Cheeseburgers In Paradise
By Hilary Faverman
I've been in Israel 8 years, bought and sold 2 homes, given birth to 3 children - and just this week I admitted (to myself) that I am "permanent" here.
Just today, I finally spent the stipend that Nefesh B’Nefesh graciously threw my way when I made Aliyah back in 2004. I didn't spend it on anything of consequence - like a fabulous weekend away with my hubby or an iPhone 5. I used most of it, unceremoniously, this morning on groceries, an oven repair, I forked some over for a parking ticket (ok, more than one) and I brought home some rain boots for the kids adorned with a mischievous looking frog.
Spending the Nefesh grant money was a big step for me. Granted, it's not a make-us-or-break-us-financially kind of sum. It had a quiet home in a small online account and didn’t bother anybody. It just sat there in money purgatory, a private symbol for me of our impending return to America. Every year I've smiled a satisfied smile and responded to my patient husband with a very consistent answer - "but Honey, technically, we need to give that money back when we leave." A little commitment-phobic, yes.
I am not your run-of-the-mill immigrant. No one noticed the tear stains on my application, and I'm confident that all the other new American immigrants on the plane over here chanting Am Yisroel Chai (for those not in the know - the Nation of Israel lives) paid no attention to the horror-stricken look on my face while we deplaned to welcome signs and an official Israeli army ceremony.
My friends threw me a going away brunch in a tiny Manhattan apartment the day prior to my departure. They were all thrilled for me - I was living the Aliyah dream. Except that it was never my dream. Israel was never in my sights, my destiny, my plan or my heart.
I stayed as far as I could away from the raucous AIPAC gatherings on my Midwestern college campus. They were full of frizzy-haired, passionate Zionists to whom I did not relate.
As an American Jew, I was raised to love Israel - we all were. It was presented as a haven, a necessary place to run to if and when things got bad. Not a place to voluntarily raise a family; simply a place to send a check between morning Rosh Hashanah services and sitting down for brisket.
Then I fell in love with an Israeli. Not any Israeli, mind you, but an Israeli who promised me that he had no interest in ever returning to live in Israel. We met in San Francisco and my life changed. Literally. He came to me smelling of Greyhound bus and possibilities.
Two months later, I quit my climbing-the-career-ladder professional agency job, broke the lease on my one bedroom with two walk-in closets bay-windowed apartment, laid out all my possessions on the sidewalk and sold them off one by one, and we took off together for Honduras to learn how to scuba dive.
Imagine the call to my mother.
My Israeli and I travelled together for several months. My friends warned me "He's going to abandon you in Guatemala!" He didn't blink - trusted me implicitly. As anyone who has ever fallen in love knows, the world sparkled. We had absolutely no goal but to conquer it together, and we did.
Not only did we earn scuba licenses, we were honored guests at a Tongan wedding, attended an evangelical revival in Fiji, swam with penguins in the Galapagos Islands, discovered old American RPG's in Vietnam, and indulged in decadent meals in Belgium.
Over the next few years, we took turns between backpacking the world and working round the clock to save for the next trip. We lived in Boston and New York City between trips and vacillated between the corporate life and the traveling life. Sandwiched between adventures, we got married twice - first in an elaborate traditional Jerusalem religious ceremony, and afterwards by Elvis in Vegas. Really.
Eventually, as couples do, we began talking about having children. We were in Manhattan at the time living the East -Village Double-Income No-Kids life. We spent Saturdays combing the city for the best Chinese takeout, after waking up at 11am.
Then: the bombshell.
My wonderful husband says to me: "I think it's time to go home." Now, to me, 'home' is Milwaukee. My first job was asking if you'd like fries with that at Kopp's. I’m a Milwaukee girl at heart so, while I was surprised to learn that he intended to move to my childhood stomping grounds, I was game. Well, he laughed.
Apparently, "home" didn't mean bringing up our future children as mallrats at Bayshore. "Home" meant returning to Israel. I was shocked.
I spent some time being angry; I felt betrayed. After all, he had never expressed such an interest, and even actively declared that he never had any intention of returning. He was American-born, so I considered our lives, our future, and any offspring we'd produce as Americans-to-be.
Yet here we were: he felt strongly that raising a family in Israel was advantageous and we hotly debated this topic for more than a year. Ultimately, I was faced with a decision - which was more important to me - my husband or my address? My marriage or my culture? My love or my language?
I acquiesced and we prepared our move to Jerusalem. For a year. On a trial basis. We arrived with a planeload of near-frenzied-with-excitement Olim (new immigrants) and proceeded to spend the next two weeks wading through Israeli bureaucracy to get me established as a citizen with rights to work, receive health care and attend state-sponsored Hebrew classes.
