I am a non-Jewish, German lesbian living in Israel…
The first thing people generally ask when they meet me is: “Barbara, what are you doing in Israel?” followed by, “When did you make aliyah?” I used to hesitate before answering, replying instead with a question of my own: “Do you want the short answer or the long answer?”
After living in Israel for five years, I now give the short answer. I met my partner while on vacation six years ago, and now live in Kfar Saba with our 4-year-old son.
It wasn’t always easy for me to answer questions like these. I have heard things like “you have no right to be here because Israel is only for Jews.” Worse still are the reactions to the fact that I was born and raised in Germany. I’ve lost count of the number of dirty looks I’ve gotten for that.
I first experienced this reaction when I came to Israel as a young adult volunteer with Action Reconciliation and Service for Peace, an organization that fosters personal reconciliation between victims of the Holocaust and Germany. The project I chose included working at Yad Vashem, and Ilanot, a group home for children with special needs. People I met there were fine with my being here as a volunteer because it meant that I would eventually return to Germany. But that changed when decades later I came to Israel to stay.
So what is life like for this non-Jewish, German lesbian in the Land of Milk and Honey?
My first four years here were very difficult. Everything was challenging. I didn’t feel welcomed. While olim have an entire government department devoted to their issues, I was repeatedly told, “No, you can’t,” “No, you have to wait,’ and ‘What — no teudat zehut?’ Add to that poor Hebrew, a baby at home, adjusting to a culture of chaos, and missing a full life in Pittsburgh, where I left a house, a flourishing business, and a thriving social circle behind, and what you get is a toxic situation.
So what changed?
Over time, my Hebrew improved. I bought a car. I made friends. I found work. I became more comfortable with the lay of the land. Ordinary tasks like grocery shopping, which had produced feelings of anxiety and helplessness, got easier. I began to feel that I was in control of my life once again.
But it wasn’t until I made a conscious decision to commit to living in Israel that things began to turn around.
As an executive coach, I work with the subconscious and unconscious parts of the brain to help people identify beliefs that hold them back. When it comes to trauma, I have a lot of empathy. I had a traumatic childhood and have experienced my share of discrimination as a gay woman. Israelis have experienced plenty of trauma, and I can certainly understand why so many feel suffocated here. In fact, they are often baffled that I voluntarily choose to live here.
I firmly believe that our conscious and subconscious beliefs shape our experiences. If I believe that nobody wants gay, German, non-Jews in Israel, then I will experience exactly that. On the other hand, when I believe that I, Barbara Schwarck, am welcome here in Israel, then guess what? I will be. This may sound overly simplistic. However, neuroscience has much to say about manifestation, creation, and making things happen.
Take negative thoughts for example. The longer we have negative thoughts, the more likely we are to continue to have them. The brain uses less energy and it’s more efficient to maintain the status quo. Dr. Tara Swift, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, tells us that every time we have a negative thought, a specific neural pathway is formed. The more negative pathways we accumulate, the more space they take up. However, when we replace negative thoughts with positive ones, the positive thoughts become dominant. Positive thinking changes the way you feel about yourself and leads to behaviors that are rooted in positive action.
What does all of this have to do with me?
What does this have to do with me? Every time someone was telling me that I didn’t belong here or when I was anxious because I couldn’t find things in the grocery store or felt out of control, I was reinforcing my negative thinking that I didn’t belong here. Once I used my own tools and realized what I was doing, I was able to turn it around for myself rewiring negative beliefs, using positive affirmations, visualizations, and setting intentions and goals for myself. I believe this to be a key component of success. The clearer you are about your goals, the easier it will be to feel like you belong. It didn’t take long and my experience changed and today I am happy to share with you that I am thrilled to live in Israel. I have loved Israel since I first set foot on it at the age of 16 and I am blessed to be here.
And what does this have to do with you?
The next time you meet a stranger in Israel — any stranger — who is in Israel for perhaps different reasons than you, or has a different circumstance than you do, stop and remind yourself that what you say (and don’t say) matters. Why? Because what we put out in the world creates an impact that relates far beyond our beliefs about ourselves. We each can choose to be negative and judgmental, or we can choose to be positive and welcoming. We all have the ability to exude the energy that we choose. I invite you to make a conscious decision to contribute positively to someone else today who is different from you in some way; race, creed, color, or circumstance.