Danielle Waxtan is an actress living in New York, NY.
Where were you?
I moved to Israel. First, I studied on a kibbutz near Hadera, then moved to Tel-Aviv.
I had been to Israel on organized trips throughout college; volunteering, touring, etc. I felt comfortable and excited there. I wanted to go back to experience the inclusiveness and electricity of the country. I wound-up studying Palestinian Arabic, Middle Eastern History, and Hebrew on the kibbutz, through MASA (a post-graduate program). When I was not in class, I was volunteering with an elementary school in Ar’ara, directing their first English play for the after school ESL program. It was an eye-opening time in my life.
Did you learn the language? Was it necessary?
I had taken a few Hebrew classes at college, but that was it. It definitely helped to know the basics and how to read. But living there was far more effective. The immersion helped me the most with language.
Where did you live?
I stayed on the kibbutz most of the time when I was studying and it was fine. I had stayed in a hostel in Tel-Aviv in the past and it was a good experience. I ended-up renting an apartment shortly after I moved to Tel-Aviv. It was a great experience. I couldn’t have asked for better roommates during the transition. The location was perfect- ten minutes from Dizengoff Center and two blocks from the beach. I had a favorite cupcake place just a block away. It was heavenly. I loved nothing more than chatting with friends on my balcony, watching the sunset, after a day at the beach.
What kind of research did you do ahead of time?
I mostly went off of personal experience while there and from my good friend who had already spent a significant amount of time there. Once I immigrated officially, I was aided by an advisor, hired by the State. I found it helpful that my guide was a woman. I felt like I could really lean on her if I had questions. And of course, I did.
What items were you most happy to have with you?
Sudocrem (for the face, as the water made me break-out), my passport, and the right clothes. It seems like a challenge to have everything you need while abroad and it was a unique challenge making sure I had the appropriate garb. For example, certain neighborhoods in Jerusalem are more conservative and I had to keep that in mind if I were to visit. If it was hot out I could not wear a tank top in Jerusalem that was considered “revealing” by the orthodox community. Having clothes for the club, the synagogue and for a hike are totally opposite, but you have to have all of it in Israel.
What could you not find there that you wished you had?
I could not find cheap cosmetics that I liked. But other than that I was fine.
What airline did you take?
I flew with El-Al, and I loved it. It’s the best airline.
What to Do
What places do you suggest to go?
Go to a nature rave in the north- I never went but it’s something I wish I’d tried. I was invited a few times and never took the time off from work to go. Go to Petra, Jordan. I didn’t visit any surrounding countries while in Israel, and that’s something I would have liked to experience. Petra is supposed to be super fascinating, peaceful and an all around a nice way to travel in the Middle East. Go to Sinai, Egypt. It always depends on the political climate as to whether or not it is good to go, but Egypt for the most part is still a desired destination. I’d love to see these historic sites if I went back one day!
Who were you with?
I was with a group of young adults, mostly Jewish (some not) who were interested in furthering their language skills and who wanted to spend time in Israel and Palestine. Some fellow students were from Scotland, London, California and Connecticut. We were from all over. We ended-up volunteering, living, working, cooking, cleaning, studying and partying together through this particular interest. I found traveling with other women to be enlightening. We really leaned on each other during times of uncertainty, excitement, joy, sadness. Of course, those all occur especially when in a foreign country. We shared our experiences and looked-out for one another. I also found that the women I traveled with challenged me. Constantly. And thankfully.
How did you find travel companions?
It’s easy to find a group of people who want to set out on an adventure. There were a lot of traveling groups and organized trips throughout Israel. I met people through the Internet and word of mouth.
What was your favorite part of your time there?
My favorite part of my trip was camping in the Negev Desert. I felt at one with myself when I was in nature in Israel. It was a very soulful, spiritual and peaceful experience.
What is easy about the travel experience?
It’s not expensive to travel when there. Good food and lodging do not run expensive there and that’s a huge bonus for young people!
What was the most difficult?
The most difficult part was moving away, because it was basically my first time being an adult on my own since school. It was a lot at once to adjust to a different place with different rules and culture and to try to fit in. On top of being on my own, I had to acclimate a lot to different ways of thinking and speaking, all while growing-up and learning who I really was as an adult.
On a scale of 1-10, how safe did you feel throughout the country?
9.5. I could walk through Tel-Aviv at any time of night and get home safely without being harassed. Something magical happened there, where no matter how many catcalls took place, I never felt threatened. Not once. There were certain neighborhoods that were avoidable and you knew not to go there, but overall it was an incredibly safe place. I knew which buses to take, when to take a cab, where to walk at night. Street smarts. People help you very quickly so you’re not “in the dark” about where is safe to be.
What would it have been nice to know ahead of time?
That I would love it even though it would be difficult.
Interview conducted by Evy Bround