Being Swedish and non-Jewish, one of the questions I get asked the most frequently is; “Why do you stay in Israel?”
When Israelis ask me this, they usually sound honestly curious, as if they cannot understand why someone who is not Israeli or Jewish-born (and has a European passport) would want to live in Israel. When people from back home ask me, they often express worries for my safety, and they don’t understand why I want to live in such a conflict-affected, war-torn, and according to them, “dangerous” place.
Regardless of who is asking, I end up being the crazy one, don’t I. From the Israeli perspective I seem crazy because I have the opportunity to live in Europe, and I don’t. From the European perspective I seem crazy, also because I have the opportunity to live in Europe, and I don’t.
“Of all the places in the world, why Israel?”
To be completely honest with you, there are days when I look myself in the mirror, and I ask myself the same question that everyone else is asking me, and some days I don’t have a good answer, but other days I do.
It was never part of my plan to come and live in Israel, but we all know the nature of plans, and how they usually don’t always go in the direction we thought they would. Even after I came to Israel, it was never really my intention to stay here, yet, here I am, 5 years later.
If I was to choose one feeling to describe how I feel about my choice of coming to and staying in Israel, it would be gratitude. Because there are some things you only learn and understand through experience. A plant in a pot can only grow so much, until there will be no more space for the roots to spread. Move that same plant to a bigger pot; its roots will spread, and it will continue to grow, and become bigger than you thought it could be.
Once apon a time, I used to live in Sweden, and all I knew about Israel was what I saw and read in the news. This is natural, this is how most of us live; we build a picture of things, and the world, based of what we see and hear from others, not necessarily based on our own experiences. Media is supposed to give a fair and honest picture, so why shouldn’t we trust it?
One of the things I have learned from moving away from my home country, traveling, and making friends with people from different cultures, is to never trust blindly what media says – not about Israel, not about Sweden, not about anywhere. Reality is often very different, and has a lot more to it than what can be shown in one news-article. Also, when everything you hear is negative opinions and stories, it is easy to forget that maybe there is a whole positive side to it that nobody talks about.
The country where I was born has not had a war in 200 years. Meanwhile, the country I live in now had a war just this summer. I went from not being able to ever imagine a war anywhere else than on TV, from running to the shelter on a daily basis during that month, and in a twisted way, I feel gratitude also for this experience. It convinced me that war is something happening in reality, and it’s something people live with, and die because of.
Most grateful I am, because I learned that there is so much more to Israel than wars and conflicts. Once apon a time, I honestly didn’t really understand this. I still remember my first meeting with an Israeli, it was on a guided tour in Chile. I remember this girl, and I remember asking where she was from, and when she answered Israel I wasn’t sure how to react; if I was supposed to feel sorry for her or not, since I had this impression that the country she came from was nothing more than a war zone, I was thinking that probably her life was very difficult and traumatic. Now, many years later, i like to sit on the beach in Tel Aviv, with a cold Goldstar in my hand, watch people play matkot and same-sex couples walk hand in hand, and smile when I think back at that moment in Chile and my naive first impression of an Israeli girl.
The truth about why I stay in Israel, is that I love this place. I found love in the place where I least expected it. It is a kind of love-hate relationship, because there are days when I also feel like I have enough of Israel, days when I get tired of conflicts and attitudes and struggles, and days when I wish from the bottom of my heart that people here could learn to stand in line, or apologize after bumping in to you on the street. However, apart from the aspects I less like, or even dislike, Israel has become a home for me – and no home, or relationship, is perfect or flawless. I have met people from all over the world in this country – this tiny country which seem to attract all kinds of people for different reasons. I have made friends for life here. I have understood how little I understand about a lot of things in the world, and therefore to be humble when expressing my opinions. I have also learned to appreciate my home country, Sweden, in a way I would not have been able to without experiencing something so different from it.
I am not staying in Israel for religious reasons, or political reasons, or because I am crazy (just a little maybe), or because I like to make my life more complicated. I am staying in Israel because I love the sun, the beaches, the desert, the diversity of people and cultures, and the open-mindedness, bars, and cafés of Tel Aviv. Yes, there are plenty of things I don’t like; there is another side to every story, and I am not ignoring this side, or the conflicts (it is quite impossible), but they are not the reasons for why I am here – however, they do teach me some things about life and people.
“Why do I stay in Israel?”
If you really want to know, come to Tel Aviv, let’s go for a beer and make friends with some random people we never met before, and maybe you will see for yourself.