One of the questions I’m constantly asked is “Why did you move to Israel?” Even after ten years of being here it is still the one question I receive from anyone I encounter so much so that I myself even began reflecting deeply on the reason for me choosing to live in the Holy Land – or did the Holy Land choose me? Hmmmm…..
As a Trinbagonian, Israel is not the first country of choice to which we choose to immigrate. However, always one to operate outside of the status quo, a decade ago I decided that I needed something different in my life. I decided to leave everything that was familiar and comfortable to me and start my life in Israel, and I can say without any hesitation that it was the greatest decision I ever made.
I’ve learned so much more about myself and others in the past few years than I ever thought possible. Some of these life lessons I choose to share with you now in the hope that after reading this you are inspired to know that in every situation you can always do better.
To assimilate better one of the first tasks I took on was to learn about Judaism – both as a religion and also as a culture. I attended synagogue, studied the Torah and religious practices for the first two years and signed up for an intensive Hebrew course in order to understand my new environment and its people.
Boy oh boy, was this a culture shock and often times still is to date. Israel has unapologetically defined itself as a Jewish country. Being Jewish is more than a religious definition it is also how they define themselves as a people. So, often times my struggle is finding the balance of being myself and yet finding the way to integrate within a society that is very different from what I’ve known all my life.
After struggling with this conflict for a few years, I finally realised that the only way to survive is to simply be true to who I am. Be respectful of my new home culture and traditions but also embrace my background, culture and language. The moment I made this switch my experiences were positively different.
Understanding the (endless) cultural and religious nuances became an important part of my comfort and the comfort of those around me. This is especially important in Israel, which – for its size – is filled with people of very different backgrounds. Learning and accepting them all helped build a foundation for understanding Israel better, and making sure I understood the behaviours of others around me.
As a black, non-Hebrew speaking, non-Jewish woman, I experienced some unique challenges moving to Israel. For example, I had an interviewer tell me that he knew I would do a good job, but that others in the office did not want to work with a dark-skinned female.
At first, I was offended, but quickly realised it wasn’t necessarily designed to offend. In some cases, the reasons were religious – for example, Orthodox Jewish men couldn’t touch or be touched by women for religious reasons, and they were concerned that I, as an outsider, wouldn’t understand.
In other cases, it was simply confusion. They had rarely seen anyone like me before, and didn’t know how to react. By learning not to take these things personally however, I was able to thrive – and start to break down some of these prejudices in the process.
Israel itself was a huge change. But I also knew that there was more that I wanted to accomplish. I had a friend that would always remind me of all the weird, strange, silly, and bold paths I took in the past. I must have tried over 20 different business and career ideas until I found the ONE. Today I run a successful digital marketing agency helping companies build their online presence, as well as facilitating tourism and business initiatives between the Caribbean and Israel under CaribIsrael (www.caribisrael.com).
I particularly enjoy hosting fellow Trinbagonians and Caribbean nationals as besides giving them a Trini welcome I really get to show them the cultural and personal side of the country which can often be missed when coming on a tour.
I’m convinced that if I had limited myself to one path, I wouldn’t be here to host your dream trip ϑ.
To achieve success in Israel I had to learn an important skill – asking for something when I needed it. In Israel, no one is going to guess what you need or give you things (including a bigger pay cheque!) if you don’t demand it. You have to be willing to put politeness aside at times, fight for what you want, and believe in yourself and your abilities.
Israel is a beautiful, wonderful place. But it’s not without its challenges. Those that live in Israel have learned this, and adapt it into their life. They constantly live on the edge, knowing that there’s no time to get too comfortable, which is why they’re always pushing the envelope in terms of innovation. This culture has taught me how to break out of my comfort zone to take charge of my own life and destiny. It’s allowed me to appreciate this country and my own life plan even more.
So often we look at successful people and assume it comes easy. As an immigrant to Israel, I’ve learned how important it is to go into this with the right mindset. If you want to be successful, don’t sit back and ask yourself why others have it so easy – you have to be ready to put in the work, and expect a tough yet rewarding path.
Everyone is going to try to give you advice in life. However, one of my mantras is to follow the advice of those whose lives, success, and mindset you most want to emulate. That’s not to say I don’t respect the opinions of others because sometimes the ones closest to you reflect your shortcomings. But I’ve found this simple filter will help take you where YOU want to be, and help you accomplish what you hope to accomplish.
When I first moved to Israel, many assumed I would want to stay in the Ethiopian sect, since I would feel more comfortable but, I refused to be boxed in. I moved to an Ashkenazi neighbourhood, which means that everyone who lived there mostly originated from European countries like Poland. Even though I’m often the only black woman everywhere I go, I’ve found that breaking the status quo has helped more than myself – it’s helped break down barriers for women and people like me.
When interacting with other Israelis, one of the first things I noticed was how open they were. For a while I felt like I needed to be more private, but the more I opened up, the more others accepted me and began at the very least to respect me.
Yes, Israel has a very unique culture which is a rich blend of history, religion and politics, so to some extent it’s important to keep your private life a mystery rather than be someone that announces it to others. However, there are many times when it helps to simply open up more, let people in, and show that you are open to developing great friendships.
Israel is a country that will definitely surprise you in ways that you never could have imagined. For anyone thinking about visiting or even migrating to Israel, all I can say is get here already!