A harsh return to Israel after a blissful time in Italy - opinion

After a beautiful Passover spent in the gorgeous town of Portofino in Liguria, Italy, where time and space have a different beat, returning to Israel is pretty harsh.

 ‘A DIFFERENT planet’: The writer’s childen Sara and Chaim in peaceful Portofino. (photo credit: HADASSAH CHEN)
‘A DIFFERENT planet’: The writer’s childen Sara and Chaim in peaceful Portofino.
(photo credit: HADASSAH CHEN)

It may sound strange, but I hate this country because I love it so much. I suffer when I see it suffering. I feel it in my heart when I see my people fighting with one another.

After a beautiful Passover spent in the gorgeous town of Portofino in Liguria, Italy, where time and space have a different beat, returning to Israel is pretty harsh.

I am originally from Milan, Italy. My father has organized beautiful Passover and Sukkot programs all over Italy for the past 25 years. Every year, when we land in Italy for our Passover vacation, we are all bouncing with joy because we know that finally we get to breathe a little.

Even though my children and husband are staunch Israelis, they understand the Italian mentality of “I don’t care what goes on in the rest of the world as long as I am having my espresso in Italy.” Once you set foot in this land – that has the shape of a fancy boot – all your fears and anxiety leave your mind like magic.

Just go down any road in any town in Italy and you are greeted by “Ciao, bella”... and “Cappuccino for you today?” You are already smiling by 8 a.m., something that seems impossible when you live in Israel.

Italian flags. (credit: PIXABAY)Italian flags. (credit: PIXABAY)

Italy seems to have no problems, ever

Italians seem to be always coffee-ing, shopping, talking and eating with not a worry on their mind, and everywhere you look, it’s gorgeous. The market, the shops, the people, the fashion, the fruits and so on.

Portofino is really breathtaking. This little magic corner near the town of Genova, with its tiny beach surrounded by colorful buildings and gorgeous shops, gives the feel of being in a theater: It feels almost like a fake backdrop – the moment you close your eyes, it will all disappear.

 As I lay by the pool of the hotel and watched the boats in the distance, I could hear the fishermen in their small ships singing in Italian. I felt like I should be making a blessing to celebrate all this beauty and peace surrounding me.

That same day, we got the news from Israel of the killing of the Dee family members, Lucy and her daughters Maia and Rina. As I walked past the reception desk of the hotel to share the news, I was stopped by the manager, who is a small, elegant, wise woman named Anna. As she looked at me with a straight face, I thought she wanted to say a few words about the atrocity that had happened to our sisters in Israel. She had no idea, however, as no paper in Italy had written about it.

What do I do now with all this beauty of Portofino if my heart aches here and no one cares?

Anna approached me, wanting to share her views on Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruthless democracy. I faked a smile as she invited me for a quick espresso. We drank standing by the small bar, like all Italians do, and I watched her speak and speak, but my mind was in Israel.

What does she know about us, about democracy, about Right and Left? What can you know about dying for the love of your land and in the name of Hashem, for standing for what you believe? What can she know when she lives in Portofino?

I invited her to come and visit Israel, and she said would love to when the tourist season is over. 

AS WE land back in Israel, my oldest daughter looks at me with anxious eyes and says, “Ma, I am nervous; we are back.”

We are.

The moment you touch down, that feeling of excitement to be back home is mixed with anxiety.

What’s coming next? What awaits us in the coming months before we get to leave again and to breathe again? New elections, demonstrations, war, missile attacks?

I am trying to stay positive, even though I am already sweating as I make my way out of the airport into the hot, desert air, while still wearing my elegant coat from Italy.

I look around me and tune out the sound. What is wrong with us, why are we always shouting at each other, why is everyone angry – and it’s only 10 a.m.?

Just a month has passed since our return from Italy, where Portofino seems like a distant dream. We have already marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, and Independence Day when we celebrated the 75th birthday of Israel. As Lag Ba’omer approaches, we also hope all those who go to Meron will come back safely.

Not one boring day here! As I speak to my sister in Italy on the phone, lamenting how we don’t have time to catch our breath, she tells me how boring it is in Italy and how lucky I am to live in Israel.

I still carry the excitement of being part of “the march of the million,” the right-wing supporters who had gone to the Knesset to let their voices be heard too. Well, maybe not a million, but certainly more than 500,000 people were there.

I was there too, squashed like a sardine with a big smile on my face, finally witnessing a peaceful and beautiful demonstration of people united with love and respect for one another. We sang songs, recited the Shema and blessed each other under the direction of Rabbi Shmuel Elyahu, who asked us to place our hands on the head of the person standing next to us and bless them.

For once, I felt happy to see the other side of the “harsh” Israel. That unique feeling of belonging, of fraternity that only we can create as Jews in Israel.

I live next to the Knesset. I have seen so many demonstrations in the past years of an angry Left who have burnt flags, screamed and played drums ‘til late at night, not letting anyone sleep. To take part in a happy and peaceful protest was just amazing.

Portofino might be beautiful, but what I feel when I am united in peace and love with all my brothers and sisters here in Israel is much more beautiful and much more worthy than any espresso on the beach in the famous boot called Italy.

Viva Italia, yes! But Israel is in my heart, always. 

The writer hosts the Real Talk weekly radio talk show on Arutz 7 and heads the Keren Nava Ruth in memory of her daughter z’l, to help families in distress with a sick child or parent. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four children.