By Daphna Levy
Initially published in LaIsha
Republished on YNet
Finally I brought myself to translate this article. To be honest, I wanted to go to sleep because I was extremely tired, but I have discovered that I seem to be increasingly suffering from lack of creativity; so to rectify this feeling, though it’s just a translation thus nothing creative on my end, I am keeping my word which I gave you over a month ago – I translated the article. Hopefully next time I will be more creative!
Perhaps you read this virtual list on the Internet: olah chadasha gave 30 reasons why one should live in Israel. Her text praises the country so much that it appears as if it was written by the request of the Foreign Ministry. We decided to find the writer and check what exactly she loves so much.
Until the age of 18 she didn’t know that she was Jewish at all and the thought about living in Israel didn’t cross her mind. A decade later she is here; she learns at the women’s yeshiva in Jerusalem and she tries to ignore her phone which, during most recent weeks, doesn’t stop ringing and tweeting – the result of tens of thousands of shares of the post, which she wrote, titled “30 ways in which living in Israel will ruin you for life”.
Esther Fuerster, 29, was born and raised in Poland in the city of Rzeszow, which is situated around 150 kilometres from Cracow. “I am giving a detailed explanation”, she says, “because no one has ever heard about that city, yet everyone asks where I am from and then they are embarrassed to admit that they do not know where it is and keep nodding for five minutes”.
She’s the daughter of a Nigerian father and a Polish mother, who sent her away to Britain to study there. She completed her degree in International Relations and Law at a London university. In continuation of her studies she did an MA degree, a post-graduate diploma in interpreting and she worked in the variety of managerial positions. One visit to Israel made her feel that this is her home and in the end she moved to live here.
Food comes delayed
In the mentioned post, which Fuerster published in English on her blog called Nedida (www.nedida.wordpress.com), she listed the variety of reasons that caused her to fall in love with Israel. The general list speaks of an admiration of the regular Israeli straightforwardness in giving advice, from the ever-lasting summer, the fact that one can wear flip flops everywhere and anywhere, the fact that kosher restaurants are easily accessible, people getting involved with you on streets and even the fact that take-away places do not rush to deliver orders – what one can do is to call from work and get home around the time when the food arrives.
It sounds like a nationalistic article. Are you sure that you don’t work in the PR department of the Foreign Ministry?
“You are not the first to ask, but no – it’s a completely personal post that was written by my own accord, on the blog which I opened in order to stay in touch with my family members and friends around the world. I was amazed when I saw that it suddenly had hundreds of thousands views and I still don’t know exactly how to adjust myself to all the attention.“
Her English is fine, with the magical British accent; Hebrew still not, but she is on her way with that. “After the list went crazy from all the replies to the post, I very much panicked. I called my mum and told her ‘take me home, it’s frightening that everyone is engaging with what I wrote; apart from this I have stage fright’. She told me to deal with it, because this is what I do”.
What did you know about Israel before you came here?
“Almost nothing. I readied myself for all sort of threats and possibly bad things. I thought that I would a have cultural shock. I thought that I will feel alienated – I am not very sociable person, despite that you perceive me as an easy-going and a friendly individual…”
Then how did you find yourself here?
“When I was alone in London I decided to learn krav maga for self-defence so that I felt safe when I walked home in the evening. Two years ago I decided to come to Israel to take a course at the Wingate Institute in order to learn how to train children so that I could give lessons in London. But two weeks before the trip I fractured my foot and I couldn’t stand on it. I remember that I sat at work, the ticket was in my bag and I didn’t know what I would do in Israel for 10 days, but decided to fly nonetheless. It may sound strange, but the moment I landed here I felt at home. I had never felt like this in my life, also not in Poland where I was born and raised.”
If for all the years in Poland you didn’t know you were Jewish, how did you discover this?
“Once in a while we had family chats with my mum. My dad has a giant family in Nigeria, whom I have never met and my mum has a tiny family in Poland. It’s a story without end and I am still discovering all sort of new facts every time we talk. For example, only a year ago I discovered that my grandmother had a brother. Not important? What is even more important is that my mother never managed to enquire what happened to my grandparents during the Second World War. They refused to answer her questions. At some point my mum told me something that her mother, that is my grandmother, was Jewish. Both of us didn’t exactly understand what it meant; in the place where we lived there were no Jews and after she told me about it, she asked that I should speak to no one about it.
When I understood that the Jewishness is received through the maternal side of the family my first question was what I was going to do with it? The answer was clear to me: I needed to keep Shabbat. I started and slowly, slowly I kept more mitzvot. I didn’t want to take too much upon myself so that I wouldn’t break. This is my connection with my identity and the history of my family. I know that many secular Israelis think differently. You are Jewish because you live in Israel. You are Jewish because you go to the army. You are Jewish because you celebrate bar mitzvah. I was brought up without this identity. When I asked myself what it meant that I was Jewish, this was my answer.”
How did you parents react?
“My dad took it the hardest, but I am sure he will adapt. My mum didn’t like the idea that I became openly religious and said that it was dangerous to externalise my Jewishness, and that it was not worth talking about anyway. When she understood that I was happy, she became glad too. She says that I am the only one from the family that inherited the “Jewish gene”, that to say that I have passion for keeping the mitzvot.”
One can keep mitzvot in London, yet you decided to move to Israel. Why?
