Orna Raz

Is The Grass Really Greener? The Unbearable Lightness Of Leaving Israel

In the last couple of months, during the last war, I heard several intellectuals announce that they intend to leave Israel. The reasons as I understand them had to do with the unbearable political situation in Israel and the toxic cultural climate.

I can identify with this despondency, the current government makes it  hard to envision a change any time soon, and many of us feel angry and helpless.

Every so often when I am on the highway, stuck in traffic, I fantasize about leaving my car behind in the middle of Ayalon, and  walk away. I like this proactive dream, instead of remaining motionless in my car,  I choose to do something even if it means abandoning my car. I seem to remember that I saw someone do it in a film (or on TV ). I don’t remember the exact details, but it was an extreme action that signalized to the viewer that the protagonist has reached a breaking point and was having a nervous breakdown..

Fantasizing about leaving Israel, at this point, is a natural reaction to this  feeling of frustration, but it seems to me that actually doing it now is a lot like walking away from the car.

Leaving, like quitting, is liberating, it brings about spurts of energy and creativity. But eventually the void which was created needs to be filled. Settling in and building a new life is not that different from normal life here, it is made, among other things, of compromises, disappointments and frustration.

In the case of Israelis in the US, I feel that life in the new world could be even more restricted than in Israel. Many Israelis tend to move into neighborhoods where other Israelis (or at least Jewish people) live. Thus in many cases they socialize mostly with Israelis, and their children befriend other Israeli children.

From my experience, often Israelis abroad take little interest in what is going on around them, and are detached from American politics. But they remain involved in what is going on in Israel. It seems sometimes that Israeli communities in the diaspora become a caricature of Israeli life.

The wandering gene is planted deep inside the Jewish psyche. For centuries we were forced to move  because of religious persecutions or to improve a very difficult  economic situation.

Here in Israel that gene has been revived in recent generations with the popular “big journey”—the  pre-college/after army year-long trip. But the motivating force in this case is more to experience life: to  learn about other cultures and to  broaden the horizons before settling down to real life.

Most people in Israel cannot entertain thoughts about leaving,  they have no choice but to stay here as this is their only home. I wonder though whether anyone truly believes that American society, for example, is more just than ours, or that, like in the song, staying away “makes the desperation more comfortable.” This is of course a rhetorical question, but I have to admit that I haven’t met  Americans who told me that they decided to leave the US because of the Iraq wars,  9/11, or that they were outraged because so many fellow Americans could not afford to have  health insurance.

Even if traffic stands still I hope that enough people stay here and not walk away from the car, after all in 3 years we have another election.

About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move On." In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. .