WARNING: My grammar stinks and I’m not a writer, just sharing!
Never in my wildest dreams, could I even imagine where I am today & how I live my life. From a beautiful town in California to living in the Middle East here in Jerusalem, who does this???
My Childhood & Wonderful Family
I had an amazing childhood with incredible beyond words parents, and 2 fun sisters where I was sandwiched in the middle. We grew up an average American family, just a tad different than everyone on the block because we were Jewish. We are a close family, along with cousins, Aunts & Uncles, they lived in the same town, and came over ever Sunday night for dinner. Me and my sisters had a beyond enjoyable childhood. We also went to Hebrew school since we were little kids up to our bat-mitzvahs and we went to synagogue on High holidays & always celebrated Hanukah & Passover. I wasn’t too much of a typical little girl, I was always loud & a little out there. From a little girl to teenager that loved life, having fun, partying, doing what I wished.
Me and my 2 sisters growing up
Birthright to our Motherland!
Over seven years ago my sister signed herself, my younger sister, my cousin and myself up for Birthright (total FREE 10 day trip to Israel for any Jewish person around the world). I wasn’t really into it, but she did most of the paperwork so I said, thanks & why not. When we arrived in Israel in the HOT SUMMER of Tel Aviv, I was so excited & instantly connected. My first trip to Israel was with my older sister and my Oma (grandma) when I was 11 years old in 1997 to visit all our family here and for a wedding. This time was different, 10 years later in 2007, I was 21 years old with a deeper understanding of where & who I was. Even if I didn’t know much, I felt lots. Long story short, I had a time of my life with my 2 sisters and my cousin, when I was back in California all I wanted to do was go back to Israel.
I was at Rosh Hashana services back in California and I remember sitting next to this lady. I told her how much I loved Israel, and she said, “Why not go back??” I was like, “You’re right, thanks random lady!!” I then researched how the heck to get back to Israel. I googled ‘programs in Israel’ and I got so many results. Found something called, “Kibbutz Ulpan”.
This Kibbutz Ulpan was described as a 5 month long program where you work at a kibbutz and learn Hebrew. There are tons of Kibbutzim in Israel, but I had my eye on Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. It is the biggest kibbutz in Israel, the most people, on the beach, so I had my heart set on it! Tried to get in, but the waiting list was 5 years long. I called the director at the Kibbutz in Israel and he said, “Sorry, we are booked for awhile.” I mentioned to him I did art and if I got in I’d love to paint a mural on the kibbutz. He said, “That would be SO GREAT, then next program in 2 months is our 100th Ulpan, how wonderful would it be to commemorate it with a mural!” He told me he’ll try and pull some strings, and to make a long story short, I was there at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael 2 months later. Wow, art finally got me somewhere in life!
At the kibbutz, I worked at the laundry room and also worked on painting the mural (of the beach at the kibbutz) and met the most incredible people ever. 100 people in my program, Jewish people from all over the world. Within a week I told myself, “I can never leave Israel.” Right after that, I made Aliyah (became an Israeli citizen).
Me and my Kibbutz jobs, painting a mural and folding laundry at 6AM!
December 4th 2008, I made Aliyah!
Beachin’ & Single Life in Tel Aviv
Then after the program, me and 3 friends from the kibbutz moved into an super awesome apartment by the beach in Tel Aviv. WOW, what days those were. My roommates were: a baseball player guy from Venezuela, a girl from Chicago, guy in the IDF Army from Paris and another girl from Columbia and me.. and basically everyone else in our kibbutz program too lived there, we always had people over. Imagine five 18-25 year olds, all from different countries, living in 1 house trying to figure out how to live in a new country where Israeli strangers would yelled at you on the street, but also helped & loved you. We always said we needed a TV show!