“I had few reasons. Among others was my health. It deteriorated seriously when I lived in London. I couldn’t suffer seeing doctors all the time. Three years ago the doctors got back to me and said that my lifestyle and stress was dangerous for my health.”
Did you think about going back to Poland?
“Over the years in London I became increasingly religious so that I couldn’t see myself living in Poland. Also on the professional level; I have acquired skills and experience in the areas that I hadn’t known were there. My mum always tells me that I am never satisfied with life and always want more. It may as well be this way. But without the drive for new experiences I wouldn’t find myself here. From my perspective the move to Israel was exactly the progress I wanted; in Israel I found quiet and tranquillity.”
Quiet and tranquillity in Israel? Are you sure that we are talking about the same place?
“Right, this isn’t the calmest place in the world. It’s very energetic and loud and also it’s not that I do less here. I am doing administrative work for companies outside of Israel that are run by Israelis and the social life isn’t less busy than in London. However in terms of the quality of life, Israel gives me space to relax. I am very busy here, but I still find that I am relaxed.”
How do you explain that?
“In London I was far away from my family and also here I do not have any relatives, but despite this I feel here at home. It could be that London was big for me. Add to it the terrible weather and the endless struggle for survival. I didn’t manage to deal with pressures of living in such a big city and all the time I had pain in my chest. Israel, despite that it’s full with hot-blooded people, allows you to speak up – it’s allowed to say what you think and how you feel; everyone expresses their emotions in a completely open manner. You can say loudly when something irritates you, you don’t have to smile if you don’t want to. Israelis are more straightforward. I don’t want to quote Herzl, but as a Jewess I cannot imagine myself living in another place. I wish that I had a more sophisticated answer than this.
From the moment I landed in Israel, I know that I wanted to eventually make Aliyah. I am not prone to make hasty decisions, but when the opportunity presented itself to come again to Israel on a Masa program I decided to stay here as a volunteer, teach English and contribute to the State.
I resigned from my work in London and I left the flat selling most of my things. I was left with only two suitcases. At the beginning I thought that I would not fly for long, rather I would come for a period of time and see. Masa was a 10-month program and so thinking that allowed for all the pressure I had before to disappear. Meanwhile I have been moving forward with what is important in my life.”
Where did you live in Israel?
“At the time when I was on the Masa program I was in Beersheva and now I am learning at the women’s yeshiva in Jerusalem. It’s possible that soon I will find myself in Tel Aviv, but I still love Jerusalem.”
She misses cheap gym
She is here already a year, undergoing official immigration processes, she is learning at the women’s yeshiva “Mayanot” in Jerusalem (Gmara, Tanach, History and Jewish Philosophy), she meets Taglit groups that come from abroad in order to tell them about her experiences and tries to conduct herself at a slower pace than normally until now. “From the day I came to London I didn’t stop to study, work, study, work. All the time I had two-three jobs. I was always under pressure. I slept three hours per night and always I found something to do; here I take my time putting myself back together.”
You know that one of the Israeli hobbies is to complain about the country.
“Everything that is regular for an Israeli is kind of magic for me. Perhaps I appear to be romantic and optimistic, but I am not. I examine the reality as needed soberly and I feel that Israelis are warm, friendly, straightforward, realistic and caring. It is said about them that they are loud and that they yell, but I am also like this and perhaps for that reason we fit together. Suddenly I thought that Israel resembles Poland in its mentality – perhaps because the country was established by the hands of so many Poles.”
In May that has passed, her mother visited her. “I wanted to show her what I love so much about this place. My mum is an amazing woman, but very critical and tough. Despite this, after a day she said that ‘this is the most amazing place in the whole world’. She understood straightaway why I felt so well here.”
Have you experienced racism?
“In the place where I grew up in Poland there was no one else like me. My mum taught me to ignore people who said something about the colour of my skin and she never allowed me to say that someone called me names because I am dark. When I see people that complain about discrimination because of their colour, I am boiling inside. Not because they are at fault, on the contrary, but I do not think that this is an acceptable reason. I don’t know if at any point someone discriminated me based on my colour, because I simply don’t pay any attention to it.
My brother is the only one in the family that really found it difficult to deal with his colour and he used to get really upset when someone insulted him. My dad took him to Nigeria to meet my grandmother whom I had never met and who passed away at the age of 105 years five years ago. When he came back, he said that he couldn’t please everyone. In Poland they call him black, in Nigeria they call him white. He stopped relating to himself in terms the skin colour. We are in the middle; in my opinion we fit in all places.
I am aware of the racism in Israel and the clear division that exists here, as in all other countries; division to “us” and “them”. I am not invalidating what others are going through here, but I have not experienced any racism. I simply insist not to bother myself with things like these and think that my mind and soul are more important from my body, and so it’s impossible to insult me with comments about my looks.”
Is there something from your previous life that you miss?
“I miss my friends in London, cheap gyms with spas, the live shows and places such as Covent Garden and Harrods.”
What are your plans for the future?
“Are you joking? You think that this life here I actually planned? If I had a say in life, I would certainly be in Poland, probably close to Warsaw, married and with at least three children, a stable job, a house with a garden and a car. But my real life brought me to places that I haven’t imagined I would find myself in. I am waking up every morning and I can’t believe that I am here. I don’t waste my time on planning – I am living this life and I believe that what is supposed to happen, will happened, please G-d.”