Thursday, February 24, 2011

Finding my Tribe: From Israel to Pittsburgh

So I was rummaging through some old files and found an article that I submitted to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette entitled, "From Israel to Pittsburgh," that I wrote back in 2007 during our first few months in Pittsburgh.  

This part especially speaks to me:

"...When I had to live in other peoples’ houses during the second Israeli-Lebanese war, I learned a different side of acculturation I had not experienced: the life of a refugee. When my students heard me talk in English about where I was during the war, I felt  ironically,  I had acculturated.

But the war this time is different; it is an inner war of confusion, hope, struggle.  Perhaps, it is part of that acculturation experience all over again. I join Israeli-American events. I bake challah on Friday and call my family in Israel early Saturday morning. I speak Hebrew to my husband and English to my three year old son. I hold unto the bus pole smile and sometimes strike up a conversation. I live my life hearing two different voices from two different linguistic settings, always trying to remember where I came from."

Until now, I've never shared this online, partly because I've always felt like an "outsider" looking in.  Up until last year. I wrote, and wrote from "Outsider Glasses."

When I went to Indian restaurants, I was still that "outsider." When I shopped at Target and heard Hebrew being spoken in the aisles, I felt it was weird to suddenly be hearing Hebrew in the Diaspora.
Now that I think about it, I didn't think there would be potential tribe members who would be interesting in reading my life story. 

In the summer of 2010, I finally decided to take the plunge and sign up for the Madwomen in the Attic non-fiction workshop at Carlow University. This was a huge step. Little did I know it, I was stepping into my story, voice and purpose as a writer. 

The first piece I wrote was a character piece about Maya. 

“Remind me please, when is my flight?” I ask.
“Eight thirty,” my friend Aliza says checking her watch. “You’d better hussle, Maya. Taxi’s waiting downstairs.”
It’s time to leave my mom’s apartment B345 in New York City to volunteer for the Israeli Defense Forces. I’ve been waiting for this moment for years. My mom doesn’t know. I don’t want her fear to paralyze me.
I shove a few more T-shirts, and sweatpants while Aliza makes room for my underwear. We’ve been friends since kindergarten, we both have Israeli dads and visited Israel practically every summer.
“I just can’t believe you’re actually doing this,” she says. She stands on the suitcase while I zip it shut leaving just a hole big enough to stick my Nike sneakers. “You’re the last person of army material.”
“And you’re the last person I thought who wouldn’t support me, beside my mom. So thanks a lot,” I say.
The enormous sculptures and canvasses of desert and rivers that once astonished my Dad comfort me briefly as I walk through what he once claimed as “his space” in our loft apartment. The Israel of my Dad’s art will soon be my Israel. 
I thought the other workshop participants would think I was this completely "foreign" person from Planet "Zonko." Yes, Zonko. I tried to imagine myself writing about something completely different like "motherhood," or my first year experiences teaching - something a little more generic, like "I get it" without isolating anyone.  
But the story kept nudging and nudging me. It needed to be "born" and when I tried to "stop" it, the words kept coming.
This is a sign for anybody reading this, that if you want to write a story, you really do need an iota of inspiration, but to pay attention to the nudges, those voices that say, "This is IT."
It took more than 6 months of finally feeling comfortable sharing my life story with the others. As my writing improved, so did their understanding. Not only did I feel I had an audience, which is a MUST if you want to improve as a writer, but I also felt more comfortable writing my story. 
The last piece that was critiqued was, "Arriving in Israel - A Mistake," where I describe the first 16 hours of arriving on a kibbutz in the Negev Desert to join a bunch of new olim hadashim, new immigrants in preparation for my army service. The emotions that emerged from that piece were startling surprising. I wrote in description and feeling mode - the most I had ever done with any piece of writing. I felt tonce again, the fear and isolation as an new immigrant and again, as an outsider to Pittsburgh, this felt even more foreign. Those first 16 hours were scary and they still are. when I think about it But somehow, writing about them, years later, was comforting. 
What was even more comforting were the affirmations of the group - "You had me hooked!"
Little did I know, I had found the beginning of my "tribe."


  1. Nice post, Dorit. I like what you shared about acculturation.

  2. Very personal and heartfelt. You have found yourself and you know where you are going. Good for you.