Recently I returned home to Australia to visit family and friends. I left Israel on a high after having several successes of my own in establishing myself in a new country – a social network, overcoming language barriers, understanding more about the system – things you need to “succeed”. Upon being at home I had news of a friend who had suicided, a friend that had believed in me and my dream of a life in Israel. Victoria was an integral part of my hope in a new life; from regular Skype calls to everyday messages of support, motivation, and love – Victoria was my one in a million – she was not a statistic.
Since 2015, I have lost four people in my life including my mother. The youngest of those four was twenty-one. That is two a year and I am only one person. I have several friends who have lost sons, best friends, and suffered great bouts of depression and suicidal ideation. Australia’s suicide rate is the highest it has been for ten years. In 2015, suicide was recorded as the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 – 44, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reporting 3,027 suicides for the year of 2015. This isn’t an exclusive symptom of Australia. Britain, America, Europe and parts of Asia, are all experiencing similar trends of increasing loneliness, isolation and depression. Lifeline Australia CEO Peter Shmigel states, “While we’re prescribing more medication for mental illness than ever before…we are not doing enough to combat social factors that lead so many to choose death over living”.
Losses are enough to shake anyone’s sense of self and identity; every time you lose one person, you lose something of yourself. Reflecting on why I came to Israel, it was clear that I wanted to reconnect with my roots and challenge things that I believed. I wanted to understand why, in Australia, a country oft quoted as “the lucky country,” people are feeling more desperate and alone. Moreover, I wanted to experience a country known for its powerful solidarity centred on the survival of the Jewish nation, its strong community and family values and the sense of being part of something bigger than yourself – a nostalgic ideology that I had felt as a child. I have realised that my hope for feeling more connected was not so nostalgic. New immigrants are a vital part of the survival of Israel and the support services offered are more than institutional. I have an absorption counsellor who devotes time to me when needed, the English-speaking groups who organise activities from yoga to pub nights, the multiple social media groups within each city to help you find anything from accommodation to second-hand furniture, and the one very important connection – the differing reasons we are all here.
It could be inferred that Israel’s relatively low suicide rate is because of these aforementioned connections and Israel’s sense of higher purpose. Regardless of your political views, there is a socio-cultural identity here premised on survival and how we should go about it — given the ongoing conflicts in the region. I know Israelis that need to escape this, I know Israelis that are hardened by it, and I know Israelis that wouldn’t live anywhere else. As a new Israeli, I’ve often been asked why I came from what is presumed to be the “Garden of Eden” to Israel. I wonder myself sometimes. I wonder what comprises a “happy” life. Whilst at home I saw the life I could have had – excelling in my career alongside my peers, buying houses, having children, living the day to day beautiful, lucky life that we have. I loved my life in Australia, I built something there and I can always go back. However, I also feel the losses, the people I wanted to continue sharing my life with, the significant changes, the loss of self.
It is a quiet Shabbat, as I sit in my apartment looking at how I got here. I am challenged every day, I am constantly realising who I am, and I am always remembering the people that helped me get here, like Victoria. So, my answer, Israel gives me a sense of hope, and for that it is the centre of the Universe.