Undercurrents of War

In this second itteration of follow-up essays about Israel and the Middle East, I’ve departed from my casual, “bloggy tone” and take an academic approach. If you can stomach that for five minutes, then read along! Below is a cause-and-effect essay that I wrote for a course this fall. Titled “Undercurrents of War,” it explains the role water played in the 1967 War and shines a light on the often cast-aside influence of hydropolitics in regional conflicts.

While it is often overlooked, the water conflict between Israel and surrounding Arab states that began with Israel’s establishment in 1948 significantly heightened regional tensions that lead to the 1967 War. The root cause of the water conflict between Israel and the Arabs can be traced back to the management and use of the Jordan River, a central water source running along the Israeli-Jordanian border. Israel and the Arab states’ uncompromisable positions regarding each other’s use of the River eventually climaxed at the Arabs’ Cairo Summit in 1964 [1]. Following the Cairo Summit, the water conflict became increasingly political and violent as Arab states unified and international involvement in the Middle East grew. Consequently, a series of violent counter-retaliations between Israel and the Arabs began, setting off a chain of events that led to the 1967 War.

Central to the water conflict was the understanding that whichever power dominated the River’s water controlled the strength of the newly established Jewish state. Israel knew that water “was the very lifeblood” of their new state and that access to the River was necessary to expand agriculture, accommodate a growing immigrant population, and develop a strong national economy [3]. Thus, upon Israel’s establishment, access to the River became a top priority.

For the Arabs, allowing Israel access to the River required Arab states to recognize their enemy’s existence as a sovereign state and to watch Israel grow. The Arabs were unwilling to do either. They worried that a growing Israeli population would lead to increased water demands and ruin any future possibility for Palestinian refugees to return to the land they lost in 1948, perpetuating an already challenging refugee crisis [2]. The Arabs also feared that Israel’s development and territorial aspirations would escalate and infringe on more Arab land [4]. Finally, the Arabs knew that the stronger Israel grew, the more difficult it would be to defeat should an armed conflict arise. Consequently, the Arabs sought to prevent Israel’s access to and diversion of the River.

Conflicting positions on water use resulted in regional tension during the construction of Israel’s National Water Carrier. Israel had designed the water carrier to transport water from the Jordan River Valley south towards the Negev to expand agricultural land. In 1953, construction of the water carrier began in a zone that was demilitarized in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War [5]. While Israel viewed the demilitarized land as its own, Syria felt that the construction encroached on Arab land and water rights. In response, Syria filed a complaint against Israel to the UN Security Council, garnering global attention [2].

The Syrian complaint and water carrier conflict aroused concern in the United States regarding the stability of the Middle East. The United States favored a stable Middle East to maintain Western oil operations and prevent the Soviet Union from gaining influence in the region [2]. As a result, the United States sent Secretary of State Eric Johnston to Israel to establish a resolution between Israel and the Arabs [4]. The resulting 1955 Johnston Plan allocated 39% of the River’s water to Israel, with the remaining percentage divided between surrounding Arab states. The Johnston Plan also required Israel’s diversion of the River to be rerouted outside the demilitarized zone [6]. While both the Israeli and Arab technical teams approved the plan, only Israel gave the plan overall approval. The Arab coalition did not formally respond, as doing so would infer that they acknowledged Israel as a sovereign state [4].

Ignoring the lack of Arab approval, Israel resumed construction of the National Water Carrier in 1956, complying with the Johnston Plan and avoiding demilitarized zones [5]. This undoubtedly increased Arabs’ frustration, but no concrete Arab response was formulated until the Cairo Summit in 1964. But, by the time the Cairo Summit was held, the construction of the National Water Carrier was nearly complete [1].

In retrospect, the Cairo Summit proved to be the catalyst that escalated the water conflict into a cause for the 1967 War. While Arab states generally disapproved of Israel, prior to the Cairo Summit the states had disagreed with each other regarding the specifics of Israel’s existence and regional hydropolitics. Differences in opinion had intensified in 1961 when the historical Egyptian-Syrian unification crumbled and Arab powers turned against each other [4]. This falling out had changed the water conflict on the Arab front from a “Pan-Arab cause to a controversial issue between Arab camps” [4]. Thus, it was not until three years later at the Cairo Summit that Arab powers would regroup, creating an solidified Arab front that was coordinated enough for war.

The Arabs’ actions at the Cairo Summit indicated that the water conflict had quickly become a top priority. At the summit, a joint technical team drew up plans to prevent further Israeli water diversions and to reroute the River in Arab favor [4]. Meanwhile, the Arab states also established the Unified Arab Military [2]. This merge of military power demonstrated that the Arabs thought that the water conflict was not a simple skirmish with Israel, but a substantial conflict that would require military power in the immediate future. Thus, the Arab states’ involvement at the Cairo Summit transformed a previously fragmented Arab world into an established, confident front prepared for war.

The Cairo Summit also increased international involvement in the Middle East, providing both Israel and the Arabs with the political support, money, and arms needed for war. The United States, in particular, worried that the newly unified Arab front would incite violence and threaten regional stability. In response, the United States affirmed its plan to defend Israel and continue to supply Israel with weapons [2]. While initial arms deals between two countries were established years prior to the Cairo Summit, the summit demonstrated the need for extensive Israeli military power to combat the Unified Arab Military Command. Thus, the reaffirmed alliance between Israel and the United States reassured the Israeli military that they had the support of the United States. With this backing, Israel was determined to secure its future as a state and stop any Arab counter-diversions of the River.

Interest from the Soviet Union also grew after the Cairo Summit. The Soviet Union, in the midst of the Cold War, saw the Arab-Israeli water conflict as an opportunity to act upon their “expansionist ambitions” and gain influence in the Middle East [2]. While the Soviets had sided with the Arabs as early as 1955, they reestablished their support following the Cairo Summit, condemning Israel’s diversion of the River as a preemptive act of war. Additionally, the Soviets financially supported the Arab counter-diversion plan and increased arms supplies to the Arab Unified Command, bolstering Arab strength [2].

The boost in international support Israel and the Arabs received allowed each side to become increasingly uncompromising and powerful. This resulted in a cycle of retaliatory attacks, pushing the region further towards what appeared to be an inevitable war. Following the Cairo Summit, the Arab forces began construction on their counter-diversion plan for the River. This plan threatened Israel’s water access, causing great concern in Israeli society. By late 1964, Israel was desperate and the Israeli government felt that all peaceful methods of mediation with the Arabs regarding hydropolitics had been exhausted. On its own accord, Israel used military force to prevent the Arab counter-diversion of the River, launching an airstrike against Syrian counter-diversion sites [5]. In response, Syria mobilized soldiers to wreak havoc on Israeli water carrier sites and demilitarized civilian zones [5]. Syrian aggression would eventually prompt further Israeli airstrikes and air battles between the two forces. This shift from diplomatic disagreements and smaller land operations to aerial combat marked a significant escalation. No longer was the water conflict simply a regional political disagreement, but a situation that both sides felt necessitated the use of serious military force.

