By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
Unfortunately, vacation life is nothing like real life. We all know this. So when I fell in love with Israel after visiting four times for advocacy trips, a science program, and a family vacation, I craved to see what real life was like here. After all, I thought, if this was a place to which I thought about moving—who doesn’t want to move to a place where they’ve spent four awesome vacations?—I needed to see what it’s like to live as a normal person to make an informed decision.
So for five months in 2013, I “moved” to Israel to find out what living in Israel was really like. Granted, it was a very comfortable transition, as I was guided under the auspices of Career Israel, a Masa Israel Journey program intended to give participants a good idea about what life is like here.
The program consisted of 40-hour-per-week internships, and with the exception of the first few weeks of orientation and some tiyulim (day trips), we were pretty much on our own. Okay, we didn’t have to budget for taxes, deal with landlords, and worry about when our next paycheck would come, but we were living life as Israelis as authentically as we could.
At the end of the program, I still had one year left of college. A few of us, myself included, went back home to our respective countries for a short while, only to come back and make aliyah. I still stay in touch with many of my friends from Career Israel, and this week I was given the chance for a reunion night in a Bedouin hospitality center! Career Israel organized the reunion night for alumni who remain in Israel. Most of the group had made aliyah like myself, and those who hadn’t (yet) got a good dose of convincing.
So we gathered at Beit Leni in Tel Aviv, the apartment complex where we used to live, and waited for everyone to arrive. It was a Thursday evening, so everyone was ready to party and bought some beers to take on the bus with us. It was going to be a long ride down south to the Negev.
As I saw some old friends trickle in, we relived our Career Israel days and caught up. One of our friends is in the army and was there in uniform. Another just moved to Tel Aviv from Caesarea, where she lived with her Israeli boyfriend of five years. It was great to have some of the group back together.
We were supposed to leave around 7:20 p.m., but of course, in true Career Israel/Israeli style, we left at 8:45 p.m. and arrived to “Desert Ship” around 10:45 p.m. When we arrived, laffa bread and dips were waiting for us at the table, along with water and lemonade. As we sat down for some good Bedouin hospitality, we were brought heaping plates of various types of meat atop a mound of rice. It was glorious.
Our group chatted about life in Israel and about politics (leave it to the Brazilian to bring up the American presidential elections not five minutes after sitting down to dinner), stirring the pot while we enjoyed our meal.
After we had our fill, with plenty of leftovers, we sat down on a huge rug and were treated to a dance presentation. Boys in (what I imagine to be) traditional Bedouin dance garb, headscarves, and boots danced around with each other, and then invited us to join in on the action. They also offered some very sweet and delicious tea with a traditional Arab coffee made with cardamom, and of course, baklava. The entire experience was nice, although I am not certain how authentic it was, given that it was not at a true Bedouin village, but a tourist center that hosts bar mitzvahs and celebrations with kosher food. Either way, it was very fun.
After the festivities, the group was invited to see a slide show by Career Israel, presenting the evening’s donors and telling of all the alumni events that are being planned. A few alumni gave short presentations on their career, and telling us of any job openings in their companies. A friend presented his beliefs about Forex (also called Binary Options) companies in Israel, which is currently a heated subject after a Times of Israel report exposed some of the immoral methods used to make a profit. His company, he said, is a rare type of Forex Company that is accountable to the customers, always giving back their money when they ask for it. What’s an Israeli festivity without a little politics?
After this, we took a group picture for the donors—who hilariously, didn’t know about one another, so we took two pictures, each one with different signs that would be sent individually to the two companies—and headed home. Another two-hour ride got us back to Tel Aviv around 3 a.m. After driving back to Jerusalem and arriving around 4:30 a.m., we were wiped out but happy to have full tummies and a fun night of reconnecting with old friends.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.