May 16, 2013

Just another immigrant

As I'm sure you all remember, my parents are here for a visit. They have been here for almost two weeks, and like in every visit, we spend most of our time talking. Every visit has a theme - money, kids, family matters, etc. (we are very big on themes here. Ron keeps asking me every few days if I already chose us a new theme song. I have given up and decided to really consider organising a contest - songs suggestions for a home-baked chocolate cake), and this time our theme is immigration. It was not a conscious decision, because before they arrived here we talked about concentrating on Yon's condition and how to deal with it as a theme for the visit. The visit's nickname was "Processing the Trauma Visit". But as usually happens  reality interfered and the truth is the more urgent topic was the fact that Israel is in turmoil right now because of the economy and the austerity budget that is being discussed these days. Whenever something happens in Israel we find ourselves torn, we want to "like" things on Facebook, we want to comment, we want to be part and have our voices heard. But we don't do any of those things, because we can understand those who told us that it is not our place to say anything anymore since we left. Because we can understand the people who looked at us and said hey you, you couldn't hack it here, you are not tough enough to live here, you chose to leave and therefore have no more rights here, you've lost even the holiest of all Jewish rights - the right to complain. 
Because when you go through border control in your new country of choice you leave behind you a lifetime.
That exact moment at the border control is also the moment in which you become an immigrant. A nomad.
That moment changes your life forever.
I found that that moment teaches you, more than anything else, humility.
Have you ever been in an airport that checked your passport or suitcase or body just a tad too vigorously? that gave you the feeling that you are unwanted there? I haven't. Hidai & I apparently don't look suspicious enough (probably have something to do with taking 2 kids everywhere).
But I feel like that now.
Have you ever feared every letter in the post? Every phone call to the landline? Have you ever had to think about how every little thing you do could help you, when the moment comes, in defending your right or even ability to live where you are? Have you ever felt like your whole life is hanging by a thread?
I feel like that now.
That is how being an immigrant feels for me. Even after almost 4 years out of Israel.
I write a lot about other things in my life, but I don't think I've ever written about this topic. I have, as a sin of omission contributed to the myths and the conspiracy of silence surrounding this topic. Why? Because it's "not done" to complain about living in London, or in Gibraltar. It's "not done" to compare yourself to the poorest illegal immigrant you can find, when you are neither poor nor illegal.
it's "not done" and yet it's done.
A lot of people ask me about life outside of Israel, they want to know if I have friends, they want to know if we miss Israel, if we live next to other Israelis, how many times a year we go back, they want to know how much it costs us and how much money we save every year.
They never want to know how it feels when you wake up in the morning and forget all your English; how it feels to sit for an hour in front of the computer and not know the word that you know you know;  how it feels to fear talking on the phone because you don't understand what the person on the other side is saying; how it feels to hear your kids make silly mistakes in Hebrew because they translate from English; how it feels to realize you forgot and missed a Jewish holiday; they never want to know about the time it takes your body to get used to the different weather; they never ask me about how it feels to not know the culture reference people make both here and there; they never want to know how it feels to be lonely.
Because, hey, you live in London.
I do. And I love it.
But Sometimes I feel I don't belong. Sometimes I feel unwanted. Sometimes I think about a song in Hebrew that I don't think is translatable to English (so for my English speaking readers, think Englishman in New York), and talks about a guy who lives perfectly well in Hebrew but secretly, at night, he still dreams in his mother tongue - Spanish. I write in English; talk to my kids in English (and some Hebrew); write notes in English; read in English; watch TV in English; listen to music in English; find it weird to see a phone or a computer with a Hebrew interface;
But I dream in Hebrew.
How can you just leave behind 30 years (or so) of living somewhere the minute you hand over your passport to the immigration agent at the airport? Maybe it's better to not do that? is it better to live in a closed Israeli community, work in an Israeli company, send the kids to a Jewish school and try to pretend as much as you can that you never really left? is it better to live your life with a (virtual) packed suitcase, on the way back home in just a moment or two?
Or is it better to leave everything behind you? To walk through those airport doors a new person? to learn how to live from the bottom up? to live in a non-Israeli community, work in a non Israeli company and send your kids to a regular state school? is it better to live with all your suitcases and boxes, real and virtual ones, unpacked as if you are never going back?
It doesn't really matter what you choose, both options are an illusion. The kids force you to acknowledge the fact that you really left, and the immigrant status forces you to acknowledge the fact that you never really arrived.
It's the same with the language, you find yourself stuck in the middle - your Hebrew is stuck somewhere in 2009 and you make silly spelling mistakes and forget words and uses the hated "oh, come on, how do you say"; on the other hand your English, though in a constant state of improvement, is still not as good as your 8 years old's. And let's face it, I will never understand what ";" is used for. I just randomly throw it around in the text to seem smart.
I know a lot of people have a negative opinion about immigration and immigrants, and I know most of them say "but not people like you two" when they say it to my face. But it is people like us two. Exactly like us two. Because the system doesn't care, it treats everyone the same. It is exactly people like us who lives in fear of the virtual knock on the door, the letter that deports you, the bureaucracy that never ends; people like us who pay the bills the same day they arrive, never cross a red light, and try not to anger anyone; people like us who depend on their employer for everything and know nothing of their rights; it is exactly people like us who question weather the fact that they got treated like air at nursery by some other mums is because I am an immigrant.
It is exactly people like us who feel they live in the shadows.

Yes, I do plan to give you all the dirt about my parents' visit, but they are still here so this is what you got instead...

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