With counter-retaliations growing increasingly frequent, war seemed inevitable. The Soviets, worried the Arabs would not win a war against the Israelis, warned Egypt of Israeli threats to attack Syria on a “much larger scale” [2]. The Soviets hoped this warning would lead the Egyptians to mobilize the Egyptian-Syrian Defense Agreement, intimidating the Israelis and preventing war. Egypt, however, had already begun to secretly deploy its forces. As such, the Soviet warning only served as further Egyptian assurance that military action was necessary. Thus, in May of 1967, with the belief that Israel was ready to strike Syria, Egyptian forces entered the Sinai Peninsula, setting off a sequence of events that began the 1967 War [2].

In conclusion, it is undeniable that the Arab-Israeli water conflict escalated regional tensions that led to the 1967 War. Rooted in each group’s uncompromisable position on the River, the struggle over water became progressively violent as Israel continued to build water infrastructure, Arab states became a reunited front, and international involvement in the Middle East increased. While this sequence of events is evidently unique, the path from conflict to war in the Middle East offers up broader lessons for today’s global community. As the world population grows, infrastructure development expands, and the demand for natural resources increases, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the greatest challenges of our time will stem from a struggle over the one thing we cannot live without: water.


[1] Wolf, Aaron. Hydropolitics Along the Jordan River; Scarce Water and Its Impact on the Arab-Israeli Conflict. United Nations University Press, 1995.

[2] Gat, Moshe. “The Great Powers and the Water Dispute in the Middle East: A Prelude to the Six Day War.” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 41, no. 6, 2005, pp. 911-935.

[3] Haddadin, Munther. “Negotiated Resolution of the Jordan-Israel Water Conflict.” Journal of International Negotiation, vol. 5 no. 2, 2000, pp. 236-288.

[4] Shemesh, Moshe. “Prelude to the Six-Day War: The Arab-Israeli Struggle Over Water Resources.” Israel Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, 2004, pp. 1-45.

[5] Neff, Donald. “Israel-Syria: Conflict at the Jordan River, 1949-1967.” Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 23, no. 4, 1994, pp. 26-40.

[6] Elmusa, Sharif. “The Jordan-Israel Water Agreement: A Model or an Exception.” University of California Press on behalf of the Institute for Palestine Studies, vol. 24, no. 3, 1995, pp. 63-73.


Blood Draw at Break Fast

I’ve taken advantage of my university writing assignments this year to compile a collection of short essays about life in Israel. Below is an observational essay that I wrote for a course this fall. Titled “Blood Draw at Break Fast,” it details an evening at Soroka Hospital in May 2017. 

It is the third day of Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holiday, when my friend Mimi and I near a security checkpoint at Soroka Hospital. The hospital, deep in Israel’s southern Negev desert, treats more than one million Israelis, Palestinians, and Bedouins who call the desert home. It also treats foreigners who live in Israel, like me. While living abroad here, I have begun taking Accutane, an aggressive acne medication that requires routine blood work to monitor my liver. This is why I am headed to the hospital on an evening in late May, accompanied by Mimi, who knows that mundane bothers like blood draws often result in notable cultural experiences. Unwilling to let the “chavaya,” the experience, slip by, she has tagged along, walking beside me as we approach the hospital grounds.

The towering iron fence surrounding the grounds is dotted with armed security checkpoints. Mimi and I head to the closest one, hand our bags to a guard with a machine gun slung across his chest, and nonchalantly toss our IDs on the table. After ten months of living in Israel, we have become accustomed to clearing checkpoints like this one. I follow Mimi through the metal detector, chatting in English. The guard barely glances at our IDs to check that our faces match our pictures. With a toothy grin, he chuckles, “Americanim, ken?” Americans, yes? We smile and nod as he waves us through with his left hand, raising his right hand to stop and search two women behind us wearing hijabs.

We exit the checkpoint and enter the hospital grounds just as the wind picks up, ripping across the desert, coating our nostrils in thick dust. I scrunch my nose, abruptly clear my sinuses, and survey the landscape. Monstrous hospital buildings contrast the sandy sky. They rise from the desert, silver and illuminated, as if from the next millennium. Outside of a set of sliding doors, a Jewish-Israeli surgeon in stained scrubs yells into a phone in Hebrew, flicking her cigarette on the ground. A Bedouin family lingers next to her, conferring with a slender, bald Palestinian man. The women behind us at the security checkpoint walk by, headed toward the grass lawn outside the pediatric ward. They are carrying plastic containers overflowing with food for iftar, the meal that breaks the fast each day of Ramadan after sunset. As they pass us, I smell the dense aroma of slow-cooked lamb and savory spices and find myself briefly overwhelmed by the cultural diversity that surrounds me.

The hospital is the medical hub for the Negev, serving all of Israel’s segments of society. Away from the hospital, these groups of people are odds with each other over land, rights, and freedom. Israelis and Palestinians are engaged in a 100-year-long conflict over their right to exist on this tiny strip of land, Bedouins struggle against Israeli land ordinances to maintain their traditional nomadic lifestyle, Arab-Israelis are frequently treated as second-class citizens in a Jewish-Israeli dominated society, and less-publicized class struggle within each group is constant. But at the hospital, everyone converges. Exterior problems are suspended in a third dimension, creating a common space where people share a rare, almost unrecognizable humanity.

Mimi and I experience this unusual sense of community as we enter the hospital’s main building. The noise of bureaucracy is intense, but there is care embedded in the chaos. A smattering of immigrant-Israelis from Ethiopia, South America, and the Middle East linger in the hallways, awaiting their appointments, while nurses lead patients to their rooms. Using our elementary Hebrew, we try to interpret the signs towards the blood lab. Unsuccessful, we end up in circles until we find a woman who speaks English and knows where we need to go. She walks us down to the basement and up to the counter of an open window, cutting in front of the long line. Her hands forcefully jab the air as she speaks, explaining our situation in Hebrew to the man at the counter. We quietly stand beside her, feeling foreign and helpless.

A few minutes later I am pulled over to a nurses’ station. Mimi sits across the room from me as a large, feisty Russian-Israeli woman prepares a needle and curses under her breath. I can tell the woman thinks we are “estupid Americanim,” stupid Americans. I cringe and look at Mimi’s widened eyes as the nurse repeatedly pokes me with the needle, trying to find one of my stubborn veins. On the third try, she lets it linger under my skin. She searches for a vein, waving the inserted needle horizontally. I squirm and nearly faint just as she is successful and cries out a resounding, “Oui, poe!” Oh, here! I close my eyes and wait for blood to pool in the vial. When finished, the nurse slaps a band-aid on my arm, labels the vial, and gives me follow-up instructions in a broken mix of Hebrew, Russian, and English. I nod, half understanding, half pretending to understand. She shoos Mimi and I away, and we retrace our steps out of the hospital building’s basement.

