This blog post is written by Pratiksha, a Yahel fellow living in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood in Rishon LeZion.
If someone asked me about Judaism or Israel before this program I would have just looked at them with a blank look. The little to no knowledge I had of this country made me want to come and learn everything from its own view. The journey to this land which I hardly knew about and a religion I wasn’t so familiar with made me nervous about how I would relate with Israel and its people. But 6 months down the line I didn’t know I would find a home away from home, a place of comfort and a sense of familiarity that the community kept providing me. The streets of Ramat Eliyahu and the small shops next to Ariav have become what I call home. Wishing “Shabbat Shalom” to my neighbors every time they provide me with (טעים ממש) mamash tayeem Injera makes me realize how much I am part of this community, of Ramat Eliyahu. A small neighborhood that I haven’t heard of before became exactly where I would shape my time in Israel.
Looking back at these 6 months, I can easily recall all the Shabbat dinners and the preparations that went into it. I have always loved the idea of big dinners where people bring food from their own heritage so celebrating Shabbat in different traditions was my Friday ritual. Fridays now meant hearing the prayers from the synagogue, lighting up candles while saying the prayers, and listening to Kiddush before dinners that helped me connect to people around me. But it also gave me the feeling of being involved in something new that eventually became my weekly routine. It just didn’t stop till Shabbat dinners but it also meant listening to different stories during Hannukah and Purim that my flatmates made sure of telling me with many backstories and illustrated books. But it wasn’t just about celebrating Purim or Pesach for us but we also celebrated all my festivals which made me feel more at home.
Being in a new place isn’t that easy when there are differences that could be easily visible, be it in Ramat Eliyahu or the seminars that we went to. But hearing stories made me realize the similarities that we have been overlooking. How everyone just wants a future, a place to call their own, and a sense of belonging. We are so caught up in talking about the differences among each other that we forget what binds us across cultures, borders, and countries. And these are the few things that I could see in my placements too. We probably don’t understand each other’s culture completely but still, there is always some excitement to share and learn. In my homework at home, the family always made sure to feed me with Buna and snacks because that’s their way of welcoming whereas I took some cake with me as it is said you don’t go empty-handed to someone’s house. And in the senior center, I was able to show them a bit of India with my Indian classical dance which they still talk to me about while trying to teach me some Hebrew festive songs.
I knew about the differences in the culture and language before coming here and initially, it was difficult to wrap my head around it but slowly it started changing for me. I might not understand everything that the kids or seniors are telling me nor they would but we still communicate and interact. We try to understand each other over food and dance. And if we still don’t we just stick to actions and laugh about it. My time here in Israel has taught me how to be patient enough to find my own place during these balagan times but also to learn new things that come my way.