When I first came to Jerusalem a year ago, I was smitten. I fought a sea of women at the Western Wall to put my note in the Kotel. I stared at the Dome of the Rock and felt lucky to be alive. I gazed at the Mount of Olives and quietly relived Jesus Sermon on the Mount. I was at the place that some call the Kingdom of Heaven.
As a study abroad student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, life for the next six months was set to be a blur of pilgrimage sites, reading ancient texts, learning Hebrew from scratch and discovering the history of mankind. I was excited.
Walking down the cobbled streets of the Old City, I remembered those who had walked this path before me. Out of my dorm room window, I saw the plains of Jordan, the Dead Sea and the sunrise over East Jerusalem. Life was good.
Two weeks later, my initial excitement ended. Whilst eating a falafel with too much chilli on French Hill, I wondered, what in the world am I doing here? Its bloody hot, the bus drivers all yell at me in a language I dont understand, and I was terrified of the cars that drove too fast and never stopped for me at the pedestrian crossing.
In an attempt to get away from the Jerusalem madness, I decided to take a dip in the Dead Sea. After an hour of floating around without effort, I came out with my skin a bright shade of crimson. I was ready to go home.
The poet Robert Frost once defined home as the place where if you have to go there, they have to let you in. I dreamt of my mothers cooking and my fathers funny jokes. I missed my dogs growling and thought about how my friends and I used to laugh together till the point of stomach ache. I became home sick.
But there was no going home. So I sat in silence in my Ulpan class and tried to understand the guttural blur of Hebrew which was taught through a mix of mimes, photographs and allegories. Speaking English was forbidden, and was sure to be met with angry looks from my teachers. I felt like I was in kindergarten again.
Despite my teachers tireless effort, I discovered that there was only one way to learn Hebrew: by humiliation.
One morning, while ordering a double espresso in preparation for six hours of Ulpan agony, an Israeli man asked me, You Indian? I responded with a nod.
You have haver? he asked. My mind flashed back to the many flashcards Id prepared for my daily quizzes which I never passed. I remembered that Haver is the Hebrew word for comrade.
Yes, I said confidently in Hebrew, I have three comrades, and we live together.
Everyone at my usual Cafe Aroma started hurling in laughter. Confused and embarrassed, I took my espresso to go. My Ulpan teacher later told me that haver is the colloquial term for boyfriend.
I decided that I was a dead woman walking.
And then suddenly, as if by magic, the scariest thing happened. I became a little bit Israeli. When the vendors at the Ben-Yehuda shuk yelled at me, I found it in me to shout back. If the sherut drivers tried to rip me off, I walked to the next cab without a care in the world.
Raised in the school of be-nice-to-people, I relished letting my anger show in the Jerusalem streets. It dawned on me that an angry woman is a universal phenomenon, and is understood by everybody, even if she was speaking English.
Israelis continued to laugh non-stop at my indecipherable Hebrew, and I learnt to do the same. I looked forward to the sound of the shofar every Friday evening which told me that I was entitled to a day of rest.
I watched the highly fictionalised DreamWorks cartoon The Prince of Egypt and relived the days of Moses and the Exodus. I read the Bible for the first time, and discovered a tradition entirely different from my own.
Young Israelis regaled me with stories of their year in India after completing the army and invited me over to cook a full vegetarian Shabbat dinner. I was surprised by how much Israelis knew about Yoga, and nearly fell of my chair when someone spoke to me in Hindi. I learnt to be happy once more.
When I got bored in class I looked out at the Judean Desert and pretended I was there. I saw Idan Raichel live in Tel Aviv and decided that he was the haver I was going to marry. He just didnt know it yet. I spent a weekend in the Negev, walked through the multi-coloured valleys and experienced the most serene moment of my life.
Six months flew by in a blink of an eye, and without warning, I found myself in Ben-Gurion Airport again. After a torturous economy class flight, I hugged my parents like there was no tomorrow. My mother had cooked the most delicious meal ever, and my father was still telling funny jokes. My dog continued growling at me.
The next day, I entertained my friends with stories of this Indian girl in Israel. We laughed till the point of stomach ache. I was home.
A year later, I was back in Jerusalem for round two of my Holy Land adventures. As I stared at the Dome of the Rock, and pushed through a sea of women to get my note in the Kotel, I was smitten, all over again.
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