One of the first things I did when I came to this country was go to the beach in Bat Yam. As I lay on the sand feeling the sun warm my back, I hugged the earth. I literally squeezed it as tears ran down my face. Not for some Zionistic reason (although I am a proud Zionist), but because I missed my grandparents. Hof Sela Beach was where I spent many summers. We would come from America to visit my grandparents in Israel and go almost every day. They were Russian immigrants who made their life in Bat Yam.
I have memories of my grandma bringing Nutella sandwiches and “Mayim im Syrup” (overly sweet syrup added to water). I still buy the Schweppes berry flavored water because it reminds me of it. Their old Russian beach friend that taught us how to catch fish by cutting a hole in a cloth and throwing it over a bucket with some food. My grandpa taking endless hours to park just right, cover the car, and dust off every last grain of sand from us when we were ready to go. He was precise. After all, he was the lead construction head of Dizengoff Center.
Now here I was, after they had already passed away. I decided to give it a go in their country that always felt like home, and they were gone. I’m sorry, Safta and Deda. I’m sorry I didn’t have the guts to do it sooner. I’m sorry you’ll never know that I am so happy now. I pray that somehow you can see my beautiful family. It just feels so strange every time I go to Bat Yam and they are not there. It’s a bittersweet pain in my heart every single time. Even on our Sunday fun days.
Before I knew I was moving here, my mother and I had to sell their apartment. We could not take all their things so we gave some away and sold some. The few things I kept keep appearing now and then to help me. It’s like my grandparents, who always gave us everything they had, wanted to keep helping me. Especially true, when I first came back. I needed a rope, or a certain color thread, or a bag with wheels to carry some last minute things from their apartment. Little gifts that kept on giving. Without them I wouldn’t know these special little beach spots in Bat Yam. Where if you go on just the right morning, the waves are shallow clear pools that gently kiss huge stretches of white sand. Chill lounge spots to eat a big Israeli breakfast. I might have thought Tel Aviv was the cool place to be and overlook this little seaside gem.
You know how you think you see someone who died sometimes in someone else? For a brief moment, you really thought it was them, or maybe wanted it to be. Every time I am in Bat Yam, I see and old safta with short hair and a stout Russian build. Usually hunched over schlepping some groceries and I swear it’s my safta for a moment in time. Bat Yam means “daughter of the sea,” and that’s how I feel in this place. We are connected here. We are all family. Our stories intertwined and dating back thousands of years only to come back again and again. Skipping generations, but always flowing back.
Countless times I’ve heard, in a “eh” kind of tone, “Bat Yam is just full of Russian immigrants”. Let me tell you that those Russian immigrants were much more successful and assimilated into Israeli culture then today’s spoiled American olim (myself included). I mean, who said this was going to be easy? If the Jews had everything easy, Hawaii would be the chosen land and we’d be fat Islanders sipping on coconuts and strumming our ukuleles. Not the people we are today. Growth comes from challenge. This is the secret to the Jews’ success, with their history of persecution since the beginning of time.
We turned sand dunes into one of the leading high-tech and medically innovative countries in the world. One of the smallest countries in the world has maybe the best army, navy and air force. Again, out of necessity comes innovation. My grandparents came from a cold anti-Semitic European country (side note: their ancestors originated from Israel before they were expelled by the occupying Muslims of the time). They arrived without speaking a world of Hebrew, without their own money or their parent’s money and made something of themselves. My grandparents struggled but eventually learned perfect Hebrew and built good careers. Their daughter, my mother, became a doctor. Guess I can’t play the “I’m a new oleh card” forever.
My mother met my American father at university in Jerusalem. My sister and I were born here, and then we all moved back to the States. Here I am, a once spoiled American princess with her own pool and Jacuzzi, living in this crazy place like Israel, and I am happy. Happy and anxious sometimes (to be honest) but happy. This crazy place fuels my fire.
When I read American news and the big headline is “Kanye gets into twitter war with rapper Whiz Ka-whoever” over some gross comment… well that’s when I just smile to myself. I don’t care about all that garbage anymore. I don’t care if I don’t have a private pool either. Okay, maybe a little. Honestly, though, when I go to Bat Yam, I feel heaven. Better then a chlorinated pool any day. I’ve even used it as my mikveh.
There is no place I feel most at ease striking up a conversation or deep heart-wrenched prayer to Hashem. Something about standing in the sea with twinkling flowing water surrounding you, just makes you feel purified and open. When you feel pure, calm and connected you can listen to your own thoughts and Hashem can listen too.
I see the surfers and I know my beautiful son (who at age 2 might love the water more then I), will be one of them. He will know all the spots. He is a wild child. A child of the sea like me. I imagine my baby daughter with her big dark eyes and soon to be luscious curls laughing with her friends and shining like the sun. Be-ezrat Hashem.
I always wonder what is best for them. I know life in America would be easier, but deep down, I know they would be bored. If they are as passionate as both their parents and have that draw for Israel like us, they will long to be here. We have more fun here. We feel more alive. We live with purpose. As much as I love Scottsdale, AZ, I can’t imagine writing anything close to this emotional about cacti and nice sunsets.
There are times that frustrate me and downright scare me by being here. I see Gaza terrorists are just building more terrorist tunnels after the last war, where precious young Israeli lives were taken to protect this country. Israel, like usual, did not do what they needed to do to end this. I see Muslim Arab members of the Israeli Knesset, like Hanin Zoabi (an outspoken terrorist justifier and enabler) getting a fat paycheck from this country, and I just shake my head in disbelief. How stupid is Israel sometimes. It’s frustrating to support at times. My father who is proud of me for being here, but has had enough himself, lived here for 10 years and says nothing changes. I don’t want to believe him. Something tells me we will have our great leaders once again. We need them soon.
When my heart gets torn in different directions, I go to Bat Yam. We go. The family that Israel has given me. Something about the sea and the memories gives me hope and calms my soul. I think to myself, there is always the beach in Bat Yam and we stay. This is where my kids will play. Where we will come whenever we need a vacation, 20 minutes away. My kids will gobble up ice cold watermelon from the cooler and I’ll make my homemade herbal honey iced tea. Maybe my parents will join us and my mom will give them Nutella sandwiches for lunch, as only saftas are allowed to do. To find joy in these little things is living life. To live in a country you care about succeeding, is a life worth living.