Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Non-year Long Year In Israel - Part I

There is something I have shared with close friends and family. Although, until now I have never had a public forum to discuss it. But it was an experience that began to define me as a person. In fact, I will go so far as to say, I have been two people. The Orah before this experience and the Orah after. I do not know if this story will need more than one blog, but I will begin here. This is the story about my non-year long year in Israel.

In order to appreciate this defining year of my life, you must first understand a little about my parents and our relationship.

I am number six out of seven kids. There is 21 years between my oldest sister and my younger brother. I would say, my parents probably related a little less to me and my generation, than with my older siblings.

My dad is a businessman and he is also a Holocaust survivor who lost his parents when he was 14 to the atrocities, so he did not have parents around during his most critical years. My dad is very warm, but shows love more by handing us a dollar, rather than an "I love you". My dad would turn over most important decisions to my mother and maybe put in his "two cents" for half a minute.

My mom is extremely smart, witty and bright. She is NOT demonstrative. We say she is not a "chicken soup" mother. She hands out criticism more than I love yous. She shows love in her own special way, but tends not to share emotions and can be very private and guarded most of the time.

I would say, before my year in Israel, I shared a lot of traits with my mother. I put up walls around me. I did not easily share what I was feeling. I certainly, did not wear my heart on my sleeve and would never in a million years be blogging to complete strangers. But all this changed in just a matter of months after embarking on what was supposed to be an experience of a lifetime.

In my religious and cultural background, it is common for young girls and boys to spend a year abroad in school in Israel after completing high school. The school allows them to spend another year growing and studying Hebrew and religious topics, while exploring the beautiful country of their ancestry. The girls and boys go to separate schools and live in dorm-like buildings. Just like colleges, there are a plethora of schools to choose from (although, much less so when it was my year to go).

I only applied to two schools, one of which I knew I would not get into because I did not really fit in with their specific ideology, but a lot of my friends were going there and it was in a neighborhood where some siblings lived. The other school, where I really wanted to go, is more university - like and usually accepted all the girls who applied from Chicago, because of it's long time connections to Chicago. I don't know if it was the fact that the Principal of my high school was an outspoken opponent of this particular school because it did not meet his personal ideology, or something else, but that year only one out of six girls who applied, was accepted there and it wasn't me.

So I somehow found another school to go to, which I knew nothing about. But, I took a leap of faith. As soon as I got there, I sized it up, and I knew. I knew (because I mentioned in previous blogs that I have great instinct and intuition) that this school was probably going to give me an "interesting" ride, but I had no idea what actually was in store for me.

I loved the girls. It turned out I already knew half of them from camps I attended. My roommate was great, we are still friends today. One of the girls there, I later set up with the guy who became her husband and we are good friends. But the school and it's administration, is a whole other story.

I first noticed the bars on all the windows and doors. We get locked in at night and only one hired hand has the key around her neck at night. So in case of fire, I don't know, PRAY. Couldn't call for help if there was a fire for at least four weeks after I arrived, because the only outgoing phone was dead and hanging by a wire off the wall. And this is before cell phones became popular for students and tourists in that country. If you wanted to call home and let them know you were alive, had to walk three blocks to the next pay-phone. Actually the next pay-phone was only a block away, but we weren't allowed to use it because it was in front of an all boys school and they didn't want us cavorting with the men. However, while using the pay-phone three blocks away, some of those men would come "loiter" around us. A day later we would get lectured about "hanging out" with boys at that pay-phone. Ummm, can you say spies? They actually had people watching (and deciphering all wrong by the way).

But even though this stuff concerned me, it would never have been enough to obliterate my year in Israel. The beginning of the end came two weeks after I began school and only got worse from there. So I will share the first story and you will have to tune in tomorrow for the rest.

About two weeks after school began, I got really, really sick. Me getting the kind of sick that requires a doctor, is really bad because I have had previous traumatizing experiences with doctors and now hated doctors (which is why I later became a nurse). Me getting sick in a foreign country and requiring a doctor is even worse. I have learned from previous experiences , that a young girl should never go to a doctor on her own. So I approached the administration with a friend and asked them who I should go see and that my friend be permitted to come with me. They directed me to a doctor in the community (which you need to remember, because you will hear something in tomorrows blog and then refer back to this doctor). However, they would not let me take my friend along.

They did not want another girl to miss class on my behalf. Okay, I am a reasonable young lady, but I still refuse to go to some strange doctor in a foreign country alone, so I asked that they provide me with someone, a teacher, administrator, just someone to come with me. At which point they made a remark that was very telling and made my blood boil.

"Why don't you have your sister come with you, you have family here, you are their responsibility."


First, must I remind you of the speech you gave at orientation the first day of school. You know, the one where you said, "We are far from our families and we should feel like this is our home away from home blah blah blah." Second, although I do have some siblings living in Israel, what will you do for the 30 or so other girls in this school who have absolutely no family here? I am asking, because unlike you, I care about other people and not just the hefty tuition their "American" parents are paying. And do you really think my sister who is nine and a half months pregnant with her fourth child really needs another "child' to take care of right now?

Thank G-d for my good friend who decided to ditch class and come with me anyway. I believe undoubtedly, that by her being with me, I was saved from what could have been another very traumatizing experience. I believe this now, because over five years later, my friend, the one I set up with her husband shared a story with me that happened to her in school (tomorrow's blog) which gave me the chills. Because it let me know that the school I trusted to keep me safe, not only refused to be helpful, but actually sent me to a Doctor who was a known SEXUAL PREDATOR!!!

And this, as I said, was only the beginning.

To be continued...

0 have shown Orah a little love: