I was 29 when I moved to Israel. I didn’t know the language and though I’d taken a few Hebrew lessons, was still unable to complete a full sentence.

The move from wherever you live to an entirely different place in language and culture is an exercise in intentional dislocation. Culture shock is the name of the game. I wanted it. Dislocation and unfamiliarity are what makes vacations special. If you go away, you don’t want everything to be “just like home.” If that’s how you feel, why leave home? If nothing is different, there would be little point in traveling. I know some people refuse to even consider travel abroad because they are afraid of trying to communicate in another language or (heaven forbid) eat strange food.

Baka, Jerusalem

When you move to another country where language and culture are different, you’re going to bang into a wall of culture shock which exceeds anything you might experience on vacation, but that’s what I wanted. Needed. the planetary change the move would bring was my goal. I wanted to be surprised by everything. I wanted to look out my window and see a world I could explore.

I expected I’d master the language. In this, I was unsuccessful. My son 9-year-old son learned more Hebrew in six months than I learned in all 9-1/2-years I lived there. He loved the country. It was, he says, the best years of his childhood. I don’t know how I’d summarize what it meant to me. It was wonderful, terrible, exalting, and humbling. It was everything I wanted and nothing I expected.

Mount Gilboa where the wild irises bloom in April

Once you’ve taken the leap from your native land to another land, you want to succeed in whatever drove you to make that move. I’m sure it’s different for every person who does it. In my case, I wanted to be as far away as I could from my father — for a whole pile of reasons — and from my ex-husband for completely different reasons. I didn’t speak the language or “get” the culture, but I wanted to. I also needed to communicate with people who knew me and would understand how I felt. In this, I was unsuccessful.

I needed to tell my store. Blogging had not been invented and computers were work items. They didn’t begin to appear in most homes until the 1990s. So I typed letters and mailed them. I was surprised at how little my American friends understood. What I found curious, amusing, and interesting, they found incomprehensible and frightening. While for me, the dislocation and subsequent confusion was the experience I sought, they found it terrifying.

Wild poppies in the Galilee

I badly needed to communicate. In the end, it turned out to be Garry to whom I wrote. Slowly at first, but ultimately, I wrote him every day. He wrote back every day. I told him everything. What we ate and how I’d learned to love coffee. How easy it was to find work, but how hard to find work that paid a living wage. We were undergoing the world’s worst inflation at the time. It hit 180% while I lived there and this was impossible to explain to anyone not living through it.

When I came back “home” in August 1987, I discovered Garry had saved all the letters I’d written him. Neither of us has written a letter since then. I wish I’d saved the letters. They weren’t written on a computer, so there’s no record of them. Computers were things you used at work in those days. It would be a few more years  before they began appearing in homes. So these were all “typewritten.” Never saved to disc.

Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem

I threw the letters away during our move from Boston to here. It was one of my more insane “when in doubt, throw it out” periods and I think I was mad at Garry for not helping me with the packing. I tossed so much material I wish I had today. This is a cautionary tale for all of you who are trying to “minimize” your possessions. Some things which appear to have no value are worth more than those officially “valuable” items. I should have saved the letters and tossed the dresser. The letters contained nine and a half years of memories that are a little mistier with each passing day.

Throw out your stuff. Save your memories.

Categories: Anecdote

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21 replies

  1. I have a letter-crazy (and card producing) friend. The motto being: Give love. Send a card!!! I still write letters, take my time with them (which usually makes my Christmas greetings and time-related writings several days late to arrive)- My father gave me some of my letters I sent from Canada to my parents, shortly before he died. I have no idea WHERE they are now, I believe they were lost. But I live in hope that someday they turn up somewhere in a thick folder or so. I would never ever throw them out.


  2. That was our thoughts when we travelled. We wanted to see another culture, language, food and tradition. How else can you learn about other peoples unless you walk with them?


  3. Throw out your stuff. Save your memories.
    I like it. Can I quote you?


  4. That photo of the poppies is exquisite, Marilyn!


  5. I know exactly what you are saying about entering a country that is totally foreign to you and having to live and work init and learn all the customs, politics, language, etc. I had only 2 years and three months of it, but it was quite an experience, and some of the best d ays of my life were spent in Slovakia. We do manage to adapt though, don’t we?


    • I dated men who didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak either Russian or Hebrew, yet somehow, we went out for a couple of months until he decided to go live in the disputed territory which I didn’t want to do at ALL. He was religious and a hawk. I was anti-religious and a dove. And all of that, without language. Amazing 😀


  6. This is a good post to think about. Write Gary a letter. Paper, pen, postage stamp. It will feel good. I still write “real” letters to friends, and they write back. We’ve forgotten how wonderful it is to get mail! To see our friend’s handwriting. I don’t save them all, but I do have a little box that I put the odd one in, just because.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually write so badly now I don’t think I could. Anyway, Both Garry and I TYPED all our letters. Even back then, we had basically lost our handwriting. Now, I can’t even read my own shopping lists. I started touch-typing when I was 11 years old and I haven’t written anything (but my signature and whatever is required to fill out forms) in more than 50 years. At least no one can copy my signature. But I do write people offline quite a lot. Email is a great thing, even without being handwritten. Actually, of ALL the things we’ve invented for computers, I think email is the absolute BEST. Garry still sends cards and writes a paragraph on each one. We used to send Christmas cards, but eventually, it not only got absurdly expensive (the price of good greeting cards is bizarrely expensive), but out mail is very slow out here. It wasn’t great in Boston, but here, you can send a letter just down the road to town and it can easily take two weeks — if it even gets there.

      Every time I mail something, I wonder if it got there. And they don’t let you track anything anymore. You used to be able to pay an extra 50 cents to track first class mail, but at least a decade ago they eliminated it. They don’t have nearly enough deliverers anywhere, and in rural areas, where you REALLY need them, even fewer. Mailman used to be an honorable job. Now, it’s like UPS, but without the benefits and better pay.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh my Marilyn! I guess I should feel really fortunate that we have such good mail service. I had to laugh about your inability to read your own writing – I have my good penmanship I reserve for letters and my real penmanship that is also nearly illegible. I use the note feature on my cell phone to write my shopping lists because if I scrawl it on a piece of paper, I’ve been known to not be able to read it once in the store! Especially right now, I don’t want to spend any more time than necessary in the store!

        Liked by 1 person

        • This post and your discussion here have inosired me to finally pick that pen back up and write out the Holiday/End of the year update letter that I have been thinking about since November (it has been decades since I have sent out christmas cards butI always tellmyself I am going to and there was something super special about the annual updates a few old family friends continued to send, even after the advent of computers and “smart”phones and social media. It is time for a return I think to that slower communication again, for some special people atleast♡ thanks for the inspiration!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I send electronic cards, but none of them have any writing in them, so I write something special for each person. But, to be fair, I write for this blog everyday and pretty much anyone who cares knows exactly what we are doing, thinking, seeing. If I ever needed privacy, I think it’s gone for good and all. But for me, blogging is like have many friends all over the world. I may not write by hand, but I write every day and I have — unless I was too sick or in the hospital — every day for more than 8 years. Almost 9 years. That’s got to count for something.


          • Think how special that little hand-written note will be in this time of chaos! I like to think of it as a welcome pause, and connections of all types are so important right now. Have fun!


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