As we near the building’s exit, we watch an ambulance outside unload a man wrapped in bandages. While doctors confer over his body in Hebrew, a nurse near the head of the stretcher speaks to him in Arabic. I try to get a better look at him, and I wonder if he is one of the Palestinians wounded by Israeli soldiers that I saw on the news earlier today. Momentarily, I well with admiration at the thought of doctors and nurses putting aside politics and classism to treat all types of people. I tell myself that the coexistence I see here is proof that these groups could find peace on this tiny sliver of land. But my hope is fleeting. Ten short months of living in Israel has taught me that compromise between anyone living on this land is exceedingly rare. Instinctively, or perhaps habitually, the burden of reality reenters my mind, and my optimism fades. I sigh softly as we pass through the sliding doors and leave the building.

Outside the building, the sun has set and the wind has settled. Iftar has begun. Muslim families sit on the grass in wide circles. Plastic containers overflowing with rice, vegetables, and meat lie in the center of the circles next to boxes of plump dates. Children, attached to IVs, have been rolled out of the hospital in wheelchairs. Feral cats dart between the circles of people, trying to sneak a bite food. Off to the side, next to rolled-up prayer rugs, people play music and smoke hookah. Irrespective of the sickness and struggle that may have brought these people here tonight, happiness prevails on the dimly lit grass.

Before exiting the hospital grounds, Mimi and I watch as a Muslim family offers tea to a Jewish-Israeli nurse walking by. The nurse sits down and joins the family. A man in the circle reaches for a covered container, removing the lid to reveal kanafe, a traditional Arab dessert made from sinuous pastry noodles soaked in syrup and layered with cheese. He serves the nurse a piece of kanafe on a floppy plastic plate. We are too far away to smell the sugary syrup cut the air, but the moment still feels sweet. For a minute, I let optimism and naivety override pessimism and reality. Mimi and I smile at each other. I know we are thinking the same thing. All things feel possible at the hospital at break fast.


Cass to Nash

In a pleasant departure from weekly FaceTime dates, I closed out summer by visiting Mimi, one of my best friends from Israel, in Nashville. If I were half the tourist that I (sometimes) wish I was, this post would be stacked with detailed descriptions of salty/spicy/sticky BBQ meals, a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and wild evenings of live music. Alas, I am ashamed (though not entirely disappointed) to say that I experienced none of these southern trademarks. Instead, Mimi and I poked around Vanderbilt and the city and lounged at her apartment…while talking endlessly about “The Jewish Book of Why”, minimalism, water filtration, and which IKEA shoe rack to buy for her entryway. (Is this what all long-distance best friends do when they visit each other? Please let me know.)

Putting mundane conversations aside, though, I’d like to start by saying that Tennessee was immediately and indubitably FREAKING gorgeous. I had never been to that part of the country, and the airport Lyft ride to Mimi and her boyfriend Cody’s apartment had me smitten: rolling hills, expansive skies, scattered clouds, renovated brick houses, bleached white steeples, and more greenery than my drought-stricken Californian eyes had seen in years. Before even saying hello, my first words to Mimi were, “Wow, it’s surprisingly beautiful here!” (In retrospect, *palm to the face*…I need to get off my high Californian horse more often.)

We spent our first evening catching up while sharing an eggplant doused in tahini with mismatched silverware and steak knives (apparently Vanderbilt Jewish Studies masters students don’t have time to find butter knives for their kitchens). The following morning I accompanied Mimi to her “Social Movements in Modern Jewish Life” course at Vanderbilt. We discussed the intricacies of European antisemitism and class structure, reviewed different forms of Zionism, and explored the privatization of kibbutzim throughout Israeli history. While these topics would bore 99% of people, they fascinated me, and I thoroughly enjoyed nerding out with Mimi, the expert herself!

We rounded out the day with a heated yoga class at a house-turned-studio before driving to Nashville’s factory district to visit one of our favorite clothing brands, Elizabeth Suzann. (Sidenote: Mimi and I have become obsessed with slow fashion, radical transparency, and thoughtful consumption over the past two years…Elizabeth Suzann dominates all three). It was an ABSOLUTE DREAM to meet their employees, tour their workspace, and learn more about their women-owned business.

The rest of the weekend we spent meeting up with friends, grocery shopping, visiting the flea market, having ridiculously long conversations about hemming pants and SquattyPottys, and of course, EATING. While BBQ was not on the menu (Mimi is vegan, and I’m…well…difficult), an array of artsy-fartsy farm-to-table restaurants were. We spent one evening at “Little Octopus,” an Instagram-worthy-interior-decorated restaurant downtown, enjoying coconut-lime ceviche, trumpet mushrooms with tofu sauce, waxed black beans, koji chicken, and wagyu strip steak (an odd, yet absolutely delicious combination). Another day we tested out Eio & the Hive, where I ordered a salmon-kale caesar salad made with almond butter, but forwent the CBD-infused juices and gluten-dairy-nut-free-rabbit-food desserts. Ugh, sometimes I disgust myself with how much I enjoy it all.

After a weekend well spent (and a tummy well fed), Mimi drove me to the airport in the pouring rain Monday morning, and I headed home to start my “cherry on top” of a fifth year at Davis…There is little more to say besides a big todah rabah to Mimi and Cody (for feeding me and letting me sleep at the end of their bed like a dog for four nights) and that short, domestic trips are rad. Nothing beats seeing the people that you adore in their element…so, when in doubt, #buytheflight.

P.S. I promise to eat some darn BBQ next time.



a change of pace

My time abroad has come and gone. If left to my own devices, I’d probably talk about it for eternity. Alas, life goes on. This upcoming year, the big, wild world of possibility will knock on my door louder than ever. And with a spur of motivation and spark of creativity, I’m compelled to answer (and cope) by doing what’s always felt most natural: writing.

In truth, I’ve delayed the metamorphosis of my “abroad blog” into a general blog for months. As therapeutic as writing is, the process is endlessly daunting. And putting words out in the world to be seen, judged, and contemplated by others is petrifying. But yesterday I was sitting at our kitchen counter (simultaneously listening to a Tedx podcast on death, eating leftover branzino, wrangling a ten-week old puppy, and Googling how to have a “life conversation”) when the jolt of inspiration hit me. It was time to take the plunge! Expand my horizon! A $48 yearly subscription (bye-bye WordPress ads), a new name, and a leap of faith later, here I am.

My blog posts will (continue to) be sporadic and infrequent and likely consist of photos from weekend trips to random cities and remote mountaintops, some stories about dogs, audio-recordings of “life conversations” with old/young/cool people, interviews with friends about navigating this weird age, and general ponderings on how scary/wonderful the world is at 22. If any of this remotely interests you, I encourage you to follow along by subscribing in the corner.

For now, I’ll leave you with this picture of Taxi. Because what Monday morning isn’t bettered by a puppy in a bathtub?

