Everyone’s asking me this question. So here’s my full response; really, I can only do justice to the query in writing. The question is this: “Why are you moving to Israel?” The curiosity always comes with a partner: disbelief, scepticism, wonder, accusation, bemusement. I can’t promise to satisfy all those reactions, but I’m going to try. Different people will already be aware of different things I’ve written here, but perhaps you’ll understand them in a new way after seeing them in this context.
Try and imagine, if you can, a Venn diagram, composed of three interlocking circles. In one, identity. In another, politics. And in the third, family; particularly my grandfather, Kurt Rowland (born Roth; he had to Anglicise his surname on joining the British army in World War 2). I’m positioned where the three circles overlap, nestling, as ever, in the space in between. Next to me is Israel.
So to the first circle, identity. Having a heritage composed of finely-sliced nationalities all meshed together is an extraordinary blessing and an existential challenge. A blessing for the perspective and capacity for analysis it gives you; it’s not something that can be understood if you have one definitive place that you are ‘from’, but the constant sizing up of who you are and where your place in the world is lends you a unique view on life. And a challenge, because you cannot take issues of identity and your sense of self for granted, and the concepts of nationality, and belonging to a nation, are subject to a constant internal negotiation. It precipitates a fractured sense of self, which manifests as an unending search for something to which you can anchor yourself. I don’t have the words to express what that has been like, or how difficult I’ve found it. I have spent most of my life feeling like I’ve been in Teflon-coated surroundings, slipping through and past my environment without being able to ‘stick’. It’s the classic paradox of being able to feel at home anywhere, but unable to feel like you belong anywhere. Israel was the first place where I felt I could stick; suddenly, after feeling like a spider trying to crawl up the side of a bath, footholds appeared in what had been a sheer cliff preventing me from accessing any place I could conceive of as ‘home’. It took until I was 25 years old to hear the words ‘I thought you were from around here’; insignificant they may seem, but to me, they were like precious drops of water in a desert. If for nothing else, moving to Israel is worth it for that exploration.
Now to the second circle, and politics. Everyone knows what my politics are, and they don’t need illumination here. There’s little point applying labels, either, as bound up in every one is both an unjust reductiveness and room for misinterpretation. Suffice to say, the causes I believe in and the issues I want to work towards are ones where I feel I can make the biggest contribution by being ‘in the zone’. Further, the motivation and strength behind all of that is my humanism, which will never leave me, and which I will never leave behind.
So to the final circle, and my beloved grandfather, Kurt. This is the most difficult thing to write about on a personal level, and also the hardest thing to explain. But it’s the one story, above the others in this piece, that deserves justice.
I never met Kurt. Circumstances took him away a few years before I was born, and I can honestly say it is the biggest regret of my life so far that I never had the privilege of spending time with him. I cannot overstate the impact he has had on me, which is simply a natural extension to the impact he has had (and continues to have) on my whole family. From everything I have been told, he was the most extraordinary, insightful, brilliant man; and as we know, the brightest lights cast the strongest shadows. So it is that I feel his presence constantly; always benign, always bittersweet. From not having had much sense of loss regarding my grandfather when I was a child, through exploring my Jewishness and that side of my family, I have shifted to a sensation of at times overwhelming bereavement. A wound I never knew I had has been de-cauterised, and amidst the grief and incurable curiosity, I find myself in awe of the dimensions of mourning for someone you have never met. So what does this have to do with Israel? That’s the tricky part. It begins with an ending. In what is a tragically typical tale, the events of the mid-20th century took an incredible toll on Kurt, and after losing my grandmother, his adored Mona, to cancer, he took his own life.
I refuse to let that be the way his story ends. I cannot explain how or why I have this sensation, but I feel beyond doubt that there is a postscript waiting for my grandfather in Israel. Maybe it is something I have to do, or something I have to find; perhaps it simply a realisation I need to have. But whatever it is, it is compelling me to that strip of land, and whatever transdimensional connection I have built up with my grandfather over the last few years, I can feel it pulling me inexorably towards Israel.
And there you have it. I can’t say what’s going to happen after I make Aliyah; perhaps I will make the discoveries and connections I’m searching for, perhaps I won’t. Maybe I’ll make a difference, or maybe the ideals and resolutions that were fashioned from the comfort of England’s mild (on every level) surroundings will be worn down and I will lose the strength to fight. What I can say in all certainty is that there is only one way to find out.
Wish me luck.