When I first moved to Israel, before I got my full-time job here, I started networking in search of freelance writing work. I had already started writing this blog about my Aliyah experience and had gotten positive feedback from both friends and colleagues. One of my colleagues suggested I reach out to Kveller.com, a new blog for Jewish parents, thinking they would be interested in syndicating this blog or hiring me to write another.
I wrote to the editors at Kveller and pitched my blog idea, confident they would write back to me with a big, fat YES.
Pitch: Fun, snarky Jewish mom leaves the comfort of her chic New Jersey suburb with her husband and three kids to try to make it as a kibbutznik in Northern Israel.
The editors wrote back that they liked my writing style, but that they already had a cool Jewish mom makes Aliyah to kibbutz column.
There’s two of us?
Well, apparently there are. At least two of us.
The editors forwarded me Sarah’s blog post about moving to Israel, and I thought to myself, “Hmm. I guess I’m not so unique after all.” Sarah’s writing reminded me of my own, a blend I like to consider “tell-it-like-it-is honesty infused with snarky vulnerability.”
Figuring out that someone else had already pitched my idea and got the gig before me was a tiny blow to the ego, I’ll admit. Nonetheless, I secretly smiled knowing there was another Jen-like new olah mom out there.
So it was little surprise to me to see it was Sarah who wrote the article that popped up today on my Facebook news feed from The Times of Israel called, My Israel: A Land of Spoiled Milk and Honey.
The first half of the article was like reading the California Girl version of my life, or at least an alterno-verse version of the summer I first visited Israel in 1992.
I laughed at Sarah’s recollections of her first visit to the Kotel which were “spiritual” and “meaningful” and “fucking awesome.” And I smiled knowingly at what she recalled as her passionate statement to the Israeli passport control worker promising that “one day she would return.”
I remember being that passionate girl. I remember being madly in love with an Israeli soldier. Um, I mean, Israel.
I could also very relate to her experience of missing that connection to Judaism once she returned to the States after a very meaningful Jewish experience in Israel as a young adult. It happened to me, too. And I spent years searching unsuccessfully for it.
But what I couldn’t fully relate to, though I understand, were Sarah’s expectations that moving to Israel would somehow be a seemless transition into Israeli life and culture. That being a Jew in a Jewish land would translate into being loved and accepted by your friends and neighbors.
In fact, the one thing that drives me nuts about the “Aliyah Movement” is the idea that American Jews moving to Israel are, in fact, “coming home.”
That sentiment, when I am at my ugliest, makes me want to vomit. When I am feeling kind, it simply bewilders me.
Is this a common experience for the new Israeli immigrant? Or is it a P.R. campaign for the Jewish Agency? What percent of new olim truly feel, when they touch ground at Ben Gurion, that they are coming home?
This “Coming Home” slogan is plastered all over the Nefesh B’Nefesh marketing materials. It’s the titles of videos on YouTube. It’s written in permanent marker on poster board and embroidered onto hats. And all the time I think to myself, “Is it true? Are you? Do you?”
For a little while, the fact that I didn’t feel that way made me feel like a fraud, like an imitation oleh. Like the fake tofu version of a new oleh.
Where was the meat?
Did I really deserve this Aliyah if I wasn’t 100% sure Israel was my home? That this decision was the right one? That I would be happy here? That I would stay?
In the 16 months since I made Aliyah, I have come a long way. In the 16 months since my Aliyah, I have worked hard to make this country my home. I have worked hard to learn the language; to make friends; to take on challenges that scare me; and to be tolerant and even accepting of cultural difference that are so offensive to me that I want to jump on the next plane back to Newark Liberty International.
For instance, I have learned that I can both hate the Israeli woman up my ass in the line at the pharmacy and at the same time admire her for being ambitious and bold. I can both cringe at the reckless abandon of Israeli parents when it comes to their child’s safety; and at the same time, smile with pride at the independence my children have acquired since figuring out that falling 5 feet from the top of the jungle gym onto concrete really, really hurts. I can scream at the dogs who run off their leashes; and quietly be happy they’re around to bark at the would-be robbers.
I have learned to love and accept this country, and my community. And I still reserve the right to complain about her.
If that’s not home, what is?
The real problem lies not with Israel. Nor does it lie with immigrants who are constantly comparing their new home to their old one. And certainly, the solution is not, as some of the commenters on Sarah’s post would have one believe, “If you don’t like it, then leave.”
If anything, what we new immigrants need is compassion. Compassion for us from our neighbors, the ones who have figured it out already. And compassion for ourselves, as we understand that it takes more than a slogan or a birthright to feel at home.
Jen Maidenberg is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.This was first posted on her blog on May 1, 2012.