During college I studied abroad in a place I didn't belong, and met one of the most unforgettable loves of my life.
Just after the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Middle East was more peaceful than it was before or has been since, and my interest in studying historical perspectives on western religions led me to sign on as the only non-Jewish student in a Boston University program to Israel. Weeks before embarking on this journey, a family blow-out over my new and rather conspicuous tattoo left me feeling disowned for no good reason, and I arrived in a strange country excited, but with an undercurrent of loneliness.
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During the first week, an orientation period in Jerusalem before moving on to work at a kibbutz in the north, I met a young Israeli man with whom I had an immediate connection. We didn't speak each others' languages perfectly—not nearly—but we seemed to have the same approach to the world, laughed a lot together, and well, you know the universal nature of the language of love. Avi was a soldier—most Israelis are at that age—and he happened to be on leave for the week. I dropped out of orientation events to see the sights with him, and within days I had met his family, a progressive and cosmopolitan bunch who seemed to accept me readily.
Avi came up to see me on the kibbutz, but it wasn’t until weeks later, after I had moved on to the University of Haifa for a semester, that our relationship solidified and I started trading weekend travel with him, often taking the bus to Jerusalem to stay with him at his family’s home. When in Jerusalem, the requisite activity was clubbing each Friday night—starting not before 1 am and dominated by groups of guys on the dance floor (camaraderie was helpful and encouraged in the army, I suppose). I was not altogether comfortable with this strange scene, but Avi was quite insistent about bringing me along—he needed me, his angel, he once emphasized in a drunken plea. Isolated from all I had known before, it only made sense to go where I felt needed. By the close of the semester, Avi and I had made a habit of spending all of our spare time together. My departure back to Boston felt unbearable.