Reflections on Aliyah

    August 2009            
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Mourning and Moaning

By Meryl Hendler

I'm sitting Shivah. Or its probably more true to say, I'm lying Shivah, given my tendency to horizontalism. And just because no- one's died, doesn't mean you don't have to feel sorry for me.

I'm in mourning for my birthplace, my home of 53 years, South Africa.

But no one's phoning me, visiting or bringing me babkas. The mirrors are uncovered; wherever I look, I see my shrinking little red eyelets.

I'm a grown-up woman, for goodness sake, so why do I feel like collapsing in a helpless yelping heap?

We arrived in Beit Shemesh at the end of August. I saw white villas, brilliantly hued bougainvillea, the most handsome young Israeli men. There was a split second there, when I might even have believed I was on an exotic Mediterranean holiday.

We had a hilarious moment, with a couple of men outside Mister Zol. We told them Zol, in South Africa, is the same name for hashish.(Mister Zol is the name of an Israeli supermarket meaning Mister Cheap.) We all laughed uproariously.

The joke stopped there. This was no joke. This was Aliyah.

This was the land of the swarthy and high muscle tone; here was no room for flabbiness of any kind - I realized very soon, this was a case of toughen up, toots, or be damned.

'Firm up, Flopsie ', I pleaded, nay, ordered myself. 'This is no time for tissues, this is the time for strength, resolve, character, tenacity. You're assuming your Right of Return, so nu, assume. Now dry up and behave like the adult you're meant to be.'

If my daughter doesn't listen to me, why should I listen to me

Why is everything so different here?

The steering wheels are on the wrong side of the cars, the politics are mind-boggling, the bought chicken still has feathers on it, and the stultifying heat receives no reprieve from rain. And sorry for this but Israelis haven't a clue how to make chocolate.

I feel a confession coming over me; I'm a show-off. And a show-off needs an audience. Oh, the degradation of no longer having admirers, ready recipients of my wit, eager crowds appreciating my one-woman-schtick. Learning to live without the laughs is what wounds this tragi-comic the most.

I've even had to learn to cry alone; for that too, I used to need onlookers - not because I'm shallow, just because I'm, well, different. (a.k.a. Peculiar?)

Going through the vulnerability of Aliyah, brought to mind my mother telling me her story;

She arrived in South Africa as a vulnerable fourteen year old, from Latvia.. She had lost her mother prior to the family immigrating and the arrival of her family, for reasons of practicality and board and lodging, all separated. She would walk past other peoples' homes, at night, with their lights on, and feel an unbearable loneliness.

Sometimes, when I finish my volunteering work at a place called Melebev, and it's home-time, I feel achingly tender; we're a sparse little family of three, my husband, daughter and myself and the immigration has precipitated an earlier than anticipated empty-nest situation. Our eighteen year old daughter is on a kibbutz. I look at people with huge families and feel a sense of longing for that abundance of people, off-spring, simchas.

It triggered a memory from my university days. I studied away from home. Came the week-ends, it felt as if everyone had a cosy home to go to except me.

Sometimes, all feels so horribly alien and foreign. Why does being in the Land of Mezzuzahs, something so right, sometimes feel so horribly wrong? Sometimes, its pure emotional pain. Is the simplest, word for it ''homesickness''?

Of course, there are better and worse days...I'll have a patch of improved internal sturdiness, and then something will trigger again, the soreness, the raw ''woundedness'' of it all. And we all know that somewhat cloying cliche ''You have to be positive...'' Yes, absolutely yes. But, I feel a need to be honest about it.

I've heard dark mutterings, from fellow immigrants about the whole process taking anything between two and five years. My very bright, but emotionally simple husband would scoff at that, but I understand what people mean.

This is a process that challenges the very essence of one's being, from the petty, to the most profound. My very being is undergoing a huge transition. I need to be patient about it.

I will be patient.


from the August 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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