So long, “A year from here.” “Earth to Cass” is born.



the north, the south, the center, and another goodbye

Following our initial five days in Jerusalem (with frequent visits to the West Bank), we headed south towards the Negev last Sunday. By this point, students visiting the region for the first time had begun to develop a better understanding of the conflict and Israeli society as a whole. Still, all they had seen was Jerusalem: the intense, heart of the conflict. From my perspective, it seemed that much of the group believed that all Israelis (and Palestinians, for that matter) are completely preoccupied with politics, fear, defense, and violence twenty-four seven. Of course, this simply isn’t true. As we left Jerusalem, and students got to see more “typical” day-to-day life, I was excited to see how the group’s perceptions and opinions evolved.

Our first stop on our way south was at the Gazan border, where we visited Kibbutz Netiv HaAsara. We spoke with an older American-Israeli woman who explained life on the border— both sharing stories of when the borders were open and Gaza was relatively safe, and more recent accounts of life during wartime. I always find it fascinating to listen to people who willingly and wholeheartedly choose to remain in the most unstable areas of the region, even if that means raising their children amidst rocket warnings, shelter drills, and imminent fear. Anyways, the woman took us on a tour of the kibbutz, which included a lookout point (with harrowingly close views of Gaza), a stop at their “Path to Peace” wall, and a casual run-in with the Israeli Minister of Agriculture #classic. (sidetone: If you have been following the news recently you might have heard that Gaza has been flying kites with Molotov cocktails over the border and setting Israeli kibbutzim fields ablaze. Presumably, the Minister of Agriculture was there to survey the kibbutz’s agricultural damage.)

As we left the kibbutz we were notified that we got a last minute meeting with the director of civil security for the Israeli side of the Gaza border, a gentleman named Eyal. He took us to another lookout point much closer to the border and explained how the IDF and volunteer kibbutz militia work to keep Israeli border communities safe. From the lookout, Gaza was in full view: the dense infrastructure packed together, smoke and pollution rising from the streets, and the occasional movement of a human far in the distance. Later, one student said that looking at Gaza was like looking into a zoo. Indeed, it did resemble a neglected zoo— a tragic, condensed, confined pocket of living, breathing, (mostly) innocent human life.

While visiting the border brought about a certain mood, depressing emotions quickly subsided after a visit to the infamous Hummus Shel Tehina (a personal lunch favorite), complete with pickles, olives, falafel, pita, lemonade, french fries, and, of course, more hummus than you could ever imagine. Afterward, we continued south, passing by Beer Sheva (my heart!), winding deep into the desert before arriving at Mamshit Camel Farm. Nestled in the foothills of the desert, the property has a collection of small cabins and a flock (herd? squad?) of domesticated camels. Somehow our group lucked out, and we were the only ones on the property for the evening. We climbed the rocky desert foothills to watch the sunset, ate a delicious vegan Bedouin meal, and made s’mores over the fire (with gross strawberry-flavored kosher marshmallows). As we messed around and talked, I found myself thankful for the open, kind, and genuine dynamics of our group…we totally lucked out. The stars shone brightly over the darkened desert, the wind blew sparks from the fire across the ground, and I felt at peace in my favorite landscape of my favorite land.

After a much needed twelve hours of rest and “conflict-less” conversation in the Negev, we switched gears and headed back north along the Dead Sea towards Jericho. The Dead Sea never ceases to amaze me. The way the scratchy white salt contrast the baby blue water and rough tobacco desert…the intricate hydrological systems that keep the whole ecosystem at play…the towering Jordanian mountains in the distance…the impermanence of it all (the Dead Sea itself is drying up and dying)…ugh, I am endlessly fascinated by it…

Following our drive, we visited Jericho, the tourism capital of the West Bank, where we took a gondola ride up to the monastery on the Mount of Temptation (where Jesus was hypothetically tempted by the devil). I wish I could explain more, but unfortunately, I’m still embarrassingly uneducated on the whole Jesus narrative. C’est la vie. What I can tell you is that Jericho remains the HOTTEST place I’ve visited in the Middle East. While the temperature wasn’t as bad as last summer with Mimi, it was none the less oppressive (no pun intended) and thoroughly unenjoyable. “Cooling” off in the lukewarm Dead Sea helped slightly, but my internal temperature was not truly soothed until I consumed a four dollar cup of watermelon (#worthit) and fell asleep on our air-conditioned bus ride north.

The next few days were spent in the northern part of Israel, the Golan Heights. Two things I was reminded of about this area: 1) technically it’s occupied territory (Syrian territory occupied by Israel) and 2) it’s GORGEOUS. Think Napa or Sonoma on absolute crack— rolling green hills, a fertile Jordan River valley, vineyards…you get the picture. Smushed between the Syrian and Lebanese borders, it can be tense at times, but simultaneously beautiful and peaceful. A perfect metaphor for Israeli life!

Some of our time up north was focused on the conflict. For example, we visited a Syrian refugee who was receiving treatment at Ziv Medical Center in Tzfat, met with Israeli students to discuss their perspectives on the conflict, toured a war-torn building formerly used by Syrian forces as a hospital and command post, chatted with Irish and Finnish UN soldiers manning the border, and watched and listened from an outlook as bombs went off in Syria. Other moments were more playful and innocent. We swam in the pool, took a jeep tour, swung off a rope swing into the Jordan river, played frisbee and soccer on the grass, and visited our Israeli program coordinator’s (Daniela’s) family. While the trip’s main focus was to understand the conflict, I found this downtime equally important, as it provided us time and space to process our experiences. It also gave students a glimpse of “typical” Israeli life, which involves some discussion of politics and conflict, yes, but also an immense amount of fun. Witnessing the happiness of daily life was crucial to round out the group’s perceptions of Israel as a whole.

After a quick stop in Haifa to meet with a Muslim community and see the Bahai gardens (fascinating religion), we were off to Tel Aviv. In a serendipitous turn of events, I met up with Felice, one of my best friends from my first semester in Israel. Felice is American and made aliyah after graduating college in 2017, moving to Israel, becoming a citizen, and enlisting in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Now, she is a weapons instructor on a base in the Negev and uses simulator technology to teach combat soldiers how to operate weapons. Total badass!

Our final evening was spent at a delicious Ethiopian restaurant. As we ate and drank together, I felt a familiar pit in my stomach form. It was a feeling of raw emotion…an unexplainable connection to a simultaneously flawed and beautiful land. It was also a feeling of anticipated sadness, for I knew all too well what coming home from Israel feels like. As the meal concluded and we climbed on the bus to the airport, I realized how truly impactful this trip was. It provided me with an opportunity to reexamine and harshly critique a place I call home. It reminded me of the spiritual, emotional state Israel can put me in. It brought incredible new people into my life. And it solidified my belief that no matter how problematic I find Israel to be, it is also a place that I feel I belong.

As if life could get any better, I arrived home to a visit from my two best friends from my year abroad, Mimi (from North Carolina) and Maya (from LA). Their presence has made readjusting to California relatively painless and full of laughter, nostalgia, and joy. For the hundredth, thousandth, millionth time, I count my lucky stars for all Israel has given me— the people, the growth, the memories— and my heart is full.

