By: Deborah Coopersmith  | 

The Art of Reestablishing Yourself

Hi! It’s Deborah again! Still abroad, albeit surrounded by a different set of four walls, with no return ticket booked. Much of this time abroad, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, has bestowed on me many opportunities to learn valuable life lessons. 

In the past eight months, I have lived in two countries, three cities and five housing situations. I started off 2020 in the Brookdale dorms watching a movie with friends. I then spent a few weeks at home before moving to the Hebrew University dorms. The next stop was Givat Shmuel for the summer, and now I am back in Jerusalem as a part-time madricha in Midreshet Lindenbaum. 

One of the surprising attributes this pandemic brought out in me is the perseverance and grit in dealing with last-minute changes and cancellations. 

I am not spontaneous— I thrive on consistency and planning. A break from the norm is manageable, but not enjoyable. During the Spring 2020 semester, I was supposed to have an in-person semester abroad, return to America in June, work in Camp Moshava and then start my senior year on the Beren Campus. Literally, none of this happened. I’ve learned that I can plan all I want, but I must accept that there will always be certain things out of my control. While I might not understand the master plan that God has in place, I need to trust that everything will work out. 

Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky of the Yeshivah of Flatbush once expressed that chaos in itself is an order. I’ve come to realize that the idea of change fits within his observation, as change, whether predictable or not, is natural. Therefore, change is a requisite for life — it is bound to happen. By learning to adapt more easily, I still struggled, but I survived knowing that chaos is normal. 

I also learned to build a new community for myself. It is terrifying to put down new roots in a foreign place, but the only way to begin to feel comfortable and make the new place feel like home is by putting yourself out there to meet people. I am lucky to have met so many wonderful, diverse people on my journey. Over these past few months, I have definitely ventured outside my comfort zone and my life has become more enhanced as a result. 

I’ve become good friends with people I never would have met had I stayed in Stern for Spring 2020. I met Constance, a young, Irish-Catholic woman, who was full of good advice and funny stories to share. Our friendship resulted in us interning together at The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, in Tel Aviv. I also became friends with David, a Muslim from San Diego, and we discuss the theological intricacies of Islam and Judaism. These wholesome conversations would never have happened had I not been willing to meet new people and hear different perspectives. The best part was that all I needed to do to make that connection was smile and say a friendly word. 

It is important to acknowledge the people who are willing to open the door when you’re knocking on the other side and hopefully one day be that person. When I moved to Givat Shmuel, I came in knowing essentially nobody. A friend from Stern connected me with Tali, a person I went to camp with years ago, but hadn’t seen since. Tali was so friendly and welcoming and invited me on multiple occasions to hang out with her friends in order to meet new people. She recognized that I was a little lost and was happy to show me the way.  These people, the ones who are truly kind inside and out, are the ones to look out for. 

I am happy to say that I was able to embody Tali’s kindness to other young women who moved into the neighborhood during my last two weeks in Givat Shmuel. I invited them to come with me to shul and we even shared a Shabbat meal together. I was able to warmly welcome them because I knew what it was like to be in their shoes and also what it was like to extend a coronavirus-free hand.

I’ve learned to appreciate the journey rather than the final result. I did not have the semester I envisioned nor the travel I expected, but I am lucky to realize that in spite of that, so much good still took place. Those moments of playing Just Dance at 1 a.m., taking a day trip to the beach or just spending hours on the porch are the times I began to look out for and focus on. I was able to spend the summer reconnecting with a childhood friend of mine, interning at an incredible museum doing substantial work on their upcoming exhibit, and learning again in the Beit Midrash that had the most profound impact on my adult life. There was —and still is — so much I cannot control. Why not focus on the moments that I can create, the relationships I can foster? By focusing my attention on the aspects that were in my control, and accepting that there is so much I cannot, I’ve been calmer and happier. 

It is still not so easy being abroad, especially during times like these. Thankfully, I’ve learned so many important lessons that made reestablishing myself so much easier, more meaningful and more worthwhile.

Photo Caption: Deborah, a YU student, has been abroad since January and through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo Credit: Deborah Coopersmith