I sit at the desk in my bedroom in what I call my Jewish Corner—the section of my room that contains my certificates from my time living in Israel as an Israel Teaching Fellow and all the Judaica I have been collecting over the years. There is also a chamsa on my bedroom door from my paternal grandmother and above that is a mezuzah that I bought at Yad Vashem.
I know where and when I obtained every single thing. I should be proud of my certificates in particular, especially given all the unfair cards I have been dealt in my life. I still remember being 14 and having a social worker tell my father that he would not be capable of raising two daughters on his own after my mother had overdosed for the umpteenth time because I was doomed to be a prostitute, a teen mother and never graduate high school. How was I supposed to beat those odds?
It was a miracle that I was able to even remain alive, and graduate high school, exceed academically (although not socially) in college and graduate with a 3.63 GPA, be able to travel to Israel for the first time thanks to Birthright, have the extreme privilege to learn and teach in Israel for ten months thanks to Masa Israel and also participate in various conferences and fellowships, pay off my bachelor’s degree at the age of 27 despite not having a “real job” and acing all my graduate classes at Suffolk University, and without loans to boot. I should be happy I have been able to do these things!
Yet the more I look around at my Jewish/Israeli things above and next to my desk, as I continue to type away my graduate school assignments, they just seem so fruitless. A little over four years since I came back from Israel and I am still no closer to an Israel advocacy job. The promise of one of these jobs was half of the reason I even came back to Massachusetts to begin with. I know that many of the big jobs would require a move to New York, something I have no desire of doing. Israel advocacy jobs do exist in Massachusetts; I just always seem to be missing something. Jewish opportunities from college? Nope. Advanced software? I’m just learning how to code in my Web Design class. Access to a car? I am 29 and never learned how to drive. While running my babysitting business has kept my head above water the past few years, work has not been going well between some of my best clients moving away and working inconvenient hours. The children have been my lifeline. And now I am losing them.
As I have done my past three semesters at Suffolk, I have made every assignment when allowed to be about Judaism and/or Israel. I have enjoyed writing about issues that my classmates—the majority not being Jewish—are not even aware of. My passion for Israel shows in my work, which is why I have aced every single assignment at Suffolk and maintain a 4.0 GPA. Back in July I went to Ireland for the first time for an elective course where I did research for a paper that compared the Massachusetts-Israel relationship and the Ireland-Israel relationship. I received the full $1,500 scholarship that Suffolk awarded me after writing a brief essay/my GPA, allowing me to afford food and the plane tickets. How ironic to be able to afford this trip because I have great grades, yet almost eight years ago my London cohort did not invite me to Ireland because I was the Goody-Two-Shoes who went to class. But my paper—and even an in-person meeting in Dublin with the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, whom is now the head of the Israeli Consulate in Boston—did not yield me a job. While I am elated at earning an “A” on my paper and in the course, they do not keep me warm. I continue to wonder if my degree will pay off.
Back on July 4th I was babysitting, as usual. I was in the middle of a book that I had not read since high school when Dan called. I was really into the book and hoped the conversation would go fast. Dan was slurring from drinking earlier that afternoon and I was able to handle the conversation, until Dan had asked me to join him for some rugby tournament in Chicago this November. Given that I have to attend my friend Adina’s wedding—in Israel no less—in November, I said I did not want to go due to the expense of this destination wedding. I have already been to Chicago and if I am going to spend money on going to another state, I want to go somewhere I have not been before. After Dan begged and pleaded, I relented. I was hoping we would be done, until I brought up how I did not want to miss class for this wedding since I never skip class. Dan was telling me this degree would never matter to employers, but that experience mattered more. While I understand the truth behind it, it was still shocking to hear. I was happy when the conversation finally stopped, although we got into an argument about the conversation a few days later and Dan almost broke up with me. Ever since then, I pretty much stopped talking about Israel with him. Even back when I staffed my second Birthright trip a month prior, I could not even tell Dan how sour things had become halfway through the trip because I could not feel that I could get into it with him. At least these days, the good news is that Chicago is out. The bad news is that another man who means a great deal to me has told me to shut up about Israel.
