I was born in England. My family emigrated to Santa Monica, California when I was three years old. There I lived with my family until my early twenties when I began my relationship with Israel. My parents offered me a trip here on the condition that I do some sort of program that would help me connect to my roots. I remember taking a sherut taxi [a shared minivan “service taxi”] from the airport to Jerusalem for the first time, looking over the mountains and unexpectedly feeling this sense of calm and familiarity.
My Aliya [Jewish "returning” to the land from the Diaspora] finally happened after years of being in and out and around the world, out of love for the land. The best way to describe it is a feeling of being home. When one finally feels like they found where they are supposed to be it is hard to imagine living anywhere else.
Truth be told, many things about Israel to this day still feel foreign. I've always considered my feeling of being home in Israel more of an emotional and spiritual thing but there is a practical reality that adds to it as well. Firstly, most people are Jewish here. We are the majority. The radio and signs are in the language of my holy books. The nation has vacations according to our holidays. My kids learn Jewish subjects in public school. Our flag has the Jewish star on it. Etc.
I became religious soon after I got here.
The six week program I did in the beginning succeeded in inspiring me religiously. Being on fire about Torah and Israel was a complete surprise to me because up until then I knew myself as fiercely secular. Always spiritual, but never subscribed to any set of religious beliefs. Judaism gave me meaning, a place to connect to G-d, a sense of being part of something, rules that helped me feel safe and community. For a long time I happily and unquestionably lived a religious life. Many things have changed in me over the last year and a half though.
It started during the 2014 war in Gaza, when I started noticing much more racism around me. I had never really seen it before to that degree. Coming from California, where racism is practically a sin and not something at all respectable, it was just not something I could accept or feel a part of. It made me pull back from the life I had created and start reaching out to people, in this land who were speaking my heart’s language, which is one of coexistence, peace and respect for others.
Since this shift I started questioning Judaism. My main question is: If it’s so hard to follow such basic laws as "Treat your neighbor as you would yourself" and "Thou shall not kill" what is it all for? Nowadays, since my faith is so shaky, I only do the basic laws and the traditions that speak to me. Being born Jewish is relevant and meaningful to me, but I am just not sure where my place in it is. That being said, I am extremely grateful to have lived with such faith for so long. To have lived as a religious woman gives me an understanding and appreciation for religious people. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a lot of value there.
After the war in 2014 I did start asking myself if I wanted to raise my children in a war zone. If I wanted to live my life in a war zone. The answer is no, but because of the way I feel about the place, I came to the conclusion that there is no choice in the matter. This is where I am supposed to be and seemingly there are more reasons for being here than were first revealed.
It’s hard to say why this specific war was a game changer. Maybe it was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Tolerating war was never easy, but it’s easier when you believe that your government and army is “just protecting” you. It was just one too many wars, too close together. I stopped believing that we were doing everything we could to prevent having to protect ourselves. Being scared is much easier than feeling a responsibility. People always talk about wanting peace, but where are the efforts towards it in the society? I started talking to Palestinians, making friends "on the other side". Once you open your heart up to their suffering, your mind comes next. This shift in ideology has not been easy for me or the people who love me. The search for truth always come first to me though, so there was no stopping it. I assume (and hope) that the people who truly care about me value this quality in me and forgive me for the beliefs I have that might contradict theirs. Hopefully witnessing this shift in me, inspires other people to ask their own questions.
A person’s beliefs are created by their experiences and education. Many people here blame the Arabs for the conflict and refuse to see or admit our responsibility in it. Sometimes people will insult Arabs or say that we need to teach them a lesson. These things are upsetting, but at the end of the day it is clear that their viewpoint is coming from a place of fear.
I consider Israel my home land unapologetically. My problem is with the idea that my people have more rights to it than anyone else. It’s not right that I can come to the place, while people who were born here are kept out of their homes. In my opinion, what has happened here is not Jewish, but whether a person finds religious sources to justify it or not, this is something that will obviously create conflict.
Jewish history makes the situation here very complicated. The Jews were wandering around in the world for a very long time. We were always a minority, and we were constantly being oppressed or kicked out of places. The Holocaust was the last straw. Somehow it was time to come back, and it was done without consideration for the majority of the local population. I don’t understand how people can do to people, what they themselves have suffered, but Jews are not unique in this phenomenon.
I have two kids, a girl and a boy.
Our life here is much more complicated than it would be in America. They are young now, so it doesn’t come up that much, but as they grow my husband and I will have to work to keep their hearts and minds open to “the other.”
Growing up in America, I went to school with every type of person, so for me it is natural to judge people by their character and not by their ethnicity or religion. My kids are in school with only Jewish kids. They hear about attacks, and kids play war games sometimes. Some kids hate Arabs. Still, it doesn’t take much to teach a child compassion. It is a natural human characteristic if encouraged.
My daughter is six now. We went once together as a family to visit a Palestinian friend, before he left to find a better life outside Palestine/Israel. We gave him a peace bracelet. After she told me she wanted one too. So I bought her one, and she never takes it off. She says that when she looks at it, she thinks about Arabs and Jews coming together.
I trust my ability to pass down love and tolerance. Them going to the army is scary. I would never want my children to be in the position of a soldier (in any country). G-d willing, they will never be in a situation, where their lives are threatened by war, or where they have to oppress, hurt or kill anyone.
Fighting for the creation of peace and justice for all people in this land is the only thing that will bring real security to all of us. I plan to teach this to my kids. At the end of the day though, my kids are their own people, G-d gave us free choice and I will have to give it to them as well.
I am a painter. I just recently moved my studio out of the house to rent a studio in a kibbutz near our home.
I have always drawn and painted. I studied painting formerly in Jerusalem about eight years ago. Painting keeps me sane. Without it as a daily work, I start questioning my purpose in the world. This world an incredibly challenging place to live. When I am painting, I am not really here. Outside of the realm of time. Hours can pass by without being felt. Also, making something physical makes me feel like I have achieved something tangible.
I always made sure to keep working even right after my kids were born. This takes a little extra creativity and flexibility at first. I found myself doing breastfeeding portraits for a while, which was funny. If I am not working for a least a few hours a day it's a bad scene. Now that my kids are a bit bigger working full time is possible.
Mostly my painting and activism are separate. Subconscious meanings might be found in my painting after that fact, but they almost always start with a visual thought and not a message.
That being said, sometimes what’s going on in this tumultuous land is all consuming, and it’s difficult to concentrate on work, so I’ll allow myself to process it through pencil sketches. Before the summer I did a series of sketches of a little Palestinian boy, who is crying and fighting IDF soldiers, while his father is being taken away. The images were from this Youtube clip that is sadly representative of the terrible situation we all find ourselves in here. Mostly I wanted to show this little boys humanity. Each frame showed him expressing a different emotion (fear, anger, terror, sadness). Emotions that any human can recognize as human.
When a person knows the humanity of even just one person on the other side, they are much less likely to stereotype or support violence against the other. We can love our people, our religion and the land that as Jews we have carried with us for thousands of years, while also acknowledging the suffering of the Palestinians and criticizing our government policies.
*Story was pieced together from a written correspondence between interviewer and interviewee.