After living like refugees during the second Israel-Lebanese war in 2006, Dorit Sasson and her husband, a kibbutz member, must leave Israel and build a home in the US.
#1 in Memoirs
||12 publishers interested
Sand and Steel: A Spiritual Journey Home is a powerful memoir about what it means for an American woman to return to her homeland after living in Israel for more than twenty years. Following in the tradition of her first memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces, award-winning author Dorit Sasson describes in vivid and heartfelt prose the painstaking journey of wrestling with two identities and the courage it took to give up her Israel home and return to America as a "foreigner."
Sand and Steel: A Spiritual Journey Home is about the persistence it takes to view an unfamiliar situation or circumstance as an opportunity for self-growth. Sasson writes about the struggle to find familiarity in a very different America than the one she left at age nineteen, which leads her to discover how to integrate her two identities and lead a fulfilled life.
This book is a guide that will resonate for readers looking to rekindle their inner strength in an attempt to bring out the best in themselves, which happens when any of us discovers "home" from within. This book also delves into how to deepen our connection to courage.
Sasson's compelling and courageous journey will connect deeply to expatriates who return to the Diaspora after an extended period abroad, as well as immigrants or anyone struggling with the universal concept of finding a home and/or maintaining a sense of identity between two countries or cultures. Her journey gives readers from all cultures permission to let down their guard, be vulnerable, and to see themselves in her story.
Chapter 1: After the second Israel- Lebanese war, my husband, son and I return to our privatized kibbutz which won’t take care of my husband’s professional and economic needs. I’m pained by the fact that we need to leave our home.
Chapter 2: Preparations are underway for our move to the States and I wonder how we’ll fare—me as a returning American and my husband as a green card holder. Hope reigns in my heart that we’ll make it, but cultural displacement quickly takes over leaving me feeling isolated and alone.
Chapter 3: Within a few weeks of our arrival in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, cultural displacement threatens to overwhelm me. I try to make space to listen to my own breathing, which requires putting trust and faith into action.
Chapter 4: My husband finds a job in Pittsburgh, validating my push to bring us back to the States. I take this as a hopeful sign that the process of acculturating to our Pittsburgh home won’t be so problematic.
Chapter 5: Still feeling like an outsider, I find comfort at a local women’s event. I begin to “be seen” through the healing power of listening to and sharing inspirational stories as I seek to find my new tribe in Pittsburgh.
Chapter 6: Finding steady employment as an ESL teacher helps me stay connected and grounded in the face of cultural displacement. I enter into a new period of expressing myself creatively in my search to find a new understanding of “home.”
Chapter 7: Traveling back to Israel on a short family vacation unsettles me. I struggle with my sense of belonging in neither place—Israel nor America. I want a connection, but not at the expense of what feels like losing my American identity.
Chapter 8: After attending an author retreat a year following our trip to Israel, I walk away with renewed faith, purpose, and confidence. For now, I’m enjoying the experience of being acknowledged as a writer.
Chapter 9: Following my mother’s death, I struggle to reconcile the loss by connecting past and present identities. As a result of something a family member says about my mother, who was a virtuoso pianist, I’m guided to see my own purpose in returning to Pittsburgh as a “symphony,” a new way of seeing things that impacts my understanding and future.
Chapter 10: I start to question my ability to provide for my family after losing a course at the university where I’ve been teaching for six years. I start to investigate the possibility of returning to Israel. After being rejected by a number of jobs and social services, I tap into my inner strength and courage and finally get past my limiting beliefs by cultivating my inner strength. I remind myself that there’s space to to rekindle my Jewish soul and find spiritual peace within the Chabad community in Pittsburgh.
Chapter 11: With my rekindled spirituality, I find myself crying at various stops in Jerusalem, including the Western Wall on our second family trip to Israel. It takes every ounce of my courage to admit that the Jewish Homeland is not the home I desire, despite the immense pull-push I’ve felt ever since leaving nine years earlier.
Chapter 12: Short trips throughout Jerusalem the day before flying back to the States leave me feeling ambivalent. But at the same time, I muster the courage to admit that I also have to let my country go.
Expatriates and Americans returning from an experience abroad:
According to the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, there are 61 million immigrants in the United States.
Number of expatriates returning to the United States each year
Number of expatriates experiencing difficulty readjusting to life back in the United States
There are between 500,000-800,000 Israelis living in the United States, but it is not clear if these numbers include an Israeli born who lived in Israel most of his/her life until deciding to emigrate or American-born children of Israelis (like myself) are included in this statistic.
Men and women who move from one state or county in the United States to another:
Out of a population of 282,556,000 people in the United States, 40,093,000 moved. That’s an overall percentage of 14.19 percent annually.These 40-plus-million people break down as follows:
1) 23,468,000 moved within the same county
2) 7,728,000 moved to a different county within the same state
3) 7,628,000 moved to a different state
4) 1,269,000 moved to a different country.
1) Around 4 percent of those over the age of 65 will move to a new county, yet approximately 30 percent of those aged 20-29 will move to a new county.
2)The major new move activity takes place within the 18-34 year olds, with people in their 20s representing the highest concentration. Once people reach their 50s, their move rate is minimal.
1) In the 20-24 age group, 32 percent of females will move each year, yet only 28 percent of males.
2) By the age of 30-34, the percentages are almost identical: 20.3 for females and 19.3 for males.
3) By age 40 this reverses, with 11.28 percent for females and 12.26 percent for males.
People who are going through a transition whether it be traveling country to country or relocating for a job.
People who are going through a transformation and need to be uplifted by another's journey. People who aren't sure what they need to do to feel more empowered and connected in times of difficulty.
Readers concerned about culture diversity, adversity, absorption issues.
Dorit Sasson is the author of Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces, which was a finalist for three awards: Santa Fe literary award, USA Best Book awards and the Next Generation Indie Book awards. Her writing has appeared in SheKnows.com, The Writer, The Huffington Post, Writer's Digest, the Jewish Book Council and Working Mother. She was a featured podcast guest for the National Association for Memoir Writers, Jennings Wire, Empower Radio, and America's Web Radio, among many others. She is the creator of the online platform and podcast Giving Voice to Your Courage. She's a motivational speaker who speaks at schools, community centers, and business organizations. She coaches authors to build their online platforms and write their books. Her award-winning memoir is a widely read guidebook on how to be more courageous in life.
Dorit Sasson has a growing platform in Pittsburgh, for her personal author brand Giving Voice to Your Courage. In 2016, she did an extensive number of speaking engagements for promoting my award winning memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces that resulted in book sales and 100 new names to her author subscriber list. She intends to leverage these and other contacts for memoir #2:
2. The College club at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association
3. The Jewish Community Center
4. Nancy Heron, community business manager for Barnes and Nobles, Waterfront
5. Barnes and Nobles, Waterworks
6. Brian Burke, Director of Jewish Student Life - Hillel at the University of Pittsburgh
7. Beth El sisterhood congregation
8. Classic Lines Bookstore in Squirrel Hill
9. Meet the Author Series - Shaler North Hills Library
10. Temple Emmanuel Book club
11. Back to Business Luncheon - Pittsburgh Women's Network
12. Penguin Bookshop Writer Series
13. Bethel Park Library - author talk
14. One More Page Books - Virginia
15. Center for Women fundraisers
Overseas speaking engagements
Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel - Haifa, Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Netanya branches.
Chayal El Chayal in Jerusalem
Dorit has also cultivated a steady online presence through media appearances, which she intends to circle back to.
