On Moving to Israel

BY ODELIA GLAUSIUSZ

It’s strange how the Hebrew language can give you an uncanny insight into the people who live here in Israel. I learned a new expression in ulpan this morning. To say, “I want to have a private conversation,” you say you want to have a conversation “b’arbah einayim” – literally, “with four eyes.” It’s a weird phrase, conjuring a surreal image of two sets of disembodied eyes talking to one another. It implies that a private conversation means speaking to someone with your eyes as well as your words. “Four eyes,” or two sets of interlocking eyes, implies that two minds are interacting, rather than just two voices colliding. It lends a sense of gravity to the conversation. It suggests that there is an art to two people talking. And that art is connecting to the person in front of you, speaking to them with your eyes as well as with your mouth.

I moved to Israel from London this past November. I can’t lie and say that I’ve felt like I’m “living the dream” every day. Sometimes it’s hard. I get really homesick and wish I could teleport my family and friends here with me. I speak to them all the time, but it’s the everyday moments I miss – watching my younger brothers messing around in the kitchen, chatting to my mum in the car, and laughing at one of my dad’s unique one-liners. I miss the comforting ease of having my best friends all living around the corner from me. At the same time, I can’t fully express myself in Hebrew. The bureaucracy is baffling. And of course, people stream onto the train before letting you get off (in London you’d get death stares for doing that!).

But if life can be harder here, it is also richer. There is an underlying current of connection that courses through the daily rhythm of life, a depth that shines through those quirky Hebrew phrases like “b’arbah einayim.” It has a lively warmth that twinkles through everyday slang as well. “Chayim sheli, ahavah sheli,” young Israelis squeal upon seeing their friends. “Todah, neshama sheli,” old ladies say affectionately in supermarkets. In England, if you casually called people “my life,” “my love” or “my soul,” they’d probably think you were high.

When I was in seminary in 2019, the news broke that Zechariah Baumel’s body had been found. Zechariah was a tank commander who went missing in the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon, at the age of 21. Intelligence officers searched for his body for nearly 37 years, and now, finally, he was returning home. I went to his levaya on Har Herzl, and was struck by the sheer number of people there. I’m not sure that there’s another country whose military is prepared to go to such lengths for its fallen soldiers. I’m not sure there’s another country where thousands of people feel a strong enough connection to a stranger who died close to 40 years ago to make the journey to honor that strangers’ memory. But that’s the thing – the people who went to Zechariah’s levaya didn’t see him as a stranger. They saw him as a person, a person who sacrificed everything for them, a person they could have known. A person they might have called “chayim sheli” or “neshama sheli.”

I write this as I sit in Casa Lavi, one of my favorite cafés in Jerusalem. The girl opposite me is sipping tea and annotating a page of gemara. A boy is sitting cross-legged, absorbed in his book. A group of friends are softly chatting. An elderly couple is sipping their coffee. I don’t know anyone here, but somehow, I belong among them. Last time I was here, I noticed that the bookshelf inside the café has a wonderfully incongruous selection of books. The Coffee Dictionary is sandwiched in between Orot by Rav Kook and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. What I Know About Running Coffee Shops sits beside The Story of Rabbi Akiva and his Times. It’s one of those small details you come across here that make you smile and feel connected to this extraordinary land and its beautifully eclectic mix of people. The daily fabric of life here is one that resonates with me as a Jew, a setting where I feel at home. I’m not blind to the extreme polarization in Israeli society. And maybe I’m naïve or overly optimistic. But however our views might differ, I believe that all of these people around me in the coffee shop would be there for me if I need them, as I would hope to be there for them.

The bookshelf at the Casa Lavi café.

Connection here takes other forms too. At Zechariah’s funeral, his sister, Osna Haberman, said, “I can’t even embrace you. So I thought to turn to the ground and ask the land to embrace you. After a few minutes I understood that I didn’t even need to ask. The land embraces you so strongly… there is absolute love between the son that gave everything for the land and the Land itself… You are together now.” While I will always feel connected to England and to British culture, a connection to the land itself is something I never felt there. To live here is to be part of an ancient love story between Jews and the Land of Israel. In the 75 years since the establishment of the State, our people have revitalized this land and built up a high-tech democracy in the very place where, thousands of years ago, our ancestors first became a self-determined nation. It’s hard not to see the daily miracles and how, in Osna’s wording, having returned to Israel and embraced the land, the land has embraced us back.

And then there is our connection with Hashem. In Eim Habanim Semeichah, Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal writes: “The essential point is that Hashem is waiting for us to take the initiative, to desire and long for the return to Eretz Yisrael… when we, of our own volition, truly and with all our strength, desire and strive [to return to the land], then G-d will bring our work to a successful end.” Somehow, being here, I find myself just talking to Hashem more, noticing His hand in my daily life. After a hard day, He sends me whispers of encouragement: a warm hug from a friend, an old man with a peaceful smile joyfully playing his violin on the street, a chance to meet someone new and wonderful. These small boosts of love push me forward, and I’d like to think they’re a sign that Hashem is happy that I’m here, and that He wants me to be happy here.

I recently returned to London for one of my best friends’ weddings and was out with my mum one day on Marylebone High Street. We walked into a café for a quick coffee and began chatting with the couple next to us. As you’d expect, the man was Israeli – you hear snatches of Hebrew everywhere in central London! – and we began speaking in Hebrew. He’d been living in London for the past forty years. When I told him that I live in Yerushalayim now, his eyes widened. “At meshuga’at?”, “Are you crazy?”, he asked me. The truth is, sometimes I think I am a bit crazy for moving here. But I can’t help thinking that sometimes in life, we need to be a little crazy. Life may be a little chaotic here, but it is also exciting. It’s full of life, full of meaning, full of promise of a vibrant Jewish future.

 

Odelia Glausiusz is a graduate of English Literature from Kings College London. She recently moved to Jerusalem, and is currently in ulpan learning Hebrew and working as a freelance writer.

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