“Why did you make Aliyah?” they ask you, eyebrows pinched together in confusion. They don’t understand why you would want to come here. What made you leave your home country to come all the way to Israel, where the air is always thick with tension, and the streets are always crowded? “Why did you want to come here?”
You could answer their question the easy way, and explain your ideals, your beliefs, the things that lead you to this tiny hot country. But you don’t. You tell them that they’re asking the wrong question. Because instead of asking why you came, they should be asking you why you stayed.
Packing up your life and moving it all overseas was the easy part. The hard parts are the ones that nobody talks about, the parts that come after.
You’ll have the best days of your life here. You’ll wonder why you didn’t come here sooner, and why other people don’t want to come here too. You’ll think that this must be the happiest you’ve ever been. The air smells like summer even when it isn’t, and the atmosphere is electric, charged with an energy you’ve never felt before in your life.
You wander the streets of the old marketplaces, marvelling at the stalls of fruit stretching all the way down as far as the eye can see. The sound of people haggling for their vegetables intermingles with the laughter of children enjoying the day off school that they have liberally taken for themselves. You blend effortlessly into the mix of people walking down the ancient streets with you. Everyone in the world seems to be there, and it’s overwhelming and exhilarating and you feel so, so alive.
It’s the middle of winter and you have to laugh at the scene around you. The first rainfall has happened, and even though all any Israeli wants is a rainy winter, the second that first raindrop hits the ground you can bet they’ll all be complaining and blaming it on the person next to them. And you join in, as if you don’t come from the country of eternal winter and this isn’t old news to you. Because you’re Israeli now, and it’s your right to complain about the rain that you’re secretly very happy to see. The market stalls are less popular now, and instead the cafes have become crowded, steamy places. They sell soup out of giant metal pots, and thick black coffee, and Sachlav which has always scared you, but you keep meaning to try it one of these days. And outside may be cold but you’re inside with everyone else and it’s wonderful and warm, and you know now, that this must be the best moment of your life.
You’re sure that you’ve smiled in the past year more than you have in your entire life. You feel as though you live in a dream, a wonderful, romantic dream. It couldn’t ever get more perfect than this, could it?
But you’ll have the worst days of your life here too. You’ll ask yourself why you’re still here, ask yourself why nobody is telling you to come back home already, to your real home, not to this land where you’re certain you’ll never quite fit right. You’ll think this is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do, that you’re the most unhappy you’ve ever been. Everything is full of uncertainties. The air is thick with anger, an ancient anger you think you may never fully understand. You don’t think you belong here.
You spend hours in line in government offices. Lifeless grey buildings, full of people who don’t know why you’re standing in front of them crying with frustration, and they certainly don’t care to ask. You stumble over your words, tongue thick with a language you don’t feel comfortable with, but you pray they understand you anyway. They don’t. You repeat yourself again and again, certain you’re making less and less sense every time. They seem to agree with you. They send you away to speak to another person in another grey and lifeless office, and so they cycle continues.
You wake up in the morning to the news that 400 rockets were fired into your tiny country overnight. Your heart clenches with worry for the families whose lives have been torn apart and disrupted time and time again, even though you don’t know them. You feel fiercely protective and overwhelmingly useless. You refresh your news feed countless times, waiting to hear something positive, praying for it to end, wondering why it never does. You ask yourself why you had to get invested in this tiny country that so often seems to be on the brink of war. You ask yourself why you couldn’t just have stayed put in the place you were born, like everyone else you know.
You’re sure you’ve cried more in the past year than you ever have in your life. You feel as though you’re trapped in a maze that you can’t find your way out of, but everybody else has already left. The dream you envisioned feels so close, and yet further away than ever before.
You don’t know why you stayed. And yet you know that you wouldn’t ever leave. You wish you could give up and say you’re not playing this game today, but you get up and keep on going, eyes tired and heart heavy.
You keep the memories of the marketplace and the cafes with you when you stand in line in the lifeless grey buildings. You remember how sweet those first drops of rain felt, even when you’re standing in a downpour waiting for a bus that you’re pretty sure isn’t coming. You push past the language barriers until the person you’re talking to finally, finally understands you, and then you both laugh at a joke you didn’t realise you had delivered the punchline to.
You have the worst days of your life, but you have the best days too. Sometimes, inexplicably, your worst days even turn into your best days. That just seems to be the way it is here.
So when they pinch their eyebrows together and ask you why you made Aliyah, correct them. Make them ask you why you stayed. And then tell them. Tell them the whole wonderful, exhilarating, exhausting, complicatedly simple story.