Yonit Yermish

Why Israel?

All throughout my childhood, I remember complaining to my dad that he chose to raise us in Israel. He was born and raised in Philadelphia, so we could all easily live in the United States. I constantly asked and nagged about it as a kid- ‘Why?? Why here?? Life is so much better in America!’ He would calmly reply that there is no other home for Jews besides the Land of Israel.

My great grandparents from my dad’s side ran away from Eastern Europe to the US because it became unsafe for Jews in the early 20th century. Similarly, on the other side of  the world, my grandparents from my mom’s side fled Yemen in the early 1940s, because of the ethnic cleansing of Jews that took place there. And so my grandparents walked and sailed their way to Israel, the homeland of Jews.

I grew up in Israel in the 1990’s, when people dreamed of and prayed for peace. We felt it was so within reach that parents would tell their kids that when they turned 18, they hoped they wouldn’t need to fight in wars like they did. But unfortunately, that was never the case, and each time the word peace was discussed, or a two state solution was offered, buses exploded and rockets were fired. That was the soundtrack of my childhood, as the Palestinian leaders repeatedly refused to make peace with Israel.

The second I ended my military service, I grabbed my American passport and took off to finally live my American dream, free from exploding buses and bomb shelters, free to live as Jew without being scared that I would blow up into pieces like my neighbors, friends and classmates had in Israel. I embraced my life in New York with every fiber of my being. 

Today, more than 20 years after I left Israel, and a month after the October 7 terrorist attacks on my homeland and my people, I see the world as a completely different place. I spent the past month split in half. On one hand, there is the mourning, the grief, and the things I can do to support my family and friends in Israel in every moment. At the same time, between trying to remain a somewhat functioning mom and teacher, I find myself trying to fight the hate and ignorance that continues to grow here in New York, as people I know, people whom I have called friends, chant or post for the death of Jews, not because they are well-informed about any part of the situation, but because it’s the latest trend, as easy to jump on as a love for avocado toast. But this hate is old, and real, and we’ve seen it before in previous generations. 

It’s been a month of grief mixed with fear. A month where sleep is interrupted by nightmares that include sights such as bodies on the side of the side road that I see as I’m driving my daughter to another Bat Mitzvah, or wake up calls and texts from friends and family members sharing the news about bodies of people they loved finally being identified.

It has been a month of sleeping with a hammer at my nightstand (although I really wish I had my M16 from my army days because, truly, what will I do with a hammer?). A month of checking the locks on all of our windows and doors at least three times before I try to go to sleep. A month of sleeping with a sports bra because if my kids and I need to run away in the middle of the night, I should probably have a bra on. A month of barely sleeping, yet also barely being able to wake up to this painful reality.

A month of guilt of being so far away while my homeland is under fire and covered with blood.

A month where, although I am no longer in the IDF, I’m constantly fighting the online war through education and truth telling. 

It has also been a month where, some days, I feel motivated to do things with love and passion, because I can, because that’s what Jews do- celebrate life and positivity. We live! That’s how we fight terror!

But more than anything, this has been a month that has opened my eyes. It not only made me prouder than ever to be Israeli, but it also made me finally understand what my dad was trying to tell me 30 years ago: no matter how free Jews around the world might think we are and might feel at the time, it is only temporary. 

Israel is the only home for the Jews, and I will fight with every last breath to help her keep standing.  

About the Author
Yonit Yermish is an Israeli born and raised. She moved to New York City after her service in the IDF near the Gaza strip, and is now a special education teacher, yoga instructor and a single mother of two kids.
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