}

Bittersweet

I am still haunted by the image of my mother, sick with cancer at the time, crying when she found out her father passed away. I was 14, and for months begged my mom to take me to Israel to see my grandparents. She promised we would go in the summer, because winter in Jerusalem is not easy. Unfortunately for all of us, my Saba passed away in February 14th, before we could go. Three years later, when I was living in Israel, her mother became unwell. Her situation was not getting better, so my mom took a flight to Israel. Savta’s situation got even worse, so my mom got on the next available flight a few days before her original one. Her mother passed away while my mom was on the flight to see her one last time, which she never got to do. Again, I saw my mother, the strongest and toughest woman I have ever met, cry after losing her parents.

Now, I’m almost 25 years old. I have spent the past year in this amazing and beautiful country, surrounded by warmth and a true feeling of home. I have seen my mother’s cousins with their parents, children, and grandparents. I have been blessed to be lucky enough to call myself part of an absolutely indescribable feeling, just knowing that I am part of such a remarkable family.

I am leaving Israel, but it’s not the end. I know I’ll be back. I love the life I have lived, and it hurts and saddens me to be away from the family I am proud to be part of.

The concern of quality of life always surfaces when considering a life in Israel vs. one in the states. What is quality of life to you? If quality is comfort, ease of day to day activities, and luxury, the  the quality is clearly higher, or easier to attain, in the states. But if quality is dynamics between people and strangers who treat each other like family, and depth and meaning in the interactions on a friendly, family, social, and political level, then for me Israel has a much higher quality of life. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to be in two places at once.

But this presents me with a dilemma: do I raise children in Israel, in the place I love so much, the place where they can play freely in streets and neighborhoods, the place where family is a priority? Maybe, but then I am depriving my parents, myself, and my children from that closeness and warmth I so desire, that is impossible to enjoy when grandparents live 10,000 miles away from their grandchildren. Do I give them the gift I never had, of being close to their grandparents? If so, I won’t be raising them in Israel as I have always dreamed of doing. The truth is, it’s too early to worry about, because not only do I not have children, I don’t have a husband (or even a boyfriend) so these discussions and questions are not yet relevant. Regardless, they are in my mind and heart, and I wanted to share them with you.

I am completely overwhelmed and drowned with emotions. If I allow my thoughts to wonder for too long about how much I’ll miss Israel, I start to feel the tears. It’s bittersweet for me, especially because I’m thrilled about starting my career with a professor I admire, who’s research and experiments fascinate me. Life twists and turns in unpredictable ways, and wherever I go, Israel will be with me.

Take care and be well.

11 Comments

  1. josh

    8/13/2012 at 6:51 pm

    I don’t get it. You are going back for the job or for the family?

    I made aliyah alone about 20 years ago when I was 22. I had only a set of once removed cousins, and 2 pairs of family friends. My brother made aliya about ten years later, though not close to me, the rest of my family has stayed behind. I’ve managed to travel back about once every two years. I miss my family, I do not regret making aliyah once and only remember once questioning myself about it (I was on guard duty on a remote base in the Golan, middle of winter, after about a day with no sleep, being very cold, and also being ‘in’ for over 28 days) but I got over that quite fast. Every time I’ve gone back, it has strengthened my decision to stay in Israel. After a few years, I let my driver’s license lapse, then my credit cards. My kids do not have foreign citizenship and don’t see a point. Frankly, I would not be renewing my passport if my company would not be paying for it. I have nothing against the old country, it really is a great country, but not for me anymore. The bus drivers do not say good morning, everything is so superficial. On the other hand, I’m taking part in building Israel. A lot of it still sucks, but it is getting better all the time, and I know that I’ve done a lot to help it along.

    I married an Israeli who I met while in the army and we know have many beautiful and wonderful kids, baruch Hashem. I do wish my kids had grandparents around to respect and learn from, but I do not even fathom giving up the high quality of life I have here in Israel (including lower salary and financial problems) for that. My grandparents passed away, my father too. My wife’s parents also before that so we basically live in Israel as orphans. In order to have some sort of replacement, we are active in [building] our urban community so when we had a new boy two weeks ago, we had plenty of neighbours and friends to watch the other kids, babysit, cook meals, and come and help.

    After the army, I finished up university here in Bar Ilan. I was friends with an American who came to do a bachelor’s degree who shared with me many Zionist feelings and I thought he’d for sure make aliyah after his degree. Instead, he packed up and left and said something about not wanting to limit his [unborn] kids horizons by making them Israeli. Talk about thinking ahead, he also did not even have a girlfriend. He pretty much closed the door, at least you are open enough about saying you are not and I actually believe you.

    • Michelle Esther Appelbaum

      8/15/2012 at 3:21 am

      Hi Josh, thanks for your thoughtful response. I just found out my mom wanted to come back to Israel for many years, and now that she has adjusted to life in California, she simply can’t imagine leaving, even if I raise a family in Israel. The fact that both of her parents passed away certainly also greatly effects her decision, and I can’t judge her for that.

      How was studying at Bar Ilan? I imagine your experience was vastly different than mine at Tel Aviv University just a few minutes away.

      BTW – in North Carolina, where I am moving for a job, I do not have any family or friends at all. The only person I know is my future boss!

      • josh

        8/15/2012 at 5:39 am

        So you really are Israeli. Many ex-soldiers (probably not the majority anymore) choose to travel around after the army before settling down into life routine. So you did a short tour of duty in TAU and now getting in some overseas time before coming back to settle down.

        I wonder how student life really is at TAU, I don’t think we got a chance to hear about that yet from you. BIU for me was about going to class and going to work part time in security during the evenings and nights, to pay for the room and food. Student life culture did not really exist then (don’t think it exists now either), even though I lived on campus with a few hundred other ‘young’ people (in their mid twenties). Most people do not live near campus, and there was no real reason for them to stick around in the evening and to use an analogy, I came to the restaurant with food 🙂

        • Michelle Esther Appelbaum

          8/17/2012 at 3:09 am

          I have a lot to say about TAU student life. Most of my experiences were extremely positive, but like any other place, nothing is perfect. I know this response is very general, and that is how I prefer to respond right now…

  2. themiddle

    8/14/2012 at 12:34 am

    Life is complicated and we never know how choices we make are going to turn out. Best of luck as you embark on your new chapter!

  3. Ben David

    8/17/2012 at 2:09 am

    In terms of “quality of life”…. there really is much less of a gap in material well-being than there used to be. Most college-educated Westerners slot into Israeli society at the same socio-economic level they left, unless they actively seek to change that by moving to kibbutz or changing their career path. My friends and business colleagues shop in malls, workout at health clubs, meet at coffeshops, and live basically as they would in any major Western urban setting, with minor differences like not having 2 cars or living in a slightly smaller home.

    In terms of family – that is very difficult. My wife and I are VERY fortunate that all our siblings made Aliyah as well – which in turn induced our parents to retire here. The family split is THE most difficult part of the decision, especially for those on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s true that community bonds are that much stronger, but…. it’s not something to be glossed over. First you go back for simchas, then you go back to take care of your parents – and despite technology there is no way to maintain as close a relationship.

    On the other hand, I was not about to pass up the once-in-a-thousand-years opportunity to build this place, and to raise kids who are naturally comfortable in their skins as Jews in a way no diaspora Jew can be.

    • Michelle Esther Appelbaum

      8/17/2012 at 3:07 am

      thanks for your response. it’s great to hear that you are your wife are here, and that all your siblings also made Aliya! I wish mine would as well.

      I agree that technology is a substitute, not a true replacement.

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