It was a few days ago when I was talking to this man. I griped about the cost of the plane tickets to Israel for Adina’s wedding and mentioned how El Al messed up my Matmid Club points, which would mean having to call their customer service line. The man and I had a normal conversation—talking about a weird dream I had, the difference between American and British dental care, how a bad fall last year is catching up to me and so on. I made a joke about something else and it is something the man and I have joked about before with no issue. After I said it, the man said, “I’m so annoyed.” Before I could ask what was wrong, he said, “All you talk about is Israel [and the thing you just mentioned.]” Before I could defend myself, he went to the bathroom. I walked away.
The man’s few words were harsh. Harsher than I have ever heard from him, or the him I have always known, anyway. They left me speechless for a moment while a long-dormant ember of fire inside me was stoked with all the reasons why I love Israel. They flip through my mind like an animated picture book; the fun and love my students in Netanya would show me every day, or when I was attending the 2013 Masa Israel Leadership Summit. The afternoon sunsets in Netanya, always painting the sky over the water at the beach with coral, pink, yellow and red. To be in the religious majority for once and experiencing Israeli hospitality on a daily basis. Knowing how so many Jews never got to escape persecution but that the ones who did could find a home in Israel. Remembering her humanitarian services she provides the world. Knowing that she exists.
The man and I used to have in-depth conversations about Israel. We never yelled or shot the other one down. We are adults. Where this sudden change came from, I am not sure. But maybe he is right; maybe I do talk about Israel too much. I just wish I could get paid for talking about her. Maybe my chatter would be more justified then.
I have avoided the man the past few days. After getting back from babysitting last night, I took my Israeli magnets off of the refrigerator, covered up my Judaica on the walls in my Jewish Corner with towels and took down my Israeli flag from my ceiling. If I am supposed to shut up, maybe visuals are a start. A bit ridiculous, yes, but what else can be done? I just wish I had another passion. Maybe then I would have something else to talk about. To think that it has been exactly six years since I had a reunion with my Birthright group and they were the ones who convinced me to try graduate school at a later date once I figured out something that worked for me. If only they saw my pain now.
While putting up the towels on the walls, I looked at a picture of me and my other Fellows in Netanya, along with our madrichim. It was taken when the Fellows and I had been in Israel for a couple of weeks. I wiped the dust off the aqua colored frame, admiring the photo of when I had managed to survive my first couple of weeks in Israel. The picture is from five years ago, but I remember that day and the excitement I felt knowing I could make a difference in my students’ lives.
*September 8th, 2013*
I still think about what would have happened had I stayed in Israel after my program ended. The dust always comes back, but my optimism that I had for the future back then will not. Just like when I was in college and believed I could be a young woman in politics who could really make a difference in the lives of children and their families, I was shut down by my London cohort and gave up politics as a career. I had been after that path for years and then had nothing else, except to become a nanny. It seems as if history is repeating itself, this time with both people and higher-ups. These thoughts make so much wasted effort gather up in the corners of my eyes, in a lump in my throat and make my chest feel hallow. Grief is love with no place to go, although I give it to the kids I still take care of, and I try to show them the ways to give their love to the world. This grief has been the cost of four years of trying to achieve a dream to advocate for Israel, the downside to love.
I always thought that if I ever gave up on Israel advocacy, it would be due to getting shouted down at a college or being yelled at on Twitter by some misinformed ninny. But as these Israel advocacy dreams keep fading away, three men in my life whom I care about deeply have told me to shut up about Israel and how the life cycle of my foolish optimism that I had in college is repeating itself once more, the towels on my walls make sense. I hope, one day, they will come down. I am still proud to be Jewish and will always support Israel, but being silenced since March from my father, Dan and now this other man makes me want to just deal with the nitwits at colleges instead.
Perhaps their attacks would be easier to bear.