Idit Codish

Bar hopping Eilat; or why I moved to Israel

It was Hanukkah 2003, and I was 19 years old on a Birthright trip.

My family left Israel in 1987 when I was 3, for the promised land of America, where money awaited and the intifada wasn’t a thing. My earliest memories are from Petach Tikva: my Savta’s house (chocolate; schnitzel; protection and safety); the park across the street (cold and windy, bundled up in a too-tight coat, riding one of those animal-like wooden creatures on a spring); my Eema making me wash my hands after I tried to feed a pita to a street cat; the Mediterranean Ocean crashing over my head and giving me my first taste of death.

By the time I went on Birthright, I hadn’t been in Israel in 13 years.

Birthright was a whole trip, especially during another intifada. We couldn’t go to Jerusalem. While I was on Birthright, my first cousin once-removed, Noam Leibowitz, who was a soldier, was killed by a terrorist while waiting for a bus to go home and visit his family. My counsellors wouldn’t let me go to his levaya, because it was the middle of the intifada and too dangerous. One of my biggest regrets in life was that I wasn’t Israeli enough — back then — to insist on going, to sneak out if I had to.

Somehow, we could still dance at clubs in Tel Aviv and Eilat. At some point in Eilat, I found myself dancing on top of the bar — as one does when on Birthright. Suddenly, the lights brightened and the music stopped. There were general murmurs — What? Turn the music back on! — but then the murmurs stopped. A group of three Chabad guys hustled in. Clutching their kippot against the rain and with a hanukkiah raised triumphantly, they set up their candles on top of the bar. A hush fell before everyone reverently, or maybe just drunkenly, sang the brachot together, watching the candles catch and flicker.

Then the Chabad dudes hustled back into the night, and is if they were never there, the lights went out, the music came back on, and the night went on as before.

That is the exact moment I decided I was moving here — where I could be a Jew, dancing on top of a bar in Eilat, and still light Hanukkah candles, without it being dissonant. Without jokes about my “Jew nose” and jokes about how cheap “you people” are; without needing to explain that I can’t take a major test, because it’s Pesach, and no, I can’t just “make an exception” for this test.

I’ve been here for almost 20 years now, and it very quickly became clear just how insanely dissonant life can be here. This is a confused country in a tumultuous region. And still, today, there is nowhere else I would rather live.

Despite it all, and there is a lot of “all”:

I have slept with scissors under my pillow for over 10 years. I have recurring nightmares. I have dealt with the: do-I-wake-up-my-babies-and-run-to-the-shelter-or–do-I-just-lie-down-on-top-of-them-and-hope-that-whatever-hits-if-it-hits-please-God-don’t-let-it-hit-it-should-be-on-me-and-not-on-them. I have seen rockets shooting across the nighttime sky and explode like fireworks when hit by the Iron Dome. I have spent years of my life thanking God for the Iron Dome. I have had shrapnel fall just a block from me. My children, dear God my children, have witnessed terror attacks. My children, dear God, my children, have had workshops about how to protect themselves from stabbing attacks. Their children, dear God, their children. Our children, dear God, your children.

A memory from 2019.

We hear the muezzin from across the valley and I have the following conversation with my then 6-year-old son:

Ashrei (jumping up): What’s that?!

Me: It’s the muezzin. I think Ramadan starts tonight.

Ashrei: What’s Ramadan?

Me: It’s a chag (holiday) for the Muslimim (Muslims).

Ashrei: What’s a Muslim?

Me: Like we are Jews, so a lot of the Aravim (Arabs) in Israel are Muslimim.

Ashrei: ….are they good? Or bad?

Me: Well, there are good people and bad people everywhere, just like there are good Yehudim (Jews) and bad Yehudim, there are good Muslimim and bad Muslimim.

Ashrei: So….they are bad? or good?

Me: Some are bad, some are good.

Ashrei: Some are mechablim (terrorists)?

Me: Yes, some are mechablim.

Ashrei: What’s a mechabel?

Me: A mechabel is someone who wants to hurt someone else.

Ashrei: ….they want to kill us?

Me: Well…yes, some people want to kill us.

Ashrei (lips trembling): With knifes and guns and cars?

Me (internally whisperscreaming fuckfuckfuckFUCK): Yes, sometimes. But you know, we have a lot of people in Tzahal (IDF) protecting on us, and it’s all going to be okay.

Ashrei (whispering fiercely): AND HASHEM IS PROTECTING ON US.

Me (choking back snotty tears): Yes, most of all HaShem. And no one is going to hurt you.


Me: Don’t worry honey it’s just a helicopter


Me: Well, it’s one of Israel’s helicopters.

Ashrei: Where’s Chayleigh? [my daughter]

Me: She’s at a birthday party and then she’s going to her dance class.

Ashrei: She’s going to walk home in the dark? By herself? Call her right now and see where she is.

Me: She’s fine, Matoki (sweeties), she’s okay.

Ashrei: Call her right now and see where she is.

Me: Lovey, honey, she’s fine.

Ashrei (crying): But what if there’s a monster? What if there’s a monster bad guy who wants to hurt her? Call her right now, call her.

Me: Ok sweet potato, I’m calling her I’m calling her.

* * *

My heart is so bruised. And so is everyone else’s I think.

And still, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. Because I am home. Because I am with my people – and I don’t care if you think that sounds bonkers nationalistic. Because I’ve had a small taste – in the generation between those who grew up as children of Holocaust survivors – of Holocaust deniers. Because I’ve seen what you feel underneath it all. Because I am proud to be a Jewish Woman; because I am proud to be in my Home.

But please God, please, remember your children. All your children.

About the Author
Idit writes from her goat farm in Israel's Ella Valley.
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