I left Israel.
I left Israel in 2004 and I left Israel in 2015.
When I left in 2004 I snuck out, or I tried to. I wanted to get out of the kibbutz quietly and without anyone knowing, such was my shame to be leaving.
I had arrived three years earlier with such high hopes. I was going to become a general. I was going to become Chief of Staff and then Minster of Defence and then make it into the top slot. Dreams that fell victim to an Intifada and to the harsh realities of life.
On a hot day in September 2004 I found myself sneaking out of the kibbutz hoping no one would notice me, only to run straight into my kibbutz “father” while dragging my life stuffed into a suitcase behind me.
He gave me a lift to the bus stop and ruined my plan not to have to look anyone in the eye and tell them I was abandoning Israel.
But I also felt Israel had abandoned me. The Israel I had been promised by so many youth leaders and that I in turn as a youth leader had promised so many kids wasn’t really there, and I hadn’t found out until I got there.
I needed to escape, to think about things. So I did, back in that other world called London.
In 2010, I came back. To the real Israel, the one I knew and had learned to love anew. I met my wife in this “real” country, I lived and loved and worked in this place and savoured every moment of it.
Then the Summer of 2014 came and with it missiles and a wedding.
As it turned out we were married during a ceasefire that would end the next day. While the rockets flew overhead and the sirens wailed throughout Tel Aviv and Israel entire, I watched the masses march in London and had the strangest sensation that it was harder to be a Jew there than it was in Tel Aviv — even while the missiles flew.
Most frustrating of all was that the army never called me. I had to just sit there and watch the whole thing play out on TV.
A few months passed, and suddenly there was another Goldberg on her way into this world. I picked up the phone and called London for a job in the same Jewish community that raised me.
I wanted to own the home I raised my daughter in. “It’s okay” I thought, “I’ll sell it when she’s a few years old and we’ll return richer and in a position to settle roots into this notoriously dry soil.”
And so we packed up what we had and we left. Once again, I left my home, the land of my people, but this time I didn’t feel any guilt, this time I was leaving for my family, I was leaving to make sure I could own a home of my own when we came back. This time, any pangs of guilt that were lurking there somewhere were quieted by the knowledge that I was still going to be working for my people, in my community.
I’d always had a problem with people who couldn’t wait to say how many years they had been living in Israel. They enunciated the number of years as if they were talking about time served in a prison sentence or the number of years they’ve worked in a profession they loathed. Every time I heard an oleh say how many years they spent in Israel, it was as if they wanted a pat on the back for having made it for so long. It was a backhanded insult to the country, a testament to how hard it can be there. Now, in London, people who left say how long they spent in Israel as a badge of pride, which always reminds me of how soldiers speak when they say how long they’ve been in the army, as if just living in Israel was their period of service. And now that person is me.
When I moved back to Israel in 2010 I promised myself that if I just wasn’t enjoying life in Israel I’d leave because life is too important to waste suffering over a principle. I would enslave my Zionism to my needs not the other way around.
So I did.
But since I’ve left, I can’t write about Israel anymore, not really, not with conviction. I can’t harangue the prime minister and I can’t comment on the place without feeling like a fraud. When I lived there, I was a player, a character in the ever unfolding story of our national home; but in the UK, I’m nothing but a spectator, sitting on the sidelines watching the game, but no longer able to play.
I have no stake in the decisions being made
While I was there, I railed against the politicians and the generals and all the decisions they made, over here, I talk about anti-Semitism and the danger facing the Jews of the UK.
And while I was there, I didn’t worry about being Zionist enough; I just voted for the party that seemed to me to have the least bad vision for Israel. Over here, I have been left with only one party to vote for, the opposition having been overrun by nutters with an unhealthy need to attack Jews for believing in their right to a country and to blame Israel for EVERYTHING.
The funny thing is that in Israel, the lefties believe that Israel will collapse because of the threat that comes from occupying the West Bank and the righties believe that Israel will collapse because of the threat posed by the Arabs. And while every new settlement feels like a danger to the State of Israel and every withdrawal feels like a danger to the State of Israel, depending on where your views lie, at least the concern for the state is the same all around.
Over here, the discourse over Israel is divided into a bunch of people whose names I know. I don’t go to the protests they organise, protests that are in London, but about Israel, and therefore irrelevant to both.
“The things you see from here, you don’t see from there.”
Maybe I’ll surprise all those people who doubt me and I’ll come back to Israel. I did it once already. Maybe I won’t, and I’ll get caught up in the rat race here, never to return. If I don’t return, I destine myself to always feel those pangs of guilt and shame about leaving my people behind. A guilt and shame that runs so deep that it’s taken me 18 months to tell you I actually left.
So despite my best efforts to be happy and content about leaving, I have a sinking feeling I never will be — until I’m back in the messy, pushy, beautiful land of my people, country of my dreams, but no longer of my reality, the country I hold dear to my heart. Israel.