This morning my phone was buzzing with so many messages, it almost fell off the nightstand. “Shana tova!” “Gmar hatima tova!” and even a “Gut yom tov” or two. This is the case with every chag in Israel. You can expect almost anyone from ex-boyfriends to your Arab landlord to send some sort of greeting, or at least a meme. Rosh HaShana seems to produce more messages though, maybe because it’s the first of the High Holidays and no one has gotten to exercise their mass messaging skills since Pesach.
As a secular American Jew living in Israel, it takes the flood of messages to remember the holiday at all. Sure, I’ve known for weeks we have dinner plans tonight and I’m looking forward to the long weekend, but I didn’t stop to think about the past year, or the coming new one until I saw dozens of apple and honey emojis.
Lying in bed I tried to replay the past year, starting with where I was for chag. My mind drew a total blank. With no family around, each holiday I get adopted out by a sweet friend or acquaintance and join someone else’s inner familial circle for an evening. After nine years the dinners start to blur together. Then I remembered. I was at my coworker Yael’s in Raanana. After she and her husband said hamotzi, their toddler sneezed all over the challah as if on cue when everyone said “amen”. Everyone laughed, and were relieved to find another challah sitting out of range.
It was a lovely evening and I always appreciated being welcomed in, but on the drive back to Tel Aviv I felt the familiar tinge of loneliness and melancholy. At 33, I wanted and worked hard at finding a partner to no success. For years I’d felt ready to move on to the next chapter, but it just didn’t seem to happen for me, and the world was mostly unhelpful in easing my anxieties. When a woman nears her mid-thirties, even those that previously told her to “take her time” and that there’s “no rush” start changing their tune and the reassurances turn into strategies.
I was told to “keep my eyes open” but that it “always happens when you’re not looking.” To be on the apps, or to delete them. To “have an open mind” but be “focused on what you want.” On a long distance phone call to my grandmother in Cincinnati, she advised me to look for a new job. I thought she was saying this because once, three years ago I complained about my boss. “What? No. You haven’t met anyone there, maybe it’s time to move on.” When I told her about friends’ weddings I was attending she ran through the list one by one. “Is Erin Jewish?” No. “Is her husband?” No. “What about Meredith?” No. “And her husband?” Actually, yes!
I didn’t know why she was interested in my friends’ religious leanings until she replied, “Good. At least you’ll have some chance of meeting someone this summer.”
But despite her hopes I didn’t meet anyone that summer, or in the seasons after that. By the time I was driving home from Yael’s I was past the tearful nights and (most) of the self pity and had settled into a phase of acceptance and concession to my fate. If I was going to be a living Cathy comic strip, I might as well enjoy it. To celebrate the new year I painted my studio “antique pink” and stuffed it with plants. I delved into hobbies and friends, and on nights at home I relished sitting alone in my lady apartment in front of the TV with a spicy bowl of instant ramen on my lap, flanked by my most cherished possession, my cat.
A month or so later I participated in Israeli Burning Man (Midburn) for the first time. I won’t go into too much detail, just say it’s a week-long event held annually in the Negev Desert attended by over 10,000 people. The theme was “transitions.” Maybe it was the LSD or maybe it was the overwhelming energy of thousands of hippies in one place, but I felt a delusional hopefulness set in. Despite or maybe because of past frustrations, I decided to relinquish control. Suddenly the universe seemed like a good force, one that could be trusted.
And then, I met a guy. He was actually in the same camp as me sleeping in a tent a few meters away. It took a few days to interact, but once we did it was like the start of a lot of love stories. It was exciting and comfortable at the same time, kind of like old friends meeting again. We eagerly filled each other in on our whole lives, down to our favorite ingredients to add to our instant ramen. We rattled them off; “Garlic, ginger, jalapeno, sometimes an egg, grrreeeeennn onnnioonnnnn” both of us said in slow motion unison, eyes locked and minds racing. Is this what love feels like?
Leaving Midburn I buzzed with excitement at this new life development, but also with fear. As I had experienced many times, even bright sparks can dim quickly. People change their minds. Maybe it was a Midburn romance and wouldn’t stick through the bright light of daily life. But, much to my surprise, it did.
Against all odds we had more in common than noodle additives. Four months later we moved in together and I left my bachelorette pad for a two bedroom apartment with parking. Five months after that he proposed at the truck stop diner in my hometown when we went to the States to visit my family. In February we will welcome a baby girl, B”H.
Lying in bed this morning my mind ran through the past year and how much my life has changed in a year. I still love watching true crime with my cat, but now as I do I’m googling “round ligament pain” and shopping for pregnancy pillows, Tamir cooking both of us ramen in the kitchen. We plan to attend Midburn again in a couple of months. The theme this year is, fittingly, “Quantum Leap.” If the past year was a transition, 5784 certainly does feel like a blindly hurtling through space, in a good way.
I don’t share this story to show that once I “let go” or “accepted myself” I found a man and now my life is perfect. I really hated when people told me shit like that and fervently argued against the theory that self enlightenment brings one love and good fortune. It might, or might not and either way nothing will be perfect. I share this story as a reminder to those that might feel stuck like I did that a lot, a lot can happen in just a year. It’s important to believe that, as irrational as it can seem at times. May we all have a fruitful, sweet next year, full of radical optimism, and pleasant surprises.