Today is officially six months that I am an Israeli citizen. It doesn’t seem possible that it is already one-half a year. I think I’ve lived more in these past few months than I have in the past few years. And yes, for those who are really curious, I’m still loving it.
Perhaps it’s the fact that I came here with no preconceptions. I left my ego and expectations at the airport. Perhaps it’s because I really had no idea what lay before me except that it was surely better than what I would encounter were I to stay in the U.S. Sometime, stepping into the void is preferable than sitting in the dark. At least, that’s the way it was for me.
My life has acquired its own routine, one that is relatively enjoyable. I still have Ulpan in the morning, but since I am now studying on my own in a separate classroom with a few other students rather than in with the majority of my classmates, I feel less pressured and can learn quicker. And also, what I learn seems to stay rather than evaporate, only to be replaced by the next major grammatical challenge. So slower is better, at least for me. After leaving class, I make my way home, pick up Rocco, and off to the Centre (note the spelling. It’s a British organization, hence I must write it in British English). Rocco gets settled into his warm mat, I lock him in the office, make my way over to the hadar ochel (dining hall), eat with the kids or madrichim and then come back to my office, with three slices of rye bread in hand. Rocco knows that will be the first thing he sees when the door opens and he’s ecstatic to get his special treat of the day. Rye bread. Good thing he’s a Jewish dog.
I am making a new community of friends here (that by no means replaces those of you back in the States). I have found many like-minded people who are artsy, willing to give their time and energy to those not as fortunate as themselves, and those who love to share and laugh. My calendar gets filled up pretty quickly, and I have love to take friends up on all last-minute invitations to Shabbas dinner, an impromptu pot-luck dinner, or meeting for a cup of coffee. Things are much-less planned here than they are in the States. The Israeli’s love to poke fun at the Americans: “Let’s have dinner sometime, shall we?” “Oh yes. That would be lovely. Perhaps in June, maybe on the 24th, 2013 at about 8:00 pm. I believe I’m free then. I’ll pencil you in.” Israeli’s say that this is how an American makes a dinner plan. Here it’s more like, “Knock knock. Hey, are you home? Just wanted to come and say hello! What’s cooking? Smells good! Sure, I’d love to stay for dinner!”
Taking Rocco for a walk now takes longer because I know more people. They stop and coo over Rocco and his large Poodle stature. They ask how I’m doing. How is my Hebrew going? And that includes my daily conversation with the elderly Ethiopian street sweeper. Always a smile on his face, always something nice to start my morning. Really now, is that such an awful way to begin your day?
And this is representative of the best of the best: The other night, the different groups of kids within the Centre had their version of American Idol or a Battle of the Houses. There were nine groups of kids who had been practicing their singing and dance routines. Together, we crammed about 500 people into the local music auditorium, while each of the groups took their turn lip-synching their routines (they had pre-recorded their singing earlier), while behind them a screen filled with shapes and colors formed the background to their routine. Some had props and cute home-made costumes.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this child smile as much.
Dancers from Battle of the Houses.
Let’s Dance! American Idol comes to Afula!
All the kids were in the “zone.” They were smiling, active, engaged, positive, and performing their hearts out. My favorite was the group of the little boys who wore silver bowler hats and had silver ties on. They did a routine that included the tipping of the hats (a la “All That Jazz”), a bit of hand jive, some cool street-wise moves (all kosher, of course), and each of the kids were featured with a mike to step up and sing their few lines. I wish you all could have seen it (we did film it). It was incredible. Each of these kids comes with a story that would make you cringe. But you’d never know they ever had a bad day in their lives if you saw them up on the stage. This evening wasn’t about entertaining us. It was about their self-image. About reassuring them they were entitled to be applauded, to be appreciated, to receive whistles and hoots of approval from their friends and family in the audience. It was about validation.
For some reason, I was chosen as one of the judges. Look out, Paula Abdul! I had to rate them on different scales. When I was called up to the stage to be introduced, Emmanuel, the co-director here who loves to call me “EEEEEeeeeeiiiiiilllllleeeeeene” added “Rebatzin” to my name. Could have fooled me! So there I was. Standing on stage in Afula (yes! I have finally made it to the big time!!!!!!), helping hand out the awards to the kids. Jumping, screaming, and even a chanting of “Ellin! Ellin! Ellin!” from the kids in the auditorium. Yup. It was grand. Can I tell you how proud I was and am to be part of the staff of this amazing place?
So here’s the roundup: A year ago, I didn’t know I’d be here. Israel wasn’t even a blip in my mind. Nine months ago I stood staring at the massive train hurtling toward me at a sickening speed. I knew I had to jump off the tracks and do what was ultimately (the pivotal word here) best for my children, but to which side? One side was to continue the hope that things would work out. Stay put. Sell the house, live with friends, be a sponge. The other side was dropping into the complete unknown. Sell the house and all your unused jewelry. Store things the kids would use one day at Fran’s house, go somewhere that offered you a job, medical benefits, unspeakable and unknowable challenges, but a future. A future. Not a wall. Not a feeling of being obsolete, unnecessary, unusable. Editors? Who uses editors anymore, especially ones with 25+ years of experience. Higher education? Not good. Makes you too expensive. Willing to take anything? No one believes you. “You’ll leave as soon as you find something better.” And they were right, I would have. Except something better never came along. Take anything just for medial insurance and hope against hope that something would come through? Is that a way to live at 55? With two children to feed and who were college age? What was the point?
I might have mentioned this before, but I’m not really a religious woman. Spiritual perhaps, but not religious. But I did pray a great deal last year. And with great depth and sincerity—Please give me clarity. Patience. The ability to see a future or an “out” when it presented itself to me, even if it was cloaked in unrecognizable trappings. Just let me take care of my children.
And then it happened. The most off-base, unexpected, extreme possibility. And I grabbed it before it disappeared. Partially because it wasn’t a complete “plan.” Grabbed it because there were so many un-knowables to it, which translated to me as possibilities, adventures, even. Another language to learn. OK. I’ll get it, eventually. Another culture to become immersed in. Great. Time to leave Connecticut and move on to more exotic roads. The timing wasn’t perfect (Zoe was still a senior in High School) but you don’t get to dictate a gift. And so the process propelled me almost as much as the desire to carve out a bit o hope for myself and my family. It was something to become invested in. Something to help me take control. To give me guidelines. Forms and interviews with the Jewish Agency. Decisions about what to keep, sell, give away. Divest. Divest. Cull. Vet. Detach. Re-evaluate, re-prioritize. Forget “publish or perish.” This was dancing on a knife’s point.
And I’m still loving it. I always miss my children, my brother, my friends. But I no longer feel as if my life’s future has been crossed out. I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. And in a way, I really don’t mind it. It keeps me guessing and enjoying the dawn of each new day. I certainly hope that feeling continues. But at least I know that what I have now is good. Purpose is good. Hugs from little children who haven’t known someone safe is good. Working with the people at Emunah who are devoted to their purpose is a gift. And it’s good.
Literally changing the future, one child at a time.
Unexpected, true. But wonderful? I do think so.