MY Israel story begins in 1973. My older sister had just made aliyah, and myself, my mother and younger sister travelled to visit her – just before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war.
Not long after this trip, my brother decided to make aliyah, which left my parents worried that our family would forever be changed.
In the spirit of family unity, they decided to uproot my younger sister and me from our comfortable life in Melbourne and school at Mount Scopus College and move to Israel for a year.
In preparation for our move, my parents had secured the rental of a villa in Beit Hakerem, a beautiful area of Jerusalem and walking distance across the wadi (valley) from the Hebrew University.
Unfathomable if I think of it today, my parents sent my sister and me (and our dog) ahead of them to my older sister, in order to settle us into Ulpan for the summer holiday period, before the commencement of the school year.
Despite my Scopus education, my Hebrew was practically non-existent. However after an extensive Ulpan course, I was aware, at least in my head, of the existence of the present, past and future tenses and that one was required to use 10 pronouns to address others.
I loved school in Israel. It took me two years to find fluency, but once I did, I didn’t look back. I made wonderful friends, found independence, went on incredible school camps and despite not being particularly academic, did very well in my bagrut – VCE equivalent.
At the end of my high school years, while all my friends were discussing their imminent army service, I was left to consider what my future held. My parents had only planned to stay in Israel for one year. It ended up being five.
At that time, I understood that there was an Australian law that did not allow for dual citizenship. My parents were dead against us giving up our Australian citizenship for Israeli citizenship. Everyone knows that “protectsia” is how things work in Israel, so my dad used it to maintain our tourist status for the years that we spent there. This meant that at 18, I was not eligible to serve in the army.
There were really only two options for me: go back to Australia, or to apply for university in Israel. I was pretty good at sports back then and decided to apply to study physical education at the prestigious Wingate Institute of Sport near Netanya.
Miraculously, I was accepted.
At the age of 17, straight out of high school, I moved into the student dormitories at Wingate to begin a three-year degree in physical education.
As a predominantly humanities student, studying anatomy, chemistry, physiology and a whole other host of science-based subjects, in Hebrew of course, proved too challenging. After the first year, I conceded defeat and made the decision that was to change the course of my family’s future: return to Melbourne. My mum also wanted to return. My younger sister and my dad came soon after. It was only a matter of a few years that saw my older sister and her growing family and my brother return too.
My five-year experience in Israel – despite initial hurdles – turned out to be the years that really shaped my life.
I returned to university in Melbourne to complete a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Hebrew and history. I taught Hebrew to possibly hundreds of kids, never forgetting to teach them the 10 personal pronouns that are fundamental to creating conversation, and that Hebrew grammar is much like a mathematical equation; once the formula is mastered, the rest is easy…ish.
I met a wonderful Israeli man to whom I have been married for 36 years. Our three incredible children are proud to say they speak Hebrew and have each spent a shnat year in Israel. We have also been charged with speaking only in Hebrew to our soon-to-be-born grandchild.
We make every effort to travel to Israel as much as we can despite not having any family there from either side. Just being in Israel, even if it’s spending most of our time on the beach in Tel Aviv gives us a buzz that we just don’t get anywhere else in the world.
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