These outlets she has appeared on this past year for Accidental Soldier to secure additional coverage:
1. National Association for Memoir Writers - monthly roundtable discussions
2. Podcast with Kevin Tumlinson
3. Podcast with Working Writers Coaching Club
4. Jennings Wire
5. Empower Radio
6.Donna Seebo's podcast
7. America's Web Radio
8. Artist First Radio
1. Pittsburgh City Paper
2. Pittsburgh Tribune
3. Duquesne Duke
4. Littsburgh - the Literary hub of Pittsburgh
5. Lisa Haselton Reviews
6. Book Q and A's with Deborah Kalb
7. Jewish Chronicle - online and in print
8. Jerusalem Report (Accidental Soldier is currently in the process of being reviewed)
Jewish Book Council
This is a highly unique opportunity to reach members of my target audience. I am a member of the Jewish Book Network for my book Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces. Two of my blog posts for The Prosen People were sent out to an email listing of 15,000 subscribers. I was also invited to speak at two Jewish Community Centers and I will appear at an author talk at HarZion Temple on April 26th 2017. I highly recommend making it possible for me to become a member once again so I can participate in the Jewish Book Conference where I'm able to pitch the book for potential speaking engagements.
I have a dynamic and growing social media platform that I use to reach potential readers of Accidental Soldier. I plan on using all of these to promote the book to a group of potential buyers already familiar with my story and voice:
- Giving Voice to Your Courage Global Radio Show – my signature radio show since July 2013. Since July 2013, I’ve interviewed more than 100 authors and business owners/entrepreneurs. I opened my show with a three part series honoring the death of my mother.
- The first show got 92 listens to the recording, the second show got 68 listeners and the third got 36. My interview with Julia Cameron, author of The Artist Way, has received 599 listens to date. My interview with Linda Gray Sexton received 193 listens, my show, “How to Blog Your Memoir” has received 159 listens to date, and an interview with an author Nora Canon received 71 listens to date. I plan to do programming around the new memoir. I also plan on leveraging the author contacts I’ve made through the many author interviews done.
· My personal author site Giving Voice to Your Courage ranks in the top 5 for the following keyword terms/phrases:
memoir writing, non-fiction writing, memoir IDF, memoir heroine’s journey
· Published books available via Amazon which include a variety of titles including various articles/essays appearing in anthologies and writers guides as well as published books.
Names of titles include: featured essay in My First Year in the Classroom, (Adams Media) featured essay in the bestselling series Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Time, featured essay in My Gutsy Story, featured article in 2015 Guide to Self-Publishing, (Writer’s Digest Books) featured article in Amazing Grades, (print and digital editions) featured article in So You Want to Be a Radio Host? Two published books: Listening and Reading for English Language Learners: Collaborative Teaching for Greater Success for K-6, Speaking and Writing for English Language Learners: Collaborative Teaching for Greater Success for K-6. (Rowman and Littlefeld, 2013)
· Accidental Soldier Facebook Page: I upload videos, links to my blog posts. I currently have 831 fans and that number is growing. For the week of January 7-14, there were 215.4% unique page visits, a total reach of 92.5%, 23.5% engaged rate and 2.0% total page likes. Each post results in 25% or more engagement.
· Personal Author Brand - Giving Voice to Your Courage: my blog where I blog my memoir, post about the writing and publishing process. It receives 800 monthly visits, 700 unique visitors. So far, I have a total of 326 articles since I created the site in 2012. Average blog post word count is 700 words. Total number of comments are 885 including my comments to those.
· I send my ezine once monthly to my subscribers with short weekly messages throughout. Up until 3/9/15, I have sent 122 broadcasts. (check Aweber) Currently, I have 431 subscribers and they are double opted-in. 29.5% average open rate 4.4% average rate of click.
· My personal Facebook page: I have 541 friends and I would notify them about book readings and signings and ask them to help spread the word.
I intend to leverage the 75 crowdfunding supporters I did for the first campaign for Accidental Soldier by helping me spread word of the book.
· I have 468 articles with Ezine Articles with a total number of views of 314,502 since I started writing.
· LinkedIn: I currently have 500 connections and I intend to leverage the power of those connections to help spread the word about the book.
· Facebook Live - I've done several Facebook training videos on the subject of developing a mindset of courage for a Facebook group I've created. The last video got close to 88 views. I share these short motivational videos in several Facebook groups including a content writing group I've created called, "Groovy and Be You in Content Marketing."
YouTube Channel: My Youtube videos have garnered 120,636 views. “The Power of Vulnerability” video garnered 39,925 views in a few months. I intend to do more to promote the book.
· Twitter: I have 2,683 followers and 6,093 Tweets. I intend to leverage the power of my Twitter followers to help spread the news of the book.
· Pinterest: I post three times weekly to two Pinterest boards: “The Power of Story” and “The Ultra Blog Challenge.” I spread myself across two “hats”: the “writing hat” and the Israel hat where I post all things related to my memoir.
· Google +: I have 146 followers and 8,348 views. I post blog posts and YouTube videos on Google +. I intend to leverage the power of Google + and promote the book there as well.
· Organic search – 95%
· 5% includes a combination of the following: traffic from a guest blog post at The Write Life, specifically through an embedded link, posts shared through Twitter and Facebook,
Top search terms bringing traffic to my site
As an engaged member of the blogosphere, I have a number of contacts with bloggers who I could approach about providing coverage of Sand and Steel: The Spiritual Journey Home. Among them are the following blogs where I have already guest posted and/or have close personal and respected contacts.
· Jerry Waxler - Jerry Waxler from The Memoir Revolution interviewed me about the process of writing Accidental Soldier and he called our review "The Best Ever Launching Memoir Review."
Kathy Pooler of A Memoir Journey has published several of my author interviews on her site, which has a fairly large following. I would seek coverage or offer a guest post related to the book.I've been featured on Kathy's site numerous times for Accidental Soldier and my recent post: "Why Bother Doing a Book Launch?" got a lot of traction with both of our communities.
C.S. Larkin Live, Write, Thrive - My guest post "How Writers Can Use Strategic Writing to Find Readers" got a lot of traction and social media comments.
A roundup featuring 10 experts on Author Platform Building Mistakes to Avoid. I recently featured industry experts on author platform building. I intend to reach out to these experts to see if they might be interested in doing a feature article on any of the themes of the book.
· SheWrites.com – I’m already a member of shewrites.com, a social network of women writers which consist of a Facebook community of 11,120 likes and 25,000 active members. I intend to maximize my online blog presence there and possibly seek paid placement for the book.
· Communicating Across Boundaries – (http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/) I first met Marilyn Gardener of Communicating Across Boundaries through the So.Many.Stories project of her site and I guest posted a story about cross-cultural conflict and confrontation. The content of my book would dovetail so beautifully with the site. I would seek either coverage or offer a guest post related to the book.
· My guest post “Income Tips for Writers with Hope Clark” appeared at Write Naked on November 2014 as well as "An interview with Saba Sulaiman on Building an Author Platform. I’d pitch Tara Lynne Groth, creator of Write Naked, a 200 word article for the section on author interviews that would showcase my work as a memoirist and the writing/publishing process.
· Writer's Pay It Forward: Accidental Soldier received a glowing 5 star review from M.C. Simon for the Writer's Pay It Forward site.
· The Working Writers Coaching Club – Members of The Working Writers Coaching Club (http://www.workingwritersclub.com/) have hosted me as part of my blog tour for two of my published books including Leila from Life as Leels: My Life in Written Form, and Karen Cioffi.
