Tel Aviv is an amazing city; there are no two ways about it. The weather is always beautiful, the beaches are surprisingly pristine, the food is diverse, the bar scene is hopping and the people are, well, they don't walk around pushing you into on-coming traffic (at least most of the time). All of this amazingness makes Tel Aviv a very comfortable home base, so comfortable in fact that its easy to forget that we are living across the planet from home and the world as we know it. But, the fact of the matter is, I don't travel to see the familiar, I didn't come to Israel to walk down a street and think, "Wow, I may as well be in Santa Monica right now" I want to push my comfort zone and see what the world really has to offer me.
One weekend 6 of us decided to do the unthinkable and leave our Tel Aviv bubble for a taste of the real deal, Shabbos in Jerusalem with some Orthodox classmates. This meant keeping our Thursday night antics to a minimum, organizing transportation, buying host and hostess gifts and resigning to really keep Shabbat, prayers, candles, lack of Internet and all.
When we got to the central bus station on Friday we were confronted with our first reminder that we were stepping out of the cushy comfort zone that our beachside north Tel-Aviv address provides us when we witnessed an all out brawl. Now, I feel compelled to tell you that we had been warned about the central bus station, but I cruise through there on a semi regular basis for my volunteer work and never really thought anything other than "Well, this place is kind of gross and dingy, but it is a bus station, so that seems about right to me..." I guess I was wrong. As we hurriedly searched for our bus and contemplated the subtle linguistic differences between the Hebrew words for "bathroom" and "shared taxi" a fight broke out not ten feet from us. We were transfixed as one person after another, it seemed, came out of the woodwork to beat up on one young man. The boys we were with moved closer and closer to the mayhem fighting the urge to get involved while the rest of us stood back in shock. Finally some soldiers broke up the fight and we all snapped back into reality but it wasn't until we got onto the bus that any of us really started to process what we had seen.
The bus ride to Jerusalem was more scenic than we thought and took less time than our ride to school. We people watched a little, watched the scenery change, listened to a few songs and -bam- we were at the new bus station in Jerusalem. We spent the next 45 minutes waiting for a bus and trying to convince ourselves that it wasn’t too close to sunset for one to pick us up (the buses in Jerusalem don’t run after sunset on Friday or all day Saturday out of respect for the Sabbath). As we frantically tried to outrun the setting Sabbath sun, it eventually became clear that we would need to get a cab if we wanted any hope of getting to our friend’s house at all. Every time we managed to hail a taxi (a very difficult task when standing in front of a bus station with dozens of people who have places to be and only about 20 minutes to sundown) we would tell them where we needed to go and they would just speed away with no explanation. Finally we found one that would take us (all 6 of us) at warp speed for only a nominal fee.
Experiencing a traditional Shabbat was truly amazing. A feast of epic proportions was prepared for every meal and getting a forced break from school work, facebook, noisy Tel Aviv streets, spending money, and checking our phones was more pleasant than any of us anticipated. As sunset grew closer our hosts took us to experience something beautiful and amazing, havdalah at the Kotel. I only went because it sounded like a lovely way to get some air and walk off the gigantic meals I had gluttonously scarfed down over the last 24 hours; but looking back, I can’t believe it took me so long to take part in something so stunning.
When Shabbat ultimately ended and it came time for us to head home we all had something new to contemplate. Some felt a renewed spiritualism, some missed their families, others felt energized to hit the club after their spiritual retreat; but all of us were excited to get home.
When we got home the six of us stumbled out of the car up the stairs and our separate ways with our stomachs a little fuller, our minds a little clearer and our eyes opened a little wider. Life in the Tel Aviv bubble is pretty great, but I’m thankful for the chance to get out and see what the rest of Israel has to offer every now and again.