The joy of being known for who you are

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!


10 thoughts on “The joy of being known for who you are

  1. It’s interesting. I hope I’m not misstating or offending but you seemed, in some ways, like a different person when you were in Maryland. Maybe I’m wrong, but the focus on getting established and putting out fires came through in your writing more, in recent years, than the message of a wise woman in her game, which I recall. This move is very promising in its first signs of returning you to center. IYH, you should go from strength to strength.

    1. Sharon, that’s a very astute comment!

      I think we’re all constantly changing, and I’m certainly a different person than I was – I’m a much stronger person now with much more hard earned life experience! I’ve faced challenges in the last 3.5 years that have tested every single part of me. I felt it was important to share honestly about these issues rather than gloss over them and continue to write as I always had, but wondered if readers would see it as weakness.

      I’m glad you’ve continued to read through it all and hope you’ll continue to be here with me!

  2. Thanks for this post, Avivah, especially because as you’ve experienced yourself, this tiny country holds a remarkable range and variety of living experiences in what from a distance looks like a tiny area. Not so tiny from the inside.

    As someone who has moved a lot, both geographically and socially, my entire life (well, no, but since I was 8 and made aliya with my family), your words were very comforting. I wonder sometimes why on earth I get so exhausted, when my life on the surface seems (relatively) so normal. But negotiating lots of change and that “not being known” factor can wear you out.

    Have a wonderful holiday!

    1. Judy, I’m so glad you found this comforting! That’s why I write about things like this, because when you go through it and it feels so hard and you think you’re the only one, you start to think there’s something wrong with you. But it’s absolutely normal.

      It takes courage and a lot of emotional strength to continue to put yourself out there day after day. Since it’s not a challenge we can see, we don’t give ourselves credit for the energy it takes to deal with it.

  3. “Every conversation is about you presenting yourself and being evaluated, which is humbling and exhausting.”

    “When I tell someone who I don’t have a history with that I’m (insert activity or interest here), 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.”

    Sounds like shidduchim!

  4. Interesting! I feel exactly the opposite way. I would love the opportunity to move to someplace where people don’t know me and I can be known for who I am today and not for my family or my past. I meet people sometimes and they say, “oh, you grew up here? What’s your maiden name?” And when I tell them they say, “oh, I know your family” and their voice kinda trails off And I’m left wondering what they mean by that and feeling a little judged and a little defensive (well, people change, and everyone in our family is very different, you know). Or it’ll be someone who knows me from high school and I’ll see her and wonder if she still sees me as someone who’s finding herself or does she recognize that I’ve grown up and changed?

    1. I hear what you’re saying, Y. When I wrote this I was thinking there are those who would feel as you do, that you want to get a chance to create a new mature identity for yourself. It could be very freeing for you to start in a new place where all people know about you is the wonderful person you are!

  5. Great post Avivah:
    This hit home for each of us in the family. (Us being in our our 9th month of Aliyah) And at another level this shared history may be one of the reasons when we meet someone new we straight away go through Jewish Geography– so we can find a connection through our shared history.
    Happy to hear that living in RBS seems to be a good fit for you and your family

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