· Several of my parenting essays were accepted by Parent and Co. I intend to write additional pieces.
· My piece How I Built a Platform of 100 Crowdfunding Supporters in 45 Days was published by Wow! Women on Writing in November 2016. I intend to reach out to them yet again with additional queries.
· The Write Direction – (http://writedirection.com/) Another blogger and marketer who has featured me on this site. I would seek coverage or offer a guest post related to the book.
· The Write Life – My Site Giving Voice to Your Courage made #62 of their 100 Top Websites in 2015. Noted as one of the top 100 websites for writers. My post Boost Your Author Platform: How to Host Your Own Radio Show was well-commented. I’d be happy to approach them about writing another guest post.
I also invite author and writers bloggers to contribute posts to my site where writers talk about writing as a business. Again, these are contacts I could reach out to with an offer to write a guest post, or a request to review and comment to their readers.
· Discover the Power of Writing Your Story: (http://www.shirleyshowalter.com/) Shirley Hershey Showalter blogs about the writing life and the journey in writing her memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. She helps writers find their voice and their own inner storyteller. Accidental Soldier is an obvious fit for her audience.
· Writers on the Move: Working Writer’s Club colleague Karen Cioffi oversees a promotional group of authors/writers utilizing cross-promotion. Accidental Soldier will be an obvious fit for helping published authors continue to build their platform.
· Write to Done provides articles on writing to help other writers gain confidence. I’d write a guest post for writers who want to improve the writing of their memoir and provide examples relating to the book. (http://writetodone.com/guest-posts-guidelines/)
· Chuck Sambuchino of the Writer’s Digest’s blog provides guest content to writers who are looking for tips and strategies on how to write better. The blog gets an average of 250,000 page views a month, and our Twitter, which tweets in support of our blog posts, has 409,000 followers. I would pitch a guest blog on either the craft of memoir writing or how to blog one’s memoir.
· International Fellowship of Christians and Jews led by Rabbi Eckstein would be a perfect place to showcase “faith based elements” as part of the theme of the book. (http://blog.ifcj.org/)
Synagogue and School Community
The Squirrel Hill community of Pittsburgh has a robust Jewish population that has been around since the turn of the century and there are quite a few published authors. There has always been a strong Jewish-Israel connection awareness in the community and families each year emigrate to Israel. There is also great support for the Israel Defense Forces and there are families in Squirrel Hill who have either a son or daughter serving in the Israel Defense Forces. There has always been a strong interest around Israel and the insider experiences of what it’s like to serve in the IDF is especially needed. Accidental Soldier would be a perfect way to break into the Jewish day school system and synagogue network and its members would be eager to share the book. Teachers can hold class discussions and students (junior and seniors – one of the targeted age groups of the book) could discuss issues, concerns and expectations concerning the themes of the book.
· I would leverage local appearances for an author event at one of the day schools in the Pittsburgh area including Community Day School/Hillel/Yeshiva. Our local JCC has an event that features American-Jewish authors. Another contact would be Caroline Gerecht from The Agency for Jewish Learning. I would then request from the Jewish Chronicle to cover at least one of the appearances and leverage it for a national story to be submitted for national newspapers and magazines.
· Many of the synagogues in the area such as Rodef Shalom and Temple Sinai host book events or sisterhood events. I would seek out my contacts with the intention of creating as many live events as possible.
As a strong literate community, there are many opportunities to spread the word of Accidental Soldier from libraries to bookstores and beyond.
· Carnegie Library System – From book events to in-person author readings, the Carnegie library system helps bring local authors to the community. I would seek out my contacts and create as many live events as possible. There are book clubs and reading groups and I would seek out these groups to see if Accidental Soldier would be a good fit.
· Friends of the Pleasant Hills Library (outside the Carnegie Library system)– Shirley Gealy is always looking for local authors for Authors’ Night each month to discuss their published works.
· Local Reading Circles and Groups: There are many opportunities to use Accidental Soldier as a discussion piece either through groups through meetups.com like the Pittsburgh Nonfiction Round Table, Pittsburghers Who Love Reading, The Pittsburgh Any Genre Book Club.
I will actively seek television and radio coverage for Accidental Soldier, both on the local and national levels. Among the outlets I’ll target are:
· The 700 Club (http://www.cbn.com/700club/) spearheaded by Pat Robertson but I would reach out to Ken Hulme, the producer. The channel does a series of interviews and inspirations in which authors and leaders of thought share every day stories, lessons and inspirations. I will reach out to them with an insider perspective of the kinds of lessons I got as a volunteer for the IDF which could suit the author interviews.
The video trailer for Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice got close to 535 views and is slowly growing in social media traction. I intend to reach out to Suzanne Lieurance and her team to make a second one.
“Off the Beaten Path” Bookstores
· Gov’t Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) – I would use my knowledge of the topic and target audience to promote and sell Accidental Soldier. The U.S. government bookstore has an international section and I would connect them to see if there would be an interest in promoting the book.
· Amazing Books, our around the corner bookstore also offers events featuring local authors. (http://www.amazingbooksandrecords.com/events.html)
U.S. Government Department and Agencies
· I would reach out to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to share the insider knowledge of what it’s like to return as a returning US citizen. I would also bring up my story of what it’s like to live in another country to build cultural sensitivity and diversity. (http://www.usa.gov/directory/federal/citizenship-immigration-services.shtml)
· Defense Information Systems Agency (http://www.usa.gov/directory/federal/department-of-state.shtml) I feel strongly that my book is an accurate experience of issues that harbor on foreign policy in terms immigration and foreign relations.
· The Institute of Peace (http://www.usa.gov/directory/federal/institute-of-peace.shtml) would be a perfect opportunity to educate people on the themes of Accidental Soldier. I feel strongly that when another country understands the conflicts and issues its ally is up against, it’s easier to promote education and training on international peace and conflict resolution.
· Janet Wiszowaty – Janet founded a War House Symposium and a non-profit organization called the War Horse Awareness Foundation. We are talking about setting up a book event based on one of the topics in the memoir. Janet also introduced me to the F7 group (http://www.f7group.com/for-veterans/) that focuses on empowering female veterans and women in military families around the world.
· Angie Azur, YA Sci-fi writer and creator of the blog Writing Teazurs. I first met Angie “online” when the publication of my featured article in the anthology of the bestselling series, Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Time was published in May 2012 and she interviewed me. Because she represents writers from all genres, I would seek another interview with Angie or offer a guest blog post for her site.
· Elizabeth Irwin is a long time Facebook friend who has been intrigued in my memoir ever since I started sharing snippets of it online back in 2012. We are talking already about presenting for her book group who has a love for the Holy Land and its Israel. They have presentations called Wonderful Wednesday once a month, which are both luncheons and speaking events. Bible study groups, and community events. We are also talking about doing a daylong workshop event around cultural identity with faith as a factor as well as creating a symposium around the themes of my book.
· Brooke Warner of SheWrites and Linda Joy Myers, president of the National Association for Memoir Writers. (NAMW). As my longtime editor and mentor, Brooke has been instrumental in connecting me to a number of memoirists through Facebook groups and is an advocate of women writers. I’ve interviewed Linda Joy Myers for a 3 part interview on memoir writing for my radio show, “Giving a Voice to Your Story.” I could appear on her free roundtable series offered at the beginning of each month through the NAMW.
· Hope C. Clark of the well-known Funds for Writers which boasts of 45,000 subscribers. I’ve interviewed Hope three times for my global radio show and I could either approach Hope with the possibility of writing a guest post for her weekly ezine or additional form of coverage.
