It has taken me 19 long years to feel like I really belong in Israel, but let’s face it, I’m never going to be able to say, “I’m Israeli,” without a questioning eyebrow being raised.
I don’t look like an Israeli, despite the many colors of our rainbow. And even though I speak Hebrew well, you can still catch my Anglo accent.
I haven’t learned the necessary Israeli life skills of pushing in or shouting to get what I want, though I have developed a tolerance and sneaking admiration for those who do.
I’ll never be able to swap army service stories, because I came here when I was 27 and already married, though I do have a few to tell about my husband’s reserve duty.
I’ll never be able to talk about my grandparents being Holocaust survivors, or overcoming the primitive conditions of an Israeli immigration camp, because I’m a Jew-by-choice, though my knowledge and compassion for those who suffered swells with each year.
I hope I’ll never have to mourn a loved one who was murdered just for being a Jew, or killed defending their country, though I hold my breath every time I turn on the news and will send my first-born son to the army next year.
In almost two decades here, I have lived through four wars, an intifada, many bloody terrorist attacks, and six changes of government. I’ve given birth to three sabras (Israeli-born) and adopted one German-Jewish teen who needed a weekend family.
I’ve taught English to Israelis in four schools, served on PTAs, voluntarily guided seven women through the first six months of motherhood, and have written hundreds of comments in international publications about biased journalism, or in support of this country.
I’ve learned to love the directness of Israelis and filter out the candid unasked-for advice or rudeness. I’ve learned to love the brash language full of impolite imperatives and sweet sweet endearments. I’ve learned to shimmy to Mizrahi music and make shakshuka like a Moroccan mama.
And as I did, I found that I didn’t need the foods I missed from home so much anymore. I didn’t need Bloomingdales, or Bath and Body Works, or to read Cosmopolitan, or watch “Oprah.” I still love those things and pounce on them when I go home, but I don’t miss them, not nearly half so much anyway.
This is the life of an immigrant. You have to work to belong. You have to serve your time. You have to claim some space. You have to lose some of your old to make way for the new. You have to really feel it, knowing that you will probably always remain a touch outside.
As I celebrate my 19th Independence Day in Israel, listening to the sounds of our favorite Hebrew songs and cooking up a barbeque with a group of friends, I’m thinking about how this country has absorbed and served so many people like me. Those who came out of religious belief or Zionism. Those who came to escape anti-Semitism, or because they had nowhere else to go. Those who came because they married an Israeli or just wanted a different or better life. Those who came and tried and left, but carry Israel with them always. Those who love and support us from afar.
Israel is our home, for better and for worse, with much to improve upon, but where we are free to be who we are and perhaps, one day, live in peace.