Choosing Israel

It’s now two years since I left London to move to Israel. Occasionally I wonder, in a detached sort of way: am I mad for choosing to live here without my family? For leaving behind my stable life, the home I grew up in, my safety net, my support system. But although I miss my family and parts of my old life, now that I’m here, it’s like Israel won’t let me even consider the thought of giving up on what I wanted for so long. I’m stuck here, and I want to be.

Just over two years ago, I’d decided I was going to make Aliyah and join the next Ulpan session starting in two months time. But over that past year and at the very moment that I had made my decision, my family was faced with illness and I discovered that the phrase “what doesn’t kill you (or a family member) makes you stronger” is a lie, unless stronger means a traumatised, useless* wreck who at least has the ability to hide it very, very well – which I thought at the time could only be a good thing, but then learnt maybe only in the short term, since all the messed-up-ness would have to be addressed at a later stage. (*Useless. adjective: Trying to be supportive by going along to hospital appointments only to pass out when listening to the doctor explain all the risks of the treatment.)

I thought I needed to stay, but it turned out what I actually needed was for my family to help me keep to my decision to move to Israel, because despite everything I was more ready than I’d ever be, and it was probably either then or never. And I’m grateful for that, because even though I am still figuring things out in Israel – the point is I am figuring them out.

Israel might sometimes be the reason for whatever struggles and challenges come up, but at the same time it is also my comfort, my encouragement, my inspiration. Whatever challenges I go through, the very fact that I’m here helps me through. And that includes adjusting to the current ‘Matsav’, which has us all discussing the pros and cons of rockets vs stabbings, and our self-defence weapons of choice. Last week I finally got round to buying pepper spray, as I’d promised those who worry about me, just so they can worry a bit less – even though I now worry more, about accidentally spraying it all over myself. The shopworker noticed my accent through my Hebrew and asked where I’m from and how I find it living here with the matsav. I told him I’d moved from London two years ago, and that it can be scary but even so I much prefer being here. And then I wondered why he was impressed, when he looked like he’d probably finished in the army not so long ago. It’s strange, how you can be made to feel like you’re contributing something to the country, by doing nothing except just being here.

Sometimes it feels like choosing to live here is something only crazy people do, and yet Israel helps things make sense, even when Israel itself sometimes doesn’t make any sense in so many ways, defying all logic and reason just by existing. Israel keeps me connected to our heritage, our people, our religion, and for me living here is the only choice and so not even a choice at all.

Two years in, and I have never felt more certain yet vulnerable, independent yet dependent at the same time.

Certain that Israel is where I want to be, vulnerable because I threw myself into a new life here hardly knowing anyone in the city. Independent, taking care of myself, but dependent on help, advice, support and friendship from the wonderful people I’ve met, including the first friends I made here, in Ulpan; who are really more like family, with our unspoken understanding that we are there for each other no matter what.

Somehow moving to Israel has disrupted my stoic-British nature, and forced me to question it, to ask “who am I and how can I be better”, to tear myself apart looking at my strengths and faults, to challenge myself, to wonder, to think. It’s all very inconvenient! British-me doesn’t recognise Israeli-me.

I’m finding myself in Israel, and that wasn’t even on my to-do list.

About the Author
Mizrachi Jew. Israeli-in-Progress. But I only drink tea with milk.
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