· Barbara Krasner of The Whole Megilla. I met Barbara at the Writing Jewish-Themed Children’s Books at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, Pennslyvannia – the first of its kind in 2010, which she organized. The Whole Megilla is a resource for writing Jewish story including memoir and offers book reviews and interviews. I would reach out to Barbara and her network with the intention of providing coverage on the subjects of the book.
· Lisa Silverman, library director of Sinai Temple. As a librarian with particular knowledge of Jewish literature and Jewish librarianship, Lisa is influential in connecting me with the library network through her knowledge of Jewish literature and Jewish librarianship with emphasis on Jewish children’s literature. I met Lisa also at the Writing Jewish-Themed Children’s Book conference in 2010 when I learned she was the children’s editor of Jewish Book Network, and the children’s book coordinator of the Jewish Book Council.
· Donna M. Baxter is the chapter president who hosted me to speak on a panel on how to incorporate storytelling into one’s marketing for business success back in May 2014 for NAWBO, National Association of Women Business Owners. It would be great to reach out to Donna with a guest post on how I was able to use my memoir to help build my business and what opportunities opened up.
· BNI members of Southwestern Pennslyvania. I was a member of BNI (Business Networking International) and I’ve kept in contact with many of the chapter’s members. I would reach out to the chapter and discuss possibilities to spread the news of the book.
Reaching out to the Ministry of Defense in Israel (http://www.mission-ny.mod.gov.il/Pages/default.aspx) wearing the hat of a consultant. The IDF absorbs thousands of volunteer soldiers from all around the world, and I’d like to share my book as a “recruiting piece” for immigrants and how they can effectively support them during their services.
Includes an audience, Jewish/Israel connection readers, an audience that has cultural sensitivity.
- Email list of 400+
- Social media following in the thousands
- Professional website
- Speaking engagements scheduled
- Endorsers and corporate sponsors
- Regular publication or media contributions
- Community events you’re attending
The memoirs chosen for this section were based on the cultural theme of the character trying to find a home while navigating two different cultures, mentalities, language, and histories. You’ll note however, their difference from my proposed cultural memoir.
1. My Father’s Gardens, by Karen Levy (Homebound Publications, 2013)
My Father’s Gardens comes the closest in terms of hitting the common cultural themes of finding a home. Native-born Israeli Levy feels uprooted most of the time as she travels between Israel and her equally familiar United States. In my proposed book, I’m a female immigrant undergoing the journey of finding my “foreign” voice in Pittsburgh. Karen is a native-born Israeli female who feels a sense of displacement each time she travels back and forth between both countries. I’m not a native Israeli, and I haven’t been uprooted like the protagonist in My Father’s Garden, but I feel a greater sense of displacement ironically, when I arrive in the US as a returning American. The pressure is on me to feel at home in order to validate the decision of leaving Israel solely for economic and professional reasons. Both Karen Levy and I struggle with figuring out our divided loyalties and which side of the Atlantic Ocean are we most loyal to.
2.Losing Amma, Finding Home: A Memoir about Love, Loss, and Life’s Detours, by Uma Girish (Hay House, 2014)
Losing Amma, Finding Home tells the story of a female immigrant from India who comes to the US with her family and tries to find her way “home” while emotionally navigating her life after the death of her mother. Like Girish, I try to find elements in the US that mimic Israel and in many ways, I am forced to choose my home over divided loyalties. Uma comes to the United States as an immigrant, I feel like an immigrant/returning American. Both of our mothers pass when trying to find a sense of home and community and in some ways, the connection becomes tighter when we’re forced to reevaluate our loyalties - which home do we feel most loyal to?
3. In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri
Language, identity and culture are all elements that impact Jhumpa Lahiri’s ability to feel a sense of home yet being in a new place stirs feelings of exile. Lahiri offers exiles a chance to reflect on the words that tie one to a place. In Other Ways, is more of a reflective account on how words strengthen that connection to home whereas my memoir focuses on the cultural and social dissonance that gets stirred. As a returning American to the US, my character feels more of an exile than anything else and it’s up to her to address those feelings by finding a tribe or community. For Lahiri, that tribe of finding home, is through language. In Other Words is a cultural-linguistic extension of the well-known theme of trying to find a home but in this case, while learning a new language.
4. Little Failure: A Memoir, by Gary Shteyngart
Both Little Failure and my memoir focus on the struggles in wishing for a real home in the two contradictory worlds our characters live in. Unlike Shteyngart, my character is much older and focused on trying to find more of the familiar in the unfamiliar which ironically, happens to be her mother country while Shteyngart encounters the American culture for the first time as a minor with his family. The pressure is on both of our families as we are betting our futures on America. We are both forced against our will to come to America though Shteyngart’s parents ultimately make the decision to come to America while I am an adult familiar with the American culture but the America I once left as a teenager, is not the same America I now encounter as an adult. Little Failures is more of a coming-of-age memoir as Shteyngart tries to find the quirky and humorous in the unfamiliar as a way to cope with leaving his mother Russia. The coming of age theme in my proposed book is represented by my longing to find the Israel in the new America. Both of our characters attempt to solve our displacement by finding experiences that bring us closer to the American culture. For Shteyngart, that revelation was found in his Oberlin college experience. My character ultimately learns that the way into the American culture is not by feeling more American, but to learn to navigate between the Jewish and Israeli “hats” but often one “hat” falls on the expense of the other.
5. Return to India: An Immigrant Memoir, by Shoba Narayan
This memoir was chosen because of its relevance about what it means to be an immigrant in a foreign country and what propels immigrants to return to their homeland. Both Narayan and I explore the themes of family, culture and identity while our trajectories of our immigrant lives are vastly different. Unlike Narayan, I never yearned to return to America during the eighteen years I lived in Israel – we were literally forced to return to the United States due to economic necessity. The return wasn’t a thrill like it was for Narayan yet for both of our characters, ultimately, we pay a hefty price to establish our place called home.
6. Ordinary Light, by Tracy K. Smith
I chose the memoir Ordinary Light because it explores the theme a young woman’s self-identity as she tries to find a home against the background of what she has come to understand of what it means to be black in America. In the process, she struggles to understand her own beliefs, loss, and history. Similarly, my own character in this proposed work-in-process, struggles to understand her own beliefs about a kibbutz system that no longer values its kibbutz members. As a result, she tries to figure out which home she’s meant to be in – her Israeli or American home.
7. Leaving Home, by Anne Edwards
Leaving Home is a powerful memoir about a working mother’s courage and determination to rebuild her life as she brings up her children up in a foreign country. Edwards was forced to leave her homeland to support herself and her two children. As an expatriate living in a number of foreign countries, she is constantly on a quest to find her “true” home which often falls at the expense of her self-identity.
The dust still hasn’t settled from either side of the fields by the time we pull onto road 90 en route to our kibbutz in the upper Galilee of Israel on August 21, 2006, but something tells me its safe to return. As long as we don’t leave again. A breeze passes through our green Volkswagen. Cotton plants in the near distance wave in the hot air. How can it be these fields haven’t been burnt by rockets and scud missiles? What kind of war is this?
I’ve never known before what it feels like to have to leave a home suddenly, against your will. But for the past thirty-four days I’ve been tested; I’ve had to stay courageous and resilient in the face of a psychological war that will determine my family’s economic security and my own commitment to staying in Israel for the long haul.
