Today I have an Israeli passport, and I live in Jerusalem – two facts that are probably the most important statements I can make about myself. In the intervening decades I have traveled thousands of miles in physical distance; but in philosophical terms, you would have to measure the journey in light-years.
It happened in a surprising way. In the early 1950s, I wanted to travel but the idea of coming to Israel never entered my consciousness. I wanted to be a writer, and for me at that time it meant England, with the legacy of Shakespeare, Dickens, Byron, Shelley, Keats... all the role models from my school days.
So I went to London to work and study and when I returned to Australia, by sheer coincidence (or that is what I thought), I married a religious and Zionist Jew, who felt that our four children needed contact with Israel to understand that they had their own land and their own people. So we came to “look around” and 51 years later I am still here (though sadly, my husband passed away), with all of our children having served in the IDF, graduated university, married, and given us 18 wonderful Israeli grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren.
It is tempting to say that I fell in love with Israel instantly and our aliyah was an immediate success, but it would not be true. The first few years were traumatic with enormous culture shock; a drastic drop in our standard of living; worry about the language, the economy, the security, and gnawing homesickness – a longing for family, friends, familiar places, even such trivia as the songs we used to sing; the newspapers we used to read; and the radio programs we had enjoyed all assumed ridiculous importance, like a drug addict with withdrawal symptoms.
But gradually, the feelings changed. The Yom Kippur War in 1973 had an enormous impact. Suddenly the whole country drew together, and despite the fear and the tragedy, it was wonderful to see Israel become a family, supportive and caring. I felt for the first time “these are my people.” We celebrated victories together, we grieved together when boys were killed – and they were ALL our sons.
As strange became familiar, I became involved with Israel in a way I had never been even with my birthplace. Everything that happened, good or bad, was significant to me personally. Sometimes, like after Entebbe, I walked 10 feet tall with pride; then, after terrorist attacks – and there have been too many to enumerate – I became angry at the world’s double standard that shrugged its shoulders at our anguish yet dared to condemn us when we retaliated. At times the government took decisions that hurt and disappointed me, and occasionally I saw instances of injustice. The bureaucracy can be infuriating and the quality of life sometimes leaves room for improvement, yet everything that happens affects me.
Independence Day over the years has assumed enormous importance. There is such a feeling of pride when I see the flags flying from cars and buildings all over the country. When I hear the words of “Hatikvah” being sung, even now, there are tears in my eyes. It is a day we start looking forward to from the minute Passover is over, and we plan barbecues and trips and a kumzitz around the campfire, singing Israeli songs as we roast onions and potatoes in the ashes. We thrill to the fireworks.
It is a day to be with family and close friends.
We put Israeli flags in the windows of our cars and on our balconies; and with all the citizens of this tiny, brave country, we show our pride that we have not only survived for 74 years, against all odds, but we have achieved greatness in almost every field of endeavor!
Once, if someone had asked me who I was, I would probably have described myself as a writer, a sometime poet, a dreamer, an idealist. I am still those things, although a few dreams got misplaced along the way, and some of the idealism has toughened into realism. Yet now, on Israel’s 74th Independence Day, if you asked me that same question, my answer would be: “I’m an Israeli.” And I say it with pride – and no regrets! ■
Dvora Waysman has 14 published books. email@example.com