Shoshana Lavan, English literature teacher and author, decided to make Aliyah in May 2019. In August 2019 she visited Israel to recce a place to live, find opportunities for work and a Gan for her little boy. On an Akko Tornado boat, in the middle of the Mediterranean, she met someone who has become a part of her family – an Israeli who also made Aliyah from England many years ago, and who happens to volunteer for Keep Olim in Israel. His help, love, guidance and support have been second to none. He is the ‘you’ below.
This is Shoshana’s blog written three weeks after she and her little boy made Aliyah, a few days before the restrictions due to the coronavirus came into full force.
Three thousand miles away from the people who know who I am.
The people who cheered me on at “Parkrun” each week (something not yet started here) when I was pushing myself and my toddler up hill, at the end of the fifth kilometre, desperate to get under twenty-six minutes. Total strangers came up to me every week. “What you do is amazing. I could never do that.” And I tell them, yes, you could; it’s only training, and then we both laugh and we talk about other things, perhaps the weather, or where we are from, or how often we train. And the next week they are no longer strangers and I know their name and I know how quickly or slowly they run and in a few weeks’ time we might even have regular conversations, be running together.
Shared language. That’s what it does.
And at my old job – the place I had been working for ten years up to one month ago (not even one month) – I had classes full of students, one after another, sometimes up to five a day, of students who knew me, who knew of me, who I connected with by a smile and a question for them – were they tired, had they enjoyed the book, were they looking forward to the trip – and it was my own room, my own space, my own rules and my own sense of humour. The students learned it, over time, and I learned theirs, and there was a calm and a peace in the classroom I had developed. Ten years is a long, solid, emotionally concrete time to develop an aura of peace.
Language shared. That’s what does it.
And rarely – but sometimes – this band here, this performance there, practising my violin and being a part of a bigger, greater universal beauty. Everyone understands the language of music.
But my first language was key to initiating it.
And of course words, so many words, the language I type and type and type, note down, remember, invent, create, articulate, practise and ameliorate – edit, edit edit, over ten years. Every night, almost. That’s a lot of words. A lot of language. Is it such a surprise I got somewhere, eventually? Perhaps. Some people never do. But I will never give up as long as people enjoy my words.
And this is where the sadness begins, or continues, for who knows where its commencement is when lost inside myself.
You stand with others with whom you have been able to share language for years and you try to connect them with me through a language they do not understand. The language of me, of who I am. This needs time, and it needs work from me, not you.
You say you understand me. You think of me. You recreate my stories. You relive my life and you try to get into my head. But there is no space for you right now. There is too much of me, trying to find out how I can become me again, here. How slowly it will develop. If I have the patience. If I can really start again, prove myself again.
And of course, there is no turning back. There is not even a hankering for turning back. But there is a great impatience.
Each difficult situation could be rectified, resolved, and turned into a positive if only there was some real communication. Some words and a smile have to suffice right now. But that is not enough when the whole world is suspicious of each other, of a cough, a sneeze, a handshake.
“Where are you from?” becomes the precursor to every transaction, every administrative task, as soon as they know I am not ‘one of them’. Whatever that is. For seventy years ago, a lot of ‘them’ were just like me. Offices ask me to wait outside. There are people in our community (for it is mine now, already, even if I cannot understand the group emails and the group WhatsApps and I can only communicate with some of them through a smile and a little hope in my eyes) who are already in isolation.
It’s an interesting metaphor. My Aliyah. My isolation. My need for slow and steady recovery. To find my way. To find myself here, in a way I wasn’t before, but also in a similar way, rediscovering who I am. And these poor people, in their quarantines, confined and shunned by governments and bureaucracies, struggling to fend for themselves when no one wishes to help them.
The similarity stops there.
For here you are, trying to help me, every single day. When the unsmiling women in the offices tell me “We do not deal with new Olim in the afternoon; come back tomorrow.” You shout and you threaten to report them. When they tell me I have not brought the right form, that I must come back tomorrow. You tell them in your beautiful Ivrit how disappointed you are in them; why was it not written on the website what to bring? You tell a moody security officer, or the manager of this agency or that agency, just to smile, just to say hello, just to offer me some water. This you say in Ivrit. And this I can understand. And this brings me close to tears. I am so so tired.
Sometimes, I am angry when you try to help, angry when privately you praise me (for I feel like I am nothing), angry when you publicly praise me (for who am I to them?), angry when you suggest ideas, angry when you tell me how much you love me, even angry and tired when you try to hold me.
I understand I am taking out my lack of control on you. But I don’t really know how to stop.
There are times when you are also making mistakes, but who wouldn’t, when faced with someone so frustrated and unsure of how to make a success of herself in a new place, and trying not to compare it with old successes, with old places.
For there is so much happiness here. So much beauty. The mountains. The lakes. The views. The flowers – god, the flowers are so bright! Today I saw an entire tree made of pink flowers, as though it too was wearing a costume for Purim.
And there is such kindness. Nearly everyone where we live wishes to welcome us. To give us toys or kitchen utensils. To know my story. To know me. To embrace us as part of the kibbutz.
And there’s the excitement of traveling to new places, discovering new things, like Nazareth, the town where church and mosque and synagogue are side by side and the streets exude the aroma of spices and the Mu’azzin has such a pure and pleading voice I find I am crying…
And the language, too. I will master it. I will! I will use it to make jokes and make people smile and try to give warmth as I am so used to doing, as I have taken for granted for so long.
I will learn and learn and learn and one day I will help someone like me and I will say: All in good time, dear friend, all in good time. Good things take time to build.
And love, too, takes time to build. It cannot be thrown away because of trauma or pain or the past. It cannot be buried underneath all the other new, terrifying challenges. It cannot be explained away because of petty arguments and day to day frustrations, or differing views. It must be nurtured and cherished, watered each day.
The cyclamens given to us by our Israeli cousins for our new home wilted by the third day we were here. They had not been given enough light, enough air to breathe.
I too need the light, and enough air to breathe. Enough air around me to be me. Enough ways I can be challenged and meet and be victorious in those challenges without help or guidance. So that I may look back and say ‘I did that. And I did it because I was strong enough to do it by myself.’
And then to be strong enough to accept help from you when it is offered, where it is helpful and of course it is shown always in love, with love, through love.
This is something I must not lose sight of, even in my most enraged moments.
There is a heaviness there, lingering, each day. A tiredness. A question mark of how I will manage to overcome each great challenge ahead.
Day by day. Le’at Le’at. Seeing each small victory as another stone in building our home here.
For this is our home.
I must just remember: a new home needs time to find itself.