Tag Archives: Israel

On being married to a man from a foreign country

I have written a couple of times about living in Israel and my difficulties – those related to being in Israel and those related to being in a foreign country generally.

Today I met a mum at the park who is originally from Kuwait. She has been living in Israel for 10 years after she married an Arab Israeli. She has two beautiful children. And I am so very sorry that I did not get her number.

We spoke in English, and my DS was so friendly with her, taking her hand and playing with her, while her older children played on the round about.

I asked her if she goes back to visit her family in Kuwait and she was talking about meeting them in Jordan, and then hurried off when her husband came out of the bank.

I felt so happy talking to another woman who has moved to this country to be with her husband and who also feels the stress of living in Israeli society – but who does not feel bound to the land as her national heritage. I admit too that I would love to find a way to be friends with an Arab family – as much for myself, as for my DS. I do have a political agenda as such. But mostly, it was just so reassuring to talk to someone not born in Israel who spoke about being here for her husband, not for an an ideology. I do not fit in with Immigrants in general in the Israeli society. I find it hard to idenitify with a rhetoric that inherently denies the right of a nation to exist.

I did not even get this mums name, only the names of her children. I really do hope I meet you again at the park and that just maybe we will sit to coffee one day.


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Yom HaEtzma’ut



We had a fully vegan celebration – in starck contrast to the meat orgie that has come to represent this day of celebration for Jews both in and out of Israel. We still managed to over eat and I feel decidely stuffed over into this morning.

I had wanted to mark the day by attending a conference (scroll down to page 3 for English) on marking Independance day and the Naqba, the Arab story that runs parallel to the Jewish one. I do not seem to be ready to commit to actions yet when it comes to expressing my political views. DH also was not too supportive, voicing his opinion that the Arab story is in need of it’s own voice outside of reacting to the Jewish story. I can kind of understand that, but I feel very passionatly that a mutual recognition of the pain of both people carries the seeds of hope for this region….
In baby steps style, I did express my opinion with friends of DH’s. I was talking about maybe having a period of time not being in Israel and that I want DS to identify himself as Jewish. And that in South Africa I would find it hard to associate with the Jewish Community if the elements of Zionism and blind support for Israel are too strong. This felt like a huge deal for me. I am always nervous expressing an opinion that could be construed as anti – Jewish, or anti – Semitic. In my mind it is clear that that is not my opinion when I express my concern about being part of a community that blindly supports Israel whatever she does. However, it seems that it is easy enough to cry ‘anti-Semiticism’ should there be any questioning – or better yet, ‘self hating Jew’.

Anyway, back to my comment. It was very empowering to express my opinion and not be looked at askance and even be understood. 🙂 🙂 Yay for the friends of DH.

DS is switching between being gorgeous and charming and heart-throbbingly adorable to just impossible as he screeches in frustration on what is becoming a fairly regular basis.

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I am officially in the process of becoming a LLL leader.

Today I started a course on communication and understanding what is being said. It is fantastic and I have so much to learn from women who have many many years experience of listening to mothers. One of the women is the mother of more than 10 children herself.  5 of the 8 women are very religious. As in orthodox religious.

I am the only new mum. And the only person with I guess what could be called a liberal view on life and politics.

I was left feeling rather weird after one of the exercises. Basically the co-ordinator had put together a couple of controversial statements for us to analyse and figure out how to respond to in a respecful way that would encourage further dialogue. Essentially try and understand the emotional tone of what was being said and respond to that.

The weird part is that I got the impression that she designed the statements for a group of women who would have very right wing conservative opinions – essentially to create a strong emotional response in the listeners (us) as a further exersise in trying to understand the emotional tone of what is being said when we ourselves have our own strong contrasting opions.

However, the statements she used could very easily have been something that I would say, and I saw just how upsetting this was to the other women – how completley disprespectful they were of the opinion expressed.

It was very weird.

Here I am a passionate breastfeeding mum and I found myself surrounded by women who I have not very much in common with other than the fact that we are passionate about breastfeeding. In pretty much every other way we are very very different. I never would have met any of these women in any other way.

Which got me thinking. In a way it is quite exciting to be meeting women whom I otherwise would never meet. It is very exciting to see just how similar we are in how we mother. I just can’t shake the  distress at having had my political opinions used as an example in how to listen without your own emotion clouding what you hear.

Well, two more meetings. And the course is definitly very well done and I am happy to be there. Just feel very much the odd one out (this is in no way new)

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27/12/2008 – 17/01/2009

I am mortified.

Just absolutely mortified.

The horror that is happening / has happened in Gaza haunts me all the time. I am quite sick with it. And beyond confused.