When I was a soldier volunteering for the Israel Defense Forces, I left my home and my undernurturing mother, who couldn’t stand the thought of my trading college life for the battlefield. I was eighteen years old, and the IDF was my path to emotional freedom. During those two and a half years of service, I not only reinvented myself as a soldier but as a female Israeli immigrant trying to assimilate into a militaristic, male-dominated culture in which I often felt voiceless.
For Israelis like myself (it took me three years to claim that status), who are constantly confronting threats of terrorism, the only way to escape the madness of political unrest is to live in the moment. This kind of living is difficult for Americans, who are focused planners often preoccupied with their own agendas, to understand. When things are peaceful, I’m pretty good at being in the moment; but when threats loomed large, like right now, the New Yorker in me resists and resents the situation I’ve been thrown into. This state of constant worry, which for Israelis is a never-ending reality, has become my new normal, and I don’t like it one bit.
We pull onto the narrow “Yosef” bridge on our way back to the kibbutz, past the automatic gate that now stays open, the factory, the water tower, and the right fork in the road that brings us to the single paved road leading to a small group of Spanish stucco houses, some of which have been newly renovated, including ours.
Thirty-four days of living as “refugees.” Thirty-four days of listening to Kol-Yisrael, “The Voice of Israel” hourly news station, from Pardes Hanah, a small city an hour north of Tel-Aviv, where we holed up with our old friend Tamar and her two kids in a tiny two-bedroom apartment just a few minutes’ drive from the beach. Thirty-four days of fretting over how far rockets shot from Lebanon might land from our home.
The day we left the kibbutz, tanks and camps from different Israel Defense Forces units were nestled in the fields outside our bedroom window.
Now, finally, they are gone and we can go home.
When Haim and I decided to leave the kibbutz a couple days after the war started, I felt stable in that choice. As a first-time mother of a young son, my first priority was to protect him; our kibbutz iwas under attack and I knew we had to leave.
I also knew that what lay outside our self-contained kibbutz nucleus isn’t an unknown or hostile world. As a young American immigrant, I thought Israelis were arrogant, rude, and pushy, but I eventually learned they were simply being direct and honest. Israel is a very small country whose population is like one big family. This is a state seeded with survivors of the Holocaust; a strong trauma binds us to one another. We show one another a fierce loyalty, and fierce protection. Everywhere you go in Israel, you sense how important it is to Israelis that we look out for each other.
Historically, cities have always been major targets during Israel’s wars. Who would think of aiming a missile at an army base in the desert, or at a relatively isolated beach, when the Hezbollah could kill thousands of civilians and soldiers in the city? So, during our time at Tamar’s, we often visit the beach—but somehow the waves, the open sand, and the three flashing electric towers in the distance often make me feel more vulnerable than I have anywhere else since the war began. I try to enjoy the moment, knowing that if I find myself in a public area during attack there are bomb shelters nearby. But what kind of life is this? Why leave the kibbutz for this? True, at the beach we don’t have to hear the sirens signaling falling rockets and scud missiles, but my feelings of helplessness still overwhelm me. Plus, we are completely in the dark about what was happening to our home.
“Time to go,” Haim nudged me, interrupting my train of thought. “Take what I can’t carry.”
I looked up at his silhouette, which was pointing to Ivry’s beach toys. Flashes of setting sun cascaded along the ocean’s ripples, sparkling on the tips of water where we now stood.
My Israeli husband couldn’t understand how new and scary our current situation felt to me. I’d never lived through a war. The Persian Gulf War in 1991 didn’t count—I was just a nineteen-year-old soldier serving in the Arava desert at that time. Now I am a thirty-six-year-old mother who’s been living in Israel as an expat for seventeen years. This shit is real, and it isn’t stopping. Day in, day out, the same routine. How long can we live like this?
Twenty-four hours before that beach outing I had boarded the train from Binyamina to Tel-Aviv to run some errands. I set out with a greasy face and unpleasant breath from having stayed up all night trying to get comfortable sleeping on the beach. Before allowing us in the car, the conductor gave us a stern warning not to push each other; there was an unprecedented number of travelers on board. I hugged my bag.
This train ride was about to test my comfort zone. Signs of danger were everywhere. Security personnel hopped on and off. With terrorist attacks and bombings the norm on busy train cars and buses, I was going to have to let go of any pretense that I was in control, and trust that my country would support, protect, and help me even in desperate situations.
In every respect I’d earned my social status as an Israeli; I was a citizen like any other here. But it was only when I happened to sit down next to an abandoned open newspaper that I realized the degree to which I’d fully integrated into this country. There in the newspaper was a picture of a former student: Sergeant Haran Lev, aged nineteen, killed in ground operations on Saturday on the thirty-second day of what would turn out to be thirty-four days of fighting in Lebanon. My throat wanted to bleed. I was fed up with these feelings of helplessness, and now a boy I’d taught and known was dead.
I held the newspaper in disbelief.
The Haran I knew was a scrawny ninth grader who’d saunter into the classroom after the bell. He’d get up without permission and laugh at jokes his friend Yakir made. Haran made my life hell. He forced me to constantly raise my voice to get his attention. He didn’t care about learning English and I never figured out how to reach him. I found out later he was dyslexic. He needed a mentor, not an English teacher, but I didn’t know how to be that person. Now, as a mother, I understood.
And now he was a statistic, a combat soldier killed in the line of duty. I peered again at Haran’s picture. His boyishness had been replaced by sharp, masculine features. In the photo he wore a red beret that hugged his head, and his hands hung at his sides. I realized that only now, seventeen years after moving to Israel, had I been indoctrinated into this country in a new way. Now I understood the pain and suffering Israelis felt when hearing the name of a loved one who had passed at the special ceremony for the annual day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers and victims of terror. This intimacy with death hadn’t been part of my lived experience to this point. Though I was familiar with the concept of national mourning, the fact that in Israel grieving is a public act, I hadn’t had firsthand experience until this moment.
In Israel, one needs to constantly adjust one’s expectations in the moment and continually adapt to new situations and changes. You have to be amenable, moldable—like sand. So unlike America, where a strong will and firm resolve area prized. Where Israel is sand, America is steel. For me, because of my New York City roots, adjusting to the Israeli culture is a constant work in progress. I can’t constantly sit on two seats, so to speak, and yet in other ways this is perhaps inevitable. So long as our home is in Israel, I want and need to constantly maintain a lifeline to these sandy qualities that will allow me to thrive here, and yet the American in me struggles to fully let go of the steel qualities that were driven into me by my upbringing. Mine is an identity in flux—and the uprooting of the war is constantly testing my resolve.
On the way back to Tamar’s from Tel-Aviv, thoughts of Haran threatened to overwhelm me. I left my sunglasses on and turned up the radio in our car after getting off the train. A news story broke up the monotony of music that was playing—a song by a new American pop band called the Backstreet Boys. Beep. Beep. Beep. It was time for the hourly news of Kol Yisrael, the Voice of Israel.
More casualties. I zoomed past unlit paths through a roundabout. I parked in what was now our unofficial parking space, fumbled with the gate, and walked gingerly up the steps.
I took in my new landscape: weeds peeking out from scattered houses of various styles dating back to the period of the British mandate before Israel became a state, unpaved roads with the occasional blossoming almond and olive trees. I’ve spent most of my post-army years on kibbutz, which I only now realize has given me a strong sense of peace. I’ve never had to deal with the social and financial struggles of living in a big city in Israel.
