Guest writer: Rebecca Hughes
Today I reread an email I wrote to a friend on September 9th, 2009 – one year and one day after I moved to Israel. Moving to Israel has been my biggest challenge/accomplishment/act of sheer insanity to date, but the first year was the most difficult. The certainties I arrived with left me one by one, until all that remained was a stripped down version of myself. In the email I suggested the possibility that if birthdays mark the day we began to learn how to exist in a world, “then this year I should celebrate on September 8th.”
Almost six years have passed since I began the process of learning how to be here. I’ve learned what kind of cheese to buy at the supermarket and how to speak a new language. I know which local beers I like to drink and who sells my favorite flowers in the shuk. I’ve learned that “home” is plural. I continue to find joy in small and startling realizations: Not all salt water is cold; Toilets can be designed to conserve water; Tel Aviv smells like piss and jasmine; Desert hills sway when you run alongside them. And I’ve grown comfortable with questions that I am equipped to explore but not to answer: What makes a home a home? Is it possible to build a family? Am I wanted?
Finally, I have found people for whom my heart is willing to grow. There are those who have generously lent me their love of Hebrew and Israel until I have found my own, people who have let me into their families, and those who have given me their joys and tears and so that they could carry some of mine. In the years that I have been here my heart has grown exponentially, and until now I have never found myself alone in either the mundane or the extraordinary.
In the past month and a half, three teenagers have been kidnapped and shot, another boy was burned to death, 42 soldiers are dead, and over 1,058 people have been killed in Gaza. Sirens ring out across the country and their wails lend a melody to chants of “Death to Arabs and leftists.” Facebook and social media have become platforms for extremism, and the faces of the dead flicker across computer screens and televisions. I’ve seen blue and white dildos waved threateningly at peace protestors, and heard both sides justify the violence that results in the deaths of people who represent entire worlds for the survivors. I have lost nothing in the recent weeks, but there are many who have lost everything.
I was at the beach a few weeks ago, attempting to will this summer into normalcy when the sirens went off. Everyone along the beach stood up and looked towards the low hanging sky. We saw the explosions before we heard them – puffy white exclamation marks against a bright blue background. A moment later the first boom echoed across the sand. People began to scream as it hung in the air and sung its way into our bones. They dropped the hands they were holding and ran self-consciously into the sea – aware that the bombs would never arrive but fleeing something nonetheless. I stood alone on the beach, watching people trip and fall into the waves, and realized that in my own way I had lost something as well.