Fight or flight

I made aliyah shnatayim — and I know this because I thought the word was shatayim and when asked how long I’ve been in Israel this is what I would reply and people would look at me curiously, wondering where my suitcase was. No, I have not been here for two hours. I’ve been here for two years and they have raced by in a blur.

Ahhh the life of an olah chadasha (or is that oleh? SIGH.) in which one transitions from being a relatively competent human being to a clumsy child overnight.

It gets better, it really does.

But two years isn’t very long. In fact, it’s a blink of an eye.

But recently, I reached a crossroads in my time here. I have had many amazing experiences but I have not flourished in the way I thought I would. Financially, that is.

Perhaps naively, I thought that the online consulting business I established in Los Angeles would sustain me in Israel just fine. So I didn’t really pursue the same connections and work here in Israel. I didn’t need to.

But over time, my physical absence from LA made itself felt by a mushrooming of consultants that overshadowed me online. By a shift in my business from mostly US clients to mostly UK clients. Then, to a slow down overall. I simply wasn’t there anymore. I wasn’t in the mix.

In frustration, I finally put an unpleasant solution on the table. I would return to the US. Living in Israel had been a failure. Seeing my struggle, my family in the US offered to go ahead and book a ticket. May, they said? Or June? Which date?

My stomach dropped. Yes, financial relief would be just around the corner from making that choice and yet — I didn’t want to go back.

I wasn’t done being in Israel — and I had certainly not envisioned being at this crossroads.

What had I envisioned? Looking back, I realize I have been in some kind of a temporary, vacation mode while in Israel so far. I’ve been floating along on the surface, enjoying the good bits and writing about all of it but not really digging in for the long haul.

I had not made the connections that I could have made. I had not looked at opportunities here that utilize my skills and experience. True, I did found the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon one year ago but I could have done so much more than that.

Why hadn’t I?

So I went to my benefactors at Nefesh B’Nefesh and said look, I need some help developing my career here, now. I do not want to leave.

NBN was wonderful and I was agog at the plethora of resources and programs that I simply had not been taking advantage of.

How had I allowed myself to become so distracted, entertained and sidetracked by the cultural differences here that I didn’t really commit living in Israel with the other realities too?  

The good folks at NBN reassured me that this is a natural juncture – many olim have a bit of a crisis two to three years in to their new life and consider returning to their former homes. 

When you come from the US — a country rich with opportunities and of course, being one’s former home, full of personal and professional connections, going back is mighty tempting.

So why doesn’t that feel like a wonderful thing do to? Why does leaving feel like failing? What is it about this tiny, improbable little country that could — and does — every day?

I have decided to fight rather than take flight. At least for awhile. I have to give it a go. I can do better. I can really commit. This little country was kind enough to take the likes of me in and I feel I must repay it somehow, by being a positive presence here. I am a writer and teacher, a facilitator and organizer and ambitious, enthusiastic lover of the power of story.

And Israel has 8 million stories – even more. It also has realities that are tough — economic realities, political realities and the specter of the conflict which hangs over all of us every day.

But what a privilege to be here. The good, the bad, the ugly – it’s all an opportunity to contribute to this country — to the history of the Jews, really, in positive ways.

Whether that means writing a best selling book about living here (which is my high faultin’ plan) or being a part of helping an Israeli start up have the best, most articulate presentation and “corporate story” possible, or helping a young Israeli writer realize his or her dreams, these are the things I bring to this table. And I’m not ready to push back my chair until I’ve made my contribution in a meaningful way.

Israel is not an easy place. Babies and whiners do not do well here. Truly life is much easier in the US. Maybe I’m crazy but an easy life is not really what I had in mind. A meaningful life is.

I need to update my resume, work on my Hebrew and get out there and make myself known. I am here. I’m not going anywhere. I have a lot to give.

About the Author
Julie Gray is a writer and editor who made the leap from Los Angeles to Israel many years ago and has had many (mostly) humorous adventures ever since. She is the author of The True Adventures of Gidon Lev: Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist.