Julie Gray
Editor, Writer and Only Slightly Reformed Overthinker.

Why Israel?

I never wanted to come to Israel. In fact, I could name five countries right now that I would sooner have visited. My image of Israel was that of a hot, rocky moonscape with the errant goat or two in the background. I love history and I knew there were ancient ruins here, but heck, I could go to Italy to see those, be much safer and enjoy delicious pasta as well.  (Note to self: Italy still on the radar).

But no, I came to Israel, in 2009, very reluctantly. A friend of mine from Los Angeles was temporarily living and working in Jerusalem, of all places. I had just received a monetary windfall – that would be the last one for awhile – and when she threw going to Egypt into the mix, well, I just had to go. Why not. Life is short.

My expectations were low and my anxiety was high. The only view of Israel I had ever had was images of burning tires and angry teenagers throwing rocks. Some fun. But I wasn’t getting any younger, I’d always wanted to see the pyramids in Egypt, and a colleague of mine had just died unexpectedly. That was the kicker, really. One day Blake woke up and promptly collapsed. He was 53.

I bought my El Al ticket a week later.

Three years later, I live in Tel Aviv. I still can’t believe it.  I am running on “numb”. There are moments when I gaze upon the Mediterranean and my jaw drops. I live here. Or moments when I walk down Dizengoff Street and hear Hebrew being spoken all around me and watch the bicycles whizzing by and stop for a sabich. I live here.  I go to the Dead Sea for the day. I live here. I hear airplanes overhead and I still have not learned to differentiate between commercial airplanes and military ones. Are missiles coming? Is war coming? I live here.

What in the hell have I done? I am 48 years old and an American in my every cell. I lived and worked in Hollywood for many years. And I moved to Israel.  Nobody in their right mind moves to this place. Unless they are religious, unless they have family here, unless they have a job here.  I had and have none of those things.

I really couldn’t have imagined what it would be like to live here and I’m glad. If I had had any idea, I doubt I would have done it.  I had no idea what starting over would really mean.

I made, in the local parlance, aliyah. I exercised the right of return.  I converted 26 years ago and have lived a Jewish life ever since. But I am not here because I am Jewish. I am not here because my kids are Jewish. I am not here because I feel the pull of my ancestors, since I have no Jewish ancestors.

I am here simply because I fell in love with Israel. I have no ancestral pull, no religious imperative, no actual logical reason to be here at all.

Because of that, I sometimes feel like an imposter, as if I don’t belong here, as if I do not deserve to be here.

They say that everybody in Israel is or was running from something.

For ten years, I lived and worked in Hollywood, on the fringes of the entertainment industry, on the hamster wheel of hope, ambition and dreams. But over time, I became disenchanted. Tired, you might say, of chasing an ephemeral dream that never quite came true. Mostly, I grew weary of the culture of insincerity. Don’t get me wrong; I have good friends in LA and know that there are far more intelligent, authentic and articulate denizens of that city than it is given credit for.

But Los Angeles is an industry town, barely economically viable and not particularly sustainable, which fuels itself on pipe dreams and fake smiles. Maybe it was my brother’s untimely death by suicide that prompted me to rethink my life. Maybe it was a couple of bad experiences with colleagues who betrayed me. Maybe it was having been to Israel and having experienced the bracing bluntness of Israelis that made me hunger to see new possibilities.

What will I do here? I don’t know. I am a writer by trade, and a script consultant by profession. I am trying to find my place here, trying to feel as if I belong.  I stay connected to my previous life via the internet and that helps me retain some of my identity. I continue to go through the many stage of expat bliss – and abyss. I have made a few friends.  I see that there is more diversity and variety in thought among Israelis than had been apparent before.  I experience incredibly warm people who volunteer to help me at every turn.  I also feel more hopeless about the situation here than before I moved here. Call it a loss of innocence.

I don’t want to go home, that much I know. I’m too invested in this move. Yet I am a bit adrift. I want to deserve to be here. I want to earn my right to be here and to be a part of the fabric of Israel for no other reason than that my soul feels more at home here than anywhere else.  I feel that I am being restored here in ways that I cannot explain. Something about the history of this little nation that could. Something about the passionate, generous, stubborn people here is refreshing to me. Here life feels precious, it feels real.  I just hope that someday I feel as if I belong.





About the Author
Julie Gray is a story editor and nonfiction writer who made the leap from Los Angeles to Israel almost seven years ago and has many (mostly) humorous adventures ever since. A longtime Huffington Post contributor and self-described "Hollywood refugee", Julie works with writers all over the world on fiction and creative non-fiction books. Her own memoir, "They Do Things Differently Here" is an understatement and a work in progress. Julie heads up The Gidon Project, a collaborative memoir about the nature of memory, the spirit of resilience, the Holocaust the art of aging well and other lessons learned from one man's life. Julie's favorite color is "swimming pool" and when she's not working with and wondering about words, she loves to knit "future gifts" in her beloved Big Red Chair.