“Good morning Sir, can I please see your passport?”.
I can hardly believe that it was almost a year ago when I landed at Pearson Airport for the first time. It was around 6:00 a.m. and I was wearing my favourite t-shirt, my lucky underpants and a big smile. Carrying one giant suitcase in each hand, a bursting backpack and an exaggerated amount of emergency money that my parents insisted on giving me, I tried to keep up with the many questions that the immigration officer fired at me.
“How long are you here for? Where will you stay? What kind of volunteering will you be doing?”
I had prepared answers for quite a few questions, and I tried to pull them out while sharpening the North-American accent that I was trying to adopt.
- “So what is exactly this program? A student exchange?”.
At that point, when the officer started to question me, I had no idea that this conversation was about to repeat itself approximately two hundred times, when every new person I met wanted to know what was I doing in Toronto, how long was I here for and where was I staying.
- “Sorry, I didn’t get that. Why did you come to Canada?”
The tricky truth behind this question is that sometimes it has so many great answers, but other times it has none.
On certain days the reasons for going on a Shnat Sherut are clearly out there; when you’re smiling after a successful lesson, when kids are high-fiving you in the hallway, when the event you planned came out really well or when you realize how much your English has improved and how nice the e-mails are that you learned to write.
But on other days, especially when the temperature outside is below zero, you cannot find even one good reason that will make you get out of bed. The lack of sleep and the thoughts of home take over your mind.
When I first came to Canada, I could easily recite my answer for the million dollar question of why did I choose to go on this experience. For months, I used to take a deep breath and present my 30-second speech about growing up in the Bnei HaMoshavim youth movement in a small Yeshuv and wishing to bring the same experience to the Toronto Jewish community.
What I love about my year in Canada is that it allows - and even forces me - to ask myself an endless amount of questions; from professional decisions that I have to make about programming, to moral and ethical questions that I face when I have to explain the complex Israeli reality to kids at school or adults at shul.
Almost a year ago, I landed at Pearson Airport with prepared answers to many possible questions and a hope to change the world. When I fly back, I’ll take with me more questions than answers and plenty of new insights.
I learned here that not all of the questions have answers And that some answers are too complicated to be explained with small-talk during a Kiddush lunch or a crowded fundraising event. I began to embrace the feeling of uncertainty and going out of my comfort zone, to seek ways to challenge myself and my perceptions about every aspect of my life.
I realized that no matter how hard I work and how many hours I spend at the office; I will always remain only a tiny link in the powerful, eternal relationship between Israel and the Diaspora. However, I also realized that kind, loving people can create a sense of warm community even in one of the coldest countries in the world and that you can learn so much at elementary school even if you’re part of the teaching staff.
- “Here you go, sir. Your passport is ready”.
I thanked the immigration officer and picked up my passport, without knowing that a year later, the same words from the same poem by Barak Feldman will still be in my mind;
“Look for question marks / Anywhere you go / Even when everything seems to be clear / Even when there is nothing you don’t know; Look at the glance / learn from the movements of the face / Try to listen to the silence / To what’s in the space; And as you find more answers / More to ask you will have / Don’t be afraid of the hard questions / They will be a great help; And your world will be diverse and surprising / Ever-changing, full of infinite sparks / Don’t stop at the periods on your way / Look for question marks”.
UJA ShinShin at Bialik Hebrew Day School, Temple Sinai Congregation and Camp Solelim.