I moved to Israel in 1997, a starry-eyed 20 year old. And I loved everything about the country! Like an infatuated teenager, I ignored anything and everything that was bad or complicated about Israel, and just soaked in the holiness and camaraderie of being with my people in my homeland. — I want to love Israel again, I truly do. I want to walk around mesmerized by the finer qualities of Israel and Israelis, and to be able to overlook the minor complications of the country, since they are overshadowed by the great aspects.
But I don’t. And I don’t know how to again.
Right now, a bit over a year after my return, I feel like I’m still in survival mode. Or arguably avoidance mode. Instead of confronting the many things that irk me, I’m seeking ways to not have anything to do with them, whether it be by walking everywhere to avoid the stress of Jerusalem bus rides, or embracing online grocery shopping because every time I step out of the grocery store I’m trembling with frustration.
I want to take this moment to scratch the surface of why I fell in love with Israel my first time here, and what’s different now. Perhaps someone reading could help me get through all this, and maybe regain my earlier love.
I’m going to look at five reasons I loved it here in the past, and how things have changed for me personally.
1) Will I love Israel again? -Where I Came From
When I moved to Israel the first time, I came from New York City. New York is infamous for being extremely expensive, not having all that much room, and the classic NYC aggressive attitude. So a transition to Israel is not that much of a transition at all. The major cities here have apartments that are small and in lousy shape, and are way too expensive for what you get. And Israelis are notoriously rude and aggressive.
However, Jerusalem is giant and cheap in comparison to crazy ole New York. And the ridiculous driving and tough as nails attitudes prepares you for the rigors of Israel life.
This time around I moved to Jerusalem from Kansas City, kind of a paradise hidden in the middle of the US. My apartment was big, beautiful, and dirt cheap. Everyone in Kansas City is helpful and friendly. With each day of living in such a society, the culture shock of stepping into the Israel danger zone grows more and more challenging.
2) Will I love Israel again? -Age and Responsibility
I’ve often quipped that Israel is a fantastic place to live, so long as you have no responsibilities. And that is certainly true.
When I moved to Israel the first time, I was living the college student life, followed by several years in various yeshivas (schools of religious study). Even when I served in the Israeli army, life was mostly easy. But then I got married, had a kid. That’s when I rapidly started seeing the other side of Israel. The responsibility side. I started seeing holes in the system, and recognizing how far behind Israel was on so many levels. And how expensive it is!
Running into a little shop to get a snack is easy. Grocery shopping in Israel is quite hard. Living at a dorm cannot get any easier. The rental experience here honestly couldn’t be more challenging. And the list goes on and on.
This second time around it’s all responsibility, all the time. Four kids, work, lots of bills, and having to navigate all the crazy in a language I’ve far from mastered. When I moved here as a kid, learning Hebrew was a hoot. It was a hobby. Now it can literally be a matter of life and death.
Israel might be amazingly fun. But who has time for that? Life and responsibility have taken over, and in that realm, it’s all work and no play in the Holy Land.
3) Will I love Israel again? -Religion
Judaism is the backbone of Israel. When I came to here the first time, I was in awe every single day. Whether it be spiritual experiences at the Western Wall, walking down the street and seeing all the menorahs during Channukah, or the years I spent studying in yeshivah, everything was so incredible to me. I soaked it all in, and appreciated everything.
Loving everything about Judaism makes living in Israel much easier. You can justify all the garbage, and just bask in the holiness.
But I got older. And I got jaded.
When I go to the Western Wall, I feel nothing, except for how crowded and noisy it is. The menorahs have ceased to impress me and I don’t have the patience or energy to sit and learn for hours like I used to.
And because I no longer have that religious fervor, all the challenges of Israel stand out much more strongly than they used to. I don’t overlook anything, and all the many complications frustrate me to no end.
4) Will I love Israel again? -Jewish Identity and the Zionist Spirit
In a similar vein, I’ve lost that pure Zionist alacrity that made living in Israel not just incredible, but a fulfilled desire. An accomplished mission.
Again, it’s so easy to overlook Israel’s flaws when you’re simply enamored with the notion that you’ve finally returned to where you belong.
Furthermore, over the years I came to really appreciate what it means to have a Jewish identity outside of Israel. Simple actions (keeping kosher, wearing a Star of David, etc) are much too easy in Israel. They come with zero risk, and thus feel less rewarding.
Anything one does to identify as proudly Jewish outside of Israel comes with challenges. Those challenges make you a stronger person with a more refined Jewish identity. In Israel, you have to do much, much more to prove to yourself that you’re dedicated and caring, which can often be a slippery slope toward fanaticism.
I do not begrudge anyone’s powerful identities in Israel. I just wish them close personal relationships with people who can assist them to see who they are and who they are becoming, when they cannot do so for themselves.
5) Will I love Israel again? -Friendships
Finally, the thing I was most looking forward to in my great return to Israel was friendship. I found that my initial experience was so amazing due not only to the sheer numbers of amazing friends I had made, but by the depth of those friendships, and how quickly companions became very trusted, important parts of my life.
But everything’s different now.
When I first lived in Israel, I was always part of some time of framework. School, job, army, small community. Making friends was effortless. Everything was right there, and there was little pulling my attention away from socializing. But now I work from home. I pay the rent, buy groceries, clean my apartment. I’m extraordinarily busy, and frankly rather tired. And I just don’t have the energy to start over again. And the fact that people constantly seem to move away doesn’t do wonders for my motivation either.
So here I stand.
I live with my 14-year old son. He doesn’t like Israel. He constantly talks about wanting to leave.
I tell him the truth, and what I try telling myself every single day. We live here now. I could have taken a job in another city in America and we could have ended up in a community we didn’t like. It’s no different. Just farther. And wherever we are, we are responsible for our own happiness, and need to do whatever it takes to enjoy the community we’re in.
That being said, most people in the world have some say over where they choose to live. My son and I did not, at least not without terrible sacrifices that I will never make.
I so badly want to love it here and I so badly want to regain that religious spirit and Zionist passion. I so badly want to figure out how to make things work, and get out all the time and meet my amazing neighbors. And I truly want to put my complex past behind me, and move forward without bias and with a keen optimism.