This is not a typical picklesandpopsiclesticks post. It stems from some reflection prompted by my coursework on place, self, and the moving space between the two. Here it is for what it’s worth. Back to my “momoir” sometime. soon. I hope.
baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I
became their target marker. “You see that man with the baskets? Just right
of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his
head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!”
come only if their guide tells them,
next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and
vegetables for his family.”
— Yehuda Amichai, “Tourists”
the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen
My grandmother was the prototypical “Wandering Jew”. Her
family wandered from Poland to Czechoslovakia to Germany… in her first four
years of life.
She was also the
archetypal Zionist pioneer, singing Hebrew medleys, and dancing the Hora in bristly fields.
I was born in
Israel: a place where history nudges modernity, where change springs from
continuity, where taxi drivers discuss politics, poetry, and Spinoza, where the
clerk at the corner store helping you pick a bottle of wine for the dinner
party you’re headed to will tell you, rather rudely, that you don’t have to spring
for wine AND chocolates (“what are you crazy?”), where your neighborhood bakery
hands your kids rogalach (pastries) on
where every two people hold – and voice – three opinions,
where the collective and the individual are inextricably entwined. I was born
in a place where community runs deep, emotions run high, and social criticism
authors, poets, and artists, are left of center. They engage and wrestle with
their country’s policies and socio-cultural dynamics from a place of unrelenting
commitment. They will sing to their country until she will open her eyes.
Israel. But I have spent most of my life in North America.
In the late summer
of 2010 I moved to Israel with my husband and two kids.
In the late summer of
2011 I was there, alone, closing loose ends and packing up our belongings
before returning to my family and beginning a new chapter of our lives in
On a saturday night in August 2011, I stood in
Tel Aviv, among throngs of Israelis, young and old, Ashkenazi and Sephardic,
right and left, in an impassioned demonstration for social justice. Pop singer
Karin El Al began singing Ein Li Eretz
Acheret (“I have no other country”), and the brackish tears welled in my
eyes. The pinch I felt in my heart was visceral. BUT I DO have another country, the thought encroached on me, as I
was singing along with hundreds of thousands Israelis, on the eve of my impending
departure… It was a realization that was mingled with sorrow and regret, if
also with some measure of hope and possibility.
I move between a
sense of place and a sense of wandering.
There is something in the experience of the
wanderer, I believe, that allows one to reflect on the diverse, the historical,
the particular, the “other”, while acknowledging the “self”, the shared, the
universal, the human. It takes one outside of oneself, and brings one into
identity is not fixed, it is not contained, it is not whole. It does not lie
behind a door but flutters, in fragments of light, through a crack in a window.
I am not entirely Israeli. Nor am I entirely Canadian. I am less. And more.
Like Donne’s compass, my legs are rarely aligned;
one is rooted while the other rotates. This allows me to keep moving, to
discover new spaces, novel configurations.
Certainly, moving is good. It gets you places. But
here’s another paradox: so does sitting still.
As a mother of two young ‘uns, I
am frequently running, moving, doing. But the moments of stillness are those
that are oftentimes the most far-reaching. Like Yehuda Amichai’s man who sits
with his basket of fruit and vegetables by the historic arch from the Roman
period, and reflects on his family, I turn to the moments that encompass space
and time, the moments in which the mundane is elevated.
Israel in the summer of 2011, I came “home” to my family. At home, I speak
Hebrew to my children. My husband speaks English.
I read Hebrew books. We sing Hebrew songs.
We read English books. We sing English songs.
I embrace my
children in English and I kiss them in Hebrew.