You know what I think one of the hardest things about being a new immigrant is?
That you become a one dimensional person without a past. Every time you meet someone, they have no frame of reference for who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Every conversation is about you presenting yourself and being evaluated, which is humbling and exhausting. This is true of when you move to anywhere new, but particularly to a new country and culture.
Last night I went to a bar mitzva in Beitar. I lived in Beitar for six years in the earlier years of my marriage and moved from there to the US fifteen years ago. I visited for a Shabbos over four years ago but almost all of the people I was friendly with I haven’t seen in a very, very long time.
It was a beautiful bar mitzva. And it was personally very enjoyable for me. You know why? Because I met person after person who I had a history with. Right after I walked in, someone looked at me and said, “I know you… you’re the shadchan (matchmaker)!” She didn’t remember my name but remembered I was the one who introduced the couple (over fifteen years ago!) who was making the bar mitzva.
I met someone else whose first birth I attended, three women who attended my childbirth classes, a friend who babysat my daughter when I was still a working mom, a friend who hosted the first parenting class I attended, someone who attended the weekly tehillim gathering in my house. Last week I was at a wedding in Jerusalem and someone across the table looked straight at me and said, “Avivah, don’t you remember me?” Of course I did. Not only did I remember her, but I attended births of her sister and sister-in-law.
It’s really different having conversations with people who you have a history with. Here’s an example. When I tell someone I have a history with that I’m homeschooling, the attitude is that homeschooling is unusual but must be okay if I’m doing it. When I tell someone who I don’t have a history with that I’m homeschooling, I sense people trying to size up if I’m a normal person who is doing something unusual, or a weird person doing something weird.
Our identities are built on years of relationships and activities, and when I moved to Israel I didn’t think about how hard it was going to be start over without the years of accumulated social collateral. It was hard not to be known for who I was when I moved here, and it’s shifting very quickly now that I moved.
Another reason to be grateful for my move here!