Aliyah Day

In my mother tongue

My aliyah has always meant that I’m ’living the dream’ – but raising children has brought new encounters in Hebrew that sometimes leave me longing for English
In the classroom, with 'The Prime Ministers,' one of the books I edited. (courtesy)
In the classroom, with 'The Prime Ministers,' one of the books I edited. (courtesy)

Yesterday, I went to my son Adiel’s school. I had been invited to talk about editing to his kita hey (fifth grade) English class — a class for dovrei Anglit (native English speakers).

I took with me a few books I had edited to show them. I told them a little about how I became an editor. I explained the editing process: how a book gets to a publisher; what manuscript assessment is, and developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, proofreading. I showed them some examples of editing from books I have worked on in the past, explaining why I changed a word here, a sentence there. I showed them how a mistake might creep into a typeset proof; how things get missed in the process. I gave them two paragraphs from the first Harry Potter into which I’d inserted some mistakes, and challenged the kids to find them, and then I showed them the same paragraphs, marked up with proofreading symbols to show where the mistakes were, and to illustrate for them which symbols are used for each type of correction.

I’m not a teacher (that’s my husband’s realm), but I was articulate, engaging, and — dare I say it — maybe even a little impressive. I think the kids enjoyed it, and I know the teacher did, because she told me so.

And it was the first time in 11 years of parenting as an immigrant — in the public sphere, at least — that I have ever felt truly competent, truly myself.

Unfortunately, my facility with my own language, which is one of my defining features and is at the root of my professional life, does not extend to a facility with other languages. My Hebrew is okay; I can converse, I can understand probably 90 percent of what is said in a doctor’s office, or a parent-teacher meeting. But that’s where it ends. In English, I will identify the tiniest permutation in word meaning that determines whether one word should be used over another in a sentence; in English, I will adjust sentences and paragraphs for improved flow; for dramatic effect; for logic; for whatever the text needs. Every day, I work to help writers express themselves in the best possible way. But I live in Hebrew. With taxi drivers, with doctors, with shop assistants, with other parents, with the vast majority of my children’s teachers. And in Hebrew, I stumble. I cope, I make myself understood, but I am not articulate. In Hebrew, I will always use the simplest word, because that’s what I know. I might want to say, for example, “he perceives,” and I will pause for a second, searching for the right word, but I don’t know it, so instead I’ll just say “he thinks.” It’s not the same thing, at all, I’m not truly conveying what I want to say, but it’s the best I got.

I went home from my talk to Adiel’s class feeling a strange mixture of pride, accomplishment, happiness and wistfulness. I sat down at my desk and continued work on my current project — the memoir of a man who survived the Lodz Ghetto, and Auschwitz, but whose wife and children perished. Because there was no Israel to take them in when the world turned its back. Thankfully, I was not running from anything when I made aliyah. I came at 22, entirely alone, entirely hopeful, entirely unrealistic (entirely crazy!), pursuing a dream, a longing, that I’d felt since I was a child of 13. I didn’t think much about what I was giving up; I knew I was leaving family and friends behind, but I didn’t truly consider what it meant to be leaving my language behind, too. Moreover, being an immigrant parent was the last thing on my mind, and rightly so, as it turned out: I had already been living in Israel for 13 years by the time I gave birth to my firstborn.

Israel has been, at times, terrifying, lonely, and challenging. It has also been rewarding, exciting, and satisfying. I feel alive, and rooted here, in a way I feel nowhere else. Israel has fulfilled so many dreams, and has given me many gifts that I hadn’t even dared dream of. It was here that I developed my career, here that I first owned a home, here that I established lasting friendships. Most importantly, it was here that I found my love; became a wife, and a mother. And it is, undeniably, my soul’s home.

Mine is the life of an immigrant. It is a life I chose, a life I am grateful for, and a life blessed beyond measure. Still, yesterday was bittersweet. Yesterday was a glimpse into the kind of parent I could have been — confident, articulate, at home in an entirely different way — if I were raising my kids in an English-speaking country.

About the Author
Deborah Meghnagi Bailey was born and raised in London, England, and made aliyah shortly after graduating university, in 1995. She has worked as an editor (and occasionally a writer) for over 20 years, and since 2010 has enjoyed being her own boss, working on whatever interesting projects come her way. A lifelong bookworm, when she's not working or involved with her family, she'll likely be found with her nose in a book; if not fiction, it'll be on history, parenting, or her other passion, health and nutrition. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband Jonathan, and her two sons, Adiel and Matanel.
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