I loaded a box of papers and a potted plant into the trunk of my car, hugged my coworkers, turned in my keys, and waved goodbye to the company where I’d worked there for more than two years. The frequent travel abroad and the strain of wrangling a 10-hour time difference had taken their toll on my personal life and my energy, and my intuition told me it was time for a longer sabbatical than the five weeks I’d taken over the summer. It was the first time in my career that I planned to leave a job voluntarily, without having my next gig lined up.
As right as it felt to do a course correction into the great unknown, I felt melancholy about losing my connection to Israel, where I’d done quite a bit of travel through my job. When I gave notice, our CEO and I agreed that I would make one final trip to Israel; I was glad to have an opportunity for closure.
In October, for the last time for the foreseeable future, I landed in Tel Aviv, which I have come to love like a second home. As I arrived, the sun was starting to set, a fiery orange ball dipping into the desert. I took it as a symbol of good things to come in the week ahead.
Reflecting on the highlights of my visits over the past two years, from early-morning runs along the sea to a Christmas Eve drag show, I wanted to cram my week full of memorable encounters – not to mention world-class meals at Tel Aviv's excellent restaurants. I was particularly looking forward to the graffiti tour I had booked for Friday in the Florentin neighborhood. As fate would have it, less than 48 hours in, I felt the telltale ache of illness in my bones. My throat swollen shut, the Kleenex piling up in my trash can, I slogged through work on Monday, but by Tuesday, I couldn't even get up. As the days went by, I canceled one set of plans after another, missing out on my last bout of Tel Aviv life. Seven thousand miles from home, in one of my favorite cities, all I wanted was my mom.
Thanks to friends who delivered NyQuil, nasal spray, lotion-infused tissues, and kreplach soup, I was legitimately on the mend by Friday. With only one full free day left, the options for how to spend it felt overwhelming. Should I drive to Yam Kineret? Stay in Tel Aviv and visit museums I'd never had time to see? Would any farewell be proper without a final visit to Jerusalem? I couldn't decide.
But by the time I finished breakfast with a friend, I'd made up my mind to spend my final day in Tel Aviv just being there. I rented a green bike-share cruiser and headed for the path along the ocean, riding down to Yafo, through Florentin, across HaTachana, and up Rothschild. I stopped for lunch and eavesdropped on Hebrew conversations around me, watching the people of Tel Aviv enjoy their weekend with friends and kids. I was a fly on the wall, soaking it all in. It was perfect.
The tour of Florentin did not disappoint. With two of my colleagues and our excellent guide, we strolled through this neighborhood in transition, learning about its Greek heritage, Bauhaus architecture, exceptional burekas, and prolific graffiti art. By the end of the tour, we could rattle off the names of half a dozen prominent street artists (including my favorite, EPK- the Eggplant Kid, whose purple globes are everywhere you look). Florentin's graffiti speaks to the political and social themes of Israeli culture, and the tour seemed an apt way to wrap up my time there.
The next morning, I found myself at Ben Gurion Airport, getting high on espresso while I waited for my flight. I felt that combination of anxiety and heartsickness that comes with an impending long separation from someone you love. I had no idea when I would next return to Israel, and it left me unsettled. I wasn't ready to say goodbye without knowing that I would see her again.
Just before it was time to board, I darted into the music store. I wanted to take with me something sensory, something evocative to keep the connection alive while simultaneously affording me some Hebrew practice. I picked up two Hadag Nahash CDs – their new one and one that the clerk insisted I had to have – reminiscing about their live show in Tel Aviv two years earlier. "And something Mizrachi," I asked the friendly clerk. Without hesitation, he handed me an Eyal Golan CD. I handed over all my remaining shekels and ran for the gate.
I didn’t say goodbye to Tel Aviv, just say L'Hitraot, "see you." I hope it won't be too long. In the meantime, I will be singing along.