I do struggle in a different way, however; I still haven’t found a tribe of friends within the small, close-knit circle of our kibbutz. The fact that I speak with a slight accent when speaking Hebrew meant natives can “smell” my foreign blood. I can’t hide, and I feel I am constantly being tested, both by myself and by others. When I struggle with feelings of resentment and frustration, I remind myself of the sand. I focus on the individual grains as a way to stay in the moment of each passing day. Each time negative feelings arise, I tell myself to just “go with the flow.” In essence, this is the Israeli definition of what it means to have “savlanoot,” or patience—not just during wartime but also with the stresses of daily life. These are the forces of sand, inherent to Israelis for whom chaos and fear was a reality. The way to overcome all that is clear: stay adaptable, be connected and focused, stay present.
Inside Tamar’s house was a mountainous heap of laundry filled with dirt and sand. I fumbled to the bathroom. No light bulb in our bedroom. Just the smell of incense, baby powder, and unfit sheets. I was careful not to brush against the bookshelves lined with Tamar’s healing crystals. We were now six people living in a one-bedroom home. There was no housekeeper and none of us was particularly focused on cleaning up after ourselves. But I relished the change; it was liberating to be away from the kibbutz members, many of whom had enter our recently renovated home at their own discretion while it was still under construction.
Haim flicked on a flashlight. “Don’t worry, Motek, sweetheart. I’ve got it.”
I gave up groping in the dark once he turned on the light. I tried yet again to go with the flow, but I found myself frustrated, not by just the physical chaos but the emotional chaos as well. The anxious part of me wanted reassurance that our kibbutz wasn’t under siege. We had gotten two messages from a good friend that all was well, and then nothing. Three days had passed since the last message.
Early the following morning, before the sun even had a chance to show the protruding thick line of dirt on the plastic green table on the patio, I finally mustered the courage to ask Haim when we could go home.
“Not tomorrow,” he said.
“Well, when do you think we can go home?”
“I don’t know.
“Is our house okay?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
I wanted to wash my sandals in our own bathtub. To dry myself with our own towels. Water the flowers in our own garden.
“This is going on forever.” By now we had spent two weeks at Tamar’s home.
“It will be over soon.”
I wanted to scream, kick, yell, and run, but words stayed bubbling in my throat.
“Another attack happened last night,” Haim said after a long silence.
“On our kibbutz?”
Why isn’t he reassuring me? Just a few minutes ago he told me not to be worried. I imagined a kibbutz member’s home with a gaping hole through the ceiling and a ray of sun streaming in revealing wire and cement, like a robot’s intestines. “Whose house was attacked?”
“Yael and Hanouch.” He raised the kettle. “More tea?”
“No.” I sipped at the Israeli-style tea Haim had made from mint leaves, lemon, and a few dried up tea bags. “Nothing’s going to be the same now.”
I willed myself to believe it was better to stay here, far away the blasts, rumbling walls, and crying babies. But I longed to return to our kibbutz home.
“You know how it is,” Haim said. “We can be here for a while. A person can’t sit on two chairs. Be in two places, I mean.”
I was very familiar with this concept. After all, isn’t this what any expat grapples with—not being able to be in two places at once, the experience of two homes? My home was apparently here, in Israel. But how loyal was I to this country that kept testing my ability to thrive? This country whose political turmoil was threatening our very stability?
Haim gathered the tea things. I wrote in my journal while Ivry played. My pen hovered above the page. The words I wanted to say didn’t come, so I just sat and watched and waited.
To stay positive during times of adversity you have to find ways to activate positive thinking. In Israel, positive thinking equals savlanoot, or patience. This tiny country is constantly having its patience tested; it is a place that has had all the odds stacked against it but still manages to flourish. When Israelis are tested to “keep it together,” they band together. They walk hand in hand with the fear.
In the States, we don’t have the daily ongoing pressures of war, and due to America’s vastness, we are far flung; our distance separates us, both in space and in values. It’s easier to deal with feelings of stress in isolation, privately. In Israel, the people reflect the reality of their hardships. They are direct and to the point, and they’re less prone to chitchat and pleasantries. The cultural DNA of Israelis compels them to be socially wired, which is what keeps them tethered together as a nation through hardship after hardship.
I’ve always been prone to anxiety. I grew up in New York City to a child prodigy mother whose own anxiousness landed me in Israel nearly consumed by hesitation, self-doubt, and insecurity. But my physical separation from my mother was an opportunity to reinvent myself as a soldier at age nineteen. I’ve made enormous strides since then, but even as an adult I still have to chip away bit by bit at the catastrophizing fear I inherited.
Would it ever be possible to move along with my day-to-day knowing that a rocket might fall on our kibbutz at any minute? I didn’t want to make things harder, but how was I going to emotionally survive this war without the reassurance I was desperate for?
Each day I watched how the waves rushed in—each one a little stronger than the last. I fingered grains of sand, trying to find that soft spot among the coarser ones. Should I ask Haim whether it was safe enough to go back to the kibbutz? I was afraid of coming across too needy. I tried letting the sounds of the waves anchor me. Flow, flow. Go with the flow. Ivry gurgled with excitement each time the water gathered around his beach toys.
Haim appeared dressed in a wrapped tallit, mumbling morning prayers. He wrapped the traditional shawl around his bowed head as he recited the holy prayer of the Amidah, and I sat back and watched. He was a glowing, spiritual silhouette against the Mediterranean Sea. Pray for me. Pray for us. Pray, pray, pray. Each time he bowed, Ivry laughed and gurgled with delight.
His prayers done, Haim scooped up our son and there I was, alone again. The waves seemed to shoot an answer: Let it all go. Give up control. Just let it go.
Twenty-seven days into the war, I found myself again at the sea, noticing this time how it ran parallel to my feet. Seagulls landed in a puddle, squawking, at the sound of my feet splashing in the water. A few minutes later, a strawberry sunset swirled into orange and cracked open into a golden yellow. From the top of tall electric towers kilometers away, three white lights flickered.
You are afraid, Dorit. You are fearful of losing your beautiful home in a kibbutz you claim as your own in a country where you’ve worked so hard to build roots. This home is now part of your identity and heritage. And who you’ve become.
I thump-thumped my feet and smooshed the sand with my toes. The French clip holding my brown, salty seaweed hair fell to the sand.
I didn’t want to go back to Tamar’s. I wanted to stay here at the beach, to curl up in the sleeping bag stashed in the car. I cuddled my son and listened to the lullaby of the waves. The beach had become our home. I visualized our home back on the kibbutz and imagined going back there. What quality of life waited for us? It wasn’t just about going back to an intact home, but also to the sad reality that we live in a region of the world where peace is not a given.
For now, I contemplated places that radiated peace. Our kibbutz home, yes—but I was also starting to think about my other home more often. The thing I craved the most was something I deeply valued but had always taken for granted: freedom. I found myself contemplating the consequences of following this thread of thought. What did it mean to think about going back home to the States? Leaving was starting to feel appealing, but it also felt like I was opting out.
I tried approaching the possibility of a return like a trip—a travel opportunity, and therefore without serious commitment. Part fantasy, part reality, I found myself wanting to escape this pressure cooker of a country I’d now become a part of.
I looked as far back as the ships in the distance. Hoping for a sign. An answer. Perhaps some kind of inspiration.
Waves continue lapping the shore.
Stay open to flow. Be in the moment.
Crash. One wave suddenly pelted another.
What should I do?
I looked up at Haim from the pile of stained breakfast dishes I was cleaning. The kitchen clock said twelve noon. The hourly news on the radio announce the war was over. Thirty-four days of ground fighting had ended. We could go home.
