Deciding to come to Israel has been a real turning point in my life. Not many people know that my family heritage on my Mothers side (from my Grandmother) are Russian Jews. Their history involves a lot of running. Running from persecution, running from their faith and running from the past. Finally after a few decades of unease and uncertainty they settled in Australia. This international move resulted in the meeting of my grandparents and a very controversial marriage between my Nan who was Jewish and my Pop who is of Catholic faith.
Since the marriage and my Nans early death at the age of 42, no one discusses our family past. It feels almost off limits as any time I wanted to bring it up as a child, I was told I was too young. Now at 24 it seems almost too late to be asking questions. I did try with my Mother recently, but she herself had very little information to share due to her lack of knowledge. Your family history should never not be told and that of course didn’t stop me, I mean when have I ever taken no for an answer? So, instead I came to Israel to discover more about the faith that guided my family history to what it is today.
However, with all these secrets comes the territory of the unknown. For me I feel slightly ashamed that I have no knowledge of Judaism. I will admit I do not know it’s traditions, religious holidays, or even simple names of kosher foods. I am a bad Jew, or so everyone keeps telling me. Either in jest, or in all seriousness, it is still a tough label to wear. It’s hard to explain how my family wanted no association with their religion due to fear, unless you’ve lived it yourself.
I still to this day don’t know why my sisters and I were never raised under a particular religion as I know both of my parents have their own beliefs. My Father hails from Northern Ireland and although he rarely discusses it, I know for a fact he believes very strongly in God. The same can be said with my Mother, who throughout her youth was not raised strictly religious, but enjoyed attending church with her own Grandmother (on her Fathers side) and finds comfort in the belief of a higher power. All of this I’m sure can sound confusing from the information I’ve already provided for my Mothers family, but I can only imagine what life could have been like for her living in a household with the history of two separate belief systems. Now, I suppose it’s my turn to make my own decisions on where my opinions lie and if you’ve read my previous post you’ll see I have a lot to think about, but I’m figuring out my own spirituality as best I can.
As I am now living in Israel for a short time, I have found conversations run the same way as western society. After being asked what my name is, then receiving the joke “Do you have a sister called Rachel?” (No I do not), it is always followed with “Are you Jewish?” This can be confronting for some whether they are religious or not. It always seems like judgement will be passed once they receive your answer. I want to shout with joy that YES I am, but then always comes the question “Are you a religious Jew?” and further to this “What are your views on Israel?” To this I have no answer.
I am not educated enough on the social and political disorder the country experiences to even believe I could provide a valid response and this is what feels shameful. I’d almost consider to lie and say I’m not Jewish to avoid the whole situation. The point is though, that I have decided since my first few days here that I don’t want to avoid it and I won’t any longer. I will remain honest that yes, I am Jewish. No, I don’t practice, I can’t sing the songs or speak Hebrew, nor do I know how the religious holidays work, but please, can you teach me?
Coming to Israel has created such a strong feeling of joy that I am starting to feel at peace with myself. So many internationals have come to settle in Israel and Jerusalem specifically, not as a matter of ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’, but because coming to Israel feels like coming home. Others may sense the very evident tension within Jerusalem while walking certain streets, but what people forget is the news only shows what they want to portray and these beautiful people whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian, go about their daily lives relatively peacefully. I get to witness the extreme devotion to three different religions every day. Although conflict and fear remains in certain communities, they all still try to work together by respecting each others boundaries all within the holiest country in the world, and that is a powerful connection to watch.
I am slowly learning more and more each day which makes me proud of my family history. With each experience I have of the Jewish lifestyle it allows me to grow as a young woman and provides answers to how I would like to project myself to others. My favourite thing about the Israeli culture is that every person is incredibly straight forward and they always tell it like it is. This fits my personality so well I think I should have come to Israel sooner. Last week a lovely local told me off the cuff that he can tell Israel wears well on me. His comments that I suit the Israeli culture and that he can see I would be a person to provide a benefit to the country made me feel welcome like nothing else.
There is still so much to learn, see and do here in Israel and I may be a bad Jew, but I’m working on it.
♥ Love from Leah