RACHEL LORD and her husband, outgoing Australian Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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.
On a personal note, being an ambassador’s wife has been a challenging role. In a society where we value professional life over the personal, giving up a career to be a full-time mum and wife – and to be somewhere purely by virtue of my husband – has left me feeling at times invisible and frustrated. It’s sadly a rare occurrence to be asked about yourself – not your husband or your kids – at dinners, cocktails parties, receptions and events that fill this life. You have to work a little harder to prove that you are a thinking, intelligent person, not a dressed up accessory on your husband’s arm. And sometimes I’ve just had to smile and take long, hard gulp of my wine when its clear that someone thinks otherwise.
While I know I was very fortunate to have this time with my daughters, I missed working and the recognition it brings in our society. I hope for my daughter that careers will be better recognized for the valuable contribution they make to our society and our future. And I hope that men will see a bigger role for themselves in this sphere.
I also hope that our governments will better recognize the contribution partners make to the success of a diplomat’s posting. These partners, predominately women but also men, give up their lives to move to another country for their partner’s career. They support their children through tough transitions, forge new friendships and attempt to keep themselves busy in foreign environments where sustaining a career can be a challenge. As president of the Diplomatic Spouses of Israel, I worked hard to reform the group to better reflect the reality of modern diplomatic partners. But our governments still need to do better in acknowledging the sacrifices and contribution of these vital assets.
We leave Israel very different people to those who arrived four years ago. We are richer people, with a better understanding of a wonderful country, its people and the leading religions of the world. We know Israel as a country beyond the conflict that can define it internationally and as a place that is more complex than most will appreciate. Once the novelty of being at home wears off and we are no longer charmed by the sounds of those familiar birds in the trees, we are going to feel a deep emptiness in our hearts. We will miss Israel. And while we may no longer be Australia’s ambassadors to Israel, we will be very proud ambassadors for Israel to the world.