What I have been reading is too awful to even entertain as the daily reality of so many people. And my life has carried on, my daily walks, cooking, care of my darling child. I cannot wrap my head around this.

I have been thinking and thinking and thinking. And I have found myself quite bewildered. One the one hand I am devasted that so many women and children have been killed, maimed and traumatised. I do not understand how this can be explained. In my heart I cannot find an excuse that says it is what needed to happen. I cannot justify it. And then, I also wonder about how else this could all have played out *in the current situation*. I honestly do not know what other options Israel had to stop the rocket fire. Which is not a small detail. And so when my heart is aching for the unbeleivable suffering that is the daily reality of a people living not that far away from me, my head is trying to find another solution. How could this have been prevented.

And my answers take me back…. essentially back through the whole modern history of Israel and the struggle of the Palestinian People. Pretty much at each and every juncture where decisions were made, the conservative decsision was made, a decision that held no promise for peace.

And, as critical as I am of Israel, and as much as I demand of my husband to entertain leaving Israel – I have become Israeli in this conflict. An outcome I never would have imagined. The trauma and suffering of the people of Israel has ceased to be a detail for me. It is part of my story. And yet, I still feel able to critisize Israel and the IDF. I still erupt into spewing rage when I see injustice. I just no longer see it happening in a vacuum and I no longer fall into the trap of thinking if only Israel would stop it would all be better. If I follow that line of thought, it takes me down a road that could easily mean the end of Israel. Just as I am sure that if Israel continues down the current path – it will in the end not be sustainable and essentially threaten the very existance of Israel.

I have found myself falling into a specific group of people that critisize some of the actions of Israel.

It is a completely different protest when someone critisezes Israel, knowing the Jewish story and identifying with the Jewish story. When Gideon Levy critisizes Israel, he does so in context. When someone who lives outside of Israel and is not familiar with the broad and deep history cries ‘genocide’ – it freaks me out a little. I am not sure where that person is going with their desperate cry. Do they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist, or does their cry come from a place of wishing Israel did not exist? It is not always possible to tell.

During this most horrific assault on the people of Gaza, I found myself wondering who was to blame. Could the blame be laid squarely at the feet of the IDF? When it is the ammunition of the IDF killing and maiming, and the technology of the IDF terrorising, can it be said that 100% of the blame lies with the IDF? I am not convinced. Obviously this would not be happening if the IDF were not there, but when the IDF is targeting Hamas and Hamas is deeply embedded in the civilian population, does Hamas not bear some responsibility for the death and destruction? What would I do as a mother if Hamas was launching rockets from near my home and I knew the IDF would retalliate? I think I would be spitting mad at both of them and terrified for my life and the life of my family and loved ones. I would feel so trapped, so angry, so desperate, so beyond hope. I would feel like the most unlucky person in the world. No one to defend me or mine.

In all this conflict I have to hope that somehow the international community will take it all a bit more seriously and take it upon themselves to put a stop to the violent bloodshed from both sides. I have to hope that both people can learn to see the humanity of the other and stop painting each other as the enemy. I am devasted that 92% of Israelis see what has happened as justified. This is not a topic of discussion for most people I know as I just cannot bear to hear the justification and moralising. The people in Gaza are human beings too, not some faceless enemy.

I hope that the Israelis see what has happened there and face what has been done. I am not too optimistic – but I am hopeful. I wish with all my heart that Jewish Israelis would stand up and say “not in my name”.

An honest critique is needed. And honest look at what happened. Not just the praise of a job well done. Although somehow critising Israel and the IDF became antisemitic and traitorous.

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My mind is swirling. There is so much going on and I just do not have the time or energy to keep up with it all.

I have been looking into some of the foundations of Epidemiology and the assumptions that have been made. I have not got all my ideas into a coherent structure yet – it is fascinating to see how certain assumptions are made. Modern Medicine has by no means thrown off the shackles of assumption and belief.

And of course there is the pressing situation in Gaza right now as I write. This has my head swirling in a BIG way. I do not think “Hamas bad – need to kill them” but neither do I think “Israel bad – need to kill them”. I just find that I do not know enough.

For me it is enough that there are mothers and children who are being used as pawns and who suffer. On both sides of the border. It breaks my heart that *any* child has to listen to war planes bombing.

And yet the context is so much broader than that. But I do not feel I have the tools to understand that context.

One the one hand you have rockets being fired into a civilian population for 8 years almost every day. Not many people have been killed or injured (relatively) – but that is 8 years of mothers and children suffering – whole families suffering.

And then you have a whole population deprived of basic commodities and now being bombed with civilian casualties. This population shares a land border with Israel and Egypt and has a coast line. I do not see much pressure on Egypt to assist. Why are women and children not being smuggled out? I do not have all the history and facts at my fingertips… but I am sure the answer is not an easy one as to why Egypt is keeping the border firmly closed.

