Israel Hit Me Like a Sandstorm

I returned home, with sand still in my shoes, daydreaming of the warm Mediterranean sea, the beautiful rolling hills of the Judean desert, and the vibrant nightlife of Tel Aviv.

The first time I set foot in Israel was in 2012. At the time, I had no idea that it would become my home and the place where all of my happiest memories would be formed.

I was working as a corporate sales manager, secretly wondering what it really was that I wanted to do with my life. I had survived a series of anticlimactic relationships, with a few dramatic ones sprinkled in for good measure, and sworn off men completely. I had created a very concise list of all the things I wanted in a man and decided that if every box wasn’t checked off, I just wouldn’t bother anymore—after all, there were so many other things in the world besides men.

The months came and went, and I grew to despise my job more and more. I thought that once I was in management I would have accomplished something. But after getting a promotion I didn’t feel any different, just that I spent more hours thinking about work than I cared to admit.

My mother had been bothering me about going on a Jewish Birthright trip to Israel since my graduation, but I had been combatively refusing. However, by August 2011 I had finally become bored with my mundane corporate existence enough that I was craving an adventure, so I scheduled my trip for the following January. I figured it was free, so why not?

I had survived a series of anticlimactic relationships, with a few dramatic ones sprinkled in for good measure, and sworn off men completely.

In mid-January, departing the wintery chill of New Jersey, I boarded a flight with 21 other Jewish young professionals and headed for Israel. I spent 10 incredible days touring the country. I hadn’t known what to expect, but Israel hit me like a sandstorm. It was like I had left home at a young age and forgotten where I was from, then returned as an adult. I was captivated by cobblestone alleyways in Jerusalem and the tiny hole-in-the-wall shops selling delicious food, like nothing I had tasted before in my life. The incredible history spanning thousands of years, the amazing people, and the fact that so many climates could exist in a place the size of New Jersey— from tropical palm-lined beaches, to snow-covered mountains, lush wooded trails leading to waterfalls and dry deserts that went for miles. It was incredible.

In addition to the effect the country had on me, there was a guy (of course). As part of the cultural component of our trip, eight Israeli IDF soldiers joined us for 5 of the 10 days we toured the country. There was a handsome paratrooper that took a liking to me, and the feeling was definitely mutual.

After the trip ended I returned home, with sand still in my shoes, daydreaming of the warm Mediterranean sea, the beautiful rolling hills of the Judean desert, and the vibrant nightlife of Tel Aviv. I had trouble focusing on work or anything that wasn’t related to Israel. The soldier and I hadn’t gone more than two days without speaking and continued to grow even fonder of each other from afar.

By April I had made up my mind to return, and by July I had managed to secure a place for myself in a year-long volunteer/study program, and had found enough scholarship money to pay my way. I cashed out my 401K, quit my corporate management position, and bought a one-way ticket to Israel.

I hadn’t known what to expect, but Israel hit me like a sandstorm.

I spent the next year living in an apartment in Yafo, teaching English, studying Israeli history, culture, and the Hebrew language. I made more friends in 10 months than I had during my entire academic career. The Israeli soldier and I became a couple, and I was welcomed into his family with the warmth that only Israelis can show. I became the daughter that his mother never had, and his father took it upon himself to teach me everything about my Judaism that I never knew or had never learned.

Israel became home. By the time that I was 5 months into my program, the thought of leaving gave me a harsh pang in my stomach. I had heard people talking about making “Aliyah,” becoming citizens and relocating to Israel permanently, and began to toss around the idea. Pretty soon tossing around an idea became finalizing my plan for return. I left my newfound home for a few months, returning to the US to get my paperwork in order and go through the pre-immigration process, then was back on a flight to Israel. This time, to stay for good.

I promised myself that Israel was going to be my way of taking back my life. In just under a year I became proficient enough in Hebrew to hold my own, acquired a yoga teaching certification, and started working as a journalist. I got the hang of hosting Thanksgiving abroad, and the Israeli soldier proposed.

I had fulfilled my promise to myself… but as everything fell into place for me, my fiance found himself where I had been before Israel—lost and yearning for something more. After weeks of long conversations, we determined that to pursue the profession that he wanted, the best colleges were in the US. With the same pang that I felt in my stomach the first time I had to leave, I prepared to depart my new home once more.

I returned home with sand still in my shoes, daydreaming of the warm Mediterranean sea, the beautiful rolling hills of the Judean desert, and the vibrant nightlife of Tel Aviv.

We settled in the US and I started over, again. It was difficult for me, and to this day I struggle. I am constantly homesick, dreaming of the warm, sunlit days in Israel and the amazing friends and family that I have there. But after going through a terrible depression, being faced with restarting my career, and feeling as though I had given up everything that I had finally gotten, I realized that it didn’t matter where I was—that the promise that I made to myself stood. I had left and returned once on the wings of determination, so if I wanted Israel to be my home again, it would be.

Though I don’t work as a journalist in Israel anymore, I am still a writer. Now I’m even expanding my career in places I may not have thought I could before. I travel back home often and will probably return for good, in a few years. My (now) husband and I had a huge wedding in Israel and my family and friends from the US attended. I was finally able to share this special new home of mine with them.

But the most important thing for me to realize, through all of this, was that Israel lived in my heart and that even if I needed to leave for a while, it wasn’t being taken away from me. I would always have it and could always go home. It wasn’t a goodbye, because I would be back again soon.

About Leilani Rose

Leilani RoseLeilani is a writer and content strategist based out of the New York City area. Though she always had a love for travel, it was deepened by spontaneous adventures and her culturally immersed years living in Israel. When not writing, she enjoys traveling to new places and trying new food with her husband, yoga, and deciding which country to visit next.

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