Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Scarlet Letter I

Yes, ten years later I understand full well that I’m still an immigrant – and that I will always, always, be one. Most of the time, my immigrant status doesn’t really come into play. I live in a wonderful yishuv where I know almost everyone. Many of my friends are English speakers and those who aren’t know that I’m not the most fluent Hebrew speaker in the world – but that I get by. I’m comfortable. I read the emails from my kids’ schools, I help them with their homework (well, some of it) and I read the notes the teachers send home. I get the bills paid in Hebrew, the gas balloons refilled and everything accomplished.

But it’s when I have to step out of the bubble that I’ve created for myself, out of my comfortable American-living-in-Israel world, that I realize just how brightly I wear the SCARLET "I."

On Thursday night, we had a lovely evening at Matan’s yeshiva high school, Sussya. The evening was for all of the parents with boys in the school and included davening (praying), learning Torah, dinner and a discussion with Matan’s teacher. It was a perfect night and we were very much looking forward to hearing about the school and getting to know his teacher better.


Josh dropping Matan at Sussya for his first day of high school.

When we got to the school the men went to daven with the boys while the women milled about a bit. And I have quite a number of friends from Neve Daniel whose children are also in the school, but they hadn’t yet arrived. So I stood there, in the periphery of a number of women who were chatting, hoping that no one would talk to me. Yes, I wrote that correctly. I’m really quite social and I enjoy learning about people, but the thought of starting conversations with strange women in Hebrew was a bit overwhelming for me. I looked around and realized, both with pride and trepidation, that this is REALLY an Israeli school.

There are a handful of parents who speak English, and therefore a handful of boys – but really only a handful. In fact, Matan is the only pure native English speaker in his grade. We are incredibly proud to see where Matan has gotten himself, and how comfortable he feels in this environment – but boy is it new for us!

So I shuffled over to the bathroom and got in line (after all, it is a boys yeshiva, and there is only one bathroom for women on the whole campus). And the woman in front of me said “Hi” and I had a feeling that she spoke English. I asked her, and when she replied that she was, indeed, American, I actually said to her, “Will you be my friend?”

I still can’t believe I said that, and she definitely looked around, seeing if perhaps she was the victim of some weird practical joke. I laughed, unable to believe that I had really said that, and then explained that I felt awash in a sea of Hebrew, of Israeliness, of life outside my bubble.

So we started to talk and she was very sweet. And then many of my friends arrived and the night carried on. But a few times during the evening, Josh and I turned to each other and said, “Man, we are out of our element!”

And we both agreed that we felt more like immigrants during the course of the evening than either of us remembers feeling in years.

We understood every lecture and every discussion – that wasn’t the problem. We just both felt like people were looking at us and thinking, “Wow, what are those Americans doing here?”

The school is absolutely amazing. They have a framework at Sussya within which the boys will learn about and explore the entire country from top to bottom. They go on 8 one-week trips in the course of their four years to every corner of the country in addition to their weekly trips every Friday. But they don’t go as tourists.


Picture taken by a Sussya boy from the website.

They are leaving for their first trip in two weeks to Masada and the surrounding areas. Matan showed us his packet of information that he has to study and complete which includes history assignments, geology, geography, map reading, archeology and more. The boys turn the packets in before the trip and then take a test. And if they fail the test – the bus leaves without them. Period. And during the trip they hike, learn, explore, and sleep in sleeping bags on the ground…no tents. No frills here.


Dinner in the fields - picture taken by a Sussya student.

Matan’s Rabbi (who teaches most of his Judaic subjects) explained that his phone is always on for the boys and that his home is always open (within reason of course). He has an evening every other Tuesday night for the boys to come to his house, eat his wife’s cooking, sit on their couches and hang out. They discuss all sorts of life issues and enjoy an evening away from the school while being mentored.

The school is magical and we are so proud of Matan for fitting in where we see ourselves so sorely lacking. I always knew that making Aliyah would mean that I was an immigrant, and that I would probably feel like one off and on for the rest of my life. It’s just funny to see myself so out of my element and out of place while watching a child of mine who is so clearly in his.

And this, after all, was our goal of Aliyah. To have children who feel completely Israeli, who love their country and love the idea of exploring every inch of it in the language of their ancestors.

Just because I feel like I wear the Scarlet “I” doesn’t mean that my eyes don’t glisten with the tears of joy at watching that my children most definitely don’t – and won’t – ever.




2 comments:

  1. I feel your pain, girlfriend. I hear and share the wistfulness-mixed-with-nachat. Once, many years ago, I sat in an auditorium with my two friends, watching one of their lovely daughters on stage singing a beautiful, soulful song in Hebrew. I had one of those "hovering over yourself" moments. You know what I mean. I saw three women sitting hunched forward, in their tichels (that their mothers hadn't worn, nor taught them how to tie), looking for all the world like alte babushkas just off the boat. We were so proud of that young woman. We hadn't a clue what the words she was saying meant. But we took such pride in the knowledge that she understood what she was singing. And we knew that even though we would always be immigrants to this strange and beautiful religion, we had brought our children to the Goldene Medina.

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  2. Your post appears on  Go! לך לך! Weekly International Jewish Blog Carnival, Havel Havelim.
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    Shavua Tov

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