Most notable for me were the vegetables. Growing up in New York, I had never seen an authentic farm, and the closest I had come to authentic produce was when I went apple picking at the age of ten. I was not accustomed to fresh fruit and vegetables, and when I first tasted salad in Israel I was so amazed. I never believed vegetables could taste so good. I was also not aware of the variety of edible plants that are available. Though I got used to many foods during my year overseas, there were many vegetables I was never brave enough to try, among them olives, radishes, sprouts, and a whole array of foreign looking roots whose names I still haven’t learned.
Aside from the food, which was generally more spicy and flavorful than what I’m used to, the culture in Israel is, metaphorically a bit spicy and flavorful. Unlike in New York, it is not uncommon to hear unsolicited opinions and advice from strangers, and there is a comfortable feeling of casualness that makes you feel as if everyone is part of one big family. Until I got used to that sort of camaraderie, I was often insulted by what I felt were rude remarks from strangers, which, ironically, were not unlike the kind of blunt talk that is normally used only among family and close friends.
One of the funniest differences I’ve noticed between New York and Jerusalem is in the actions of pedestrians when reaching a crosswalk. It always amazed me to see a crowd of pedestrians waiting to cross a street, patiently waiting for the cross-walk signal, even with no cars in sight. At busy intersections, sometimes one or two people would walk across, disregarding the crosswalk sign, in which case they were either looked at disapprovingly or given the benefit of the doubt that they were tourists who don’t know better. I admit that there were many times that I was one of those odd ones out who crossed against the traffic signal, and I hope the astonished spectators gave me the benefit of the doubt, since I was, in fact, a tourist.
The year I spent in Israel was a wonderful experience for me in many ways. The spiritual, as well as personal growth I achieved during the year is something I will always treasure. Though the trip may not have turned me into a true traveler, it has deepened my appreciation for the growth and opportunities to be found in new places and experiences. I miss Israel very much and hope to go back one day, but meanwhile, I have many special memories to treasure as I try to re-acclimate to life in New York, and, once again, to life without clean air.