To make a ‘living’, I always did art on the side, but I had mostly customer service jobs with people who also made aliyah (olim chadashim- new immigrants). So… needless to say my Hebrew is NOT good, still 6.5 years later, always hanging out with English speakers!! .. my fault. I went to the beach, like every day, went out with friends, worked, studied a course in graphic design in Hebrew, went to Shabbat services most Friday night (loved it) and enjoyed having fun. I have a moment almost everyday, good or bad, that I am deeply blessed to be living in this land of Israel where my ancestors fought and longed to be.
friends in TLV, moving day, friends & roomies
After this beach apartment with friends, I moved to South Tel Aviv into a studio by myself… first time livin’ on my own! Anything I wanted was there, hookah in the apartment, the décor was my artwork (free stuff is good..) and my Ikea bed that took me 6 months to actually put it all together to sleep in… (don’t ask.) I made great friends at my new jobs and enjoyed life. I basically lived in Sudan. My building was people that escaped from Sudan and Israel was the only place to take them in. My friends would rarely visit me because my apartment was in a sketchy neighborhood, but I weirdly loved it! My next door neighbors were a young newly married couple expecting a baby, they escaped from Darfur. They were the sweetest people ever, always wanting to help me. They had a baby boy and they named him Barak (Obama just became president.. yayy. Kidding.) One night, after my Great Aunt and Uncle dropped me off at my apartment, they ordered me to move ASAP… lol.. so I did.
My apartment in South TLV and neighbor baby Barack
Movin’ on UP! (or down.. underground.. in a bomb shelter …but by the beach!)
My baseball player ex-roomie was going to the Israeli Army (IDF) so I moved in his studio apartment, underground in like a bomb shelter and a block from the beach! (My underground apartment came in handy in Dec. 2012 when Gaza was firing missiles into Tel Aviv & all over Israel, neighbors came to my place to keep safe.) I’d live there for 4.5 years and within these years life went on and met even more amazing people & had a long meaningful relationship. I came to a point in my life during these years where I didn’t care about going out anymore to bars, clubs, whatever. I couldn’t hear people sitting next to me over the music and I was done yelling trying to communicate, I got nothing out of this. I wanted something more.
My small bomb shelter studio apartment by beach & thumbs up on move in day!
What’s a SHIUR??
I hung out with my neighbor who lived in the same building who was from America also. It was Holocaust Remembrance day and the local synagogue was having a showing of the movie “Uprising” (powerful movie). At the end some stayed and we sat and talked. This Australian girl was there and turned out she ALSO lives in the same building as me and my neighbor friend, so funny. Aussie girl said, “Do you want to go to a shiur with me?” I said, “What is a SHIUR??” She said it is like a class on Judaism, I said sure (since going to bars wasn’t my thang anymore, seemed interesting & different.)
That week I meet my friend at this class with all kinds of people. There was a hysterical speaker there (I felt like I was at a comedy show) and the topic of his lecture was AMERICAN JEWS. Something along the lines of, “I like bagels, lox, gefilte fish, I’m Jewish” (okay well..I LOVE gefilte fish). He mentioned how the soul and real education of what it means to be Jewish is a bit lost in America. I was in AWE. He was explaining everything I knew and I had no idea the depths of where I came from and my ‘religion’, I was never taught this. Little did I know this one night would change my life.
I kept going back to these shiurim classes (shiur in plural form) and I was floored of the spiritual soulful depths & logic of my Jewish roots. How my ‘religion’ I knew of my whole life I thought was ancient and NOT relatable to these days, was just a beautiful way of life. A meaningful life, full of perfecting & raising yourself while caring for others all around you. A sense of community at all times along with a sense of your best self. Everything that humans yearn for from their innermost being was being taught to me, and HOW to obtain it. I was dumbstruck and I felt cheated I never got taught any of this in a place I just wanted to GET OUT of, SO boring…Jew Jail (heard this nickname before.. for Hebrew school when I was 5 until bat mitzvah age.) I basically thought I retired from Judaism at age 13. The exact date below…
How did my (what felt like) ‘Jew Jail’ not teach us what I was learning now? They didn’t even tell me there is a depth, wisdom & truth that is available at our finger tips. My Jewish learning never mentioned much of G-d or Torah, decided to leave these 2 crucially essential points of Judaism out of the picture.
Can’t stop soaking it up… no not the rays at the Beach!
