools, I wondered how I would relate to these kids who are growing up in a different generation and country than I did. I have realized since then that there are many things that we can relate and talk about, despite our differences. Regularly, the kids like to ask us what foods we like in Israel, and are horrified to find out that I don’t eat meat. We find time in between lessons to talk about music and movies, and have found that we even watch the same TV shows like Wednesday. Even with the little language we can share, I look forward to seeing the kids each week, and being able to uplift them.
At another placement, I assist with physical therapy at Beit Kesler, a home for those with disabilities in Kiryat Haim. Many of the residents who come to physical therapy have cerebral palsy, which inhibits their ability to walk. They come to practice walking, standing, and moving their bodies. My cousin Emma has cerebral palsy and I have grown up helping her put her braces on and walk. It has been incredible to see her go from struggling to find her balance to seeing her get on the dance stage and even perform in the Nutcracker in Chicago. When I help the residents of Beit Kesler walk and see the smiles on their faces, it reminds me of being with Emma, and seeing how happy it makes her to walk, and the joy that she brings to our family.
Since coming to Israel, I have returned to dance, and I am very grateful to be able to reconnect with this way of expressing myself. Taking dance classes every week reminds me so much of home, and specifically growing up, because it is what I spent all my time doing outside of school. I was intimidated to start dance classes here because of the language barrier and my four year break I took from dance. It surprised me how similar the dance classes in Israel are to the classes I’ve taken at home. Recently, I took a ballet class and the order of the whole class was identical to the ballet classes I grew up taking.
Being in a different country and often feeling out of place, it feels refreshing to go to dance class and know the movements from memory. It is comforting to find a common language in dance, and see how people can use it all over the world to express themselves. This experience has allowed me to appreciate the universality of dance, and I know that wherever I live in the future, I will use dance as an outlet to connect with myself and with others.
When I’m with my host family, I am comforted by a reminder of my life at home. When I came to Israel, I had to say goodbye to the family I had been nannying throughout my college years. I felt very connected to them and saw their daughter grow up, and it was hard to not know when I’d see them again. I didn’t expect to have the same connection in Israel, but when I’m with my host mom helping her put her daughters to bed, I feel like I’m back at home babysitting. Even in another country, putting kids to bed includes putting on pajamas, brushing their hair, and reading a bedtime story. Being around and a part of a family has been really meaningful for me, especially throughout the year, missing many birthdays and holidays that I would celebrate with my family.
Celebrating Shabbat in Israel has also been a way for me to feel connected to home, whether I am lighting candles or sharing a Shabbat meal with my roommates. Growing up, we had Shabbat dinner every Friday night at my house, and it was a very special time for us to all come together. Oftentimes, I was annoyed about having to miss plans with friends or sit through the prayers, but when I went to college, I came to appreciate this ritual, and the predictability of this time we spent together each week. When celebrating Shabbat in Israel, I often try to reproduce these rituals by talking to my mom during candle lighting time, and am reminded of my dad and brothers when I hear Aishes Chail, which they would sing to my mom each week. Having Shabbat here brings a sense of familiarity, knowing that each week I can sit with my host family, and friends and eat a meal together.
Although Israel and Kiryat Haim are very different from home for many reasons, I have been able to find the small, yet meaningful comparisons that have welcomed me into this community. Every day, my placements and connections I have made remind me of the reasons that I came to Israel. Whether it’s talking with the shy girl with glasses at school or hearing someone’s life story at Beit Kesler, I feel parts of my life from home reflected here. These past six months, I have also learned how to create a new life here. The connections I have made are what often feel familiar, and have made me realize the potential to feel familiar in a new place.