NEW YORK – It's Friday in New York City, around noon. The IDF has launched Operation Pillar of Defense, and concerned Israelis are surfing the net and sending their family and friends text messages with news updates. One reports of rocket fire on Jerusalem, another's message says a rocket fired toward Tel Aviv landed in an open area. An Israeli woman sends an update that the government has authorized the army to issue emergency call-up orders to reserve soldiers. I call home. Everyone is fine. My brother was also called up. My eight-year-old nephew is starting to get it. It is terrible that this boy is old enough to understand that "bad guys" exist not only in cartoons.
I've been living abroad for seven years now. I left Israel to work for an Israeli company in Europe and continued from there to New York, where I obtained my bachelor's degree while working. Life abroad is comfortable and peaceful, but it is a sad comfort – an addictive and sticky "honey trap."
Yes, it is easy to order from Amazon and have the items delivered to your door, and it is easy to get from point A to point B on the subway. Cities provide public transportation seven days a week (24 hours a day in some of the big cities). There is no shortage of water, so you can shower in hot water for more than five minutes and fill your pool without giving it a second thought. Rent normally doesn't exceed half of your monthly salary and it is relatively easy to get a job if you have master's degree. The gas is also cheaper, and owning a car does not require you to take out a mortgage. Yes, the bottom line is that life abroad is more comfortable.
Why, then, is the happiness mixed with sadness? Hanoch Levin once said that the despair becomes more comfortable, and he apparently knew what he was talking about. This comfort is addictive, but it is devoid of any real substance or values; and it certainly doesn't guarantee happiness.
Despite this never-ending comfort, life abroad accentuates the sense that you don't belong to the society in which you live; it intensifies the longing for the good and bad of the people of Israel. Living abroad reminds you that only an Israeli can understand what it means to be Israeli. Only in Israel will you understand what true friendship is. And even if you did not serve in a combat unit, you know that Israelis have a stronger sense of responsibility for their compatriots.
'Despair becomes more comfortable.' NYC (Photo: Shutterstock)
Once an Israeli who lives abroad realizes this, the comfort becomes much less appealing, perhaps because at some point you come to terms with the fact that choosing comfort, success and freedom on the other side of the globe really means choosing to be all alone. And for me, being alone is not happiness. So, after a few years abroad, I decided that I am "making aliyah." I am returning to Zion.
After deciding that I would return to Israel in the summer, I was surprised to find out that those who return home are considered by many Israelis to be masochists. The responses I received were anything but supportive or optimistic.
'I have no other country.' (Photo: Dekel Ovadia)
People mostly have a hard time understanding how I could have made the decision to go home right after Operation Pillar of Defense. It's not like we weren’t attacked before. They couldn't understand how I could leave a cheap apartment in NYC and condemn myself to a life of slavery so I can pay rent in Tel Aviv; or how I could leave the subway routine for the undeveloped public transport system in Israel. They couldn't understand why I would want to go back to a country that drafts tens of thousands of citizens during a war, only to see the UN grant non-member observer status to our neighbors three weeks later. "There is no future," I've heard on numerous occasions. "You are not going back to the same place you left seven years ago."
During the IDF's operation in Gaza many people who are very dear to me put on their uniforms. I also read the arguments that Tel Aviv's residents are living in a bubble, when I'm living in the real bubble. I realized that now, more than ever before, I want to go back.
Two days before the ceasefire, I found myself walking with a close friend to a tattoo parlor. We were never big fans of tattoos, but my friend, who is also planning to return to Israel in the summer, decided to tattoo five words on his body – five words that are so significant when you live 9,500 kilometers form the Color Red siren: "I have no other country." These five words remind me that I am going back to Israel over the summer, regardless of how many people say I'm crazy for doing it.
Dekel Ovadia, 29, lives in New York. He holds a bachelor's degree in psychology, theater and drama from Queens College.