Let me tell you about a dream I had last night.
I was with people, I can’t remember their faces. We were talking, laughing even. I was wearing my grey suit, the one that doesn’t fit anymore; and at some point in the conversation I left, just turned and walked away. I started walking alone when I saw her. I saw my mother, who passed away over eight years ago. Her hair was long, like before she had cancer, and her face was glowing with the smile that lit up every room she ever graced. Before she opened her mouth to speak the voice I’ve long since forgotten the sound of, every one of my family members started walking towards me. Cousins, aunts and uncles, everyone on my mother’s side of the family decked out for some formal event. Shocked by seeing them all, I asked them what they were doing there, they told me don’t you remember, your cousin had another baby. I looked over to my cousin, hearing her voice introducing me to the newborn, and in my dream, I remembered feeling the envelope but ignoring an invitation to the event. I never showed up. They were all together, and I was alone.
It’s been over six hundred and eight days since I last saw a member of my family in person. It’s been over eight years since I last heard my mother’s voice in real life. Six hundred days since I’ve seen my old friends from high school, friends from my old community, and the entire network of people you gain as you build a life in a place. I chose to come here, to this country, knowing I was going to give that all up; but I didn’t know how much it would hurt to not be able just be in the same room as someone you share blood with, someone you share history with, someone that you’ve made memories with. I spent nights sleepless with regret about the choices I’ve made, and the time I wasted not spending it with family and friends. I live with the choice that I made to put myself halfway across the world, and especially in these times, never knowing when, or if, I will ever see my family and friends again. It’s great to see someone over video or get an encouraging message; but there is nothing that can replace the feeling of embracing and being with people you love.
It’s hard to be so alone here.
One of the questions I’m constantly asked by sabras, native Israelis, after they find out I’m an oleh is if I have any family here. Other olim ask the same thing, having lived lives where families made aliyah together, either out of ideology, faith, or the million other reasons people come here. It’s always a little disheartening to say no, it’s just us here, plus our dog. We have no one to invite us for holidays, no place to sleep over for Shabbat, or no family in another city to visit just to get a change of scenery. In a country where the birth rate is high, and big families are not unusual, to be a lone couple with only distant relatives in the country is an oddity. We must rely on making friends to have anything compared to a family; and even that can change. One move, one lost job, one pandemic, one release from the hospital and the people you relied on to make up that hole in your heart are gone.
It’s hard to be so alone here.
But the thing is, as much as I miss every one of my family and friends, no matter how hard life has gotten here, and it definitely has, I can still never see myself moving back to America. I love this place too much, I love the people here, I love everything it stands for; I believe in this place with all of my heart and soul.
Let me tell you a story about a minimarket.
A ten-minute bike ride away from us is another neighborhood in our section of Netanya. Whereas my neighborhood is filled with green spaces and big houses (of which I live in the basement of one), this one is what would be called more “working-class.” There are more religious people, more immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia, and the houses are older and closer together. Today, I had to go to a minimarket to pick up a package (don’t get me started on our crazy postal system). I’ve been there several times, and I had looked at renting the very bad apartment behind it when we were looking to move here. It’s got your standard little market, but out front is a covered area with a TV where guys from the neighborhood are always sitting, drinking beer, and talking about every subject under the sun. I had been biking around for a while, so I decided to sit on a seat a little further from the main circle, thinking I could just drink my drink and people watch a little. This being Israel, that’s impossible; and soon I was being half-interrogated/half-drawn into the conversation. I ended up getting another drink and staying there way past when I should have left. When I got up to leave, two of the guys made sure to come up to me and give me their names and told me to come back. I had never met either of them, but here was a Dutchman and an Ethiopian guy asking me to join them for drinks again. Before I left, I looked around the circle, and most were olim like me. I wished them a good night and a happy holiday before Hanukkah, and they did the same to me.
It is moments like that get me through the loneliness of missing my own family. I know that I moved to a country that is one big family, just you sometimes you haven’t met one another yet. People look out for each other, people embrace one another with warmth and not suspicion, and they laugh and live together like family, whether they were born in France, the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Russia, or all the way in the United States. This is a country founded by people who envisioned a homeland for a people, a refuge for the displaced, and a home for the sons and daughters of their forefathers and foremothers. Israel is a fitting name, because his children fill this land, related by blood and by faith. The people walking the streets, manning the buses, even the guys sharing beers in a minimarket are all one family, one people.
It’s hard to be so alone here but having a country as my family helps.