Israeli Gap Year Diary: Independence

— by Ivan Levingston

I began my gap year in Acco, Israel on September 2nd with visions of spending the year growing into a mature and independent adult. Forging meaningful relationships with the youth in Acco, hosting friends at delicious dinners, that was what independence meant to me. Like most ideals, it came crashing to earth almost immediately after I had unpacked my bags.

The first thing my roommates and I did after unpacking was to go grocery shopping. This was the first time that I was spending my money to buy groceries for myself and I was in shock. What should I buy? Well, what were we going to have for dinner? Could we afford enough ground beef to make hamburgers? Not if we needed floor cleaner. Did we really need floor cleaner? Yes. That moment, buying floor cleaner without being told to, was a truly adult experience.

More after the jump.
I’ve had many adult experiences since then, and just like buying floor cleaner, they’ve been about the small things in life. There was the time where I hung up my laundry to dry and it fell off the clothesline and into a pigeon’s nest. The time where I went to an ATM late at night, entered the wrong PIN number too many times, and had my credit card eaten by the machine. In both of those instances the person who had to fix the problem was me. At home, my parents would take care of it, but now I had full responsibility, and it forced me to grow. Being an adult can be lonely but it’s always empowering.

One of my most empowering experiences took place in my very own apartment building in North Acco. My building’s superintendent is a white-haired Morocco native named Alber, and he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He always says ‘hi’ to my roommates and I, and one day he invited us over to celebrate Tu B’Shvat (the Jewish festival for trees) with him and his wife. We eagerly accepted, and that next weekend we all dressed up and headed over to his apartment. The meal was incredible; Moroccan spicy fish, couscous and meatballs, there was no end. The only thing better than the food was the conversation. At first there was a slight language gap, everyone speaking in broken English and Hebrew, but when Alber mentioned that he spoke French from Morocco, my roommate Ethan started speaking with him in French. I remembered some Spanish from high school and Alber said he spoke that too. From that moment everything took off, and when we left Alber’s apartment two hours later, we were all smiling. As we walked back to our apartment, we reflected on how incredible it was that a bunch of American teenagers could have a delightful dinner with two older Moroccans.

Living as an adult involves a profound adjustment in thought process. At home, if I left dirty dishes in the sink, they would magically disappear, but in Israel they’re still there in the morning! Independence can be a burden, but it also opens the door to so many freedoms and opportunities, the dinner with my neighbor being one example. Growing up is rough sometimes, but there is also a deep satisfaction in knowing my accomplishments are fully my own. And next year, at college, I’ll definitely never take the meal plan for granted.

Ivan Levingston, 19, was born in New York City and grew up in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. After graduating from Barrack Hebrew Academy, he decided to spend this current year volunteering as part of the Ma’ase Olam-Tzofim gap year program in Acco. Ivan is enrolled at Harvard University.