In the summer of 2019, my parents told the family they were thinking of hosting an english-speaking Israeli for 6 months. While my sisters were fond of the idea, delighted to have “another sister,” I was heavily opposed to the idea for a multitude of reasons. Since my sisters outweighed the vote 2-1, my opinion was disregarded, and we began preparing to welcome a new member to the family.
I had only a slight idea of what to expect. I knew her name was Hadar, that she was Israeli, was just out of high school, spoke perfect English, and that she would be working at a range of New Jersey Jewish schools to teach students about Israel. Other than that, I was oblivious to what we were getting ourselves into and nervous that this would turn out to be a bad idea. What if we didn’t like her? What if she didn’t like us? There were a multitude of ways this could go wrong, and I was not optimistic in the slightest.
And yet, I helped my family prepare for this new chapter in both our lives and hers. I helped clean out the guest room in the basement for her and patiently awaited her arrival.
When she arrived, my sisters and I kept our distance as she unpacked, and begrudgingly made our awkward introductions to each other. Slowly we began warming up to her, getting to know her, and we soon became sisters. I would help her prepare for her lessons at school, she would help me with my Hebrew homework. She taught us how to cook Israeli food like shakshuka, her recipe we still use to this day. We took her to all our favorite places on the east coast and loved every moment of it. I spent more time with her than any other member of my family did, which was surprising due to my resistance only a few months before. She would invite her friends over for meals where we would all play games, laugh, and talk for hours. She met my friends and even attended my sister’s bat mitzvah. We would bring her to visit family members and attend family get-togethers, and naturally, she was beloved by our entire extended family. She became one of us.
When it was finally time to say goodbye, it was hard for us. Over the next few years, we did our best to keep in touch with her over Whatsapp, calling every few months, but the separation made it nearly impossible. Four years later, over this past summer, me and my sister partook in a summer program in Israel, called Ramah Seminar. We knew we would have a free shabbat in Israel where we could stay with family members. As opposed to staying with one of our relatives in Israel, we immediately decided to call Hadar and ask her if she would host us. She was ecstatic by the request and said yes without hesitation.
When the host shabbat finally approached, my sister and I got on a bus and headed to Tel Aviv, a city in Israel near where Hadar and her family lived. From there Hadar greeted us with plenty of hugs and smiles. This was the first time either of us had seen each other in over four years. We excitedly got into her car, and she explained the eclectic schedule she had planned for our visit. We went to the Tel Aviv shuk, where we shopped and tasted all her favorite Israeli delicacies. We walked on the boardwalk of the Tel Aviv beach, sitting on a bench and catching up for hours. She took us to her favorite falafel place in all of Israel, which had definitely exceeded our expectations. We even headed to stores in her hometown, Ramat Gan, to pick up items my sister and I would need for the rest of our summer in Israel.
Lastly, we arrived at her home where her entire family greeted us. The rest of that Shabbat was unforgettable; filled with homemade Israeli food, desserts, and conversations about the little, but memorable time we had with Hadar in America.
Although I wanted anything but to invite a new member to our family, Hadar turned out to be the older sister I had always wanted. She knows she will always have a home away from home for her in America and we would always have one in Israel. Those six months created a connection we would all cherish forever, turning out to be one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.
To learn more about how you can have an Israeli addition in your own family by hosting a rishon, click here.