It’s almost a week after my 34th birthday here in Beér Sheva.
I have an apartment.
I have a bed.
I have friends.
I have family.
I have the start of a life here – I have the start of a dream.
The day I left for Israel was the day of a funeral of a friend – an accomplished and respected nurse, a devoted daughter, a loyal friend. She had committed suicide.
A few weeks ago, I heard news of a friend who lost his son to suicide – he was 24.
Suicide is not uncommon in my life. I have lost loved ones to a realm of depression, drugs, identity crises, and have even questioned my own existence. I look at the reasons I came to Israel, reflecting on my own struggles and what I believe – I know that I came to Israel in search of something more. More than me.
Religious faith is very personal and subjective. I am not religious and I do not believe in the existence of a god. I am a traditionalist in the sense that I believe in the history of a people and I respect the ideological background in which I have grown. In a philosophical sense, my religious identity has formed my views on life and it cannot be otherwise. Jewish struggles have been my struggles, the celebrations have been my celebrations. It is a shared history with many Jewish views on life.
Nearly two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a family of “Kibbutznikim” who have taken me under their wing. I was quite honoured to be “adopted” by members of one of the most well-established Kibbutzim in the region! One evening we touched on similar topics of conversation – philosophy, religion, family, identity, sense of purpose, the differences in growing up in the Diaspora and in Israel. I can’t help but feel the sense of community here, the ties that bind – memories of war, knowing that children one day have to join the Israeli Defence Force, knowing that friends may die, knowing friends have died, knowing of strangers who have died.
I am in no way romanticising the community nor am I naïve to the harsh realities of the country such as the competitiveness of the job market, the stress of money, life pressures, the oft abruptness of the people. If anything, I am more aware of this. I did not come here because I was bored, or needed a challenge – a quick reflection on my life would show a history of challenges and giving back to the community, but what has it all come back to? Sense of identity. Sense of self. Sense of belonging. What do you belong to? Where do you belong? What is your purpose?
So, what is it that can be said about human solidarity and spirituality? Let us come back to my friends here as examples of whom I have had to rely, people I have just met who have taken me into their homes, fed me, driven me around, given me furniture, done my laundry! Where did this sense of community come from? I have always stated that my faith is not in the spirit of the universe or the movement of the trees, I place my faith in people, in humanity, in “mitzvot”, in doing the right thing.
It is days before Purim one of the most joyous festivals of the Jewish calendar with the biggest parties. We recount the story of Queen Esther and her courage to show her true identity to the King of Persia in order to save her people from extermination, risking her own life to do so. If we use these biblical stories as allegories for own lives and the challenges we face day today, what can be said of our own courage and leadership? Well today, I gave food to a cleaner who works daily in my building, I gave a compliment and made someone feel good about themselves, I practiced Hebrew at my first Ulpan class. And when asked as to why I came to Israel and me having so many reasons, above all, I answered “I am Jewish”. And that was reason enough.