Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A wish for Chanukah had me thinking...

I sent out a wish tonight on the eighth night of Chanukah – almost exactly three months since I moved to Tel Aviv. I hadn’t sent out my usually wishes before the holiday and thought the last night was just as good an opportunity as the first. Looking at the words I had written (see end) and the candles I’d lit got me thinking...

The photograph of the candles held my attention. All eight of them shining brightly against the dark night, each flame going its own way. Although the candles were all formed the same way in the beginning and each pair (and the Shamash – or ‘candle lighter’) was its own colour, as the flame burned them down, they took on a different look, a different personality. The flames danced this way and that in the wind coming in from outside, never once moving in the same direction. Some burned faster than others, some dripped more wax than the others, but effectively, they all did the same thing – they shone their light for the world to see, they gave me the pleasure of seeing all eight of them burning brightly in my home, even though I had to enjoy them alone, and they made me feel part of something special, part of a tradition, a culture, a people, a religion. 
Now don’t disappear...
This is not going to be some boring lecture about religion. The candles made me think of all the people in my life, all the differences, all the similarities, the family and friends I miss, the friends I’ve made, and the place I’ve chosen to live. Now. This time around. Tel Aviv. On the border of Givatayim. The city. Far from the kibbutz I knew for the first 14 months of my Aliyah. Far from the comfort I had felt and the friends I had made. The city with which I haven’t quite connected, yet. Not for any reason other than the fact that I just haven’t made enough of an effort.
I do have friends here. I just haven’t re-connected with all of them. I’ve been so bogged down with working from home and sorting out my apartment – which, some days, looks like I’ve just moved in – and thinking about what I’ve left behind in the desert, that I’ve neglected to just live and enjoy.

To bus or not to bus
Not having transport on the kibbutz during Shabbat was never an issue. Friends were a short walk away. Being frustrated about working from home didn’t really matter as much because I could put down my pen or move away from my computer, open the door and go play with my “surrogate” twins or the other kids, or their parents. There were always people around. There was always a hug waiting (the importance of which I realised when I went to visit said friends on the kibbutz this last weekend) and a warm smile.
Not so in Tel Aviv. Here you actually have to make an effort. You have to plan ahead, arrange where you’re going, and then get up and go on the specified date. Not cancel because you’re too tired or you have too much work or it’s too much effort or you just don’t feel like going.
It’s the same in any city, I guess. It’s just easier when you have a car! It’s amazing how we take our cars for granted when we have them. Here, I feel like I spend my life waiting... waiting for busses or trains, waiting to get to my destination, walking here, walking there (which I know is good for me, but sometimes, I just wish I had a car).
I feel frustrated by the fact that I’m not picking up the language, but I haven’t joined an ulpan (Hebrew class) yet. Perhaps I’m afraid that I’ll fail at it again. Perhaps I’m just lazy. I don’t know anymore.
People tell me I’m still an olah chadasha, a new immigrant, and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. The Hebrew will come, the connection to the city will happen, finding new friends and meeting new people are a given. Slowly, slowly... give yourself a chance.

What I have
Now I hope this doesn't sound like I’m depressed. I’m not. I just feel a little like I did in the first six months of my Aliyah – overwhelmed, unsure, wondering if I've made the right choices, missing family and friends.
So let me tell you what’s good about this latest move. I’m almost 18 months into my new life in Israel. I have work. Not as much as I thought I would have by now, but things are looking up where that’s concerned. I’m writing again and taking far more photos, things I didn’t do very often in South Africa as I was too busy managing projects. I have great clients who all think very highly of me (and I don’t plan to burst their bubbles). I’ve met a few nice people in the building. I’ve re-connected with old friends from school and youth movement (from Maginim days). I’ve been on the amazing Desert Queen Jeep journey with a bunch of remarkable women. I’ve had some incredibly interesting writing assignments at a few museums in Jerusalem.
There is the most amazing, enormous park with an outdoor gym around the corner which is a wonderful place to walk and exercise. In the opposite direction, a 10-minute walk, is the local mall with a movie theatre (not that I’ve made use of it yet). The bus stop down the road from me has buses going in most directions including to the sea (not that I’ve made use of that either) and if you time it well, the wait doesn’t have to be too long.
I have a beautiful apartment on the 10th floor of a building that overlooks the entire city of Tel Aviv and at sunset provides me with the most incredible view, an apartment that was almost totally furnished by the generous donations of friends and even strangers! And I have taxi drivers and other sorts asking me for my number.
I have friends I didn’t have a year ago. I have an adopted family (or kibbutz) that I can return to any time I wish. I have a portfolio of articles and photographs that seem quite impressive. I have photographed a few weddings since I’ve been here and my first-ever brit milah (ritual circumcision). I’ve written about amazing places and people, taken photos of beautiful people, mostly children, and visited more historic sites, tourist attractions and out-of-the-way places in 17 months than in the past 10 years. And there’s more...
So no, I’m not depressed. Some days I feel sad. Some days I feel lonely. Some days I feel like I’m becoming a hermit. And some days I feel like I’ve become addicted to, and hypnotised by, my computer, perhaps because it’s my connection to the outside world, to my friends and family, or perhaps because I work from home!
And some days, I feel amazing. And lucky. And I feel the world is my oyster and the opportunities are many. And most days I feel blessed knowing I have wonderful people in my life, some who have become really special in a short space of time.
And sometimes, these days join together. Like yesterday when I woke up feeling stressed and worried about my financial situation only to have someone phone me to handle a big freelance job for her!
Whatever the case, this is a new challenge for me. It’s still early days. I know now, after my experience on the kibbutz, that it takes longer to settle into a place than three months, and I have to be patient. But I feel good and I feel positive and I look forward to what life in the city has to offer.
So my wishes to you for Chanukah are the same wishes I wish for myself...

May your lives be blessed with light and love, happiness and joy, laughter and success! May the wind always be behind your back guiding you forward, and may G-d’s light shine around you wherever you go and in whatever you do! 

And remember: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." Winston Churchill

Go well, go safe, be happy. And find the laughter in your life.
Love Darryl

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