Dear girls of the world: live where you flourish, even if it’s not where you grew up

Dear girls of the world,

When I was 17 years old, I went to Israel for the first time on a science program, hoping to beef up my CV before applying to college. I’m Jewish, and Israel has great science programs, so off I went for the summer. On that program, I found out that I did not love science as much as I thought, but I did love Israel.

I fell in love with the people who were so direct and honest that I found it to be charming much before I found it to be rude. I loved the culture, which was so family-centered that everyone treats you like a little sister (for better and worse). I loved the food, which was fresh and healthy, everything spiced with za’atar and dipped in hummus. I loved the history of the land, where my people had flourished and fortified for thousands of years. I loved the music– a mix of Hebrew, Arabic, and other international languages that resembled the Israeli people itself. I loved that as a Jew, I didn’t have to give a half-smile every time someone wished me a Merry Christmas in December, because instead they wished me a chag sameach (“happy holiday” in Hebrew); and neither did I have to explain to my teachers that I would have to reschedule a test because it conflicted with the holiest day of the year.

When I returned home to Seattle that summer, I became incredibly sad that I wasn’t in Israel– I was told that I was bitten by the “Israel Bug.” I so badly wanted to be back in Israel that the next summer, right before college, I convinced my family to organize a family trip to the holy land. Israel was just as glorious as I remembered. Again, upon returning to Seattle, I was bitten by the Israel bug, wishing I was somewhere else. I knew I would have to return soon.

In college at a private women’s college in Southern California, I took it upon myself to learn more about Israel from a political perspective and got involved in advocacy fellowships that brought me back to Israel twice more in the next year.

When it came time to study abroad, there was no question where I’d be spending my semester: Paris! Only kidding. I went to Israel. (But you totally believed me for a second, right?) On my semester abroad in Israel, I met my best friend and boyfriend of three and a half years, saw the world, lived independently, and when I returned to school, I felt I had outgrown the manicured lawn and pre-prepared food of American college life. Don’t get me wrong– the academic and social life was incredible and stimulating, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I was ready for a new kind of stimulation.

The very day after I graduated college, I moved to southern Brazil to live with my boyfriend, learn some Portuguese, and explore a new place. I was able to stay 7 months over the course of three trips. Brazil was incredible– I found a great community of internationals, entrepreneurial people like myself, and became fast friends with some amazing people. But after a while, I felt lonely because of my lack of Portuguese, mobility, and close friends. Ultimately I wasn’t bit by the Brazilian bug like I was in Israel, but that was good for me, as it only strengthened my understanding of myself and what I wanted for the future.

After returning to the U.S., I remember lying in my comfortable, cozy bed in Seattle, staring at the ceiling. I thought about how my peers were all getting nine-to-five jobs, finding an apartment, and settling down. It sounded nice, just not as it applied to me. I knew that I would never find meaning in that life, and I would always feel a pull to Israel.

After talking it over with my boyfriend, we decided to move together to Israel once he finished school. I sat my family and friends down to “come out” to them about my big plans.

“Mom, dad, I have something big to tell you.”

“What is it honey?”

“I’m… moving to Israel.”

“Oh, sweetie! We always knew! It’s okay; we love you no matter what.”

But in all seriousness, for some friends, it was difficult to understand why I would move outside of the country in which I grew up. My parents told me that when they were my age, nobody would even think to venture past the local university, let alone move to another continent half across the world. I would be the first of my family in four generations to immigrate, and even my great-grandparents had war as an excuse.

When I told the rest of my friends and family about my move, I received many awkward reactions. Some told me how “lucky” I was. Others asked if I was scared to move to another place without any family there.

Lucky?

It’s not luck that I’m moving– I’m just doing it! “You can do it too if you want!” I insisted, but they would usually just giggle uncomfortably as if there were too many things holding them back to even think about it.

Scared?

To me, what was scarier was following a pre-determined path of getting a job, apartment, and settling down at age 23. If I didn’t follow my heart and I ended up regretting it on my deathbed– that’s what would be truly scary.

So I moved. I’ve been living in Israel for a year and a half now with the conviction that this is where I want to be, and of course, if that changes, I can move elsewhere. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And it’s been amazing. I am happy feeling in control of my own destiny and triumphs. Even though the honeymoon stage has somewhat diminished, I continue to find meaning everywhere I turn. I’ve found life-long friends, developed my career as a journalist, learned a new language, and had some unforgettable experiences. People always tell me that I am one of the greater “success stories” of those who have immigrated to Israel.

Of course, it’s often challenging. Many people come, but not everyone stays, because Israel (or any place for that matter) is definitely not for everyone. My boyfriend doesn’t love it as much as I do. I’ve been suffering from a very painful back injury for nine months. Sometimes the Israeli bluntness that I found cute at first decreases my morale. I still can’t communicate fluently in a group of only-Hebrew speaking friends, and it’s frustrating. And when everything closes on Friday night and all I want to do is go out, it’s annoying.

But ultimately, I flourish here in Israel and although I dream to travel the world, stepping out of my comfort zone even further, I know I will always have a base in Israel. Dear girls of the world: live where you flourish, even if it’s not where you grew up. The world is too big to be limited– your dreams and desires are much too big to be limited!

So go catch the Israel Bug, the English bug, Spanish bug, Brazilian bug, or whatever bug sparks meaning in your life.