Until next time, להתראות, and with love…….Cass

I am here. And you are here, too.

Shalom dearest people!

After 24 hours of travel, we arrived in Israel late last Tuesday night. Exhausted and half-asleep, I sat on the bus to Jerusalem and felt the familiar curve of the road climbing into the hills. The blurred pattern of lit skylines and empty, dark patches of agricultural land sped past me. I heard the faint sound of our driver’s radio and the murmuring of Hebrew. It surprised me how quickly I dropped back into life here. Immediately, everything felt like home.

The first five days of the trip were packed with more activity than any other consecutive five days I’ve spent in Israel before. There is a stark contrast between my year of relatively normal life here and this trip of back-to-back site visits, activities, and discussions. In an attempt to digest the initial five days of the trip (and not to bore you with every detail), I’ve decided to return to a past blog post style. I present to you, a few somewhat related takeaways from returning to a place I love:

There is ALWAYS more to learn.

This might be an obvious one, but it has been perhaps the most surprising to me. After a year here, I had learned so much about certain holy sites, cultures, situations, historical events, and people. But the initial five days were a humbling reminder of reality: I know nothing. From touring the Old City for the hundredth time to learning new details of old stories, and hearing different perspectives on things I thought I knew, I’ve not only absorbed an absurd amount of new information, but I’ve also been pushed to challenge things thought I knew to be true.

I’ve also experienced so much personal joy and growth as I’ve watched others understand and process this land at #warpspeed. My conversations with those who are in Israel for the first time are especially interesting. I also feel lucky to have a few Israel-veterans on this trip, including one UC Davis Israeli student, and another student who spent a gap year here. They have been valuable sounding boards for my more in-depth questions and reflections. Overall, I’ve been reminded of how influential my year abroad was, and, of course, how much more there is to learn.

Good people (still) make the experience.

How FREAKING fortunate was I to meet the people I spent my year abroad here with? I count my lucky stars every day when I think about these humans. We are bound by such a unique and intense experience, one that only each other can truly understand. This trip has been no different.

The students on this trip were pulled from a variety of campus groups, clubs, majors, and affiliations, and are deeply invested in learning and quality conversation. I have been shocked by the openness with which people have approached experiencing the conflict and by the comfortability we feel speaking our minds to each other. While our days have been incredibly long (often starting before 8am and not finishing until 9pm) our conversations are almost constantly deep, intricate, and on-topic. It is refreshing to be around a group of people who value this type of communication, and it is even more exciting that this group is invested in learning and discussing a place that I find so fascinating.

Alone time is my freakin’ jam.

While this isn’t a ground-breaking revelation, I was reminded of the value of time alone last Friday afternoon at the Jerusalem shuk. After agreeing with our group on a meeting time, I peeled off silently, melting into the bustling, pumping energy of the pre-Shabbat shuk. I felt more in my element than I had since I arrived. Completely alone, anonymous, and free to fly under the radar (away from the group) I weaved between people, shoving my way past those that were too slow in typical Israeli fashion.

I bee-lined for the yummiest lox in the market, savoring a single slice as I continued through the packed corridors, swiping samples of almonds, dates, and stone fruit from nearby stands. Garbage juice (yes) splashed on my feet and I narrowly avoided squashing a feral cat’s tail. I stopped quickly at my favorite vegan cafe for granola balls and a sprouted lentil and tahini salad (#classicme), nabbed a gut-wrenchingly strong green juice from the Entrog Medicine Man, taste-tasted an obscene amount of tahini, ate a single, random Persian cucumber, and topped it all off with a *huge* slice of pecan halva.

While this food extravaganza was incredible in itself, there was also something special about simply being on my own for an hour. I got mistaken for Israeli (and German and Russian, of course), was addressed to in Hebrew, and was not ripped off the way I had been in the early days of my year abroad (just ask me about the $90 granola story). For an hour, I pretended I was back in Israel for good, surrounded by the intense diversity and energy of Jerusalem. Nostalgia was at an all-time high.

Perspectives abound.

Switching gears away from more personal observations, I want to address a few reflections I’ve had in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself (the subject of our trip).

One of the most fascinating aspects of the trip thus far has been watching fellow students try to understand the different perspectives and narratives involved in the conflict. This includes both the general Palestinian and Israeli narratives, as well as the differing individual narratives of Palestinian and Israeli sub-groups. I have been reminded of the complexity of both societies, and the deep internal conflicts that both experience.

From the Israeli side, people often overlook the differing opinions of secular Jews, religious Jews, the ultra-Orthodox, Arab-Israelis, new immigrants, anti-Zionists, etc. From the Palestinian position, the nuanced perspectives of Arab-Israeli Muslims, Arab-Israeli Christians, Palestinian Muslims, and Palestinian Christians are impossibly complex. Each group, on either side, have such different priorities (percentage of land vs. holy sites vs. social services), making it impossible and inaccurate to lump them together the way the media and global audience often does.

Media is problematic when it comes to the conflict.

For all the connectivity, joy, and positivity the media has brought to our lives, there is no denying it has disastrous effects on our perceptions, opinions, and responses when it comes to situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a perhaps unsurprising statement.

I thought about this especially hard last Wednesday, after an incident we witnessed while crossing from the West Bank back into Israel. While sitting in our bus, waiting in the line for the border crossing, we watched as two Palestinian boys argued with each other a few meters away. Many Palestinian youth sell small goods (water, bags, toys) to locals and tourists waiting in their cars. These Palestinians often have areas that they control the sales of and consider “theirs.” This specific argument occurred as one boy got frustrated that another boy was selling in his area.

As the fight became physical, one boy broke away and ran towards the border guards, presumably in hopes of safety. We watched him get closer and closer to the guard as the guard yelled for him to back up. Eventually, the boy got so close to the guard that he had crossed the line of acceptable distance, legally requiring (under Israeli law), the guard to pull his weapon on the boy. We watched as the guard lifted his weapon and pointed it at the boy. The boy cowered backward, and the guard lowered his weapon, but only after a moment of intensity.

This incident made me think about the way that the media can take images or videos out of context. If I were to see a video online of an Israeli guard pulling an assault rifle on an otherwise innocent Palestinian boy, I would be filled with rage. However, when put into the context of a specific situation, my opinions of both of the individuals’ actions become more complex and nuanced. While undoubtedly disturbing, witnessing this type of interaction was a reminder to be vigilant when developing opinions based on media.

I am here. And you are here, too.

Personally and factually, this trip has allowed me to further digest the conflict’s intricacies and formulate my own opinions. We have been fortunate to speak with a wide variety of people, including the head of civil security for the Israeli communities surrounding Gaza, a former Israeli press secretary, the current minister of agriculture, Palestinian refugee camp directors, Orthodox Jews, and IDF soldiers. These conversations, in addition to visits to Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho, the Gaza border, the Negev, the Dead Sea, and Jerusalem, have richened our experience further. As a result, I have been able to form more staunch beliefs on certain elements (e.g. I completely oppose settlements) but have also further developed certain nuances (e.g. humanitarian aid to Gaza).

