I’m sleeping off my Birthright staff hangover in Jerusalem, with D and L and their empirically adorable daughter. This means that I’m confused as to how there are not 38-46 people around me at all times, that every second of my day is not structured, and that I’m not awake at 6.30 am. Before we left for the airport last week, I told our group that for the entire trip, I’ve been wanting to open up their brains and look at the rings that being in Israel has left there, as though they were trees. It’s astonishing to me to see how this place has impacted them, each very differently, but no one seems to have gone home without some movement in their guts.

N said to me during the trip, “You’re different every time you come back here.” He’s very perceptive, that one. I am definitely not the same person I was two years ago, the last time I was here, which means Israel is not the same to me as it was then. I don’t know what it is, though, and that scares me. Lately I’ve been vulnerable to emotional sneak attacks-just when I think I’m not going to feel anything, there it is, all over me, like a drunk friend you have to carry home from a party.

In January, when we were hiking in Ecuador, he elevation sickness finally kicked in for me. I thought I was dying. F, our guide, told me that to feel better, I had to stand up straight, so my ribcage was open. It just occurred to me today, on my walk back from the center of town, that when I stood that way, my heart was also open. I forgot that here you can be surprised all the time, but you have to be ready to receive what comes. Here’s some of what’s made it to me.

1. In the grocery store, Bugles, the snack of my childhood. Here it’s called “Appropo.”

2. Wiping my sweat away in Tzfat with my grandmother’s handkerchief.

3. The kind of dirty that feels strong: tight, well used muscles, sweaty face, hair that’s strawlike from the sun.

4. The guy at the otherwise horrifying bar in Tiberias, reading a book and writing things down while people shouted all around him.

5. A woman on the bus, loaded down with bags, handing her baby to a total stranger to hold while she organized herself. The stranger was delighted, and she amused the baby until his mother took him back.

6. Sitting at the Egon Bar, eating watermelon/Bulgarian cheese and smoking hookah with E. There was a World Cup game on, and just before we left, everyone started screaming joyfully. I blew my last lungful of smoke up at the sky.


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