A month later, I was pregnant (there's something in the water here, I swear) and later that year, found myself home with a fussy newborn in a new place, with no friends, no ability to converse, no career and no clue. And Facebook didn't even exist yet.
Slowly, I began to learn the language. I have no penchant for languages. It took me three solid years of daily Hebrew lessons to get to the point where I could joke with the guy selling me my pita. It took me longer than that to open my taste buds to Israeli food (fried garbanzo beans?).
Our first 6 years in Israel were in Jerusalem. I made some friends, which is decidedly easy to do when you have small children: shoot the toddler-toting, Cheerios-rationing, bags-under-her-eyes mother next to you at the gymboree a knowing look, and she's happy to swap potty training war stories with you in any language you can muster, covered hair or not.
Making my way through Jerusalem’s unspoken rules, I was progressing nicely and learning to successfully navigate through preschools, supermarkets, and the like. It was the distinctiveness of Shabbat in the Holy City that was still problematic to my ability to integrate and feel at home. No one wants to take off to the beach with you on a Friday afternoon. Everyone is preparing for Shabbat. Saturday afternoons are nap time (I'm not joking - the whole city is silent between 1pm and 3pm).There are two places to buy a cheeseburger. (Now there are more thanks to the growth of inclusive efforts in the city.)
I was left to ask myself: if Israel is the place for Jews, and I am a Jew, but I'm so alone in being secular here, is there a place for a Jew like me in today's Israel?
This question rocked my world for a long time.
Could I eventually develop a love for this land, its people and culture if I am so utterly alone in my thinking and lifestyle? Is there anyone else here who makes challah every Friday and rocks mishloach manot like nobody's business, but doesn't believe in God? I felt like I was a non-Mormon attempting a life in Salt Lake City, and failing.
Last year, we decided that we could no longer fight the uphill battle in Jerusalem. We felt stunted and repressed. We had not found many like-minded friends. Our neighbors yelled at us for barbecuing on Friday night. We made a major decision to relocate to a moshav 30 minutes away in the Judean Mountains.
Picture an organically-grown gated community of about 100 families resembling a mix between a country village and a suburb. Historically agricultural, moshavim are currently residential, comprised of private houses with yards rather than multi-family apartment buildings. What a change for me after living in big cities for the last 18 years!
Suddenly, not only did I wake up, look out my window and see forest, but the local English-speaking community invited us to a pot luck barbecue on a Friday night! Here were families like mine, and they were proudly loving and embracing Israel. Prospering in Israel. Passionate about securing not only Israel's future, but building and fostering a life in Israel where we could all feel comfortable.
People here, especially those who have consciously uprooted their comfortable American lives to raise families in Israel - they are genuine. I discovered that the immigrants here are so dedicated to this land and securing its future as a Jewish State that they care infinitely less about things that challenged me when I lived in the States. No one notices whether I'm wearing this year's fashion, or any fashion at all.
When I look around, not every woman has her toes painted. When my girlfriend asks me if I want to join her for dinner at a local steak joint, and my answer is "money's pretty tight this month, how about I come by for coffee instead?" I am greeted with no judgment and simple acceptance.
Nobody bothers trying to be or present themselves as something they are not. I did not feel this sense of camaraderie, community, clarity and higher purpose in the States - not in the Midwest where I grew up, not in California, New York, DC, Chicago or Boston. Yes, I looked in all of those places.
As I became more entrenched in the community here, I began to understand the motivations for the people who moved to Israel purposefully. Those nutcases with me on the plane who were attempting the horah next to the drink cart gave up Target, baseball, Stove Top Stuffing because they recognized their need for something more inspiring to live their lives by, and did something about it. Me? I followed a Vin Deisel look alike with dimples.
I jog in the woods near my house three days each week. A few days ago, while jamming to Beyonce and avoiding a mud puddle, I came upon a herd of gazelle. I stopped short to catch my breath and drink in the scene.
Here I was, panting, and something occurred to me: mother of three, home owner, manager of a successful company, happily married, and exercising on a sunny Wednesday morning in January. Its paradise, and I belong here.
have a place in Israel.
I can be who I am and love this land - those two ingredients
are not mutually exclusive.
Although I've been amassing titles all my life, as everyone does - the list which initially included wife, mother, daughter, boss, friend, foodie, runner.....now includes Zionist.
Finding my place in Israel taught me that Israel has a place in me.
Hear more from Hilary in her blog and through her podcast.