An hour later, we started packing up. I was surprised to discover I was now torn. Opening up to the possibility of going home to the States made the return trip home to the kibbutz feel less significant somehow. Plus, all I could envision was the devastation I was sure I would encounter when we got back. I tried gaining my bearings.
“Are you coming?” my husband asked, resting a hand on my shoulder. Ivry had fallen asleep in his arms.
“Are you going to bring his toys?” my husband asked, pointing to the sea.
“They’re not really ours,” I countered.
I brushed the sand from my sandals, packed up our things, and said good-bye to our beachy home.
And now, four hours later, we’ve arrived home, just like that. Before we can even lift Ivry from his car seat, a kibbutz member sees us from afar and approaches. I quickly look around to assure myself all is well. The kibbutz resembles a ghost town since most of its members with young children have fled—about 100 in all. But lights soon flicker, bicyclists appear, and members started appearing on their porches.
“Ahalan, Haim, mah-yanim?” our friend says, giving my husband a hearty chapha on the back.
It’s our second day back at the kibbutz, and Haim leaves in the morning for the butkeh, or guard’s quarters, where he works as a security guard pushing an on-off button to open the gate to the entrance of our kibbutz. It is one of several positions kibbutz members refuse to automate due to security issues, given our proximity to the Israel–Lebanon border, and it pays less than $800 a month. On our newly privatized kibbutz, it is one of the few blue-collar jobs available. With my $1,500-a-month salary as an EFL teacher, we are just barely able to stay afloat.
When the kibbutz voted to privatize in 2003, we all knew we would be financially responsible for every expense going forward. Since then, we have been financially responsible for food, education, and other necessities the kibbutz previously covered. When the kibbutz was a “commune,” the classical agrarian model of a kibbutz, Haim worked as a buyer and procurement manager for the dining room, and later as a researcher for a media company, one of the jobs he loved. But when the company shut down he was forced to work at the factory’s assembly line and then as a security guard. Now that this war has hit, our region of Israel has become economically depressed, and the possibility of Haim finding any kind of “dream job” has fallen through completely.
Now almost every kibbutz member owns a vehicle, and in some cases two. Almost every family is expanding their property, building second and even third floors. Instead of working to support the common good of the kibbutz, members are now pushed by greed—to work more to get more—the opposite of the Karl Marx’s theory of socialism, upon which the classical principles of the kibbutzim were founded. Bit by bit, we’re seeing this historical vision crumble before our eyes.
It’s our first Friday afternoon back home. I pick up Ivry from daycare and go for a bike ride around the perimeter of the kibbutz. Hope lingers in my heart. Just this week, I faxed Haim’s resume to a company for a buyer and procurement position for the 200th time. This time we’ve opted as far south as the city of Beersheva. I am willing to see him only once every few weeks if it means he doesn’t have to work as a security guard. So far, we’ve never heard back from a single job we’ve applied for.
Snow-capped Mount Hermon sits in the distance, basking in the fiery reddish glow of the sunset currently announcing the Shabbat. A gentle breeze tousles my hair. Ivry reaches out to grab some strands and coos with delight. On a last-minute’s whim, I circle my bike back to visit Haim at work.
Haim fumbles with the coffee pot the minute I appear. Black bags under his eyes are shadowed by his baseball hat. His tan stops at the bottom hem of his shorts. He is strongly built, and today is wearing one of his favorite, well-worn T-shirts showing an image of John Lennon and the words “Imagine.” Complete with his well-worn blue shorts and flip-flops, his dark hair and brown eyes take me back to our early courtship and the young man he was when we first fell in love.
I unstrap the baby from the bicycle seat and leaned my bike against the fence. I am meters away from the Jordan River Promenade, the site of our marriage ceremony. Also known as Shvil Ami, or Ami’s Trail, the Jordan River Promenade is a delightful, paved walkway that follows alongside the flowing waters of Israel’s most famous stream.
Since we returned from the beach a week ago, Haim has worked the night shift already three times, and now is set to do so again on our first Shabbat back home. We know what this drill means for our dynamics on a family night. Instead of eating home alone, I will spread out our home-cooked Shabbat dinner in picnic-style fashion on the grass next to the butkeh and feed our baby and watch Haim approach each car as it enters the gate. While other members are sitting around the Shabbat table with family and friends, Haim continues to work. After dinner I will take Ivry home and tuck him into bed, wondering how long Haim will continue to work a job where he is unappreciated and undervalued. I will wonder how long he will continue to work as a security guard—seemingly the only job left for him to do due to the fact there are so few jobs available. I will wake up in the middle of the night comforted by the rise and fall of his chest, a moment that will reminds me of our pre-marriage and pre-privatized days, when we’d sleep until nine in the morning in our one-bedroom apartment and I’d snuggle in closer to throw an arm around his back only to discover he was in the kitchen whipping up a stunning concoction of whipped eggs and leafy green vegetables too pretty to eat. My heart will continue to break for this forty-four-year-old kibbutz member and former city dweller, one of the smartest men I know, who served in the intelligence division during army and reservists days only to be relegated to a mere security guard, and who still fiercely believes in the classical kibbutz model.
On this first Shabbat back at the kibbutz, over forkfuls of homemade cole slaw and potato salad, we share three pieces of chicken snitzel and a garden mosaic salad of peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers spiced Israeli style—a touch of lemon juice, a dab of olive oil, and salt.
For the next hour, I watch how Haim chats with the kibbutz members coming through the gate. Encounters start and end in the same fashion: they roll down their window and shout “Ma-yanim?” and Haim bends down and chats with them for a few minutes, until another car approaches. Sitting here on the blanket, I hear pieces of conversation spilling out the windows: “What the heck are you doing here at the butkeh? Why are you working here? This isn’t a job suited for you!”
These seemingly jocular comments, often tinged with cynicism, incense me. How dare they poke fun of Haim like that, knowing we’ve reached the end of the road and can’t find him a better-paying job? I know Israelis don’t champion each other’s success, as it’s usually seen to come at the expense of their own, but my temper flares at their insensitivity. It’s almost too much for me to put up with.
A memory surfaces. The day before we left the kibbutz, when the war had just broken out, I showed up at the gate with a packed lunch.
“When do you finish?” I asked Haim eagerly.
“In another four hours,” he said. “Why, what’s up?”
“You’re not picking up your phone and I need to finish packing. We’re leaving tomorrow, remember? What else do I need to bring?”
“Take my teffilin.”
“Will do,” I told him. “No problem.” But as I biked home, I thought, Why does he need those religious items if we’re going to be at the beach and most likely, at a bomb shelter? What’s the point?
Now, watching Haim at his post, I’m finally beginning to understand. He prayed every day at the beach for himself. For us. For all of Israel. And for the kibbutz. He already knew how bad it had become.
A week after our return from the beach, I visit Haim at the gate again—this time in the late afternoon. An unusually large number of vehicles is entering and exiting and there is considerable foot traffic streaming in from the Ami promenade.
Like a hawk, I pay close attention to the way kibbutz members interact with Haim as he approaches them in their vehicles. I see one member whom I particularly respect start speaking to Haim with disdain. What had happened to the old kibbutz model that traditionally took care of all its members? Under the old system, members would put in their hours at whatever job they were doing and receive an allotted budget for their needs each month. This kibbutz is no longer acting like the kibbutz my husband and I both fell in love with. If none of the higher-ups on the kibbutz care enough to give Haim a professionally paying job, what is the point in staying?
