A letter to a potential Nativer,
I hate running. Rather, I hated running. I used to dread having to run during every basketball practice and, the thought of going on a run sounded worse than getting a root canal. I really, truly, hated it. That is, until I came to Israel. To be completely frank, I only started to run so that I could stay in shape with all of the shawarma I knew I would be eating. I decided that I needed to sign up to run in the Jerusalem marathon. Signing up and committing to running the race would motivate me to run throughout my year here. So I went online and signed up to run the 10k, I wasn’t about to go full fledged marathon here. I bought new running shoes. I even got them on a running website which meant they had to be the “real deal.”
Towards the end of August, as all of my high school friends began heading off to their various colleges, I packed my bags along with my new running shoes and headed to Israel. I knew that unless I started to run the first day I got there, I never would. The first morning I woke up, got dressed, put on my new shoes, and headed out. Before I knew it I was looking at the old city walls. There I was, at 6am, as Jerusalem was starting its day, looking at thousand year old stones. That was the moment I realized I had just made the best decision of my life. I realized there, gazing upon the walls as the sun was starting to rise why they call Jerusalem the city of Gold. I was overcome with excitement upon the realization that this was now my home. I headed back up the street towards Beit Nativ not only ready to start my day, but ready to start the greatest year of my life. I started running almost everyday, I ran through Yemin Moshe, the very first Jewish neighborhood that was established in Jerusalem outside the old city walls. I ran in Talpiyot, overlooking the Tayelet, and saw the most incredible view of the city. I ran towards the German colony. I ran through Machaneh Yehudah, smelling chocolate rugalach from Marizpan as they were first coming out of the oven. I ran the track of the light rail all the way up to Har Herzel. I learned my way around Jerusalem simply by running through it. I didn’t only run in Jerusalem though. Wherever my travels took me throughout the year my running shoes came with me. I ran on the beaches of Tel Aviv and Yafo. I ran past the Bahai Gardens in Haifa. I ran in the Midrashah in the Negev. I ran to the Yeruham lake every afternoon. Running, the thing I once hated became so much more than just the physical act. It became my way of exploring this country. Before I knew it, it was March, and March meant it was time for the race.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I had never run in a race that was longer than five kilometers. I had trained well, and had put in enough mileage but still I was nervous. The race began and soon I had completely forgotten that I was running. I was distracted by the fact that thousands of people, of all walks of life, came together just to run. The race happened to take place around Purim, so along the way there were people dressed in all sorts of costumes. Those are the moments when you really can understand the expression, “Rak Ba’aretz” “Only in Israel.” It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. This year has been full of “Rak Ba’aretz moments. From sitting in the middle of a completely empty street on Yom Kippur to joining thousands of Israelis who came together at a wedding to support a bride who had just lost her father to a terrorist attack. Soon I was back in the same place where I ran on that very first morning of Nativ, looking at the old city walls.
I started to think about the amazing year that I have had in Israel. I have had the most incredible experiences while being here. As my year here is coming to a close I can say with one-hundred percent certainty, choosing to spend the year in Israel was the single greatest decision I have made to date. I challenge you to take the road less traveled. Be different from all of your friends who decide to go straight to college. I promise college will be there waiting for you. Be the “weird” one who chooses the unconventional route. Whether it be your running sneakers, or your camera, or whatever you choose to help guide you through this year don’t pass up this opportunity. I guarantee you will not regret it. I wish you all the best. May your year be filled with long runs exploring our Jewish homeland.