The reality of this land, of course, is that it is shared by two people. As one of our Palestinian tour guides said simply on Tuesday, “I am here. And you are here, too” (“you” being Israelis). The way he said it, matter-of-factly and peacefully, but with a twinge of sadness, deeply touched me.

The average Palestinian, as well as the average Israeli, does want peace. They want a safe place to raise their children, economic security, physical safety, and the freedom to carry out their dreams. There is an undeniable longing for peace on this land. And yet, these groups are nowhere near close. This second, in-depth look at the conflict has made me both more optimistic and more cynical. More specific thoughts to come in the next blog post…stay tuned for a recap of the time in the Negev, the North, and Tel Aviv in the coming days…

Love you all, Cass


there she goes again

Shalom wonderful people, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?
A year ago I was spending my final weeks abroad, preparing to leave a land that I had come to love. There was a sweetness in those last days. Every second felt special as we jumped back and forth between Israel and Palestine, took final trips to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, ate ALL the good food, laid out in the desert sun, and said goodbyes to our beloved teachers and friends.
For me, the time period was also incredibly emotional. I felt myself gripping to the landscapes, the languages, the cultures, and the people, terrified that I might forget what the desert looked like at sunset (lavender), or the vineyards looked like at dawn (golden), or a million other tiny-little-simple things. As excited as I was to come home, I was absolutely devastated to be leaving home. Israel had taken root in me in a way I could have never imagined.
The emotional conundrum between home and home did not end upon my arrival in California. Yes, returning here brought its own sense of joy and comfort, but my heart tugged (and still tugs) for Israel daily. In the year since coming home, I have tended to my nostalgia with tiny-little-simple things: adding tahini and za’atar to ALL meals, scrolling through my year’s worth of abroad photos, listening to Israeli music, (trying) to observe some sort of Shabbat, spending hours on FaceTime with my dearest friend Mimi, visiting with my California-girl, Maya, and jumping at any and all opportunities to talk about Israel and Palestine.
In the past year, I have also tried to digest my time and experiences abroad. It is an endless endeavor, that includes processing my opinions on the conflict, my views on Israeli political and social issues, my relationship to Judaism and religion in general, and my affinity for a region that is (for lack of better words) so fucked up. I also had planned on writing a collection of readjustment and reflection blog posts on these topics. But, as you might have noticed from my 12-month radio silence, that never happened. Oops.
So, why am I motivated to return to the blog-o-sphere now? Because on Monday I am boarding a plane to…Israel! I truly never thought I would be lucky enough to go back so soon. And yet, the world seems to tilt in my favor again and again.
This visit will be shorter (nothing can really compare to 49 weeks) and different in a myriad of ways. I am not who I was a year ago, and neither is Israel. Trump’s actions, the embassy move, and local tensions have all shifted regional dynamics. In the past few months, people have asked me if I am shocked, concerned, or scared about what is going on there. I tend to shrug. Now, more than ever, I think of the region’s tension like an EKG reading, bouncing up and down, constantly crossing a line of equilibrium. This fluctuation is normal (in the darkest of humor, dare I say it may even be healthy). In some ways, my response saddens me because I am ashamed to be jaded and unsurprised about periods of unrest, violence, and loss in a place I love. And yet, it also makes me smile because it is a characteristically Israeli response. A casual, blunt, acceptance of reality.
This visit will also be different because I will be with a new people, a group of UC Davis students. The trip was organized by the Israeli-fellow at the Davis Hillel and consists of students from various campus organizations, with a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish students, many of whom have never been to Israel or Palestine. The trip aims to provide students with an unbiased (or as unbiased as one can be) look at the conflict, and we will spend time in both Israel and Palestine. My personal goals for the trip are to learn more about the conflict, to ask questions that I have developed since last July, to engage with the other students, and to (of course) document it all on the blog.
In preparation for my return, I am trying to pull myself away from my year-long experience. I am attempting to loosen my grip on memories and beliefs in hopes of arriving in Israel as I did the first time: full of wonder and without expectation. I am reminding myself to remain levelheaded and to recognize that this experience might not be as glorious or as rewarding as my year was. And yet, it is hard to contain my excitement. My heart is bursting with joy.
Here I go again. This time, homeward bound.


Version 3

One of our final days in Israel, at the beloved Cafe Xoho.

the shortest, longest year of my life

In a perfect world, I would have written an extensive, detailed reflection by now. I’ve sat down a variety of times over the last week to try to pull something together, but continuously found myself too emotional, distracted, or overwhelmed. As one could imagine, summing up a year (or 339 days to be exact) is not particularly easy. But I do feel that it would be a disgrace to leave this blog without a closing note, so here I am to give you a few last words.

Predominantly, I would like to thank you for following me along on this journey. I won’t lie, writing the blog has been a challenge. It’s much like writing in a diary— exciting when you start and progressively more daunting to keep up with as weeks and months go by. Still, the accountability I had to you all forced me to process and preserve many of my thoughts and experiences, something I know I will be immensely grateful for as years pass and my time in Israel becomes more distant.

Already as I type this, sitting aboard Jet Blue, flying above Nebraska, Israel is becoming more distant. This feeling breaks my heart in all the right kind of ways. Israel was the shortest, longest, best year of my life. I feel blessed to have had an experience that is so hard to walk away from. I feel equally lucky to have a beautiful place, a loving family and an incredible group of friends to come back to. What more could a human ask for?

I love you each and can’t wait to see you soon.



…and then it was June

Wait, what? June? Yes. Time is truly out of control. The pace has picked up these last few weeks as I zero in on what now is, officially, my last month abroad. The weird funk I was in (of feeling uninspired, normal and somewhat bored) has morphed into a rollercoaster of nostalgia, appreciation, and desperation to check everything off the list. The past few weeks have been chalk full of holidays, activities and some new, fresh memories that we will carry home with us when the time comes. We’re determined to keep this ball rolling to the point that we have weekly (if not daily) conversations while staring at the calendar to go over what, exactly, we have planned for each of our remaining (now 24) days in this land.

As I mentioned, though, the past few weeks themselves have been packed. One of the most interesting experiences we had was a field trip to Bnei Brak, a city east of Tel Aviv with one of the largest concentrations of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. While there are ultra-Orthodox Jews in all areas of Israel, and I am in their presence frequently (especially in Jerusalem), I hadn’t visited an area as concentrated as Bnei Brak before.

