Julie Gray

A Convert’s Lament During Wartime

I have written a great deal about how I feel during this stressful time in Israel. I’m a writer. It helps me cope with my feelings. I even started a Facebook page called Truth and Beauty During Wartime, so that, along with about four other editor/contributors, we can more easily update family and friends with a diversity of points of view.

A couple of days ago on Facebook, I received an angry anti-Israel rant from a person I have never met. To her credit, she apologized the next day. I replied publicly on my blog, Stories Without Borders, in a post called When Stories Become Truth, about the danger of adopting narratives without examining their source or truth.

I’m a newbie in Israel. An olah chadasha. I was here 2 ½ years ago during Operation Pillar of Defense. And similarly so, I noticed the negativity that began to appear on Facebook almost immediately. It was not easy to both deal with the stress and to also see my adopted country maligned so viciously.

That was bad enough. But something else has come to the fore for me and I wonder if other Jews-by-Choice have noticed this. When I converted 28 years ago, my very liberal California family thought it was terrific! Wonderful! A feather in their liberal caps.

But as the years went by, and my children didn’t have an Easter egg hunt with Grammy and Grampy, or open gifts under a tree, when my parents sat at my son’s bar mitzvah feeling interested but slightly uncomfortable while my son’s Jewish grandparents beamed with pride and emotion, it began to be apparent that my choice had created a bit of a cultural divide in my family. A sense of torn loyalty.

Now I live in eretz Israel and you’d better believe that my non-Jewish parents and sister are utterly gobsmacked – why would I live here? So far away? And in danger?! I have tried to explain how much my Jewish life means to me, that I am a Zionist, that this is my home and my family but no manner of explaining makes sense to them. It’s as if I had a heart transplant and we are no longer a DNA match.

It is hard, since I eventually got divorced and no longer have a Jewish family aside from my two kids. [Single Israeli men who are devastatingly handsome, successful and wildly intelligent: I’m available!]

When I converted at the tender age of 22, my Rabbi warned me that it might cause some issues within my family but I couldn’t really appreciate what he meant. The issues around holidays were at times painful but ultimately fleeting.

A divide really comes to the fore at this time – when Israel is at war. Come home, my family says. Come HOME.

But I am home. I am also quite sure that I am by far not the only olah who hears this from our families in the US. Our families love us and they are worried. But in my case, my family sees no good, logical reason to be here at all. So my communications with them during this time amount to one of two things, in this order:

1) Come home.

2) Well. You made your bed.

It is difficult to not be able to explain the bittersweet, confusing emotions of having chosen to live in this country and yet to be afraid and stressed out during a conflict. A conflict that preceded my arrival by 2,000 years and that has no end in sight. How can you like it there? Why would you live there? If you have never been to Israel and if you are not Jewish, it is, I have found, nearly impossible to explain why I love it here.

This is my country, these are my people, my family, my home.

But as far as my family is concerned, this choice, this monumental test of loyalty (I voted with my feet) means then, then I do not get to experience stress because of it. I know this does not reflect well on my family. I’d like to think that I’d feel differently about my kids. But – if my daughter converted to Islam and then moved to a dangerous Arab nation and was experiencing danger – I might also feel that this is of her own doing. But I’d like to think that my love for her would transcend our differences and that I would find a way within myself to be there for her when she is under stress because of her decisions. Maybe that’s pie in the sky and certainly, it is theoretical. For my family this is a reality.

But it’s a reality for me too. I am working on coping. I am not as strong as Israelis are. I am in awe, actually, of my huge, extended family of 7 million people, as they go about their days through this experience. I take strength from them.

I’m just tired of being told to come “home”. I am home.



About the Author
Writer, editor and content creator Julie Gray lives in Northern Israel with her life partner, Gidon Lev. Let's Make Things Better, co-authored by Gidon and Julie will be available in Fall 2024 (Hachette/Pan MacMillan).
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