I made aliyah just in time for a war. I left my home in Australia full of excitement, determination, and a belief in the wonderful future that was waiting for me in Israel. I had every hope that I would live a fulfilling and happy life in the land that I love. On June 12, as I left my family, friends, and boyfriend behind, everything felt possible.
On June 12, three Israeli teenagers went missing.
As I sit here at my favorite cafe in Kerem Hateimanim, the little Yemenite neighborhood of Tel Aviv I have fallen in love with, I think about the sheer magnitude of the escalation of violence. I think about how my own personal beginning is unfolding against a backdrop of suffering in a beautiful country that for so long I have been wanting to call home.
The news of the murder of the Israeli teens, followed all too swiftly by the revenge killing of a Palestinian teen, was met with a collective gasp from a horrified nation. We were using each other’s children as weapons. In those early days, I walked the streets watching the people around me, their heads bowed low with regret, fear, and the knowledge of what was to come. Those long summer days have somehow trickled into weeks, and each week brings with it a deeper descent into a grave reality.
It has been difficult to set up a life in these unsettling times. I am still looking for a home, a job, a way to set in motion the life I have always dreamed of. But I am preoccupied, as is everyone in this country. Beyond our own immediate worries are greater, more pressing fears. Barely a day has gone by without hearing the sound of sirens bellowing throughout the city. Everywhere I go I am within earshot of the resounding ‘booms’ of war. Each day we wake up with a sense of dread about what might have happened while we were sleeping—or not sleeping—the night before. How many more innocent lives have been lost? How many more children have been taken from their mothers? How much more of this can we stand?
Amid the plethora of posts about the of Israeli-Palestinian conflict you will read or have already read today, you have found your way to me—or I have found my way to you. You have come across the words of an Australian girl feeling her way through a war zone, trying to make a life in conditions most other nations would consider unlivable. I take my seat at the table of an overwrought conversation, but I hope to make a contribution by describing to you the Israel I have chosen.
On my first day as an Israeli, I was greeted warmly by a group of friends, many of whom had made their aliyah journeys before me. I saw that they had morphed into new, Israeli version of themselves. Some were soldiers; others had spent time in Yeshiva. Some had worked the land; others had walked the land. They were living lives vastly different to those of our peers in our home countries. I am inspired by the realization that in this place, there is no telling where I could go, what I could do, or who I could one day become.
As for the Israelis—this huge, dysfunctional family continues to move me. Since my arrival I have heard of countless rallies organized in the name of solidarity, I have sat in a circle of bereaved Israeli parents (who unfortunately could not meet with their Arab counterparts) who gather nightly to tell their stories together in the name of peace, I have seen a memorial built on the Tel Aviv promenade for a 21-year-old soldier killed in Gaza only a week ago. I have traveled the country and seen that some of the most beautiful lookouts, springs, and forests are dedicated in the names of those who have died fighting for our freedom to enjoy them. I have been to a gig in the city where candles were passed out to the audience, the lead singer reminding us all to keep hope in our hearts for a bright tomorrow. It feels impossible, but we do.
This is Israel. These are Israelis. In this place the call of war is answered not only by soldiers, but by an entire country asking “What can I do?” Volunteers work tirelessly looking after other people’s children in bomb shelters as parents go out to work; supplies are collected all over the country and driven to hospitals, bases, and cities in need. Struggling businesses in the south are assisted by special markets set up for people in the north and center of Israel to purchase their goods. The whole country mobilizes into action, and everyone becomes everyone’s responsibility.
The other day I traveled with a dear friend, Rotem, to visit wounded soldiers at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva. As we made our way through the ward, the news of my recent aliyah was met by the soldiers and their families with wide smiles and a series of congratulations. These incredible young men had been on the front in Gaza only days before, and here they were telling me what a great job I had done in coming to Israel. Later, after Rotem and I left the ward to sit outside and gather our thoughts, we watched two small Arab children approach an Israeli child with balloons. Within minutes, all three kids were frolicking and laughing on the grass. The grandmother of the Israeli child turned to us and said, “This is what it could be like.” Despite the chaos of the crumbling world around us, I know that this was true.
I made aliyah from Australia just in time for a war. But my new beginning in Israel is in good company; I draw strength from the people around me. I think of friends who were married to the soundtrack of sirens; I think of my newly pregnant friend, who despite her husband being called to reserve duty three weeks ago, maintains strength, calm and hope for the new beginning growing inside her. My Israeli friends are people who don’t believe in talk, just action. A dear friend tells me, “Tachlis, get on with it, start doing!” and that’s the way they live. I take my lead from them.
I think often about the choice I made to come to Israel, the implications that it has had on my life, and the reverberations my choice will have one day on my children. Yet, every day I feel affirmed in the life that I have chosen for myself, and I feel strengthened by the support of my extraordinary Israeli family around me.
Everything still feels possible.
Melanie Koss is a lawyer and writer from Melbourne, Australia currently living in Tel Aviv. Follow her on Twitter at @mellehkoss.