And Hamas itself. I do not profess to understand Hamas. I am struck by the extreme position with regard to never making peace with Israel and driving the Jewish People out of Palestine in it’s entirety. This is not feasible or realistic. Does each person living in Gaza wish for the destruction of Israel? After the last 40 years I am sure there are many who do. But at the expense of their own lives? I can understand very religious people and  people of strong conviction perhaps making this case – but what about the mother wanting to feed her family and protect her children? Does this mother dream of the destruction of Israel or a peace that she can live in and enjoy with her family?

I know I am not highly committed to the destruction of Hamas. I want a peaceful country to raise my family. But I guess that is not enough. If the Israeli politicians are right, I will never have that peace until Hamas changes their approach to Israel and accepts that Israel is here to stay. And likewise I guess the mother living in Gaza would probably tell me that until Israel allows her country to be autonomous, there will never be peace.

Now we just need the Nelson Mandela of the Middle East.

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Come again?

I have mentioned here that I am in the process of acquiring Israeli Citizenship. Something that I didn’t actually realise was that important to me until the clerk who told me almost a year ago that at our next meeing I take out citizenship, suddenly changed her story and postponed the meeting.

I am highly suspicious of why. I know that the state of Israel is not wild about me being here. I guess I was getting excited about voting in February and now it looks like I won’t be able to. I realise that my vote would not excite pretty much 80+% of the Israeli population, in fact that I am allowed to vote and will not be voting along religious lines will probably infuriate certain people.

Anyway, I went into quite a slump as I got my head around ‘not being there yet’. I just want to scream from the rooftops that I don’t need any bloody favours. I can quite happily take myself and my family to anywhere in Europe or Northern America with the passports I have – I do not need to be here. Except that I met and married an Israeli man, and have build my life here. And this is where I am for now.

I guess I am still ambivalent about being here. I feel awful that my DH is able to exercise his right to marry a non Israeli/non Jewish person and that Israeli Arabs who would marry a non Israeli/non Jewish person are allowed to, they just are not allowed to live with them in Israel. This is justified as being a security requirement as Israel cannot risk having Palestinians coming into Israel through maraige. And so, Israeli Arabs and Palestiinians have a different set of ‘rules’ from Jewish Israeli’s.

And this does touch my life. I do not feel comfortable getting ‘preferential’ treatment. Although it is hardly a red carpet treatment. That is reserved for Halachically Jewish people who chose to make Aliyah (Assention – or immigration is other countries) to the Land of Israel and exercise their right to vote the second they put their foot on the tarmac at Ben Gurioin International Airport. So, yeah I am angry that I am mixed up in this mess. I have no answers for the deeply complex issues that are entwined in the history of this land and the modern conflict that is so pressing.

I think most Israeli’s around me prefere not to think about it. I am welcomed as a stranger who made a huge effort to be part of Israeli Society and as such I am accepted. That I am fluent in Hebrew and fairly well read on Israel (although this is in comparison to people who know *nothing*. My knowledge is still very limited) gains me access to friendships and conversations. But, I keep my personal pain of being repeatedly ‘told’ by the state of Israel that I am not equal, to myself. I do not think Israeli’s can understand just how painful this is. I am reassured that it’s not that bad. That we had to consult lawyers and invest a lot of time and money to get my name on our property when we bought our house is kind of forgotten. And I got my name on the property, so what’s wrong?

Yes, there is a law in Israel that when ownership of land is being processed, if you are not Jewish, the board processing the request can deny the request if there is any opposition to the ownership going through. This did not happen to me in the end. I have to assume because I do not have an Arabic name and my husband is Jewish. But I did go through a tough time trying to decide if I can live in a country that for whatever reasons (some of them very valid) is so catergorically racist? In the end I could not find enough of a reason to ask my DH to leave this country and we are still here.

I grew up in South Africa and was born to a father who left South Africa as a youth, not prepared to serve in the army and support the racist regeime. Only when I was 5 and when he was assured he would not have to serve in the army did we return to South Africa. I know about racism. It has been personal before.

I just do not know yet how to reconsile my life here in Israel. I feel like I am condoning things that I do not agree with just be living me life here. However, my life is more than the politics around me. My IL’s are all here, my DH has never called another city home, let alone another country. We, in our personal lives, have a good life (a VERY good life). But that does not quiet my longing for making sense of this country that I live in, and finding a way that I can explain to myself why this is the country that I should be living in.

So, G*d knows when and how I will get this citizenship. Perhaps I require some more soul searching before accepting this opportunity. And yet, I honeslty feel that only as a citizen and a voting citizen, can I have any hope of contributing to what I want to see develop here in the Holy Land.

