It has been nearly ten years since I came to Israel under the guise of volunteering as a medic for two months. Deep down I think I knew that once I got off the plane that I would never see another Montreal winterscape again, but my conscious mind was unconvinced until I met my future husband two weeks into my trip. In French we call love at first sight coup de foudre. For me lightning struck not once, not twice but rather knocked me flat on my ass with a hat trick. A man, a religion and a country.
Falling feet over face for the future father of my children, the religion I was born into but rejected most of life in favor of bacon and drum n’ bass and a country that holds so much of my heart that it feels like a child or parent to me most of the time was, to put it mildly, utterly mind blowing and earth shattering. A decade later my life is a mosaic of shattered earth shards from that summer’s big bang, and being a proud Jewish Israeli mother is the cute little compartment that I now call home.
I love being Jewish, I love being Israeli and I love being a wife and a mother. And this is why I feel trapped under the constantly falling rubble of peoples’ broken illusions about aliyah, orthodoxy and being born female in general. Reading the TOI and speaking to acquaintances is becoming increasingly claustrophobic; the walls of dissatisfaction inching in on me with every new misery that needs to be publicly aired. Is anyone happy? It would seem not.
There is no way that this will go over without a barrage of negative talk-back, but in my humble opinion y’all are behaving like a bunch of whiny brats. Be reasonable! If you move to a foreign country with a foreign language you should expect to (wait for it) LEARN THE DAMN LANGUAGE! If you want to immerse yourself in a certain stream of our many-facetted religion, then you might have to SWIM IN THE MIKVA WITH THE REST OF THE FISH! If you want to bring disdain, dissent and camera crews with you wherever you go be prepared for people to DISLIKE YOU and POST NASTY CRAP ABOUT YOU! It is unreasonable to expect everyone to translate today’s weather into Fahrenheit or assume that everyone knows that when you say ‘Advil’ that you actually need ‘Nurofen’. Just mop the damn floor with a rag and a bucket of soapy water for crying out loud!
Be reasonable! Trust me, Americans may think Israelis are rude, but Israelis are completely convinced that Americans are the rudest most aggressive people to ever walk the streets of this fair country. That is because so many Anglos miss the subtleties of Israeli rudeness and get all defensive every time someone honks at them. Sabras are brusque but loving; you are their brother, niece, next door neighbor’s mother-in-law’s cousin, so they address you with a kind of familiarity that hasn’t yet penetrated Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. We are like one huge dysfunctional family, and yet so many Olim don’t want to play hot potato at the reunion. They prefer to heckle from the sidelines and complain that it’s too hot, too loud, too busy and NOBODY plays hot potato anymore, what is this, like 1992? Get over it. Go hiking in the Judean hills, watch some sardonic Israeli news commentary (which is a great way to learn Hebrew), read some Meir Shalev, listen to any one of the Banai family musicians and be a little bit more Israeli. It is a beautiful thing to be, embrace it.
Be reasonable! Women everywhere! Unite! Let’s rise up against companies who underpay mothers because they need more flex time, let’s rise up against the institution of leaving women trapped in abusive or just plain miserable marriages, let’s rise up on behalf of the 100,000 children in this country living below the poverty line, let’s rise up against the sexual enslavement of Sudanese refugees… there is no shortage of immediate, pressing humanitarian concerns that we could get together and do something about. Unless of course it would be more productive to fling monkey sh*t at each other because of our different opinions regarding phylacteries, prayer shawls and being seen naked at the mikva. Oh, ok, let’s do that.
Be reasonable! Haredim in the army? Seriously? If you’ve ever served in the glorious IDF then you’ll know that while we have the greatest army on earth, it is also an alarming approximation of what Chelm would have looked like with fully automatic weaponry. For every one elite paratrooper, there are 10 soldiers peeling carrots and moving rocks from one sand dune to the next for no particular reason. To draft an additional 7,000 men to the army would probably bankrupt us even more than their meager welfare stipends are, and having an army of soldiers who fundamentally oppose serving in the army sounds a weeny bit counterproductive. Not that they should all sit around in kollel for the next fifty years, but maybe we could direct the tremendous amount of time and money being spent fighting about the draft towards more productive endeavors? Like, say, mandatory community service or work-for-welfare style job training? It might just be me, but giving guns to 7,000 people who are really really angry seems, um, misguided.
Be reasonable! We are a democracy. That means respecting every demographic segment of our population. Including people who make Shabbos on Friday or Sunday. Including people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual or into dressing up like Barney the Purple Dinosaur. Including people who do any number of things that are different from what you do, or what was done in America, or what was done in Lithuania. If you don’t like it, present your case in a civilized way and vote for someone who represents your interests. Burning things, throwing things, calling people names and cursing is just plain impolite. On the other side, if you are a member of one of these marginalized groups that feel (often rightly) victimized, you will be more successful in the long run if you think before you speak, speak only for yourselves and garner sympathy rather than antipathy. The secular don’t want to be ‘saved’, the Orthodox don’t want to be ‘freed’, not every Arabic speaking person is strapped with a suicide vest and an overwhelming majority of people just want to live their lives in peace and relative prosperity.
Now I might just be a peace loving socialist Canadian ex-pat, but I feel kind of warm and fuzzy when I reflect on how fortunate I am to be here in Israel, as a Jewish woman, raising my children in a home built on the foundations of love for the land and people of Israel, Judaism and our family. I don’t think my way of life is the right way, only that it is right for me. Nothing is perfect. I hate going to the post office. I refuse to go to the grocery store (praise the Lord for online shopping). My husband was in miluim for 32 days in the last four months. I do miss bacon, but I still dance to drum n’ bass. I try to be reasonable. There are costs and benefits to everything. It ain’t Cedarhurst, or Garden Grove, or Toronto, but when my family was unceremoniously stripped of their property and booted out of Cairo, they came here. No one else would take them. When Russian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Yemenite Jews, Chilean Jews felt they needed a safe haven, or were thrown out of their homes, they came here. We are safe, we are free and we are together. If you don’t appreciate that, or prefer to spend your time picking the scabs off of every wound, then you are really missing out.
Israelis have traditionally been resilient because they had no other choice. Maybe the problem with anglo olim is that they had a choice. At the risk of beating the proverbial dead horse, let’s be reasonable. If you are already here, make the best of it. Maybe a brief moratorium from ranting about how much Israel sucks, how much Orthodoxy/secularism/egalitarianism/Islam/men/women/children suck. Take the time to find the good, and if you can’t find it then make it. Learn Hebrew, love your neighbor, serve your community and don’t judge others harshly. Be resilient, be happy and for heaven’s sake be reasonable.