I made aliya 19 years ago today, to Jerusalem. I spent my first 12 years in the country living there, only to move to the Gush 7 years ago. I have never lived anywhere else in the Middle East.
So it was with some level of excitement that I spent two days with my wonderful mum last week in Tel Aviv. Not just Tel Aviv mind, but the Tel Aviv Crowne Plaza City Center, right smack bang in the Azrieli Center.
Now I know the shopping mall quite well (I am a woman after all) but I’m not all that familiar with the center of the city, at least not much about how life is there. I’ve heard stories about how people live in Tel Aviv – very much in the fast lane – but it’s not something I’ve experienced firsthand.
Of course, going to the mall was just a standard experience to me. But what was different for me was what I encountered at the fitness center, Holmes Place.
I’m a swimmer. I love to swim. I am almost obsessed with it. Whenever I see a picture of a pool in a newspaper I fall in love with it immediately. I dream of swimming alone each day, taking in the tranquility and healing powers of the water. I love to feel like I’m winning against myself, stretching my body further, pushing out the waters as they come flowing straight back to envelope me in comfort.
So when I saw that the hotel we were going to be staying at was attached to a Holmes Place – a place that really knows where it’s at vis-à-vis swimming pools – I was delighted. Lane swimming. In a clear, beautiful, clean pool. Fabulous. And I really enjoyed it. And they got everything right there – soooo different to the pool I’m accustomed to in the Gush – from the sparklingly clean changing rooms, to the hairdryers, to the comfortable places to change, to lockers, to saunas, to health products on sale and then some.
And part of me wanted to stay there forever. But I knew I couldn’t for a bunch of reasons (first being that my family might miss me!). Because even though it was beautiful and it truly was close to perfection in terms of a health and fitness center it lacked something – for me – in the larger picture.
And that something was part of what I left behind in London 19 years ago. It was the drive. The motivation. The fight. The push. The struggle.
Tel Aviv-driven individuals have the London vibe I so hated as I first entered the working world. Getting up at the crack of dawn to join and fight against the rat race. People were getting there as early as they could and then making their faces up and putting on their uncomfortable suits to tackle their 10 hour day at the office. There was no sense of relaxation or enjoyment; it was just an auto-pilot of one more thing to do, to fight against the natural forces of aging, weight gain, lack of fitness and more. And then the fight continued at the office for who knows how many hours? Did they look good enough? Were they thin enough? Did they have enough make up on? Were they decked out in the latest fashions that perchance they didn’t even particularly like? The expressions on the faces there were frighteningly fragile, terribly terrified and extremely exhausted. It was a far cry from something to be admired.
Now it’s true that I sometimes try to beat my own time in the pool. But I don’t go to the gym or do the machines. I don’t sweat. I glide. And I enjoy it. And I do it at 8:30 in the morning. And then I return to an office in which I daily produce a substantial amount of work but am still home in time to pick up my kids from pre-school. It’s a hi-tech office but one that appreciates the value of family, understands the pressures of raising children (the average kid count there is 6) and seems to have its priorities right. And that’s why I’m there.
You see I think what I’m trying to say is that what I’ve learned in my 19 years of being in Israel is that I came here for a reason (one I wasn’t quite sure of when I first disembarked that plane with a mere one suitcase in my hand). It is the value of life. It’s the value of how I choose to live my life – a choice I do not want to be dictated to by work, physique, or others. I choice I want to make for myself – and my family – every single day anew. A choice I am pretty confident I will make again and again, because, quite frankly, I think I got it right.