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Danita and Michel


by Danita Aziza , posted November 8, 2011

When I was a kid I had a wicked imagination. I was fairly well grounded, but I had this uncanny ability to really make exceptionally good use of the left side of my brain. With a single thought I could transform my bicycle into a station wagon filled with four noisy children complete with handsome husband in the front seat. On Sunday evenings when the Sonny and Cher show aired, I would drape a towel around my head and, in Cher like fashion, flick the side of the towel with my index finger, pretending that I had long straight black hair. I loved to think that I could sing just like Julie Andrews and would place a phone call to my Gram at least once a week and serenade her with a medley from The Sound of Music
I loved to go outside of myself and become someone else completely, if only for a make believe moment in time.
Well I’m all grown up now, or at least I like to think I am, and I’m being forced to come to terms with who I really am. Whether I lived in Moose Jaw, Calgary, Boston, Toronto or Winnipeg I was always pretty confident in myself and sure of who I was, but Israel, “G-d bless her”, has forced me to reevaluate my sense of self.
When we first arrived, I retreated to the confines of my home a bit scared to venture anywhere on my own. I felt awkward and out of place afraid to encounter anything unexpected or unfamiliar. I was a bit petrified that someone would say something to me and I wouldn’t understand. I would force myself to do many things that one would normally not give second thought to. Grocery shopping, picking up a prescription at the drug store, going to a new synagogue, driving on the highway, placing a phone call all fairly mundane routine activities would be unnerving to me and would manage to rattle my confidence. My silly struggles gave way to some deep introspection allowing me to see that I was not as comfortable in my own skin as I had once thought.
 I have spent a lot of time smiling my way through the past three years pretending that I’m fitting in to a culture that is basically foreign to me. My smile allows me to convince myself and perhaps others that I’m adapting to life in Israel with grace and ease. I’ve put much effort, infact, a little too much effort in trying to find a way to be Israeli. If I just learned Hebrew, I told myself, I’d feel more comfortable here. I’d have a sense of what is going on, understand the news, converse with the locals, be able to read the advertisements that bombard me. I set my expectations pretty high and haven’t managed to totally find my place and have mixed myself up a bit in the process.
I marvel at Michel’s attitude and wish that more of it would rub off on me. He, unlike me, doesn’t try so hard to fit in here. He hasn’t had a lot of time to learn Hebrew so uses English or French as his mode of communication. He applies North American business standards for the most part and is able to walk away pretty much unaffected when things don’t necessarily turn out the way he had hoped.   He simply doesn’t try to be something that he’s not and because of that, he is able to find himself fitting in, in a way that works for him. Now there’s my model of someone who is comfortable in his own skin.
I was a meeting a few weeks ago with a woman who told me she’s lived in Israel for over 30 years. She told me that she will never be able to be Israeli in her own mind or in that of others. She considers herself to be an American who has chosen to live her life in Israel and that is totally ok by her. Her sense of peace with who she is and how she lives her life here hit a chord with me and has shifted my thinking in a more positive and realistic direction.
I know that much of who I am, my third generation Canadian genes, my unassertive nature, my ting of naivety and the fact that on many issues I can be swayed to see another side, are all attributes that set me apart from norm here. Instead of trying to suppress those qualities that define who I am in order to fit in, I’m learning to feel that they actually can be of benefit.   My propensity for patience and politeness has been noticed around town and I’m actually finding that my smile to passers- by on my walks and waves to drivers who allow me to enter their lane are not only not mocked but, are starting to be returned.
Israelis, at least to me, exude confidence and strength. Those who I have met impress me with their capabilities, optimism, ability to take decisions quickly, passion for life and frankness.. I think all of these qualities make for a solid individual and I’m learning to try and make some of them my own. I trying not to be intimidated any more by the fact that I’m not exactly “one of them” and most probably never will be.
I’m not great at playing make believe anymore. I’m grappling with the real thing, not a dream but the reality of living in Israel. The experience is not always easy, not always warm and fuzzy, but certainly life enhancing. Israel has taken me out of my comfort zone, forced me to shed a bit of my Canadian skin and put on a new type of skin, a bit thicker and not as easy to bruise. Is it comfortable? Well, I’m still trying it on for size, wearing it in and hoping that it will soon be so comfortable that I won’t dream of taking it off.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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