Letters from Israel

When most people think of Israel, they think of incessant warfare, ongoing controversy, and interminable violence.

When I think of Israel, I think of home.

This beautiful and unique country has been my home now for the past six months. Throughout those six months, I have been exposed to an experience quite unlike that of life in the glamorous city of Los Angeles. At the end of each day I do not drive down Ventura Boulevard or hop on the 101 Freeway to get home. Instead, I drive through an intersection where a left turn could find you in Jerusalem, one of the most historically rich and controversial cities in the world, and a right turn could bring you to the border between Israel and Lebanon.

When my family decided to spend the year in Israel, and to take one year off of the Los Angeles lifestyle, I was not thrilled. However, I have come to love the country, the people, and the laid-back lifestyle of the small Jewish homeland. In Israel, one lives life by the day. Israelis love their country and are more than eager to share their love with newcomers.

On one of my first days in Israel, I went to the beach with a few friends. We sat near a woman who, upon hearing our conversation in English, promptly asked us where we were from. When she found out that we were all from the United States, she gave us a whole ‘schpiel’ on the amazing qualities of Israel and how she had once tried living abroad but could not remain far away from the country that held her heart. She promised that despite our homesickness, we would soon fall in love with the country.

I do not live the life of a true Israeli. I go to the American International School (AIS), which is made up mostly of American students, although children of diplomats and international businesspeople from every corner of the world send their attend this school, along with some Israeli students. The result is a mixture of cultures and languages. I have friends from India, Poland, Italy, Chile, Kenya, France, Australia, Japan and more. It is not uncommon to hear a variety of different languages spoken as one is walking down the hallways to class: French, Spanish, English, Hebrew and Swahili among them.

Being new at AIS is not a unique situation. Because it is an international school, students are constantly both leaving and joining the school. Most students do not spend more than two or three years at AIS, if even that long. Everyone who is not new has been new recently, and thus is well aware of the tribulations that come with being faced with this unfamiliar environment.

It is easy to be an American living in central Israel. In addition to the fact that the lifestyle is easy to adjust to, many Israelis speak decent English. Moreover, the city that I live in is rather peaceful, and it is situated relatively far from volatile areas such as Gaza and the West Bank.

While it is easy to forget that I live in a country that has hardly seen a year of peace since its creation nearly sixty years ago, there is the occasional reminder. First, there are the school’s frequent bomb drills. There is nothing like a bomb drill early on a Monday morning to get your blood pressure up.

Also, on one occasion, in the car on the way to a friend’s house, I found myself blocked by a policeman, who explained that just twenty feet behind him they had encountered a ‘suspicious object’ feared to be a bomb. Twenty minutes later, a bomb detonator had blown up the suspected item, and I was on my way again.

A friend of mine, who studies near the Gaza Strip, which is south of where I live, tells me that sometimes Katyusha rocket attacks interfere with her school days. And of course, my house, as well as most other houses in Israel, has its own bomb shelter conveniently located in the basement.

Although living in Israel is at times a surreal experience, for the most part, it’s astonishingly normal. I do most of the same things that I would do here. I hang out with friends, go to the movies, go shopping, and go to the beach. I just also happen to have a bomb shelter located next door to my bedroom.

Naftali will rejoin the class of ’09 in Los Angeles next year.