• Jodi Samuels

8 Years: Love-Hate


I can’t believe it's been 8 years since we made Aliyah and have been living in Israel. I agreed to try it for a year, hated the first year, and was determined to return to New York. Everyone from family to friends and Rabbis convinced me that a year is too short to make a decision and I need to give it another year. By then my older kids said they would not move back to the US - so here I am still struggling with my love-hate relationship with Israel.

My son Meron just got married. I see his world: and he is fully Israeli, married to an Israeli, and integrated completely into Israeli society. Meron arrived in Israel at age 12. Two friends were waiting for us at the apartment when we arrived, and we've hardly seen him since. His adjustment took less than 3 hours. He adapted very quickly; his Hebrew was fluent already, but more than that, he understood his existential purpose in Israeli society. He knew he was a builder of Am Israel - The Nation of Israel. Temira, like her brother, is completely Israeli - she doesn't even have an accent when speaking Hebrew. However, her adjustment was not as smooth. I recall going with her for a walk when we had been in Israel for just 3 months. When I asked her how it was going, she answered, “Imma, I just want to go to sleep and never wake up!” I recall coming back home devastated, telling Gavin we had ruined her life. 3 months later, my friends moved to Israel and they too were having a difficult time. I told them the story about Temira, who had settled in by then, and said “Imma, I did not feel that way”. Fortunately, she quickly forgot the early Aliyah stress she had experienced. My youngest daughter Caila is another story because she has Down syndrome. I have no doubt that inclusion in NYC in private schools with the city's basket of services - in English - would have been much easier for both Caila and myself! I honestly don't know if we knew then what we know now that we would have brought Caila on this journey. Princess Jodi is the toughest customer and 8 years on I feel even less settled. I realize I will never feel Israeli and will always feel foreign: -I probably won’t get used to going to the upmarket fruit store and watching the guy cut a watermelon with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth.-Those times that I am finally brave enough to use my ulpan Hebrew, I receive blank stares or comments like "I don’t speak English" -Excuse me, that was Hebrew! -I still have a very long way to go negotiating the education system for Caila. It often feels impossible to effectively advocate for your child without the language. -It’s exhausting to wake up with boxing gloves on. Life here requires you to be ready for the punch! -The entire country is a building site and most roads feel more like parking lots, and traffic is diabolical.

-Israel is insanely expensive, and lives here are crazy - yet people are happy and statistically among the happiest in the world.

Despite myself, I am in amazement when I think about small little Israel, surrounded by neighbors that call for her destruction. It’s a country where 18-year-old boys and girls serve 2-3 years of mandatory military service. Israelis understand it’s not about "my rights" but "my responsibility." Instead of college parties and deciding what beer to drink, teens choose responsibility for a country, a nation, and a people. I burst with pride at the immense success of the Start-Up Nation. I know my kids are living in a country with a bright economic future. I know they won’t have to dodge Israel-haters on their university campus or worry about the impact of antisemitism. Israelis travel an incredible amount. After hearing the amount of Hebrew spoken in Athens, Vienna, Dharamsala, Dubai, Sinai, and NY, you understand why people overestimate the number of Jews in the world. I truly admire the adventurous, intrepid spirit Israelis have. Regardless of budget, they choose adventure! Israelis know the government has their backs. My kids have 3 passports and I have South African citizenship to add to the mix. They love playing the game of "which embassy do you call if you need to be rescued in China" or another classic, "if you are hijacked, which passport do you show" etc. We create these crazy scenarios knowing that ultimately it is always Israel that cares for her citizens. My love-hate relationship with Israel continues. My family is here, so I know this is where I am supposed to be. I will end with the maxim that has kept me going the last 8 years: God, give me coffee to deal with the things I can, and wine to deal with those that can’t!