I love hearing people from outside the Jewish world affirm what I know to be true about the State of Israel. Just this past week, for example, Rachel Lord, the wife of the outgoing Australian Ambassador to Israel, wrote a farewell letter to Israel that appeared in the Jerusalem Post (June 14, 2017).
I learned about the letter while listening to “The Promised” podcast (TLV1) when Allison Kaplan Sommer, one of its regular commentators, read a portion of Ms. Lord’s words. Rachel Lord is a human rights lawyer.
We leave Israel very different people to those who arrived four years ago.
We arrived in Israel a little under four years ago, a newly minted family of five. We had never visited Israel before and had no idea what to expect. Israel as a posting option was not on our radar – or, more correctly, it was not on my radar. Although Dave’s official story is that he was asked to take the assignment, I suspect he may not have been so surprised by the request. With an impression of Israel based solely on news reporting, I wasn’t excited by the idea of bringing my family somewhere that seemed so unsafe. But as we celebrated my birthday on our second day in Israel, enjoying incredible food as the sun set over the sea, we felt confident we’d made the right decision.
Yet, even after four years here, Israel has proved an elusive friend. I still don’t feel like I completely understand her. The language is an obvious challenge. Our foreign ministry assured us we’d get by fine with English, which of course is true for my husband operating in a professional setting but made things a little challenging for me as I attempted to navigate daily life. We’ve eaten sour cream with our muesli, used buttermilk in our tea and I’ve had a few quiet sobs in the car when things just felt all a bit hard. Israeli culture is unique and a challenge for those of us from Britain’s former empire, where we like our queues and our order, public politeness and personal distance.
And of course, the roads are where I realize I just have no idea how this place works. You all know things would flow much better and you’d all be much happier if everyone stopped jostling for the best position, respected queues, stayed within those white lines on the road, held off the horn, and didn’t hassle the old person crossing the road with a walker, right? And why, in the country that invented Waze and where people are glued to their smartphones, do people always pull over and yell (and I do mean yell) at you for directions?
Despite these challenges, there’s something endearing about Israel. It drives you insane but you can’t help but love it. The goodness at the core is unquestionably the people, who proudly live up to their sabra reputation. No one ever says thanks if you hold a door open for them or offers to help you if you have your hands full with bags and a baby, but the warmth is almost overwhelming when someone opens their heart and their home to you. We’ve been blessed to share meals and traditions with people from all over Israel. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about the different faiths that make this country so rich. The personal histories of the people that call Israel home have left us wide eyed. We’ve relished the centrality of family in Israeli society, where children are welcome everywhere and are valued and treasured.
We leave Israel very different people to those that arrived four years ago. We are richer people with a better understanding of this wonderful country, its people and the leading religions of the world. We know that Israel is a country beyond the conflict that can define it internationally and as a place that is more complex than most will appreciate.”