I was caught off guard by the question. “Don’t you ever want to leave Israel, to run away from all this war and violence and madness and terrorism? You could always go back to Australia.”
I looked at my friend, a tourist from my birthplace. I didn’t know how to answer her. Once I would have known. I would simply have said “yes” and my eyes would have filled with tears of nostalgia for the comfortable lifestyle, the ordinariness of everyday living, all the security – emotional, financial, physical – I’d left behind.
She was looking at me strangely, and I suppose a lot of time had passed. But I realized the question was extraordinarily complex. A simple “yes” or “no” would not suffice.
We were sitting on a park bench in Beit Hakerem, where I live in Jerusalem. It was Sunday afternoon, and I’d looked out at this scene hundreds of times without it truly registering. A little boy was walking his dog. A pretty girl was jogging. A grandfather who looked Russian wheeled a baby carriage. A young couple sat looking into each other’s eyes. Nothing special. Nothing dramatic.
All the drama had been played out in the weeks and months and years before her visit. Down south in Gaza. Up north in Lebanon. Rockets from Syria. Weeks of being addicted to the news every hour. Years of watching televised funerals of beautiful young soldiers and ordinary people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How can you run away from all the things that have shaped your life?
Of course you could leave, but you’d take all that caring and commitment with you. It would be like an amputation, and you’d never be a whole person again. Over the years I’ve been back to Australia for holidays, but they were never successful for long. For a few days I’d bask in the warmth of seeing family and friends, enjoying their attention and the luxury in their lives. But then someone would make a thoughtless remark about Israel, and I’d bristle at the lack of understanding and feel I had to defend the country.
I’d long to be back in Jerusalem, where you can criticize the government, the corrupt politicians, the lack of good manners, and the insane Israeli drivers because you’d be talking to people on the same wavelength.
The familiar scene in the park suddenly became very dear to me. I didn’t know any of those people but I loved them. They were my family. I hoped the young lovers would marry, that the grandfather would live to see the baby’s bar mitzvah, that the little boy with the dog wouldn’t have to fight in a future war.
Finally, I had my answer. No, I don’t want to run away. It’s not easy, but we understand what all the sacrifice is about. And it’s home.