I have news! I'm moving to Tel Aviv! Yeah, yeah, I know - most of you saw that coming. For years people have asked me, "Why do you live in Jerusalem?" and equally, "Why don't you live in Tel Aviv?". Almost by definition, as a single, secular, anglo Tel Aviv is seemingly the place for me. So why has it taken me this long to get myself there?
I'll tell you.
When I first made the arrangements for Aliyah my Nefesh B'Nefesh counselor recommended I begin with Ulpan Etzion. Ulpan Etzion is a 5 month intensive, live-in Ulpan (Hebrew learning program) in Jerusalem for young professionals. It is one of the most popular and well known in Israel. Initially I thought, no way. I am not going to live in Jerusalem. As a visitor I always thought "there is nothing for me in Jerusalem", but somehow she convinced me that this would be a great option. So I went to Ulpan Etzion and spent my first 5 months of Aliyah in this city that "had nothing for me".
But I was wrong. Jerusalem is an amazing city. I truly believe there is nowhere like it in the world. It is ancient and modern all in one. There is diversity, life, color, tastes, and smells. Its magic is nearly indescribable - and I'm not the first person to say this.
So fast forward 3 and a half years and I'm still here.
A lot of people will tell you they either love or hate Jerusalem. Many people will tell you they could never live here. Although I do love Jerusalem, I have realized that it is no longer the place for me. After 3 and a half years I've made some great friends, eaten some amazing food, attended beautiful and exciting cultural events. I made my first "grown up" home and grew my family by 1 (Mindy, my dog, for anyone who is confused). I'll always love this place. It will always hold an important place in my life.
But I have also decided that it is time to move on, or rather, to move cities. Here's why:
Why do I want to leave Jerusalem?
It is true that Jerusalem's population is a majority religious, spanning from modern orthodox to haredi. It is also true that you can totally live a happy and complete life here as a secular person - but it will be more challenging than if you lived in another city in Israel. I appreciate that Jerusalem is the home of the Jewish religion. it is undeniably important. However, as I've developed in both my general human and my Jewish identities I have come to feel that Jerusalem is not the place where I will most successfully be able to live out my current goals and truth.
I'm not a religious Jew - and I don't feel there is anything wrong with that - but there are many aspects of life in Jerusalem that are limiting for secular people.
One of them is my social life. As much as I enjoy the beauty and many of the rituals of Shabbat, much of the socializing in Jerusalem surrounds Shabbat. I enjoy an organized Shabbat meal here and there, but it just really isn't my thing. There aren't many alternative activities on Shabbat because a) my friends are all celebrating Shabbat, and b) there is virtually nothing open in the city. Other socializing happens around things like the haggim (holidays), shiurim (Jewish learning), and other more "Jewish" things I'm personally not that interested in. It isn't that my friends aren't doing secular social activities, but rather that a high percentage of the things they are doing do revolve around their Jewishness. I love their Jewishness and don't hold it against them. I just don't feel this is a part of my desired lifestyle.
Another is dating. I've been pretty open about dating in Israel for me is hard in general, and in Jerusalem it is even harder. Most people here aren't interested in dating me simply because I'm not religious (nothing to do with my Jewish status). Then there are the ones who won't date me because my mother is not Jewish and I have not decided to do a conversion yet. And yes, I can and do date mostly people who do not live in Jerusalem, but there is a huge mental block for people who don't live in Jerusalem. They just don't want to come here. What can you do? (Move to another city...)
Why do I want to move to Tel Aviv?
True Israel is small, but it isn't that small. There are definitely lots of cool cities to live in (and certainly ones that are cheaper!). So why Tel Aviv and not somewhere else?
The first reason I want to move to Tel Aviv is the beach. I miss the beach and I need it back in my life. Plain and simple. Not much to explain.
The second reason is to (hopefully) have a more fulfilling social life. As I mentioned before, I do love a good Shabbat gathering, but I seek a higher variety of non-Jewish related activities. I chose Tel Aviv over other cities in Israel because I have a lot of friends there. And like me, they are secular. I can worry less that they will be busy with these other types of events that I am not interested in.
The third is dating. I'm going to be completely honest. I turned 27 and for the first time in my life I feel a little bit "old". I am so, so grateful to be successful in many areas of my life, but I am also very ready for that next phase. I want to find "the one" and (in time) get married. Tel Aviv contains a much larger number of available secular people who are open to dating me despite my secularism and Jewish status. And for the ones who don't live in Tel Aviv, they have less of a mental block about coming there to see me. In fact, a lot of them wish they could live in Tel Aviv too!
So that is that. I'm moving to Tel Aviv in less than a week, and I couldn't feel more ready (minus the fact that none of my things are packed). I'm ready to continue discovering new things about myself, to put myself out there, and to get a killer tan.