A good friend said to me that the hardest thing I would find about Aliyah is how to be yourself in Israel. How to hold on to who you were in your country of origin and find the “Israeli” version of you.
Israeli culture is hard to define. It is encapsulated with a long history of struggle, of war, of celebration, of religious traditions and a most expressive people. It can be quite overwhelming at times, I’m sure not just for new immigrants.
As part of the immigration process and as a means to acclimatise to the differences we are taught about the culture, the history and the language. Further, we are assured “that we will get used to it”. Getting used to “it” can mean any number of things from understanding the political system to knowing your neighbourhood public transportation. Having that day to day routine of work, study, catching the same bus, having a group of friends, expressing yourself in the local language, it brings with it a sense of familiarity and belonging, a sense of home.
Australia has helped me foster some beneficial characteristics – namely my “happy-go-lucky” attitude, the classic “give it a go” mentality, and the stalwart “she’ll be right mate” calmness. Suffice it is to say, these have come under some pressure here in Israel as I move a little out of this cool and calm demeanour. As much as a successful integration in Israel is reliant on a good routine there is a pressing vibe for self-expression and living in the moment and I have learned that flexibility and adaptability gets you further – something very familiar in the first five months of my Aliyah.
I moved to Israel because I want to stand where I sit and support a country, a culture, and a value system in its entirety – the good and the bad. I moved to Israel because I want to embrace my heritage and to understand more about this part of my identity, what it means to my parents, my grandparents, and what it means to other Israelis and new immigrants alike. I want a Jewish partner to share in a similar cultural understanding in order to raise children together. I want to grow with Israel and give to it as it has given to me and make it a better place.
These were the biggest motivators for my immigration. I was not naïve to the fact that I needed to learn a new language, new processes, cultural nuances, and even new forms of expression. The caution does lie in not losing yourself, because there have been times of complete and utter exhaustion in trying to remember who I am.
On Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I was asked to read a poem to an audience of people at a ceremony for our Hebrew immersion school. This would be the first time in 20 years that I would be speaking in Hebrew to an audience of 50 odd people. It would also be the moment that I realised who I want to be in this country. Therefore, with the confidence and courage that I had in packing up my life and stepping on a plane to travel the 24 hours to come here, I spoke with my best Hebrew and with the heart of all Jews alike – born here or in the Diaspora – and read the poem to commemorate the six million.
And then it so happened, a few days later as I was commuting by bicycle, a car of young people questioned my wearing of a helmet. I could not help but reply ever so naturally “it looks cool and I don’t want to die”. And on another day when tactfully manoeuvring off an over-crowded bus in which people seemed more enthused to get on than to let me off, I ensured to take the time to wave and say thank you to the driver. And although dinner parties at 9pm are common I still prefer getting up at 5am to own the streets and enjoy the nature of the desert. Let’s just say I am learning to be me – the “Israeli” me. We are all alike here – you and me. WE must try not to forget that.
I am writing this on the eve of Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. We fill the streets in solidarity. We listen to the echoing sirens of remembrance. We hug. The whole country stops. Tomorrow – we will celebrate Independence. We will celebrate that lives were lost so we could live. In an ever pressing time for me as a new immigrant, I step outside of myself to remember what we are all doing here. I could not help but remember a particular moment in my life as I looked at the soldiers and families that surrounded me…
I saw a man that reminded me of you,
this happens on a rare occasion.
I saw him smile and his entire face warmed with kindness.
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to admire you longer.
Perhaps smooth the lines of your brow,
the softness of your beard,
the safety in your hands.
I long to see your face in other young men.
The warmth of your wide smile,
the depth of your dark eyes,
the strength in your solid frown.
I was young then too,
when you waved from the road
as I moved on,
I knew you would remain to me
Whenever I see your smile, your eyes, your frown,
I feel that wave,
my Israeli Soldier.
When you finally start to feel like you can express yourself to strangers, when you finally start to feel like you are connected, when you know you belong just as much as any other, the strange becomes familiar. I guess you could say, I am getting used to it here.