As I write my last blog post during part I of OTZMA, my room in Karmi’el at the Mercaz Klitah is nearly barren, with the exception of a small pile of suitcases and miscellaneous items in the corner of my room, ready to be packed up and put off into storage for the month.

We OTZMAnikim have spent the past weekend cleaning and packing up our apartments, chronicling colorful accounts of “remember back in August when…,” and, of course, reflecting over these past three months.

I tend to write at a time when it is neither dark nor light outside of my window, at a time before the sun hits the mountains that must be backdrops on green screens they are so magnificent, when everyone I know and have come to love are both awake in their normal daily routines and asleep in other time zones. It is during this spell of in-betweens, if you will, that a person may be able to most freely reflect and deliberate. So while an elderly Muslim man’s voice eerily scratched over an intercom from a nearby mosque in prayerful solidarity, I realized just how far away I was from my (other) home.

Although this blog was meant to cover my time here, I think it’s crucial and even cathartic to address all of the trappings that arise from being abroad, away from our zones of comfort; making the wildly experimental transition from student to adult; and recognizing how alike yet inconceivably dissimilar these above discoveries are from one person to another, even though we all share the same living, breathing, and working space.

And as I carefully persuade the next month of my life into an Osprey 50L frame pack, seeking to discover whether rolling or folding tee shirts and jeans serves more spatially effective, I’m realizing how much of a journey I am on, and how much I still have ahead of me.

This year has been, and will be, plump with the packing and unpacking of not only my “I can get dirty in these” clothes as well as my nicer Shabbat garb, but also of anticipation, yearning, and apprehension of the unknown. For instance, tomorrow morning, OTZMAnikim will be leaving Karmi’el and traveling up more north right up to the Lebanon border, where we will be volunteering at Sar-El (abbreviated Hebrew for Service in Israel). Sar-El is a volunteer organization that takes in people from all over the world, and has them working in various settings on army bases all over the country. Tomorrow, I will be starting my two weeks at Chativat (which stands for “brigade”) 300, a closed combat base. There, we have the opportunity to be helping build and repair border fences or to be cleaning and reorganizing weapons and ammo sheds, among other tasks. We will all be sleeping in barracks and living right on top of each other, as if the Mercaz Klitah wasn’t close up enough. With that said, it will definitely be an experience, and I’m really excited for it—this is why I am here after all, to get out of my comfort zone, live differently, and revel in that, while simultaneously helping this country, volunteering, and peacefully supporting Israel’s right to exist.

After Sar-El is over, however, OTZMA has a 2 and a half week break, of which we are not allotted a home base. This is where things are going to get weird, and by weird I mean awesome. I do not have any family in Israel, nor do I have too many friends in this country. I came here to explore, to live less like a tourist, and to get lost a few times—and this is my opportunity. This is also the unknown I was talking about, with which I approach with both excited anticipation and obvious apprehension—the whole discourse surrounding “backpacking aimlessly” sounds great and has been overtly romanticized in media and literature, but when it hits you smack in the face, apprehension is proximate.

Definite plans include: a three day extravaganza down to Eilat, the southernmost tip of Israel, where I will cross the border over to Jordan, and stay in Petra for a couple nights. I’ve been advised multiple times to visit Petra during my stay in Israel, a historical and ancient archaeological city in Jordan.  The city was carved into sheer rock face over 2000 years ago, and entrance to the city is through the Siq, which is apparently a narrow gorge over 1km in length and surrounded on either side by 80m high cliffs. Considered one of the “New” Seven Wonders of the World and named by BBC as one of “the forty places you have to see before you die,” I’m glad to be checking this one off my bucket list. Post-Petra, I’m dying to get to know this country I’ve been calling home for the past three months.

While I revel in the past and pack the mental articles of these three months that take up little physical space in my pack, I’ll share a bit more. Although my time working on the organic agricultural farm in Karmi’el wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for as it offered little to no direction and zero communication (hence my not covering too much on the subject as all was quite tedious), I made sure to utilize my months here and my skillsets via other mediums. I was blessed to be able to visit and help out at the Har Gilon Elementary School last week, where OTZMAnikim Davey and Sarah worked at during these three months. The two of them planned an entire “English Day,” consisting of nine different stations that channeled “stereotypical” American life in some way. While some helped teach fourth, fifth and sixth graders how to hit homeruns and make touchdowns and others led the race to see who could eat an Oreo in the most unique of ways, I sat with a group of yeledeim ranging from rowdy to reluctant, and taught them to draw American flags and other things that reminded Israeli children of the United States. I saw carefully crafted cheeseburgers, McDonald’s emblems, Yankee logos, and cute, misspelled quips from the Bill of Rights adjacent to Lady GaGa lyrics. Peace signs, the Statue of Liberty, and surprisingly impressive sketches of Barack Obama were present as well, in the blank spaces between the thirteen cherry crayoned stripes of the American flag. I made lots of new pint-sized friends, and at the end of the day, all three hundred children were pining for our autographs, like we were touring celebrities. The lot of them literally pummeled OTZMAnikim Dave F., convinced he was a legendary NFL linebacker.

I also had the opportunity to visit and help out at Kishorit, an integrative community and kibbutz in the hills of the Galilee, specifically designed for special needs-based people. The only place of its kind in the entirety of the Middle East, Kishorit encourages self-sufficiency for people living with physical and mental challenges by facilitating endeavors such as animal therapy, having its members work in the toy factory building and sanding old-style collectible wooden toys, and aiding its members in the media center managing its cinematic production studio, among other things.

On its property, Kishorit has a school, media center and television channel, dog kennel/dog hotel, horse stable, goat farm, organic vegetable garden, vineyard, and a profitable and industrious toy factory called Pastel Toys. I got to work in the pedigree kennel, walking and loving the miniature schnauzers and dachshunds for the entire day, and then interacting with the members at the toy factory and during lunch. Leaving Karmi’el having visited these two places, I’m glad that most OTZMAnikim had such great volunteer sites, and this makes me incredibly excited to take advantage of all that Haifa has to offer. One thing I need to keep in mind for next time—speak up if you’re not being used to your full potential!

As we wrap up our time in Karmi’el in excited preparation for the Sar-El bus to pick us up in the morning, I’m just reveling in this reflection of the past, the present, and anticipation of the future.

Things and people I’ve grown to like and love: Maggie, my host mom, and her family, for inviting me into her home and acting truly like a mother to someone who once was a complete stranger to her (me!); alternative Thanksgiving/”friendsgiving” dinners; Yesh, the weird supermarket next to the Mercaz Klitah that we all don’t like but still always go to; anything having to do with passion fruit; the incoherent hour long lectures only in Hebrew from the non-English speaking farmer I worked with; and OTZMA’s second home, “Felix’s,” where we congregated almost nightly to sit outside, de-stress from the occasional Ulpan nightmares over 10 shekel Goldstar and chocolate candy bars riddled with pop rocks.

Things I’m looking forward to: Volunteering in Sar-El for two weeks in Northern Israel; traveling sans destination around Eretz Yisrael meeting new people and sharing stories while this OTZMA vacation finds me a little bit homeless; moving to Haifa in January and getting real friendly with the Boston-Haifa Connection and its staff; blogging tons more about all my new volunteering; and finding more snacks with passion fruit as a main ingredient.

That’s all. I’ll have my lap top with me for this month, so I will try and update on my travels, as I plan to find myself traversing the entirety of the country over this short hiatus. Feel free to leave your comments with suggestions or advice, as the inner pioneer in me is eager for some travel tips. Yalla, and Shabbat Shalom!

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