Returning to Israel after 40 years, and living for nine months in a tiny, rented apartment in the heart of Tel-Aviv as full-time students at Tel-Aviv University, at our age, sounds like a dream.For my wife and me it was a dream come true.
As a business entrepreneur and a part-time political science student at York University in Toronto, I became aware of the Canadian Friends of Tel-Aviv University (CFTAU) and its Overseas Student Program (OSP). When I contacted CFTAU they were not only extremely helpful and accommodating but also helped me to receive a scholarship through the Center for Jewish Studies at York University. It has been a lifelong ambition of mine to continue my studies at university level and it turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Imagine us, at our ripe old age, getting up in the morning and getting ready to go to school!
My wife and I met and fell in love in high school in Israel and we’ve been together ever since. Back then we used to fool around in school. Many years later we are still very much in love, and this time we love school too. Nowadays, we are the first to arrive on campus, we read the daily paper while sipping on our second cup of coffee, we take a breath of fresh air on the terrace which overlooks the gorgeous campus and we pinch ourselves to make sure that we are not dreaming … and then, off to our respective lectures.
We came here for the university experience, and it has been everything we expected and much, much more. The intellectual challenge, the learning experience, the campus atmosphere, the young, energetic crowd, and the lectures themselves were, for the most part, first rate. As senior citizens we were not invited to any of the parties on and off campus, so we likely did more studying than the average student. As a result, we received top marks, which was very rewarding. My wife was registered for Jewish studies in Hebrew, which she has wanted to study for many years. As a native Israeli I had the added benefit of taking both the OSP courses in English as well as regular university courses in Hebrew and, of course, transfer my credits towards my degree at York University.
When we decided to live and study in Israel after being away for more than forty years, we knew that the experience would be totally different from what we remembered. We prepared ourselves mentally to take it all in our stride, as it comes; the good, the bad and the ugly. In fact, we vowed not to complain, not to compare but only to absorb and to observe. After all, we were privileged to be able to immerse and engage in Israeli day-to-day life without the stresses, tensions and anxieties that characterize the daily lives of most Israelis. In other words we were temporary residents on an observer status without full membership. We kept our promise, and any news we sent from Israel was sent from an observation standpoint. This has been, by far, the most amazing experience of our lives.
There are likely more cultural events going on any day, evening or night in Tel-Aviv than anywhere in the world; from the world-renowned Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, the theaters, museums and art exhibitions, to open-space sculptures, street art, jazz, dance and international films. We took in more culture in Israel than we have taken in during any other period of our lives. This was also the only time in our adult lives that we did not own a car, and travelled everywhere by public transportation (buses, taxis, trains). We walked the city, miles and miles of it. We strolled along the beach, and through quaint neighborhoods, to farmers’ markets on the streets of the “White City” Tel-Aviv and its non-homogeneous architecture (some fascinating, some great and some awful). We walked to the theater, we walked to the Laundromat, walked to the supermarket, and walked to and from campus.
Whether you are a student or a senior citizen, like us, if you have an attachment to Israel and wonder what it would be like to live there for an academic year, we would encourage you to go. It was not easy for us to be away from our children and grandchildren (even though we travelled back twice during our breaks to see them), but there is always Skype. The trip was well worth it if for no other reason than to receive the admiration of our grandchildren for our courage and for being cool.
Amnon and Alis Zohar on the University of Tel-Aviv campus