I can honestly say that the four and a half months traveling around Europe and the Middle East with my then husband was one of the best times of my life. On the flight home from Egypt, I nearly kissed the ground in Minneapolis and I wanted to hug everyone I met who spoke with that glorious Midwestern accent. But that feeling faded fast. Upon returning home to small-town Washington, I sank into a depression. Suddenly I was waking up in the same room every day seeing the same things and experiencing everything in English in an easy and familiar way.
One of the gifts from my mother is finding a way to be proactive and analyzing feelings to figure out what to do about them. So I went to the library and started researching how to live abroad. I decided that I would do whatever it took to live an expat life. I didn’t know where and I didn’t know when, but this was something that I would make happen.
On the kibbutz, I met a guy from Uruguay. I barely knew where Uruguay was, but I could safely say it was in South America. I had nothing in common with him other than the fact that we were both Jews participating in a Hebrew immersion course in Israel. It was nearly Passover and somehow we had a deep, animated conversation about matza balls. His grandmother and my mother made them exactly the same: they were lead balls that sank in the soup and sat in your stomach for days. And suddenly I understood what the notion of a Jewish People means in the sense of a shared history, traditions, and culture. Meeting Jews in the US still allows us to connect as Americans. But what do I know about Uruguay? I was connected to this stranger in a way that I could never connect with strangers in the US. There a friendship starts at zero and builds. With this guy, we already started at two and grew from there.
I had found the place, Israel the ancestral homeland of the Jews. The when was sooner than I expected. I turned my life upside-down and was living in Israel ten months after this matza ball moment.
Moving to Israel is called “making aliyah” in English. The verb in Hebrew is “to go up” (l’allot). Sixteen years ago this week, I made aliyah. Many people who come to Israel look back on their lives here and conclude that they’ve “made a life” here and they have been uplifted. They usually mean that they found their soulmate, got married, had kids, bought a home, and became part of Israel in some way.
That traditional path didn’t work out for me in the US and it hasn’t work out for me here. And yet, I still choose to be in Israel because I ran to Israel, not away from the US.
Here I was able to discover myself and define who I am. It’s been a slow process. It was only a few years ago that I gathered the courage to go to Thailand to learn Thai massage. I was 42 and apparently finally had the answer to life, the universe, and everything. I came home, quit my stable job (that was draining my life energy), and became a massage therapist and copy editor. I wouldn’t have even thought to enter the field of copy editing if I hadn’t lived in Israel. Even when I have exhausting days and stress myself over deadlines, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What has been uplifting to me in Israel is giving myself permission to live an expat life and exploring what it means to me to be part of the Jewish People. And the most uplifting thing – my true aliyah – is my journey of self-discovery.