In comparison to Tel Aviv, or even to Jerusalem, Bnei Brak is another world. While driving through the streets of the city’s center I was immediately struck by the uniformity within the population. Again, it is not uncommon to see traditionally dressed ultra-Orthodox Jews, but usually, they are one in a sea of many other traditionally dressed and modernly dressed people. In Bnei Brak, it was practically impossible to find someone not dressed according to the ultra-Orthodox dress code. For men this generally means black suits and white shirts (with no ties), wearing black hats, displaying payot (Hebrew word for sidekicks) and tzitzit (knotted fringes attached to undergarments). Women typically wear skirts past their knees, modest tops and cover their hair— whether that be with scarves, hats, or wigs. Needless to say, upon arrival seeing absolutely everyone dressed as such was a quick indicator that the community was just as insular, traditional and uniform as it was rumored to be.

We met with a variety of community figures during our trip— most fascinating, perhaps, was our meeting with the head rabbi of Bnei Brak’s hospital. Our group had a long dialogue with him about his role in the hospital, which is known to be the place to go to get ultra-Orthodox medical care within Israel (the hospital keeps Shabbat, serves kosher food, abides by Jewish law, etc.). We learned that the rabbi essentially serves as the highest power in the hospital— interpreting Jewish law (while also considering medical knowledge) to make the most difficult decisions between life and death. He had plenty of wild stories and appeared to be incredibly experienced— not to mention incredibly busy. His phone must have rung a dozen times during our conversation. In typical Israeli fashion, sometimes he silenced it and other times he picked it up with no hesitation and started speaking into the phone in front of us. #classic

After our time with the rabbi we wandered through the streets of Bnei Brak, stopping at stores selling Judaica and ultra-Orthodox items. Kippah shops, head shawl shops, bookstores, kosher butcheries…you name it— it was there. To get a sense of the perspective of the youth of the community we also made a stop at a yeshiva and spoke with a young American-Israeli who had made aliyah a few years ago and now is devoting his time to studying the Torah and Talmud. One of the great things about Israeli culture is that you are encouraged (and expected) to ask any question that comes to your mind at any time— no matter how absurd, blunt or (albeit) rude it may be. This is an especially beneficial part of the culture to have on your side when you interact with communities that appear, (at least externally) a little extreme and off-the-rocker. Thus, we felt comfortable asking him ALL the questions we could about why ultra-Orthodox youth don’t enter the army, what their perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are, how their dating world works (truly crazy), what a “typical” ultra-Orthodox marriage looks like, how some ultra-Orthodox gain satisfaction from studying religious texts all day and what drawbacks he sees in terms of his religion and way of life. His answers were thorough, and while I personally find the community for the most part un-relatable, I did walk away with a clearer understanding of the community’s logic, values, and beliefs. In a land as multifaceted as Israel I feel that this is always a HUGE plus.

A few days later the cultural pendulum swung in the entirely opposite direction when Maya, Mimi and I traveled to Kibbutz Sedah Mash’abei, south of Beer Sheva, to spend Shavuot with Maya’s friend Aviv. He had kindly invited us three American girls (I suppose we are a bit charming, eh?) to spend the holiday of Shavuot, the harvest holiday, with him on his kibbutz. We couldn’t resist the offer, especially because we had heard that kibbutzim are the place to be on Shavuot.

We arrived in the heat of the afternoon after bussing south from Beer Sheva through our beloved Mars-like-desert (which still somehow shocks me in its vastness each day). Aviv gave us a tour of the kibbutz as the temperature outside cooled, walking us through the winding paths that led to the pool, dining hall, schools, library, laundry room, workshed, and, most importantly, COWS. Obviously the best part of the tour. As the sun began to set (the signal of the beginning of the holiday) we gathered with other kibbutz members and their families in the dining hall for a Shavuot feast. Being the harvest holiday, the feast was extensive— olives, roasted vegetables, burekas, cured fish, wine, treats… The best part of the evening, however, was the hours-long Israeli folk dancing party that followed the feast. We sat on the sidelines for the first few dances but quickly joined in, embracing the Israeli shamelessness and confidence we’ve all acquired. Some of the songs sounded familiar (we ROCKED the Macarena) but most were new. We spent hours following in the footsteps of the dance instructor and the old kibbutz ladies who knew what was up. Truly, truly, such a blast. We were wiped out by the time the music ended and finished the night with a bowl of popcorn on Aviv’s back porch, taking in the silence and darkness of the desert. How lucky we are to call this land home.

The next day was spent at the pool, followed by a ceremony in the afternoon where the kibbutz presented all the new things that had been added to the community since Shavuot in 2016. The ceremony was filled with dancing, songs, and poems, not to mention a parade of shiny new tractors, golf carts, and tools. Perhaps the most adorable part of the ceremony was the presentation of the new babies that had been born on the kibbutz in the past year. Think Simba and the Lion King but even cuter. Once the ceremony ended and the sun set we were back on a bus to Beer Sheva, exhausted, happy and with yet another kibbutz experience checked off our list.

Okay, first, if you’ve gotten this far in the post, congrats. Second, listen up, because I’m about to tell you about one of the most interesting communities I’ve visited since who knows when.

First, a little background. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some African Americans started establishing spiritual groups in the United States, labeling themselves as Black Hebrews. The Black Hebrews believed that the African Americans in the United States were descendants of the ancient Hebrew Israelites. They identified as neither Christian or Jewish, and focused on spirituality rather than religion, but held practices that mimicked both religions. In 1966 at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement a man named Ben Ammi, a Black Hebrew in Chicago, had a vision that the Black Hebrews needed to return to their homeland of Israel. The result was pretty astounding— over the next two decades nearly a thousand Black Hebrews made their way from the United States to Israel. Because they did not qualify for Israel’s Law of Return, they often stayed illegally in Israel after their tourist visas expired. And, because they didn’t have work visas, some participated in illegal activities as a means to support themselves. As our professor, Dr. Klein, put it: the Israeli government “doesn’t quite know what to do with them.” While many of the Black Hebrews’ immigration and work statuses are still in limbo today, over time they have managed to build a flourishing community in Dimona, a city south of Beer Sheva.

We visited the Black Hebrews last week as part of a field trip for our Lost and Isolated Jewish Communities course. Arriving at their main community in Dimona was bizarre. A large portion of the Black Hebrews live in one location, a renovated Russian and Moroccan immigrant absorption center that now functions somewhat like a kibbutz. The pathways of the community were filled with kids running around and yelling at each other in the most American accents I’ve heard since last July. English books sat on tables. Bob Marley played on big speakers. Basketball and horseshoe games were in full swing. Groups of ladies sat and gossiped on benches. The sound of English cut through the air. It was, indeed, the most American thing I’ve seen since America itself.

