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Friday, November 21, 2008

My Non-year Long Year In Israel - Part III

(This blog continues from where I left off yesterday.)

I went past the House Mother upstairs to my dorm room to collect myself, and sort through my racing thoughts. It was still rather early in the morning in America, so I first called my sister in Jerusalem. I am not sure she could catch what I was trying to say (I left out specific details at this time), but she caught enough to know I was in great distress and she was in my dorm room about twenty minutes later, with her newborn baby. I told her the basics, and what I felt most, which was, this incident was the straw that broke the camels back. And I could no longer, comfortably remain in this school, and probably not in Israel altogether. She let me know she was hearing me, but felt strongly that Israel was where a girl my age should be, and if I returned home, I would not find myself happier.

In all the time my sister was visiting, no one in the administration came around to see if I was alright, but a few friends did. My sister was 28 at the time and she has a "Mother Teresa" quality about her. Always trying to bring peace to a situation, while focusing on our strong religious background and faith. I can not be certain, she would have felt differently if I told her ALL the fine details of what occurred with the Taxi driver, but she was adamant that I would be making a grave mistake if I left.

It was much later when I was finally able to get in touch with my Mom. I also could not bring myself to share the fine details with my Mom. We had a lengthy conversation that seemed to go nowhere. She would mention a lot what my sister thought was the best option for me. And then I realized, all this time, for weeks, after previous mentioned disconcerting incidents, I would tell my Mom, I want out of this school and she was having her own conversations telling my Mom, she thought the "healthiest" thing for me was to stay. My Mother was never really hearing me, because my older, wiser sister who went to Israel when she was 18 and never came back home, thought Israel was the place for me. Hell, she thought Israel was the place for EVERYONE. So for the first time in my life, I told my mother how I never felt heard by her, and never felt supported by her, and all this time, what I really wanted to hear from her is - "Get on the next plane honey, we are here for you, we just want you to be happy..." But those words never came. She thought I should at least consider staying in Israel and switch schools. We left it at that.

I left the school the next day, but I remained in Israel for five more weeks, lost. I did find out that the University-like school, the one I originally wanted to attend, had vacancies and was willing to accept me. But I was emotionally spent by then, I was utterly drained and had nothing else to give of myself. I stayed at my sister's house, which further drained me, due to her incessant uninvited advice about what will help me to grow as a person...

Don't ask me what I did for five weeks. I was supposed to be making a decision about whether I would stay or return home, but I think I spent five weeks doing what everyone else spends their whole year in Israel doing. I was reflecting, finding myself, searching for who I was and what I want to become, and this was dangerous territory. In the midst of visiting friends, taking my own tours, having spiritual conversation with neighbors and strangers, I was questioning what my self worth was. I was hanging out with people I would never have before and I was going in to shady clubs and acting out. I was NOT drinking, I NEVER EVER did drugs, I was NOT cavorting with strange men, but for me, acting out was nothing more than dancing publicly in a shady night club, where I became vulnerable and all those other temptations were there all along, almost beckoning me. But it was never a question in my mind. My father was persecuted for his very religion in the most heinous way possible. He lost his parents to the most awful HATE and yet, when no one could have judged him for cursing out G-d, he not only didn't, he held onto his faith, his morals and values and everything he believed in and started a whole new life. If I tested my faith, it would be the biggest slap in my father's face. And I quickly realized, for me, right now at this time of my life, Israel was actually the UNhealthiest place for me to be. And I made the final decision to return home.

Of course, the night before I left for Chicago, I had to see all my friends. Frankly, if it wasn't for the amazing group of girls I met, I would have lost my marbles quite some time ago. So I went back to my favorite school for one last visit and a sad goodbye. While I was there, my friends were trying to convince me to stay the night. I felt that I would be sleeping in the "lion's den" if I did that, and I pretty much made up my mind that I wouldn't stay the night. That is, until I somehow lost track of time and was still there when my favorite House Mother showed up to do her count.

We met eye to eye, and I kid you not, it was as if one of us was going to draw a gun. And then she spoke.

"Orah, why are you here?"

"My friends invited me for a visit before I return home to the states."

"Well I am locking the door now so you have to go."

And this is when I changed my mind and very calmly, in a soft tone, continued this awkward conversation.

"But Mrs. G. it is so late at night. Surely you would not want to send me out so late at night, lest something G-d forbid happen to me. Because I know that you care so much for my safety, as you have shown me in the past."

Her mouth agape. As I mentioned, things in me were changing. I was beginning to share what was on my mind. I probably would have considered myself somewhat disrespectful if this was a whole other scenario, but dare I say it, I felt a bit vindicated.

