For the last nine and a half years, I’ve been trying my hardest to be an ISRAELI. I’ve been hampered in my quest to be an ISRAELI by a couple of major drawbacks: it took me three years before I even had a chance of understanding what my kids’ teachers were telling me at the PTA (Even now, I mostly just smile and nod…)
And secondly (and this one I’ve only just realised) – I’m actually not an Israeli.
How can I be? My formative years were spent in London and Canada, and until I was 16 we weren’t doing anything very ‘Jewish’ at home. I went to a non-Jewish school, and I obsessed over all the things my non-Jewish friends obsessed over: George Michael, clothes and Back to the Future.
It’s not very spiritual, is it? It’s not very Jewish. It’s not very ISRAELI.
And for the first twenty years of my life, that’s what I had hard-wired into to my soul: British non-Jewish culture, with all its sarcastic humour, beer and obsession with pies.
I’d taken a lot of the more obvious rough edges off in London, before I made aliya. We were keeping kosher, keeping Shabbat, learning Torah, hanging out with Jews.
So in my head, I thought I’d step off the plane at Ben Gurion, pick up Hebrew in two weeks, and then have a bunch of cool sabra friends called Ilanit and Roni to hang out with.
But that’s not exactly what happened.
We landed in a very ‘anglo’ neighbourhood, and quickly outgrew it. I wanted real Israel; I didn’t move to Israel just for my kids to feel like expat Brits. So we moved to an ISRAELI settlement across the Green Line, and I tried my darndest to fit in.
Three years’ later, my kids spoke Hebrew really nicely, and their friends were all Israeli, which I thought was so cool, until they started beating my children up on the way to school.
I don’t know how a real ISRAELI would have reacted, but I reacted by getting the heck out of there, and moving to a place that was a bit more civilised (read: socially repressed) and anglo.
For the first year, it was heaven. Then all the things that I don’t like very much about anglo culture resurfaced: the competition to be seen as a ‘success’; the clique-yness; the obsession with big houses and nice holidays.
This was in my super-duper-trying-to-be-frum-like-people-in-meah-shearim period, when I felt bad about doing anything more gashmius than buying a chicken leg for shabbos.
A whole bunch of things happened over the next three years, and to cut a long story short, we ended up in Jerusalem, very close to Meah Shearim, six short (but very long…) months ago.
Moving to Jerusalem sparked off a whole big identity crisis for me. I realised that I actually didn’t want to be chareidi; I realised that I actually didn’t want to be poor; I realised that making a good kugel was just not spiritually satisfying, however hard I tried.
And the last thing I realised, just last week, in the middle of the Shlomo Katz Chanuka concert, is that I actually don’t want to be ISRAELI any more. It’s not that any of these things are intrinsically bad, G-d forbid. They’re just not me.
This week, I paid my first visit to the Jerusalem Gap for about three years, and I picked up a new coat with fake fur on the hood. It looks so ‘anglo-in-Israel’ – and I love it.
I don’t know what all this means. What I can tell you, is that as I’m reclaiming all these parts of myself that I’ve been embarrassed or ashamed of, I’m feeling so much happier and settled and healthy.
No more beating myself up for liking beans on toast; no more disdaining myself for actually really liking that nice grey jumper in Zara; no more feeling like a worm, because I’m enjoying listening to music in English for a change (by the Maccabeats…)
I know it was all well-meaning, and spiritually-striving of me to try to be a holy Meah Shearim-type balabusta, but the big drawback was that it’s not me. I nearly killed myself trying to fit into those boxes, but G-d has been showing me time and again that I have a different way of trying to build the world, and to get closer to Him, and it entails going through Gap on the way to the Kotel.
What can I do? I know G-d wants me to serve Him happily, as me. And now that I’ve got my fake fur trim coat, I feel I’ve taken a giant step towards giving Him what He really wants from me: to be me, even with all my imperfections.