There I was in Tel Aviv, party & beach city of Israel, and I continued going to my once a week shiurim classes taught by these soulful & genius speakers. Always one speaker better than the next. The talks were about morals and value, relationships, how to make money, working on your character traits, being successful in life, human struggle and pain, different parts of your soul, happiness, stories of the Torah, marriage, human psychology, Jewish history, materialism, how to take control of desires, how to fulfill your potential, Shabbat, kosher, modesty & style, health, EVERYTHING under the sun. And this all came from the Torah.
The Torah, I was like, “WHAT???” This Torah is 3300+ years old! HOW OLD! This world is new, its 2014, shalom! (hello!) At the end of the day, this world is progressing with technology, medicine, business, but through all these external changes, the human being’s internal essence never changes. And this is what I’m learning about, human yearning, and not just surviving, but living to one’s unique potential. How could have the world kept this from me?? What amazing wisdom & beauty these tools are for me to use!!
To Cheese or not to Cheese…
One night, in my apartment in Tel Aviv, I was cooking meat sauce with pasta. It was all ready and I got out my FAVE Costco parmesan cheese container I bring back in BULK to Israel (cheese is ridic expensive here). I sat down to eat with my pasta & meat Bolognese sauce. I opened up my parmesan cheese and I froze. I looked at the cheese and then my pasta, then my cheese and then my pasta. I don’t know how this happened, but out of 27 years putting cheese on my Bolognese sauce, I froze and couldn’t do it. I never ate kosher before, but I’ve been learning my roots and this weird moment was coming from a place deep inside. This instance was the day when I started to want to eat kosher & learn more about what the heck that even meant. I knew eating kosher is what my Jewish brothers and sisters have been doing for 3300+ years. This was a way I can be connected to all of them, and I wanted to continue this tradition.
I went to these shiurim classes for over a year, went on a fun weekend getaway up North with the people in these classes & dragged a friend (in Nazereth… lol.. so fun) met such amazing friends that weekend (still friends today). Had a weekend of great classes and fun times with people all around!
California Time, 25 hours of travel later..
About a year ago in 2013, I went home to visit my family back in California. I’m always happy to go home and see my parents, 2 sisters, childhood friends and not have the stresses of living by myself & in interesting Israel I love so very much. I had some people who wanted me to do art and murals. At this point, I started dressing more modestly there in California after internalizing how important it is to show your true internal self instead of your external self. Once I started to dress the way I did, within a week, the weirdest thing happened where it became spiritual and something I say about myself without & beyond words.
Also, a crazy new thing was happening in my hometown when I came home, Chabad opened up a block away from my parents’ house! There was nothing Jewish within a 20 minute car ride, so I was stoked! They are a young couple and a few kids, and my new favorite neighbors. Me and my mom went over for Shabat one night and a girl there mentioned, why don’t I take out a little time in Israel and learn more? Like go to a seminary? I thought to myself, “WHAT?? A seminary? You mean where nuns that are celibate go? You mean where religious people go to learn about the Lord? What, like the movie “Sister Act??” I thought, hmm, but probably no.
At this time in California, I came to a point in my spiritual journey where I felt like I know where I came from and now I know where I’m going. From all this new knowledge of Jewish history and my roots, I felt like I had a responsibility to my family who fought & loved before me, and I would happily continue live in their footsteps with great honor. They are why I am here. So I started living it. Then again, I never do anything new that the Jewish people have done for 3300+ years without me understanding it mentally and spiritually.
childhood friends, Chabad of Novato, Yofie, Jack Israel, and Jac & Chris’s wedding
WHY IS IT SO HOT HERE??
I came back to Israel after a month in California and it was in the DEAD of HEAT. Of course I decided to dress more modestly at THIS time of the year (tops past elbows & skirts past knees) in the ridiculously HOT middle of summer in the Middle East. I freaked out a couple of times for sure, and therefore sweated more. This was a time where I slowly started to keep Shabbat. I started with shutting down the TV for 2 weeks. Then shutting down my computer for the next 2 weeks for Shabbat, and then the hardest thing my cell phone, and I haven’t looked back.
