This was originally published on Israel Diaries.
Coming Home/Missing Home: Toronto and Israel
My body is sitting in Starbucks at Christie and Dupont, freezing somewhat because they keep the heat low; I suppose that’s to try to prevent people like me from parking here for hours on end, but people like me just sit rubbing their hands together when they’re not typing, put on an extra sweater and keep their scarves around their necks – I have my jacket over my lap to keep my thighs warm. So while my body is most definitely in Toronto this winter, my heart is in Israel where winters are not so harsh.
Israel, home, where I can pepper my English with Hebrew when the English disc in my brain malfunctions and where I can usually salt my Hebrew with English. So communication there is relaxed and I don’t need to pay attention to language. I’m not used to not being able to speak Henglish or Engbrew, but after 6 weeks it is now less of a strain.
Funnily enough, two weeks ago I was taking pictures in Kensington Market and wanted a photo of the entrance to a restaurant I was writing a review about. I called out to the man standing in front that he should move aside if he didn’t want to be in the shot. He moved aside. It was only when I heard myself tell him “Toda” that I realized I had just spoken to him only in Hebrew, my left hand waving while my right hand held a camera. But I was surprised that even after a month here, Hebrew was still the most natural thing for me to speak.
In Canada for an extended family visit (my daughter had twins – mazal tov to her and her husband, and me), I find myself experiencing Toronto very differently now than I did on much shorter visits over the 40 years I’ve been living in Israel. I grew up in Toronto so I know it like the back of my own hand; like I know Haifa now.
It didn’t take very long to get used to not having to open my bags at entrances to every bank, mall, and subway station. But what hasn’t disappeared is my sense of impending threat around me. I find myself still looking over my shoulders when walking down the street to see who is coming up behind me; I stay away from the curb, and I don’t quite feel safe waiting for a bus as the traffic flows past me. My eyes scan everyone on the bus and everyone who alights after me. I know that these new behaviours have become automatic as a result of having experienced two months of the latest wave of knifings and car rammings before I left Israel.
I have an app on my cellphone that tells me in real time when missiles are fired toward Israel and an app that keeps me updated with breaking news. But I don’t always pay attention.
It hit me hard and suddenly when, sitting in my usual spot here at Starbucks, I read about the shooting attack on Dizengoff just a few hours before I wrote these words. Tears filled my eyes. The pain was almost unbearable. I wasn’t sure if I hadn’t cried out. It struck me differently than do reports of terror attacks and murders in Judea and Samaria. Regardless of what I think of removing the settlements, that part of the land is not my normal stomping ground. Tel Aviv is. I recognize every centimeter shown in the images that came across virtual space to land on the screen before me.
I don’t know the dead or injured, but they are part of my extended family. That is just how it is over there. We can fight amongst ourselves and the interethnic discrimination can be bad, but when the chips are down, we’re all family. It’s one of the things I like about living in Israel: such as when a fallen soldier without relatives in Israel sees throngs of citizens fill the cemetery to overflowing, even in the middle of the night, so that his last rites are witnessed by a multitude and his family elsewhere knows that he was not alone.
It is hard to be away when bad things happen there. When good things happen, I can miss not being part of it, but the rejoicing seems to not need the being there to the same extent. When bad things happen, in contrast, I feel cut to shreds.
I know that Israel is not the center of the world, but it is the center of my world and I want to walk about town and see in peoples’ eyes reflections of my own inner world, reflections of grief and fear and despair. I want to talk with people about the weather and the kids and problems with the neighbours, and see in their eyes, hear in their voices that they inhabit the same world I do. Just like when a family member dies and you wonder how the sun can come up and people can laugh as if nothing momentous took place when your whole world just fell apart. You need your own people in your grief.
My heart aches in this aloneness of being among Canadian Jews who care about Israel but do not live Israel. So I write my next article and research the one to follow it. I close my laptop. I leave Starbucks and let the cold wind bite at my cheeks as I cross the intersection. I try to catch a snowflake on my tongue before the glass doors slide open to let me pass into Loblaws. I marvel at the massive choice colouring the shelves; I get caught up in choosing among green leafy veggies I have never seen before or in picking a yogurt I haven’t yet tried. I get excited at finding the graham wafers we don’t have in Israel, already tasting the cheese cake I will make with it. My body is most certainly in Toronto this winter and my heart and soul are and always will be in Israel.