By: Miriam Schwarz, Ryerson University, Hasbara Fellow
I was working one of my regular long shifts at the cash register, finishing up an order when a respectful older customer pointed at my name tag, and asked “Are you a Canadian? What’s your background?”
“Well, I have a Canadian citizenship, yes.”
“What does that mean? …”
In my head, I was about to explode from the abrupt turn this day was leading towards. What do I tell the older fella? Do I start a conversation of reflection, as if I am speaking with a dear and personal friend, or do I keep it short, sweet and polite, as customers are lining up?
I was born and raised in Israel, and I felt completely Israeli with all the passion-infused, short-tempered embellishments that come with it. However, I am also born to parents who were both from the Soviet Union, but I never considered myself Russian. I have the politeness of the ‘old-school’ Soviet; I speak the language (though my parents would argue that what I speak is far off what is considered as grammatically correct Russian) as well as hold the thirst for culture and other old, European classics, and I celebrate New Year’s Eve Russian-style. Why have I never felt like a Russian? Why has it always been a null in the equation that makes me- me? Only when living in Israel, I was considered the Russian Israeli – but never allowed that anywhere else.
“I am an Israeli living in Canada!”
It is common that when individuals immigrate to another country, there is an identity crisis. Am I this, or that? Can I be both? Would I be any less of this, if that was part of the equation?
When I was 11 years old, my family and I moved to Canada, for various personal and economic reasons. As much as I understood that it was important for them to do so, I was quite furious. I didn’t want to move away. I had made friends, built on habits, and grew close to the place I knew and loved. Little did I know that this painful move that my parents made, has given me the most truthful understanding and the biggest opportunity to grow into what I am now. Had we not moved away from what I loved, I would have never understood the degree of which I loved it.
Now I understood – You never know how important something is to you, until you lose it!
… Though I did not lose it, I gained it!
Growing up in Canada as a loving Israeli and confident Zionist, I have found many opportunities to continue to love it through being involved with campus, programs and all sorts of activities that involved Israel and once also the Former Soviet Union. However, I have to say that so far nothing has been as meaningful as showing how much I love my home as defending it on university grounds, and thanks to my experience with the Hasbara Fellowships Learning sessions and the trip I have found much more meaning in doing it more effectively.
I have proved to myself that being away from Israel doesn’t mean loving it less or not being a true patriot – something I have painfully struggled with more than I could ever express. I am a strong believer that destiny takes a hand in everyone’s life, and everything happens for a reason. Being away from home for a short period of time is only a small piece of the puzzle that is part of my life’s purpose.
To the older gentleman waiting to cash-out I say ….
“It is only a temporary stop, or detour, from home.”
Now, had it been another Israeli I would say or, rather sing “Ein li eretz aheret, gam im admati bo’eret …” [I have no other country, even if my land is aflame – one of my favorite songs].
!הבנויה בירושלים הבאה בשנה