It had been a full year since my seven-year stint in Israel, and I was desperately in need of a visit. After arriving in Jerusalem, I went to those typical friends you make in Israel — you know, the ones who leave you a key to their place to do whatever you want with it? By the way, I must tell you that these friends had the best food in their pantry! [That Kariot cereal is sooooooo good you don’t even need milk!]
So upon my arrival in Jerusalem, I was out the door by 11:30 AM that morning, and spent the following two days running around town eating all of the Israeli food I can’t get in America, drinking coffee and visiting my favorite place, the Kotel.
But after three days in Jerusalem, I felt sick so I left my friends’ (and their pantry) and booked a hotel. I spent the next few days at the doctor, finding out I had a strep infection, picking up a prescription for an antibiotic, losing the pills, revisiting the doctor for another prescription, and confining myself to my hotel room.
When I began to feel better, I booked a full week getaway to Eilat.
Now I could’ve written this piece without all of the above, but I seem to enjoy giving as much info as possible — which is probably why I’m still single.
Anyway, off to Eilat! The beginning of my Eilat getaway was amazing! I immediately clicked with a bunch of other Israelis at the hotel. We spent the next few days together hanging out at the pool, walking around the city and lounging at the pubs.
When my new Israeli friends were finished with their getaway, I was able to take some needed time to myself in Eilat. I spent my first moment all alone at the pool as I watched the many couples and families enjoying their own mini vacations. That evening, after eating dinner by myself, I strolled around the city taking great note of the many lovebirds walking hand-in-hand.
The following two days in Eilat were exactly the same for me: sitting at breakfast at the hotel alone, relaxing at the pool alone and walking around the city (yes, you guessed it) alone. Once again, all of the couples holding hands grabbed my attention more than anything. That was when I began to see Eilat as a romantic city, which made me realize that I should’ve booked my vacation for a few days rather than a week.
Friday morning in Eilat, while eating countless chunks of halvah with my bored self at the hotel’s breakfast, I felt very alone. All I wanted to do was get back to Jerusalem, but I was booked until Sunday. After throwing a few pieces of halvah into a “to go”napkin (okay, maybe like 12 pieces), I left the hotel and went to the mall. (I also took a clementina.)
While ordering a cup of pomegranate juice at one of the kiosks in the mall, I ran into a distant cousin who I had no idea would be in Eilat that day. I got so excited, because seeing her meant that I would have someone to hang out with for the rest of the day! However, she was with her boyfriend and they were staying in a different hotel, so that wasn’t happening. It was then when I realized that everyone in Eilat seemed to be with someone and I was all by myself in this incredible city. I felt awful.
That Friday evening, as I lit the Shabbat candles, I prayed so hard to G-d that someone would see me sitting by myself at the hotel’s dinner and invite me to join them. I’m not the shy type at all, but since the hotel was saturated with mostly couples, I didn’t feel comfortable imposing on anyone.
The hotel’s dining hall opened and it was time for Shabbat dinner. I walked over to the middle of the room and sat down at a table by myself. As I looked around, all I could think was, “How would anyone know I’m alone? I’m sitting at a table for two, so everyone probably thinks I’m waiting for someone. What are the chances that someone will take notice of me and ask me to join them?”
As I began to hear some of the guests sing Shalom Aleichem, I realized that I wasn’t prepared to do Kiddush as my prayer book was in my hotel room. As I got up from my table, I noticed a young woman wearing a beige headscarf enter the dining hall. Assuming she hadn’t done Kiddush yet, I took advantage of the moment since I didn’t feel like going back to my room. So, the following ensued:
Me: Shabbat Shalom! Did you and whoever you are with make Kiddush yet?
Beige Headscarf Woman: Shabbat Shalom! No, we haven’t yet. Do you need something?
Me: Can I come to your table to hear Kiddush?
Beige Headscarf Woman: Absolutely! I would love for you to hear my husband make Kiddush.
I followed the woman with the beige headscarf to her table, met her husband and then heard Kiddush. We made small talk for a few minutes and then I headed back to my table for one. While I only had a brief encounter with these two lovely people, it was exactly what I needed: human connection. After that, I was happy to be alone again and looked forward to dinner by myself. As I grabbed my plate and headed back to the buffet, I was interrupted by the woman with the beige headscarf. She asked me if I would like to join them for dinner.
Was what I prayed for really happening! Was I actually not going to spend that Shabbat Dinner alone in Eilat?
Oddly enough, I told the woman with the beige headscarf that I was really okay eating by myself, and I meant it. However, she wasn’t okay with it and insisted that I join them. After a lot of back and forth, I finally accepted her invitation and brought my plate to their table. Since I wasn’t going to be eating alone, I made a mental note to chew with my mouth closed.
As I sat down for Shabbat Dinner in Eilat with this lovely couple, I couldn’t believe what they told me: they had just gotten married and they were on their honeymoon at the moment. It turned out that this was their first Shabbat alone as a married couple — well not alone anymore.
I know Israelis are warm and welcoming, but I couldn’t understand why these newlyweds would be so insistent on spending such a precious moment with me. Since I didn’t know exactly why, I came up with a few ideas:
Maybe it was because they could see the desperation in my face.
Maybe they wanted to practice their English.
Maybe they had a mitzvah competition going on.
Or maybe, just maybe, they were simply being Israeli!
Eilleen worked as a writer/producer for Cable Television promotional copy in the US. She fulfilled her dream of making Aliyah years later. She uses her energetic, creative, fun and quirky style to be an advocate for Israel. This article is reprinted from the author's blog. Click here to read more of this writer's work in The Jerusalem Herald.