Shabbat is a time to focus on everything within your reach: people, nature, books, food, (drinks, yum) without the stresses of the week. One of my holy teachers compared the 25 hours of Shabbat to Modern Art. Where you have a piece of something mundane (like a chair) and it’s in front of you in spotlight, and people are looking at it and saying, “WOW, look at this art! its so beautiful!” You look at the yuppy folks looking at the chair and think they are riiiidiculous. But this is Shabbat. It’s the first time you NOTICE the things & people you see everyday, you can finally notice them in all its glory. It’s because on Shabbat, you finally are not distracted by phones, plans, work, by it all, and you have TIME and the mind space. There is no work, no planning for the future, no cell phone calls or emails to catch up on, no driving.. all things issued so you can enjoy these hours to the MAX. It’s complete freedom.
A time to go over (usually for me random) people’s homes who invite you over for a Shabbat meal, where within the first 5 minutes feel like family. I can loosely compare it to a Thanksgiving feast with 3-5 courses with an added elevation of singing, sharing stories with each other, getting to know everyone at the Shabbat table, drinking L’CHIAMS (shots, or whatever you got) and most importantly to focus and enjoy the NOW. Because there is nothing else, you can’t do anything else. Starting Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset to recharge yourself physically and spiritually so you can enter the week elevated and refreshed in every way.
Getting experiences (free!)
Being back in my Tel Aviv apartment one day, I decided to go online to research different programs where I can learn, just to see what is out there. I found a 3 week program called Jewel, it was in Jerusalem. Sounded amazing, sort & sweet. I got a full scholarship, packed up my suitcase (I actually had a feeling I would stay in Jerusalem, so I packed everything meaningful into that 1 suitcase), sublet my apartment for 3 weeks in Tel Aviv and off I went to Jerusalem for nice ‘me time!’ That program was incredible, amazing friends I met, extraordinary Jewish classes, Shabbat getaways, trips around Israel, great mentors, going to the beach, tours around cool sights in Israel and FUN times! One day at Jewel, a Rabbi came in and I saw him and I was so happily in shock I started to cry. I started to tell him, “You were the first shiur I ever went to and you spoke about AMERICAN JEWS and.. now I’m here!” Being a typical guy, with a girl crying in front of him, it was awkward. But he was touched as well.
Jewel Girls & all around Israel
After the program, a staff member kind of thing went to a seminary called Neve Yerushalayim. I went to check it out with a few other ladies and it looked good to me. Located on a hilltop in Jerusalem, beautiful flowers everywhere, so I said why not. I got a scholarship for that as well (6 months, free living, free food, everythingggg). A time where I can broaden my learning that my mind & soul was so happy to do. You get to a place where Torah (the blueprint of life) and learning about life in all its depths and is like “water for your soul” –Matisyahu (the singer, I agree 100%).
Me in Jerusalem (and my mama came for a visit 🙂 )
The Highest of High- Living in Jerusalem
So where am I now? I lived in the seminary for 6 months learning about life & myself and off to a new chapter. I officially moved out of Tel Aviv, and all I know there, to move to Jerusalem where the air is crisp and holy. A place where just being here & breathing the air feeds my soul. I’m living in an apartment in a beyond beautiful neighborhood and its right smack dab in the middle of everything Jerusalem. I go to shiurim classes daily, walk around the shuk (outside market), work doing freelance illustrating Children’s books and graphic design (monalisasart.com), getting out there to meet friends (not easy as you get older!) and I’m trying to grow to become the best person I can be.
It’s not an easy path I’ve chosen because it is different from my family and friends, but when you have clarity in life, the choice is easy & so clear. Now my life has meaning in all what I do. I am grateful and I don’t forget where I came from and I will continue to live my truth and follow the ways of my inner self!
Me in my new quaint beautiful neighborhood in the middle of Jerusalem
Through all my changes, this blog (what I never thought I’d have) was encouraged to me several times by people I met to share my story. I just want to share my day to day with people in my life who live across the world, that I grew up with in California or wherever see (or hear from someone else) such big changes and they say, “SHE CRAZY!” (Even though I have never felt so sane in my life…) So here is where I share my days, from California to Jerusalem!