The hardest part of living abroad in Israel is being so far from my family. Yes, I miss the conveniences of my life in California. I miss my friends, my car, my dog, the food. But the main irreplaceable aspect of my Los Angeles life is my family. I consider myself lucky that I reached age 21 having never really had to permanently say goodbye to many people. Those closest to me who had died were my Rabbi, a karate teacher, and my first dog. When I came to Israel I had four very old but healthy grandparents.
Last month everything changed. My spectacular 88 year old Grandfather (my mother’s father) got sick and died within days. Over 12,000 kilometers away, across the world, there was little I could do. While my family gathered in California from all over the United States, I was in Israel. I missed his funeral, I missed the 7 days of mourning where family and friends came to my house to “sit shiva” with my parents, and I missed the memorial ceremony a month later. Because my Grandfather was a renowned mathematician, many math professors and family members spoke in his honor. Everyone who knew him got to commemorate his life together, except for me. My life in Israel continues. It’s hard to understand my Grandpa is no longer here, when the last time I saw him was the last time I saw my parents, my family, and friends, 7 months ago when I visited home. It is hard to accept that people are no longer here when either way I wouldn’t be seeing them anyway.
Israel is so far away. My parents tell me I can come home anytime, but can I? I have a dog that no one ever wants to watch for me. When I left him in an Israeli dog camp for a few days, he came back traumatized. Bringing my dog from California to Israel, I had to be certain I could take responsibility for him and give him a good life. This makes it very difficult to leave. Flying home is such a long journey, it’s unfavorable to go for just a few days. But leaving for a long time always feels like it’s unfair to my dog.
When my Grandpa died, no one wanted me to come home. I have a very close relationship with my family and especially with my parents. I wanted to be there for my mom but what made her happy was for me to stay in Israel, to focus on school.
Here is some life advice from my Grandpa:
Yesterday I found out my Grandma (my father’s mother) is dying. She was the strongest woman I have ever known. Her mother died when she was just a year old, making my Grandma very tough. My whole life, she has faced heart attacks, broken hips, kidney failure, all of the usual ailments that hit people in their old age, but she made it out fine. Better than fine, she kept her memory, health, and her incredible spirit. For my Grandma’s 80th and 85th birthdays, the whole family got together and went on a short cruise to celebrate. We always said we would do a 90th birthday cruise as well, but I realize as I write these words, there will be no third cruise.
I didn’t get to see my Grandma on my last two trips home because my visits were short and rushed and my Grandma lives hours away in Arizona.
We talked regularly on skype, but there was never a doubt in my mind that I would see her in person again. Yesterday I had to say goodbye to my Grandma, across the world, for the last time. My Dad held the phone up to her ear and I spoke to her loudly, slowly, clearly. She couldn’t answer with words but my Dad said it was one of the only times she had shown any sign of response all day.
I am a very sentimental person. I always thought I would remember my Grandparents last words to me for my whole life. That I would remember the look in their eyes. The touch of their hand on mine. But there was none of that. Before my Grandpa went into surgery I wished him luck, over the phone, and that was the last time I spoke to him. Last night when I talked to my Grandma, she had no words for me. She couldn’t speak. Because I am in Israel, I missed out on my last moment with her. Her look, her smell, her touch. I heard her loud, heavy breathing as I gave my last words to her. I stayed strong while I spoke but as soon as my Dad took the phone back from her, my eyes and my heart flooded. Because I moved to Israel, I haven’t seen my Grandma since 2011. Now it is 2013 and she will be gone any moment. All day it has been bothering me that I didn’t get to hear any last words from her….
In Israel there is an expression “living in a movie”. People who expect their lives to have those perfect movie moments that never actually happen in real life. Maybe being in Israel has taken away my last times to see some of my Grandparents but it has also given me a deeper understanding of life. Israelis know how to make the most of every moment. Growing up in a country facing constant threats, and knowing they will serve in the army, most Israelis really seem to take life seriously. I see that Israelis are extremely productive, while maintaining a hunger to experience the world and travel all over. Life isn’t always like a movie in how it ends, but life is the journey. If death is the destination for all of us, no one has a final happy ending, but it’s up to us to bring the most happiness, memories, and fulfillment to our time here. As hard as it is to grasp that people so close and special to me are dying, I know they had an irreplaceable journey. Children, grandchildren, so many friends and family who love them. While it breaks my heart to say goodbye, I understand that this is the way of life. I am thankful they lived to nearly 90 years old. Even if I couldn’t be there for them at the end, I have to continue my journey here in Israel, a journey that wouldn’t have been the same without the contributions of such special people.
Sometimes it doesn’t really make sense to be so far away, to try so hard to build a life here, when I already have my whole life at home. It seems my love for my family and my love for Israel are always fighting one another. There’s a quote that says:
“A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Sometimes we must all follow our hearts and do something or be somewhere that we believe in, even if it’s not in our comfort zone.
Right now I am sad I couldn’t be there at the end of my Grandparents lives but I know that I will always remember our experiences together and everything they taught me. Here in Israel, I may be far from my biological family but I am surrounded by a new family, with all of the loving people I have met. I don’t want to say goodbye, from Israel, to anyone else. My hope is that my family will join me here. It’s so hard to stay without them. Does anyone have tips or stories they would like to share about moving to Israel and being away from loved ones? I could use some advice…
To remember every moment, I try to take photos and videos of everyone. Here is a video I made about some of my family in California.
I love Israel but I miss you.