There are rarely times in your life, outside of specifically Jewish events, when you can actually see where the divide between Israeli and diaspora life lies on a personal level. This by no means is to say that what I saw and became part of is universal. It was just a short meeting among a bunch of Jews in a random setting. Just one moment in time that might mean something or might not. I will, however, always remember that this happened the summer before I made aliyah.
Retired from a job held for eighteen years, I was faced with what to do in this last summer in America. I picked up a couple of stress free summer jobs which have been perfect, allowing for a lot of time for my obsessive compulsive aliyah planning (and the folks at Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency can verify the level of OCD).
On arriving at work at one of the jobs one day in August, I noticed that the owner of the business is chatting away with a couple around my age. They were an Israeli couple taking a little vacation from caregiving for her mother and came to Cape Cod for a couple of nights after a few nights in Boston. My boss was excited that they were there and told them I would be moving to Israel. Once they heard I was making aliyah, we began chatting with me making a garbled effort to say something in Hebrew. We spoke in English. This was one of those days when everything felt off-kilter to me. Barometric pressure, or too much watching and waiting for one of the Protective Edge cease fires to be broken. Worrying about finding an apartment in Jerusalem, whatever. I am not sure what it was, but I snapped out of it when the woman took my hand with a squeeze, looked me straight in the eyes and said “Good. It’s good you come. It’s where we should be.” We hugged and chatted a little more. They were getting settled when a family of four came in: mom, dad, a couple of boys who looked to be between eighteen and twenty years old. My Jewdar went off right away.
As I bent over to do something, the little mogen david necklace slipped out of my shirt. The mother whispered to me “nice star of David.” Whispered. I looked up and thanked her and mentioned that the couple that I had been talking with were Israeli and that I would be moving to Israel in three months. At first dead silence and then the question from her, also whispered: “Aren’t you afraid?” “Nope” I answered and told her that I had spent part of the previous winter in Jerusalem. Silence. She asked if I had family there and I answered that I did not, but that a relative’s son had been a Lone Soldier and was married to an Israeli. Silence. The dad and the boys were silent also.
A little later, the Israeli couple came back and sat to have some coffee and I joined them. I had detected a little Russian accent and she told me that her family had left Warsaw before September 1, 1939 and had gone to Siberia where she was born after the war. She had lived in Israel pretty much her whole adult life. I told her about my former in-laws who had not left Poland before the war but had survived and were from Silesia. Her family knew people from Sosnowiecz but not my former father-in-law’s family as far as she knew. She asked about my family and why aliyah now.
While we are talking, the Jewish family comes back in and sits down, gets some soft drinks and snacks and sits speaking quietly. The Israelis smile and nod, leaving the door open. The parents pay no attention and the boys follow their lead. During this part of the conversation, I was asking my new Israeli pals a lot of questions: chupat holim choices, food shopping, utility costs and all the practical things that olim think about. I tried out some Hebrew conversation, which again led them to say “speak English” and laugh.
The family left quickly and as I was clearing up their table, the Israeli husband said “Jews, right?” I nodded and he said with a shrug “they’re hiding.” I sat down again and looked at him. He said that wherever he and his wife have traveled, even the Galapagos, when there are other Jews around, they always get excited to meet Israelis, talk about their trips to Israel and to make a connection. He told me that those who have not been to Israel ask a lot of questions and talk about going to visit as part of their bucket list. He said that he always tells them “Come. You will fall in love.” And he said again “Hiding. I don’t understand. Why not say hello? They didn’t even look at us. We’re all Jews sitting in this room. You talk, right? Unless you’re hiding.”
Then he shrugged, we talked about their travels and their flight back to Israel which would be in a few days. We hugged. She again took my hand and told me it was good that I was coming. We did not exchange phone numbers and all three of us knew that we most likely would not see each other again.
Later, while walking home in the darkness, I thought about the seven of us sitting in that small room. I tried to imagine why even a return nod of recognition had not been made. Were they embarrassed by the presence of Israelis? Did they think that you can’t be outwardly Jewish in New England? Annoyed that we were so Jewish? I really do not know what it was, but I will always remember him saying “they’re hiding” and shrugging.