Love,

Ellie

who is currently living and flourishing in Israel

Eliana writes for the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center, often shedding light onto "behind the scenes" Israeli perspectives. After leaving her comfortable life in Seattle, Washington, Eliana made the ascent to Jerusalem, Israel, where she currently lives and flourishes. She loves to travel to countries where she can experience and explore diverse Jewish communities around the world. She believes that one can learn a lot about culture through markets, food, dance, and of course, people! Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, New York Daily News, Forbes, The Hill, and (many) more mainstream and Jewish publications.

Comments

  • January 20, 2017

    Such a beautifully written article! I travelled to Israel in March of 2015 and even though I wasn’t bitten by the bug as hard as you, I still really fell in love with this country. I can totally relate to that feeling of not quite belonging into the comfortable situation you were born into and I am really happy for you that you were brave enough to leave the US and find happiness somewhere else. This post was very inspiring, thank you 🙂

    reply
    • Eliana
      January 30, 2017

      Thanks for your kind response, Anna 🙂 You are always welcomed back– and when you do return, feel free to reach out!

      reply
  • April 16, 2017

    It’s wonderful that you found somewhere that stole your heart so fully and is now finally your home. Many people do, but I realise that in some countries people consider it more of a surprise, it’s hard for them to comprehend that their life, and the future that would be mapped out for them, isn’t the dream future for everyone!!

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    • Eliana
      April 26, 2017

      Absolutely! I think it’s cultural and also personal– I’ve always been one of those people who do things a little differently than the crowd and I’ve gotten to love that about myself 🙂

      reply
  • April 16, 2017

    Such a great post and a good insight to Eliana’s life in Israel. Very inspiring post which I hope others take on board and do a life changing moment (if they need it if they are at that point of their life)

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    • Eliana
      April 26, 2017

      Thank you, Danik! I’m a perpetual seeker of life changing moments 😉

      reply
  • April 16, 2017

    I love the whole idea of this and am glad you got to live where you flourish. I have never been to Israel but know so many people who feel the same way about the country as you do. I think it’s fantastic!

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    • Eliana
      April 26, 2017

      You should come if you are able, it’s an incredible place!

      reply
  • April 16, 2017

    Such a nice story. The way you write about Israel and how it makes you feel, makes me want to visit it even more. To get that Israel bug.
    I love to see stories of people who followed their dreams. And it’s also great that your parents were so supportive of you.

    reply
    • Eliana
      April 26, 2017

      I’m very lucky to have an excellent relationship with my family. When I told them I was moving here, they said, “Now we have more reasons to visit Israel!” And you should definitely come, but I warn you that the bug bites hard 😛

      reply
  • April 16, 2017

    Good for you to go where your heart calls you. I love Israel. I’ve only visited once for two weeks but would go back again in a heartbeat. Best of luck to you on your journey through life.

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    • Eliana
      April 26, 2017

      I totally get it, they say “it’s good to go and it’s better to go back!” And it’s so true!

      reply
  • Megan Jerrard
    April 17, 2017

    Congrats on making the move! Haha I love that your parents were always like “we always knew”! I’m wholeheartedly with you – you always have to do what’s right for you, even if it means settling in a place you didn’t grow up – we all evolve, and move on, and start new chapters in our lives, and if a different destination than “home” holds our heart, the right thing to do is to move!! Wishing you all the bets in your future X

    reply
    • Eliana
      April 26, 2017

      Very well said, Megan! It’s also sometimes hard when you have multiple homes, though, because you are always missing someone close to you.

      Thanks for your kind wishes! x

      reply
  • April 18, 2017

    Great article and completely agree!! For me, I flourish in France. I’ve visited multiple cities, multiple times and even lived there twice already. It really is about finding your “spot” and making your home. It sounds like you’ve done exactly that. Thanks for sharing this inspirational story.

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  • April 18, 2017

    That’s such a fantastic and inspiring story Eliana. I am glad you followed your heart and I am sure this will be an inspiration for many others too!

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  • April 18, 2017

    Congrats on making your big move and following where your heart truly desires. I have heard many great things about Israel and would love to visit one day. This post is really honest and so inspiring that you are now motivating me to think about moving to other countries. I don’t feel like I belong to one place. I want to be able to live at different places and learn about its country. Unfortunately my family doesn’t support that idea of me living alone in another country. One day i will make it happen though.

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  • April 19, 2017

    This article is so inspiring! Seems Israel really took your breath away – it must be an amazing place. I also like how you boyfriend supported you to do your dreams.

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  • Peyton Nill
    December 21, 2017

    Incredible. Thank you for sharing your story — I’m looking for the courage to do the same thing. I was bitten by the Israel bug too, and I want nothing more than to move there the day after I graduate. But that’s not the life path that’s been set for me as a middle class, college-educated American with controlling parents who want me to settle down in an apartment in my hometown, find a job, and climb the ladder. Thank you for writing this blog post and for telling me it’s ok to do something my heart cries out for.

    reply
    • Eliana Rudee
      December 28, 2017

      I get it, Peyton, I’m the same. But never forget this is YOUR life, not your parents’ life! YOU are the only one who can dictate your life path. My parents supported me because they felt they raised exactly the woman they hoped to raise– one with a strong Jewish identity who can make brave life-decisions.

      reply

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