Tel Aviv is Israel’s big city. It’s modern and home to many famous startups. It’s got a grungy vibe that many cities in the US try to master but can’t. You can easily see how much less religion plays a role when contrasting it with Jerusalem. Strolling through the streets, you’ll hear locals speaking in all kinds of languages and see plenty of restaurants that don’t hold kosher.
Before I get into our day adventure, I have to note one little thing that really tells an important message about the hospitality of Israelis.
Our Airbnb had a little snafu where we ended up needing to wait for a key outside the apartment complex for about 20 minutes. While we were waiting, a resident of the building came home. She recognized the signs of an Airbnb guest and asked us where we were staying. She quickly invited us inside to her apartment, insisting several times that it was too cold to be waiting outside. Not even five minutes later, she walked out with a tray filled with mini dixie cups of black mint tea. As completely unnecessary and so incredibly appreciated by her warm-heartedness, it was something I hope not to forget. Instead of rolling her eyes at yet another Airbnb guest in her apartment complex, she chose to share kindness with us foreigners. It’s those small acts of kindness that leave the biggest impression.
The next morning was New Year’s Eve, and our one real day in the city, so my impressions were quick. No matter, we made sure to take advantage of that one cloudy day in the city. While my family did a Bauhaus tour, I meandered off to explore a bit of the city on my own. I ambled through the beautiful upscale Sarona Market, where shops were preparing for yet a busy day. While blissfully peaceful and orderly, I didn’t spend much time there before heading back out into the bustle of everyday city life.
I zigzagged down King George Street, a busy street leading straight to the edge of the infamous Carmel Market. As I approached the market, a feeling of overwhelming familiarity washed over me. Several groups of teenagers with American accents strolled through the market, making sure to share their loud opinions for their friends to hear while locals argued over prices. I got shoved this way and that, with my attention being pulled from a pomegranate juice stand to an artist’s table to a clothing store.
With the rain finally letting loose, I huddled under a canopy and took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the market. It was one of those snapshot moments that you savor and then pocket away for another day.
My family caught up with me at the market, and we huddled until the rain slowed down enough to make our way to the old city of Jaffa or Yafo. Of biblical significance, the town is said to have been built by a son of Noah after the great flood.
Walking up and down through the narrow alleyways, it was easy to lose and find yourself in minutes. Hungry for more than just good views, we settled on a tourist-ridden Italian restaurant for a quick meal before heading back along the shoreline for a walk home. In a sort-of perfect timing of events, we caught the sunset before veering away from the beachfront and back home to our apartment.
That’s where my night really began. But before I get into it, I have to explain something I had been withholding since my first night in Israel. The night I landed in the country, I received a pretty important email in my inbox. It was an offer for a new job. My entire trip thus far had been weighed down with the decision. For weeks, I went back and forth. But New Year’s Eve was my deadline. All day I would check my phone, anxiously waiting to hear back about some question related to retirement benefits. Nothing came all day, and it was almost 8pm, which meant I had to run out to meet my friend, Shir, to bring in the new year Tel Aviv style.
I met Shir back in 2013 volunteering in Kenya. She was volunteering at the same orphanage that I was, and we had quite the little group there that bonded very quickly with pineapple dance parties with the kids, acoustic singalongs, and nightly Werewolf game nights. We’d kept in touch here and there, but I hadn’t seen her properly since. The second we met, it was like we had never spent a moment apart.
We caught up on each other’s personal and professional lives. She told the story of how she ended up moving from Canada shortly after returning from Kenya to spending the last five years of her life living in various cities in Israel.
A balmy night, we walked first to her friend’s apartment—which she warned me would be a treat. Her friend talked a mile a minute in a strong British accent with an air of confidence I immediately felt comfortable in. As someone who knows everyone, with her at our sides, the streets were filled with friends and acquaintances explained through a quirky story that had taken place years ago. We rounded up one more friend before making our way through Carmel market to our final destination of some unremarkable small door with a sign pronouncing itself as Einstein. We are welcomed into the warmth of the bar with cheers and a round of shots from a bartender that was clearly sweet on Shir.
It was then that I received that fateful email and my decision had to be made. I sat there, one shot deep, debating my decision. I remember biting my lip while trying to make that choice, taking in the whirlwind of the bar’s activity. How could I make any other decision than the unexpected one? I would leave the comfortable behind me and I would step into the unknown. I quickly typed out an email response, double checking for spelling errors, and clicked send. It was done. And then Shir and I took a shot to new beginnings.
The rest of the night was a blur, but it contained dancing on top of the bar, turning down many shots, and engaging Shir’s friend in conversation around the politics of the country while she smoked her cigarette and I froze my butt off. Shir and I stumbled our way back, and it was that time that was the most special for me. It was in that slightly inebriated trek home that we had the best conversation about life. It’s funny to think how we shared nothing more than a couple weeks in Kenya five years earlier, and it could turn into this.
This post is dedicated to Shir and social media for keeping us connected. There’s a lot of bad that goes into social media, but there’s also a reason I could never let it go, if only to make sure that I can find myself in situations like that one over and over and over again.
Cheers to Shir. And cheers to many more photos to remember nights like that.