Happy Holidays


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What to do?

I was not born Jewish. I chose to be Jewish in a way that I guess is very familiar to those who have taken this path. I met and fell in love with a man who is Jewish (that he considers himself more Israeli than Jewish was something that took me a while to understand). And I chose to move my life to Israel, at least for a 3 year period – as I learnt the language. If I remember correctly I had a notion that if we did not start our lives in Israel, I would never be able to do it at a later date with children. It would just be too difficult. Anyway, 4+ years later I am still here, and am likely to be here for some time.

Some background information. I had always been drawn to Judaism as a child. I really liked visiting my friends who celebrated Shabbat and loved the deep roots for the celebrations of Pesach and Rosh haShana. I like the mezzuzot on the doors. It was something that felt very comforting to me. I guess I also really liked my friends who were Jewish.

My first inkling of how hard it is to be a woman who is in love with a Jewish man came as an adolescent when I fell in love with my best friends brother. My experience with their mum was so strange. She was not at all happy about me being with her son. Now I am not so sure it was about me being Jewish or not, but the notion that I was not an appropriate choice if I was not Jewish became a notion in my mind. A notion that I have also learned is not universally held by all Jewish families, well both sets of my IL’s could not care less. And I had to overcome considerable resistance to go through with the conversion.

DH and I had a civil wedding in Cape Town, South Africa with close friends and family and I moved to Israel to start my married life, and a process that often had me in tears with frustration, deeply hurt by the system that did not want me. The Israeli Interior Ministry proved to be a place where we even got friendly with the clerke who renewed my visa each year, but the bottom line was that if you are not Jewish, you are not too welcome. Of course it is illegal to say an outright ‘no’, the High court gave my husband the right to marry a non Jewish person and have his marriage recognized in Israel. But, the overall feeling is not one of ‘yes, we want you here’.

Throughout this process I was in a deep conflict. One the one hand I wanted very much to convert to Judaism and ensure that our children would be unquestionably Jewish and on the other hand I did not want to bow to the ‘pressure’ to conform. I winced every time someone at work said something derogatory about non Jewish women and their offspring. I was very taken aback at the level of complacency in the Israeli society that said that it is OK to judge someone for not being Jewish. I was very very angry to be honest. I did not understand how a people who for so many generations have been subjected to such discrimination, I did not understand how this same people could be so comfortable discriminating against others themselves. The would not be the first conundrum I had with Israeli’s.

I found a path that felt right for me and started to convert in the Reform Movement. I was familiar with the Reform Judaism from my childhood and felt like it was more in line with my values than the Orthodox  Judaism that I was getting to know in Israel. The only problem was that the Reform Movement is not recognized by the state of Israel. For all things bureaucratic, Orthodox Judaism is the only accepted religion. In a way this suited me. I could convert to a Judaism that I felt matched my values, provide a community for my family and not bow to the state pressure to be Jewish.

My actual conversion was a wonderful experience of getting to know Judaism and becoming familiar with Kabbalat Shabbat, Shabbat itself, Havdalah, the festivals, the food, the traditions. And meeting Rabbi’s. A particular rabbi from the US totally captured the essense of why I chose the Reform movement instead of the Orthodox. The Reform Jews are inspired by the Torah and the Othodox Jews beleive that the Torah was revealved to them by G-d. I can work with being inspired. I am not comfortable believing any sacred text came from G-d.

So, back to my present situation. I have converted. I have my Jewish name and 18 months later I became a mother. The State of Israel has classified my son as ‘other’ when it comes to nationality and religion as I have yet to process my conversion for acceptance by the Interior Ministry. Another ruling by the High Court that requires the Interior Ministry to register me as Jewish in my ID if I provide a certificate of conversion from the Reform Movement. (my children just will not be able to marry in Israel and myself and my children will not be able to be buried in a state cemetary). Do I want my son to grow up as ‘other’? I am not sure. At home he will grow up as Jewish. He of course will know that my parents are not Jewish, but our home life reflects a Jewish way of life. So, how can I justify not giving him the security of being formally Jewish, when this is what his home environment will be?

I just do not know. Maybe I am just lazy and do not want to deal with the lawyers. But the issue remains, that I am not sure I want DS growing up thinking he is something that the state will tell him is not true. Gosh, I often come back to this. At loggerheads with the state. Overall I have a good life here and I am finding ways to make peace with the highly unlikely reality that I would live in Israel.  What should I care whether the state will call my son Jewish or not? Does it really matter? I keep coming back to how wrong it is that religion is so entwined with state and this goes to really really hard places. Places I have no answers for.

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