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An Open Letter to My Family After Moving to Israel

by Emily Hanssen Arent Sep 12, 2012
There are some things about Emily Arent’s life abroad her family probably doesn’t need to know.

IT’S BEEN a couple months since I’ve been away, and I think you deserve an apology.

I’m sorry it took me so long to realize that calling you when things aren’t going smoothly in Israel is not the same as calling you when things aren’t going smoothly in Copenhagen. To realize that a very special chord of panic rings in your heart when you hear Israel-induced stress in my voice. To realize you don’t really need to know when a shifty landlord is making me want to jump off the roof, or when electrical sockets explode and shoot sparks over my bed while I’m sleeping. That was really selfish of me, and I cringe when I think about passing my panic off on you.

You definitely don’t need to know that I am now the owner of a government-issued gas mask, should an Iranian attack be shortly upon us. And I’m lucky, because non-citizens aren’t issued these masks. I got it from a generous citizen who can easily be issued another. I understand now that you wouldn’t consider me “lucky” to own a gas mask, and that you wouldn’t consider yourself lucky to have a daughter who has even the smallest chance of needing one.

You wouldn’t think it’s as interesting or thought-provoking as I do. You wouldn’t think it’s funny that I thought my benefactor was playing a “welcome to Israel” prank on me when she knocked on my bedroom door and handed me the cardboard box with a solemn, “You never know.” You would find that to be purely frightening, not interesting, or thought-provoking, or even slightly funny.

I’ve realized that you don’t need to hear any of it. I’ve resolved to call you only when I’m having a spectacular day, to never utter a gas mask joke, and to always come with reassurances that the Israeli government is playing a tricky game of “wag the dog,” trying to distract its citizens from the chaos of domestic policy with embellished threats of doomsday destruction. That sounds good. That sounds reassuring.

Instead, I’ll vent my frustrations to my Israeli friends who’ll laugh and nod and tell me to suck it up and get over it. Who’ll tell me that I’ll hate this place until I love it, like a little brother who pinches my arm repeatedly until I either burst into tears or wrestle him to the ground. One day I’ll learn how to wrestle him to the ground without crying so much. But he’ll still win the tussle most of the time. Or I’ll tell these things to my friends from home who didn’t make me from scratch, who don’t harbor a deep-seated urge to protect me with their life like you do.

“Don’t fall in love,” you say, like you always do when I skip away another few thousand miles. “If you have your babies far from me, I don’t think my heart could bear it.” And I laugh like I always do, because babies seem so far away. A life with them feels more foreign to me than any kind of physical relocation I could throw myself into right now. And while I can’t promise you that I won’t fall in love in this place, I can promise you that I will never raise a child here. I know for certain that my heart couldn’t bear it.

I sit with a man, flipping through the photo album of his mandatory army service 12 years ago. He had the face of a child, he and his friends all had the faces of children in their uniforms, holding their guns and smiling at the camera. I watch all the 18-year-old boys and girls walking to the bus stop on Sunday mornings, headed back to their posts across the country, as I ride the sherut to my Hebrew class. And I think of myself at 18, all bright-eyed and hopeful and idealistic, rolling in the grass on Farrand Field, a freshman in college. I was still so naïve. And I want that for my yet-unimagined children so fiercely it sets my teeth on edge.

I tell him I don’t know how mothers are supposed to raise their children here, my eyes stinging as I flip through his photos. He tells me they don’t get much sleep. Which reminds me of you, your tossing and turning that only got worse the older we grew, the farther we wandered. And I feel a little guilty to be the source of your midnight tossing.

But most of the time, I just miss you. And things are looking solid here. I promise. Today was a spectacular day.

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