This blog post was written by Marcus Pierre, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living and working in Rishon LeZion.
Unsurprisingly, the past seven months here in Israel have been an absolute roller coaster of various thoughts, emotions, and insights all at the backdrop of one of the most contentious, divisive moments in Israeli history; thus, making this place that much more tantalizing and complex to deeply comprehend than it already is. Israel is a country of incredible contrasts of which, in pure, typical Israeli fashion, is entirely unabashed and makes no apologies. It’s a place where Tel Aviv, the wealthy, dynamic beacon of Israeli secularism is forty-five minutes away from Jerusalem, the home of some of the most religiously conservative and economically deprived people in the country. It’s a place where people are so warm and all smiles that beam brighter than the Israeli sun yet, can also be as aggressive as the Israeli heat. It’s a place of insurmountable social and political challenges of Herculean proportions yet an odd sense of community and unity persists throughout the country, from the concrete streets of Gush Dan to the most far-flung development towns of the periphery.
Surprisingly, in the midst of Israel’s extremities, is where I have now come to feel the most at home. Moving to any unfamiliar place for any significant amount of time is an experience filled with copious obstacles and challenges along the way. I can’t express how many times my head, oversaturated with Hebrew, has made my tongue twist and turn only to form the wrong word; or how my ears miss the melodies and rhythms of Spanish and Haitian Kreyól. Or how my nose misses the scents of my Haitian kitchen with its food invoking familiar memories of loud family gatherings; its ingredients impossible to find here. I miss those closest to me: our inside jokes, the almost innate comprehension of one another, the history that has bound us together, the sense of comfort and safety they’ve given me. There isn’t a day that passes where I don’t feel the absence of these things as I maneuver my life here.
However, here in bits and pieces, I have recognized that I have everything that I had before, if not more. While yes, both my tongue and mind have wrestled collectively to speak Hebrew, it is a blessing to speak it at all, given our history, and most crucially, to actively reclaim that part of my Jewish identity; with Hebrew’s melody now sweet like honey to my ears. Now the scent of injera summons up images of elderly Israeli Ethiopian grandmothers who carry their Zionism in their feet that helped them traverse Sudan and Egypt to get to Jerusalem; or falafel and shawarma invoke memories of late, care-free nights out in Tel Aviv with friends. And yes, there will always be an absence but the sting from said absence will and has greatly dwindled to but a mere pulse. The things that you miss will find you as well unexpectedly, seeing African women in south Tel Aviv carry their wares on their heads to the Central Bus Station reminds me of the brave market women in Haiti or watching a bike full of Sudanese men reminds me of my uncle in Haiti, and how my father and I would cram on the back of his moped to take us to his house. Despite everything, the ease at which this country and its people have taken me into its fold, makes me feel like a proud piece of the mosaic that is Israel.
Similarly, there also isn’t a day that passes where I don’t feel the support and the warmth of the neighborhood of Ramat Eliyahu and its residents, who have graciously welcomed and extended their hands outs to me. From Zahava who has opened the doors of her home and fed me delicious, home cooked meals, to Tami at the senior center who only gives me praise and words of encouragement, to Kohi at Avnei Hoshen Middle School who’s passion and motivation is infectious, them and so many more people have come together to give me a new sense of community and belonging. The amount of smiles, waves, and greetings that I have received is innumerable and the genuine excitement of students when you casually run into one another is an immensely gratifying feeling that leaves you warm from the inside out. Every encounter roots me that much more to Ramat Eliyahu and I know that well long after I leave, both Israel and Ramat Eliyahu are places that I will forever carry with me.