How to stay adaptable to these changing circumstances? What kind of inner strength do I need to stay afloat? I need to stay resolute and focused on our next course of action. I have to continue to work to separate my family from the kibbutz mentality and develop the courage to live from our own truth, knowing that the kibbutz is no longer on our side.
In the next days, we send out resumes for jobs all over the country. In the meantime, a position for a buying and procurement position opens up on our kibbutz. We jump at the possibility, hoping this could be our lucky break—but within days of applying and going through a number of short tests, we discover that Haim not only didn’t get the job but that it has gone to someone outside the kibbutz.
Again, I am furious. “Did you hear the news?” I shout, angry. “They gave that position to someone else—outside of the kibbutz. What the heck? There seems to be no way out of this mess.”
He isn’t the only kibbutz member to have applied. Another woman, too, has been rejected. This doesn’t help my sense of injustice.
He turns up the corners of his mouth and stares into the distance.
“I refuse to let them treat you like this,” I spit out. “It’s humiliating to watch how they speak to you.” Relief washes over me. It is liberating to finally express the injustice I had been witnessing for months.
“The kibbutz is dead,” Haim says softly.
I look up at him in shock. For the first time, I sense how fed up he has become, too. I never thought he’d express his deep frustration and pain with our kibbutz’s new social system. What will come of us now?
“I know how dedicated you are to the kibbutz system,” I say delicately, “but I cannot let you work like a security guard anymore. It’s debilitating to watch someone of your intelligence be degraded professionally. I cannot let a man I love continue to do this kind of work.”
“Okay,” he says, “but what else am I supposed to do? Do you see a job waiting for me?”
We have already used our six months’ worth of reshet bitachon, a monthly allowance the kibbutz gives to its struggling members.
We go on our usual evening stroll around the kibbutz, and we walk past the job bulletin board. The lingering sun outlines the creases of the new neighborhood. We turn back to the new main road, trying to pinpoint a familiar house or even face. It occurs to me how caught up we have become in the social divide of change. To our right are houses including our own—symbolic of the old generation. To our left is the new, upscale neighborhood filled with former city dwellers who can afford the high price tag of land and construction. But our house is on the right side of the kibbutz, and it is just a few more houses until we reach ours. Stay abreast of the forces of social and economic change despite the injustices. This is the voice behind the need to stay adaptable—to be malleable and open. To be sand.
“What about that opening for a sales associate at Zol Poh?” I ask. “The one we just saw on the bulletin board? Do you want to apply for it?”
“They’re not going to hire me,” Haim says, shaking his head. “What am I supposed to do—clean floors?”
My heart breaks for him yet again. How can a kibbutz not support a smart man like my husband by giving him a proper job? I pine for the days when we didn’t have to struggle so hard to make ends meet and when this kibbutz fit the classical version of one big happy family. Biyachad. Together.
And yet the classical kibbutz model is now flitting back into my life like some wannabe friend. Other kibbutz members who are still attached to the old kibbutz way of life are now verbally expressing their anger. That level of emotion hasn’t yet caught up with us. I guess we are still struggling to accept the changes. And yet my anger and new resolve are catching up with me. I don’t want to tough it out anymore. I don’t have the energy to be strong. I am not up for a long-term fight. But as a wife of a kibbutz member, I don’t have the “rights” to speak out about some of the social injustices. So I struggle to accept the situation. It is pathetically helpless.
I turn to look at my husband’s glazed over expression. “Nobody can care less about you here. Don’t you see what’s happening?”
In the months to come I will avoid acting too impulsively for fear that my emotions might get the better of me, but for now I want him to feel the urgency of the situation. I want this patient sabra to realize that if we wait too long, we might end up getting stuck here and have regrets. And he might have to work as a security guard until pension age. I can’t afford to let that happen.
“So what do you want to do?” asks the newly hired human resource manager as she looks over job positions that might work for Haim. I try hard not to get distracted by her lopsided smile and bushy blond hair. A false sign of hope.
After days of pleading, I’ve finally convinced him to make an appointment with her to see what else we can do. Maybe we aren’t covering all our bases.
“What kind of job are you looking for?” she asks again.
“I’m now officially qualified to work as a buyer and procurement manager,” Haim tells her. “I finished the certification in Tel-Aviv several months ago. But I haven’t been able to find a job since.”
“You mean, they promised to help you find a job,” I can’t help but interject.
“And?” she asks with curiosity. “Where does that stand now?”
“You know, it’s one of those situations . . . they say and promise, but nothing.”
For the next hour we talk about why the kibbutz factory opted to hire someone else for the position. It is more like a venting session with a therapist. I had forgotten how loose the social dynamics have become when it comes to researching important job matters such as this. There are no intake forms or notes to help guide the discussion.
Frustrated, I gently nudge Haim with my sandaled toe as if to say, We’re just wasting our time.
As we get up to leave, she holds up a number of forms. “Do you want to apply for any of these?”
We peer closely: assembly line worker at a local kibbutz factory, accountant, manager at another nearby factory, bookkeeper.
We shake our heads in discouragement.
What is the use in this kind of meeting? It’s always the same problem: The only jobs Haim can apply for are other blue-collar-type jobs that most likely pay the same as his security job. He isn’t qualified for most of the other jobs offered in our economically depressed area.
How do you know the right time to reinvent yourself and let go of what no longer serves you? And what if that “something” you need to let go of just happens to be your home?
Today we make our way to the sandy curb of the pavilion that stretches beyond the gate leading to the Ami promenade. My heart aches. Am I really ready to give up my kibbutz home after all these years? We have had such a strong sense of belonging within this close-knit community, and yet now that seems to be crumbling. I feel nostalgia for what has been, but don’t see how we can possibly resurrect what we once had. Everything is different now. To leave the kibbutz for means pulling Haim away from a community that once took him in. As his wife, I’ve been accepted too, integrated more easily than I would have been otherwise.
“Look, we gotta leave here,” I whisper. “As in, leave the kibbutz. There’s just no other way. Do you see yourself working as a security guard here forever? You’re worth way more than that. I know that with your qualifications and experience, you are going to be successful in America. This system can only take us so far.”
For the last few weeks I’ve mulled over the possibility of moving to America, and I’ve decided it’s the only answer to my prayer of finding a decent job for Haim. The more I’ve witnessed the way the kibbutz treats Haim, the more fueled and driven I’ve become to prove we aren’t victims of a crumbling kibbutz system. To prove that Haim doesn’t have to be silenced professionally, that we can find economic success. But it is a now-or-never decision. The longer we stay, the easier and more comforting it will become to stay.
I dare to breathe in what this move would mean for both of us professionally. I start by checking both sides of his face for a sign of excitement. It is often hard to tell, as Haim acts nonchalant about many things in our marriage. It will take me years to reach the soft, pulpy interior sabras are known for. Today, I ache to find a sign that will affirm we are both on the same page.
Haim’s lips twitch. His brown eyes soften in a way that affirms he is taking in the power of my words. My heart aches yet again for this tough sabra. When he deserts his home country, his family and friends will call him out on it. When they see they can’t go very far with him, they’ll soon move to me. But right now, I try putting that out of my mind. We aren’t traitors; we’re a humble couple trying to make one a difficult decisions in the face of an uncertain professional future.
You got this, Dorit. Breathe in and out. It’s just you and Haim now. You’ve both got this. Trust in the power of your bond and in your ability to make a sound decision with your head and heart.
“Nu?” I reach for his hand. “What do you think? We can always come back if it doesn’t work out.”
“Okay,” he says tightening his grasp. “Let’s do it.”