I was caught completely off-guard by the question: “Don’t you sometimes long to run away from all this war and violence and madness and terrorism? You could always go back to Australia.”
This was when, like every other Israeli, and probably Jews around the world, I was listening to the news every hour, hoping that the three kidnapped boys would have been found, safe and unharmed. At that time, there was no news yet.
I looked at my friend, a tourist from my birthplace. I didn’t know how to answer her. Once I would have known. I would simply have said “yes,” and my eyes would have filled with tears of nostalgia for the comfortable lifestyle, the ordinariness of everyday living, of only bothering to listen to the news if I wanted a sporting result or the weather forecast; all the security – emotional, financial, physical – that I’d left behind when I made aliyah.
She was looking at me strangely and, I suppose, a lot of time must have passed since she asked me the question. To me, the answer had become extraordinarily complex. A simple “yes” or “no” would not suffice.
We were sitting on a park bench in Beit Hakerem, in Jerusalem, where I live. It was Sunday afternoon, and I’d looked at the scene before us hundreds of times without truly registering it. A little boy was walking his dog on a leash. A pretty girl was jogging, music from an electronic device giving her the beat and rhythm. A grandfather wheeled a baby carriage. A young couple sat near us sharing a falafel and looking into each other’s eyes. Nothing special. Nothing dramatic.
All the drama had been played out in the weeks and months and years before her visit. Down south in Gaza. Up north in Lebanon. Rockets from Syria. Weeks of needing to hear the news every hour. Years of watching funerals on TV of beautiful young soldiers and ordinary people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Making phone calls to ensure that grandsons in the army, involved in searching for the missing boys in Hebron, were safe.
How could you “run away” from all the things that had shaped your life for decades? Of course, you could leave, but you’d take all that caring and commitment with you. It would feel like an amputation, and you’d never be a whole person again.
Over the years, I’ve been back to Australia for holidays, but they were never successful visits for long. For a few days, I’d bask in the warmth of seeing family and friends, enjoying their attention and the luxury of their lives. But then, someone would make a thoughtless remark about Israel, and I would bristle at their lack of understanding and feel that I had to defend the country. I’d long to be back home in Jerusalem, where I could talk about, even criticize, the government and corrupt politicians, the lack of good manners and the insane Israeli drivers, because I’d be talking to people on the same wavelength. It was different, very different.
The familiar scene in the park suddenly became very dear to me. I didn’t know any of these people, but I loved them. They were my family. I hoped the young lovers would marry; that the grandfather would live to see the baby’s bar or bat mitzvah; that the little boy with the dog would never have to fight in a war.
Finally, I had my answer. “No, I don’t long to run away. It’s not easy, but we understand what all the sacrifice is about. And it’s home,” I added as an afterthought. And, after all, home is where the heart is.
Dvora Waysman is the author of 13 books. She has lived in Jerusalem for 43 years.