"Ahhh, okay Orah, you can stay."
And she turned and left the room. I mean, what could she say after that.

I left to Chicago the next night, and when I walked off the plane into O'hare airport, I felt the biggest release I have ever felt in my entire life. A burden just lifted, and I was able to breathe again.

I missed the deadline for any college I was really considering, but I did apply to a local college in the meantime. When I went to my former high school to pick up transcripts for my application, my former principal asked if he could speak to me. At this point I had already heard of every rumor one could possibly imagine as to why I returned earlier than expected from Israel. Everything from, I was terribly homesick (right, me, the girl who escaped every summer to NY for camp and one summer, six weeks in Israel for camp) to, I came back to steal a guy away from a girl, what? If they only knew. But when my former principal called me in, I realized my time in school in Israel would haunt me forever. Rabbi B. asked me straight out, if it was true that I returned because I needed to seek psychological treatment. WHAT?? He then told me that the administration at the school in Israel actually called him to tell him this. Wow, were they worried about their reputation or what. I informed my principal that this is not why I returned, although after what I went through there, I may be needing some psychological help after all.

I went to college, went on with my life. I joined a Jewish youth group as an advisor, where I probably learned more from the kids about myself and not taking for granted my faith and belief and values, than I could have taught any one of those kids I was supposed to be mentoring.

I became the person who will tell you what is on my mind, good or bad, whether you are my Mom or the guy I was dating. ( I assume some of these guys appreciated this more than others, but I only needed one good one.) I became the girl who wears her heart on her sleeve, the Mom who can not go more than five minutes without telling one of my kids "I love you". I am the Mom who can not stop smothering my kids with love, support and affirmation. I am sensitive to everyone who is going through hardships in life, whether I just met you or I know you for years. This experience in Israel could have broken me into nothing, and instead I used it to bring out everything that is great in me. Ironically, my short time in Israel did what a whole year was supposed to do. I wish it did not have to happen that way, but now I had the choice to dwell on it or let it go. I let it go.

Finally, what became of the school, the predatory doctor, my relationship with my sister? After I left the school, I found out later from friends, as the year went on, nine other girls left after me for various reasons. The following year, it had half the enrollment, from 40 to 20. The year after that was it's last. It is no more.

About six years or so after my year in Israel, my friend, the one who I set up with her husband told me an interesting story. When she was in the school (after I had left already) she had an accident and cut her finger very seriously. She had absolutely no family in Israel and asked the administration what Doctor to go to. They told her of a Doctor and then followed with a caution. They told my friend, when she goes to see this Doctor, no matter what, if he asks her to undress, she should not. She was, as you can imagine, a bit daunted by this specific caution, but felt she had no choice. (At least she got a warning.) After the Doc manipulated her finger and snipped away at skin and what she believes today was nerves (because she lost all feeling in her finger tip) he then asked her to remove her shirt so he could get a better look at her hand. She did not, and left his office/kitchen immediately. Yes, this was the same Doctor they sent me to. I was now older and married when she told me this story, and it made my stomach turn. This experience still haunts me. The fact that I can blog about it (and I could have turned this into a month long soap opera) as if it is fresh on my mind, weighs heavily on my heart.

And finally, it was only a year ago when my sister called me out of the blue for a very specific purpose. She started the conversation casually, like every other call. How are the kids, what are you up to, what are your holiday plans... But then she paused and said, "I want to tell you how sorry I am. I realize now, that years ago, I may have thought I knew enough about life to interfere in your decision making. I may have felt that I knew what was best for you, when most probably, you knew what was best for you. And I am so sorry, if I added to your trauma and if I caused you any more pain than you were already feeling."

I don't know what set this off all of a sudden. Maybe it was the fact that she now had 19, 18 and 17 year olds who were all different and required different needs to be met. There is no one size fits all when it comes to what is right for each person, and she finally realized that. I accepted her apology. I needed her apology. I did not realize that this was the last piece of the puzzle that would help me let go of this pain until I hung up the phone and began to cry. I blog about this, because I know that other people are going through painful experiences, and they may not feel heard. I can hear you. Even if you don't speak directly to me, know that I can hear you.

3 have shown Orah a little love:

adinab said...

this made me cry. stupid pregnancy hormones.

Anonymous said...

omg, orah...what school did you go to???? that is so crazy! i applaude you for being able to share all this. you are really brave. im gonna tell my lil sis to read this. is that ok?

rayli said...

oops didnt mean to do anonymous. that was me.