Israel: A Shiksa in the Holy Land

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that my travels don’t always go as planned (examples 1, 2, and 3). But this time, I swear it wasn’t my fault.

Back in the spring, my friend Jo and I both won a grant to go to Jerusalem for the summer to study Hebrew. We were thrilled, and since she would, coincidentally, also be in Holland before the program started, we decided to fly to Israel together.

After booking our tickets, we didn’t talk for a few weeks. Four days before our flight, I sent her a message:

Hey, how are you? Have you gotten your ulpan acceptance letter yet?

No response.

Two days before the flight:

Hey Jo, what's the plan for meeting in Schiphol? Have you finished up your administrative stuff?

The day before the flight:


A half-hour before the flight:


So I was sitting on the floor of my departure gate, wondering if my travel partner had been murdered sometime in the last two weeks, when I got this message:

Hi, yeah, so I'm going to miss the flight… Working on booking a new one… Dunno if you'll get this message before the flight or no, and so sorry, obviously this is inconvenient for both of us… hopefully see you in Jerusalem tomorrow, though.

It turns out she had forgotten which day we were flying. And so I boarded our tiny plane to Istanbul alone.

The issue with this was, that in order to save $300 on our flight, Jo and I had planned to arrive in Tel Aviv around one in the morning.  We didn’t know anyone in Tel Aviv. We didn’t know much about the airport there, either, so how we were to spend the 6 hours until daylight, let alone the 16 hours until our check-in at the school, was still up in the air. Doing this with a partner is interesting. Doing it alone, in a new country, is a daunting at the least.

I arrived in Istanbul 3 hours later. In the time it took me to cross Europe by plane, my mother had found someone we knew in Tel Aviv who would let me stay with them overnight. I boarded my second plane with a little more peace, and with 5 euro’s worth of Turkish spices that I hoped would make my five-week diet of potatoes and Ramen a little more interesting.

As we descended over Israel, I thought deep things to myself, such as “From 30,000 feet Tel Aviv looks pretty much exactly like New York” and “I wonder if Jesus ever stood on that exact spot.” I am a wise and contemplative woman.

My thoughts turned even more sophisticated once we entered the airport: things like, “I’minIsraelI’minIsraelI’minIsrael” and “So that’s how you say baggage claim in Hebrew.” I stood in line at Security for an hour, listening to attractive tourists hit on each other, and then entered the baggage claim area. I stared up at the board, trying to figure out where my suitcase would be, when Jo came up to me and said “It’s rotunda number four.”

“Holy crap, when did you get here?”

“I booked a last minute flight and arrived fifteen minutes before you did!”

So now I would not be spending my first night in Tel Aviv alone. But I did have to figure out how to politely ask our distant friends if they would mind housing not one girl, but two. This from two people I had never personally met, one of whom was in the hospital recovering from surgery. And it was 1:15 in the morning.

So I called Susan, who was in the hospital, and asked if, due to a change of plans, it would be possible for both of us to stay the night in their home. She said they didn’t have a lot of room, but it would be fine, so Jo and I hailed a taxi that took us to their apartment in Tel Aviv.

When we arrived, it became apparent that Noah, Susan’s husband, did not know he would be hosting two girls instead of one (whoops). Luckily, he is apparently the World’s Most Gracious and Hospitable 2AM Host, and so Jo and I shared a futon for the night, and had breakfast with him and his kids the next morning. Then he called us a cab and we drove to Jerusalem, where they did not have housing or an ID card for Jo, who apparently had not, in fact, received her acceptance letter. Luckily, women’s colleges teach you how to get things done, so by that night, Jo and I had a peeling dorm room with a balcony and a view of Northwest Jerusalem.

We started class the next morning- hypothetically. When we tried to leave the building at 9AM, we were stopped by an armed guard.

“No, you cannot leave the building.”

“Why not?”

“There is a military drill. You have to stay inside and go to your rooms.”

“But we have class.”

“There is nothing I can do.”

“When will it be over?”

“I don’t know. Half hour, two hours, maybe three, four.”

Jo and I returned to our room and spent two hours listening to fake explosions and gunfire while laughing at the ceiling. What a first morning in Jerusalem.

I cannot emphasize to you how quickly the next two weeks passed – class for six hours a day, six days a week (all language instruction), homework and studying (we discovered very quickly that you will not learn anything if you don’t force yourself to do so), pita or ramen every night for dinner. Along they way, I sprained my ankle while trying to get a view of the Dome of the Rock, and had to go to the hospital for X-rays and a wrap-around cast. I was told “not to put any weight on it” for two weeks and then denied crutches. Another story for another day.

Yesterday, Jo and I went to Masada and the Dead Sea. Jerusalem is beautiful, but the trip reminded me of why I’m really here. We didn’t get this grant to learn Hebrew; we were given it so we had an excuse to be in Israel, so that we could see the sites and places that we’ve been studying all year, if not longer. On Tuesday we go into the Old City, and later to Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Ein Karem, and maybe Bethlehem (though the school technically forbids it). I am reminded every day of how blessed I am to be here, and as for the three weeks that I have left, I am determined to make the most of them – ankle be damned.

Author: Sara Laughed

I'm Sara, a writer, recent grad, and American abroad. I graduated from college in December and promptly moved to the Netherlands, where I live with my boyfriend and our 11 plants. Follow along as I figure out my roaring twenties: I don't quite know what I'm doing, but that's not stopping me from writing about it!

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  • Does that women’s college that teaches its students “How to Get Things Done” also provide enrichment classes for their mothers, such as “How to Let Go” or “How to Let your Daughter Figure Things Out Herself”? Or maybe she just did not know that you booked that flight to Tel Aviv without any arrangements for the night. Anyway, she seems amazing…