By Hedva Haymov
My name is Alice. Well, it’s not my real name. It’s my experience. Because I fell.
I was born into a secular Jewish family in the West. No thoughts of God in my family. No prayer, no synagogue, no holy water. Not even a mention of Israel, funny enough, for 364 days a year. That one day a year, though, I knocked on doors and visited friends with a little blue and white tin box in my hand. It was cold to the touch and rang out every time someone answered the door with a coin. I asked until it was full, then I returned it to the local synagogue. They were raising money for the new, little country of Israel and we were going to plant trees there. No further mention of Israel or the conflict (besides fleeting pictures and videos on the news of rock throwing and plumes of smoke) in my life. When I was 26, I was walking down 18th Street NW in D.C. and I received a brochure about Jews who believed in Jesus. This was the first time I fell. It Unraveled cultural norms and lies that the two could never coexist.
Fast forward 4 years of unraveling that mystery, the whole time being nurtured and coddled by the idea that Israel was the Homeland and Jews must return according to the Bible (the WHOLE Bible, not just the Old Testament). I sold my condo, I left my 18th and K job and moved. And again, I fell.
I made it to Israel. I made ALIYAH. Wow. Alone and learning Hebrew in Ashkelon, my fantastic journey was unraveling a new life and it was all exciting. The night I landed and made it to Ashkelon, there was actually snow on the ground. It was in the middle of the night, brisk, white and magical. It was all the Israeli Narrative promised it would be.
Moving to Jerusalem proved to be the beginning of my undoing. In Jerusalem, there were people of different lifestyles and dress. They spoke another language, ate different things, seemed to move in different ways and had different priorities. They were them and we were us. It seemed unnatural. Then a friend invited me to a cross-cultural women’s meeting. This fall was hard.
My roommate at this first conference was a Christian woman from Bethlehem. She lived very close to Rachel’s Tomb. At night, before bed, she told me about her life. Since she lived so close to the tower, she had to lay on the floor of her kitchen when the shooting between the soldiers and teenagers started. There were bullet holes in her home. Three different times someone had died on her doorstep. Her husband and sons were held and questioned often and the soldiers used to park their tank in her garden. But I hadn’t fallen – not yet. When we left, Proud Mother that she was, the Christian woman gave me the URL to her son’s website. “He’s a photographer. He made this website himself,” she said. “Please look it up when you get home.” I did. This is when I truly fell.
This website was the self-expression of a 17-year-old, after having grown up in violence and confusion all his life. There were pictures of blood and heads and tanks and bullets and protests. Never had I seen such violence – and I grew up in NYC!
I called the friend that had invited me to the conference. I was shaken. I was distraught. “What do I do with this?” I asked her. Her answer: “Take your time. Just do not withdraw. Stay in contact with her.” I had fallen – hard.
Staying connected when you are shaken to the core is one of the most difficult AND rewarding steps I’ve taken in my life. I do not discard my culture and my place in this Land completely, but I’ve added this experience to my identity. That proud mother is my friend today. Her son is an excellent photographer and has had many international exhibits, though his subject matter now shows a more lovely side of his culture.
So now I’m Alice. I’ve fallen. The Rabbit Hole is now my home.
This is just one example of the important work produced by YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region.