Before one of my son’s met his wife, he dated a friend’s daughter. As would be expected, we mothers dreamed of how wonderful such a match would be. Within weeks, however, the blossoming relationship ended. My first thought was to speak with the young woman who had instigated the break. I knew my son was disappointed, though clearly not heartbroken, but I hoped that maybe, just maybe, there could be a resolution.
We agreed to speak but within minutes, I understood immediately what was wrong and why it would never be. More, I didn’t want it to be. I let her talk and the more she said, the more grateful I was that I hadn’t said anything first.
She gave me a long list of all the things about my son that would have to change to meet her requirements. And, as she did, I realized something very important. She’d never known my son; never seen what makes him special. In reality, she didn’t even see his faults. She just didn’t see. She wanted a husband and though my son was willing to “meet” her requests, thankfully, she wanted more, different.
She had a firm vision, which is fine. The problem was that my son had never been any of those things and her attempt to mold him was infuriating. She was, sadly, not focused on what a couple could build, not on the things she could give or bring to a marriage.
As she finished her list, I realized that I would not do as I had intended. I would not encourage her to try again. Instead, I simply told her she had made the right decision and in my heart, I realized how truly blessed my son was. As a new immigrant, she needed someone who was fluent in Israel (not just Hebrew). She needed someone strong to fight the battles. My son, an artillery commander who had been to war twice, an analyst by nature, a first responder who volunteers hours and hours of his life to helping others needed would have fought those battles. But what would my son have gotten in return for all the changes she demanded? Truly, very little and so my heart sang. Oh how blessed he was and would be.
Long before that young woman found someone to fit her criteria, my son was happily married to a young woman I adore. The funny part of this whole thing was that one of the things the first girl demanded as something of importance, was something my daughter-in-law never demanded. She didn’t have to, she simply made it a reality of their lives. She did it for herself, and my son happily went along. Now, almost 10 years later, it crystal clear that their wonderful relationship isn’t based on her needingy my son’s strength. Instead, she compliments his strength with her own.
Though she too was a relatively new immigrant to Israel, she didn’t let that stop her from taking her place here in Israel. Not a match made for heaven, not two perfect people. But two people perfect for each other, a couple who has built a beautiful home in Israel.
Three children later (bli ayin hara), I love how they interact and each time, as a mother, I think to criticize my son, his wife steps in and calmly turns him around. She knows, perhaps better than I do, how and what to say to express her opinion, while listening to his. The point is that she accepts him and loves him for who he is, not who she wanted him to be. She didn’t set out to change him, but truly accepts him as he is.
Add one wonderful person and one wonderful person, and you won’t always get a couple. To be a couple, there has to be more. There has to be love, but along with that, there has to be acceptance and respect. For all that that young lady was mostly a nice person, she didn’t respect my son, nor did she accept him. Love isn’t forever in a relationship where one insists on remaking the other.
And what does this personal story have to do with anything? This same mistake is one that many people make when they move to Israel. They have a vision in their minds not of the Israel that exists, but of the one they dream it to be. Often, the first thing they do, is set about “correcting” Israel. “In America, the property owner pays taxes on the property he owns,” I’ve been told many times. “Why should I pay HIS property taxes?”
Because, I explain, the property taxes go to the city YOU live in, to the services YOU receive. Why should a property owner pay taxes for services someone else will enjoy? But the logic of arnona (property taxes) in Israel doesn’t really matter. It isn’t about logic, it’s about acceptance and respect. Israel has been a vibrant, amazing, forward-thinking country for more than 70 years. It doesn’t need to change to meet YOUR needs. Instead, you have to adapt, you have to accept and yes, respect. That’s where you begin. And, if you do that, slowly, over time some of the changes will make sense to you, some you might even prefer. And yes, years and years later, some you’ll still think could work more efficiently if…
But first, in every part of your heart and soul, you have to know that it is a privilege and an honor to be Israeli. As a teenager, many of my friends would speak of what they wanted to be. The boy who said “I’m going to be a doctor like my father” became an accountant. The one who responded with “I’m good in math so I’m going to be an accountant” became a pilot. I never said what I wanted to be, other than Israeli. And I remember thinking that it would be so easy because all I had to do to be an Israeli was to get on a plane and come home.
But, of course, it takes so much more to be Israeli. Many olim come here and never achieve that because they live their lives looking back to how it was, insisting this is how it should be. It drives them crazy that Israelis insist on doing it their own way. The way they drive, the banking system, the education system, the army.
“Five minutes in the army and I can teach them…”, an American parent once told me. No, you can’t. You won’t. Because the first think you must do is accept and respect. Love is huge, but it isn’t enough – not in marriage, not in aliyah. Ultimately, if you don’t accept and you don’t respect, the love isn’t real. It fades quickly, defeated by the challenges of everyday life.
Because yes, life in Israel can be overwhelming at times, difficult and a constant challenge. Marriage is much the same. They say the first year of marriage is the hardest, this is true of aliyah as well. Why is it so difficult for some? Because in both marriage and aliyah, few are prepared for the reality of day-to-day existence.
For me, landing in Israel was a revelation. I realized that I’d always fit the Israeli culture and had come home. I always felt that stopping to wear white shoes after Labor Day was absurd. While I may try to match my shoes to what I wear, why would I match it to the calendar? Yes, Israelis wear white shoes in the winter. And in Israel, Memorial Day doesn’t feature sales and beach parties, and that made perfect sense to me. As for property taxes, I asked and someone explained and I decided that whatever system you have can be explained, what matters is that there is a system, a rule.
The longer I’m here, the greater my exposure to successful (and failed) aliyah experiences. By far, it isn’t money. It really isn’t the frustrations with how people drive that break some olim. The truth is much simpler. When you have a list of what should be changed in Israel, and only when it is changed will you truly feel comfortable living here, Israel isn’t for you.
When I first got married, I thought marriage was for everyone. I was living my dream with the man that I love and more, he loves me. And aliyah, I felt for a long time, was for everyone as well. How could anyone resist the chance to make a 2,000-year-old hope a reality? It took a while, but I learned. Aliyah is not for everyone.
You can have two wonderful elements (that first young woman and my son; potential olim and Israel), but it won’t work because two isn’t enough. You need three. Love, respect, and acceptance are three critical must-haves. If even one is missing, the relationship is doomed. It isn’t about money. Poor people all over the world are often as happy or happier and more content with their lives than the rich and famous.
Love. Respect. Acceptance.
Israel is eternal and will wait always for you to come home. I believe you already love Israel, you probably even respect Israel. How can you not? But that missing component – acceptance – is a make-or-break requirement. Before you come, make sure you are prepared to accept what is, rather than what you want.
Accept who we are, rather than what you would make of us. For your own sake, more than for ours. And as Pesach nears and you think of the words from the Haggadah, consider whether you are ready for them to come true. For 2,000 years, the choice wasn’t ours. Now it is. Next year, you could be in Jerusalem.