LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

Study Abroad — If you were asked to spend a year living in a different location, where would you choose and why?


This isn’t a theoretical question. I spent almost a decade living in another country. Many of us, for many reasons, choose to live far from our birthplace, sometimes for a while. Sometimes, for a lifetime.

By the end of 1977, I was at loose-ends. Closing a chapter of my life and looking for something else. Which is why, in January 1978, I tossed everything into a couple of trunks, got permission to take my son with me, and ran away to join the circus. Well, not the circus. I made Aaliyah and went to live in Israel which is similar. I had wanted to go there since I was an overly romantic teenager. I had a list of reasons for going, but the bottom line was a persistent hunger for adventure and a yearning for romance.

Where I used to live.

My marriage was over. I wanted to get on with life and being very far away seemed like an excellent choice. I wanted to put an ocean between me and my father. I sort of forgot this would put an ocean between me and everyone else, too My idea of Israel was gleaned from books, movies and Mom — but it sounded terrific. I was ready for the wider world. I wanted culture shock, to immerse myself in a different culture. I was bored, tired of suburban life. Wanted to do something big. I was eager for change.

I gave up everything except my son in exchange for my freedom. Divorce is easy if you hand everything to your ex and take a hike. I probably should have made a better settlement but I was young. Freedom was worth everything. Eventually I came to realize money mattered too, but it didn’t seem so important at the time. I got plenty of excitement. Layer on layer of history, ghosts of millennium walking with me on the walls of Jerusalem. I got the romance of discovery. It was the adventure for which I yearned.

I learned a lot in Israel. I discovered how provincial and ignorant I was. I learned how inaccurate the international press is, that everything you read about the Middle East is slanted. Sometimes, it’s completely untrue. As in “that never happened.” Sometimes it’s sort of true, but written in a misleading way. It’s always a little twisted.

Israelis are not of a single mind. Israelis don’t walk, talk and think in lock-step. If you know anything about Jewish culture, the idea that millions of Jews could live together and agree on anything (much less everything) is funny. Get three Jews in a room and you’ll have 4 — or more — opinions. With millions of Jews all packed together? Imagine the possibilities. When I am asked about Israel, I find myself saying: “It’s complicated.” Which translates to “The amount of time it would take me to answer your question exceeds any real interest you have in the subject. ” Where Israel is concerned, it’s always complicated. Because everyone is right. And wrong. Flaws and all, it’s the one place where Jews live by a Jewish calendar, where we aren’t a tiny minority. We need Israel. It’s not paranoia — it’s history. Without Israel, Jews are nomads, blowing with the winds of war and public opinion.

What brought me back? I’m American to my bones. This land is mine (join in for the chorus). I feel the seasons. I smell the salt air of the Atlantic. Trees are the right color in summer, and turn gold in autumn. After 9 years away, I needed to come home.

I’m glad I went away, glad I stayed, but most glad I came back.

34 thoughts on “LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

  1. It does broaden you sight on things. It’s funny I am not religious, but religion is interesting. One half of our school was of the jewish faith and where I live in england was a jewish area (Whitechapel, East London). since over the years, I realise that the religion lives and it seems to be a topic of discussion amongst the learned and the rabbis on how to interpret this and that, very interesting. I can understand your comments about the confusion amongst the natives in Israel to agree on something. I disappeared from England 46 years ago. Switzerland is a small country, so imagine the daily news on the TV. Five minutes Switzerland and the rest from all over the world to fill up the time. Yes you certainly enlarge your outlook on things living in a small country.

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    • It’s a big world and anyone who has never left home and visited another part of this big world has missed a lot. Reading about other places and living there are two very different experiences.

      It wasn’t religion that drew me to Israel, though that was interesting. What drew me was archaeology and history. Especially archaeology. Everything is so OLD. So much of world history happened there. There’s so much to explore. It’s a small country, but you could live there a lifetime and never see everything. There’s always another layer.

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    • I think that’s what people really MEAN when they say “it’s complicated.” You just know that whoever it is doesn’t want the whole story … and you don’t feel like getting that involved. Either you don’t feel like going there or you don’t think that person cares to listen. It’s a modern brush off, but most people let it go, probably because they know what it means. And they really DON’T care.

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  2. I still have dreams of Hawaii and the South Pacific. But at this stage in life, I’d need free first class travel and all expenses covered. Accommodations must include 2 bathrooms, A **comfortable** bed, air-conditioning, and a home entertainment system that includes baseball and movie channels. Everything must be on one floor. No stairs. Yes, I am no longer one and twenty. Neither is my Bride.

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    • And when you add it up? We’re better off staying home. We aren’t beachy people anymore, either. I don’t think you could pay me enough to be seen in public in a bathing suit. MAYBE a caftan. You still have a cut butt, though.

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  3. “I wanted culture shock” you sound like me :-). I met a few writers here online in our blog community and some of them are (how do I put it politely) very narcissistic individuals who lost touch with others by a mile. You are not one of them, you are down to earth…what you see is what you get. Love that about you.

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      • I think we all have our little secrets and share only what we feel is right. There are things only my husband and best friends know about men and that’s a good thing :-). Yes, indeed you are kind of WYSIWYG (took me two minutes to figure out what you meant lol)

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        • WYSIWYG (prounounced wizziwig) is a holdover from early word processing programs which were DOS based, so what you saw was NOT what you got. When Microsoft finally got Word to the point where it looked like the page would look when printed, that was the first true WYSIWYG application. It was a big deal. I forget that no one uses these terms anymore. I was involved in development in the early 1980s when a lot of stuff we take for granted now was exciting and new. I was part of the techno pioneer gen. Those were MY good old days 🙂

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  4. I can relate to this. I had a romantic notion of Austria after I saw The Sound of Music as a child. Believe me, my experience in Austria was nothing like my romantic dreams. I experienced a lot of discrimination and prejudice. So in the end I had no choice, but to go home. I still get on well with my ex-husband and he has been good to my children.

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    • Living outside ones native land is something everyone should do, at least for a year or two. It would improve many things. Too many Americans have never lived — or even visited — anywhere else. It makes them narrow-minded and provincial. I love the scenery in Sound of Music, but Austria and Germany have always been on my “avoid” list. For historical reasons.

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  5. I am reading The Source by James Michener. Have you read it? It was written in 1964, so the historical novel ends there. I’ve been interested in Jewish culture since I was a child and even wanted to live on a kibbutz after college. Thanks for your blog; I enjoy reading it daily with my morning coffee. At some point, I will resume writing more on mine.

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    • The Source was one of the books that made me interested both in Israel and in archaeology. Along with Leon Uris’ Exodus, it was probably the second most influential of the books I read. Kibbutz life is not for everyone, but it’s great for young people and kids.

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