Make no mistake, though, the community is one of its own. We met with the Black Hebrews’ main PR representative to learn about their lives since moving to Israel. He was a bit out there, but very kind, peaceful and opinionated. He explained to us the reasoning behind many of their unique practices. For instance, the Black Hebrews are the ultimate yogis, embodying “your body is your temple” to the extreme. Thus, they are devout vegans, adhering to a strict vegan diet and wearing clothing only made from natural fibers (imagine a dozen kids running around in hemp suits, it’s freaking adorable). They have weekly “no salt” and “no sugar” days to assure that their consumption of either is not out of control. They drink no alcohol besides their own homemade wine. Furthermore, they are committed to exercising a certain number of times per week, keeping themselves in sound mental shape and performing no harm to their own bodies. They have a polygamist society that is ever-growing in size (the PR rep had 22 children himself), generally, marry within the community, celebrate holidays that are both included and not included in the Jewish calendar and frequently join together around song and dance. They are deeply connected to their pre-slavery African roots, particularly to communities in Ghana and Liberia. They have a predominantly peaceful outlook on life, emphasizing love and light and all those mushy gushy things…Anyways, I could go on and on about all the unique caveats of the community, but I’ll let you Google them if you’re interested in learning more. Ultimately, I found their whole backstory and culture fascinating (there is much debate over whether they are actually genetically linked to the Tribes of Israel), but found them admirable in many respects. Just goes to show you that you never know what kind of people you’ll come across in the world!

After all those exciting trips, we took Shabbat to recover here in Beer Sheva, laying out by the pool, cooking and going on evening walks in the city. Tomorrow Mimi and I are off to the West Bank for a few days to spend time in Bethlehem and Jericho. We are interested to see what the general sentiment is and security levels are, as today marks 50 years since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Palestine/the territories/the West Bank/Judea/Samaria (call it whatever your politics drive you to call it). I’ve been hesitant to share political views on the blog (predominantly because I am all over the board on Israel and its actions), but I thought this New York Times Sunday Review piece highlighted the situation particularly well. I feel that it is accurate and reflects many of my opinions.

And with that, I wish you a fantastic week. Best of luck to everyone heading into finals! Counting down the days until I get to see all your shining faces again.

Love you.


a few realities (and a plea for ideas)

Shabbat Shalom, wonderful people!

Hopefully you’ve been on some social media platform in the past month and thus have been assured that I am, indeed, alive and thriving! I know I’ve been away from the blog for a (long) while. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it boils down to a few realities I’ve been grappling with. This evening I’ve finally forced myself to sit down to write. And, in doing that, it seems like the best subject of this blog post is perhaps the reasons why I’ve been hesitating so long to write in the first place. (Apologies in advance for any rambling. You can click that X button if needed without judgment from yours truly).

Reality numero uno: ten months into studying abroad doesn’t really feel like “studying abroad” anymore.

My choice to go abroad for a full year had always been rooted in my desire to actually live somewhere versus quickly jump in, and then be yanked out after a month, or a quarter, or what have you. In making this choice, I knew that eventually, Israel would no longer feel like a constant adventure. And, while I told myself this last July, I suppose I didn’t realize what the stage of actually living would look like. Alas, here I am.

Sitting here, ten months in, Israel doesn’t feel like an experience pulled away from the rest of my life, or a specific year carved out in time, but rather a continuation of the life I’ve always lived. Daily tasks that used to be experiences all in themselves— shopping at the supermarket, going through security at the university, packing onto trains filled with armed soldiers— feel normal. Cultural differences and interactions that originally would have turned into anecdotes all on their own no longer seem so shocking or hilarious. I hesitate to say that life here has become rudimentary— because nothing about this land is rudimentary— but I have come to a place of immense familiarity, if you will.

I recognize that this is the experience I was (and am) looking for. I feel privileged to have reached a point where I feel local, I feel Israeli, I feel like I belong. There is undeniable joy and comfort in this. But there is also a lack of excitement that evolves. This is something I’ve really been struggling with this past month and much of the reason you all haven’t been receiving weekly blog posts with new and interesting stories. It would be an exaggeration to say that I am bored— but I definitely find myself frequently uninspired (something that never happened in my first months here). Learning how to acclimate to feeling “normal”, seek out new experiences, continue to roll the dice and change things up has been a challenge.

Reality numero dos: Coming home is going to be weird.

In less than two months (!!!) I’ll bid adieu to Israel. Trust me, it’s got me feelin’ all sorts of ways. My emotions surrounding leaving this land could be pages on their own— but if one sentiment rises above the rest it is the absurd anxiety I feel towards returning to a different America and home than I left. Thus, I use the word “weird” in its truest meaning.

Mostly, I’m curious and concerned and hopeful and freaked out about how I will fit back into the life I left last July. I’ve acquired many of the characteristics of Israeli culture. I am more blunt, more honest, more direct, more loving, more happy to enjoy life in the moment. With these adapted characteristics (or perhaps, enhanced parts of my internal character), life has become increasingly comfortable here with regards to my interactions with the culture and other Israelis. But what does that mean upon my return? How do I fit in? I’m still me, of course, but will I morph backward as I settle into California life and Davis? Will I shed the characteristics I’ve acquired, will I re-obtain the (dumb) American characteristics I’ve lost? The questions go on and on.

If you know me, you know that overthinking things is something I am particularly good at (wait, really?). It may not be at all surprising that this questioning about what’s to come has made reflecting back on what’s happened (or staying present in what’s happening) a big challenge. Thus, I present you with reason number two for not being as dedicated to writing blog posts as I’d like to be.

Okay, but what have you been doing during these past two months of silence beside overanalyzing life?

While I’ve spent the past two months grappling these two realities— caught between figuring out how to make the “normal” exciting again and dealing with the weird emotions revolving my return to American life— lots of shizzzz has been going down. For one, the whole family (Grandma included!) make the trek to the Holy Land in April for three weeks of food, wine, hiking, holidays, history and time together. Such a blast. Classes are in full swing here at the university— I’m particularly enjoying my course on conflicts over water and my course on lost and isolated Jewish communities. My professors this semester are especially gifted. I also made my final international trip a few weeks ago to Rome with Mimi. We ate alllll the yummy food, walked 15 miles a day, checked every touristy thing off the list, met up with the BELOVED Abigail Keenan and enjoyed spring in Italy (does it get better?)…Now we’re back in Israel for the final haul, the weather is heating up (casually 104 today), the pool is pumping, daily dips are essential for maintaining a viable internal temperature and everyone is getting tanner by the day. Life is good.

Anything else?

Considering my recent general lack of inspiration for blog post topics, I’d like to hear from you all what you’re curious about. It can be anything to do with my experience here (Israel, politics, academics, classes, culture, food, friends, emotions, etc.) With this final stretch of time, I’d like to write posts more often and have these posts be centered on specific topics rather than describing my past week chronologically, etc. So, I invite you to comment on this post, send me a message, tie a note to a pigeon, do whatcha gotta do, just tell me what you’d like to hear about!

Missing each and everyone one of you. And love, love, loving you more than you know.

Shabbat Shalom.


P.S. My little, beloved, prehistoric iPhone 5 has gone to sleep for the last time (AKA dead for the indefinite future). This means your best bet for reaching me is iMessage (to my computer), email, or FB message. I will be a phoneless millennial (unheard of) until I return to the USA, at which time I will be back to using my American number. Currently accepting well wishes for the challenge that this entails. #RIPphone