A Tale of Two Migrations

5 Jun

By Sharleen Harty

 I have migrated once before, which I realize makes my present, 4-month-old migration to Israel less intimidating.  In both cases I departed from South Africa, my former home: first, in 1982 to join my American fiancé on the Caribbean Island of St. Thomas at the end of his 3-year, solo circumnavigation on a 27-foot Catalina, which was aptly named “Juggernaut.” Then, in 2012 when I headed north – literally making Aliyah or ‘going up’ to Israel – alone, in memory of my 16-year-old son whose dream it was to live here.

From the perspective of age and experience, the second time has been much easier, even though the languages and cultures of Israel are significantly different to what I was accustomed. I find I intuitively know the ropes. In America, it took me a year or more to adjust to the culture shock – food, humor, politics, social behaviors, and so forth – and to homesickness. The combination of a new marriage and life on board a small yacht contributed to the strain; not surprisingly, the marriage did not survive, even though the friendship did. A dream inspired by the real-life sailing adventure Dove (a book and movie I loved when I was a teenager in search of freedom) did not match the hardships of migration. It did, however, inspire that first migration and may inspire other people as they contemplate similar major moves or undertakings.

In Israel, fellow migrants have asked me if it is hard to be alone here. Truthfully, I told them that it is easier. But I do have piece of advice for olim chadashim (new immigrants): know at least one friend! Luckily, I have supportive American friends in Jerusalem, and South African friends in Tel Aviv. Other than that, I believe finding work takes precedence over mastering the languages – especially during a global recession. Being willing to change careers and being flexible as to where I live helps enormously. I am now tutoring English instead of writing grants, and I have rented an apartment in Akko, a 6,000-year-old fishing port.  Being independent, I have the advantage of moving freely, as work and life opportunities unfold.

There are not many Anglos in Akko, but that may actually speed up my Hebrew acquisition. The town is a perfect fit for my interests, which include foreign languages, ancient history, archaeology and anthropology. As a result, in a way I have experienced little or no culture shock – even though I arrived in January during one of the wettest, longest winters in Israel!

With both migrations I desired to create a new home for myself so fervently that, other than occasional visits, it excluded a return to my former home. Knowing this made it easier to forge ahead. Whether escaping politics or grief, the urge to re-settle was greater in my case than any potential or actual difficulty or challenge. The embrace of a three-month intensive period of adjustment, of finding my sea legs, changed surreal experiences (which are similar to those of extended jet lag) into a time of heightened appreciation for life, for people and the fleeting insights that are often taken for granted – or completely lost when one is settled into a daily routine.

Some of the high school children I have been tutoring in Israel, who are about to embark on their own significant life experiences – asked me a poignant question: “Do you have any regrets?” My wholehearted response is best summarized in the famous song by Edith Piaf: “Non, Je ne regrette rien” – in fact, with this second migration, I finally have the long sought-after peace and contentment of being home.

Postscript: The students were asking ONLY about my somewhat unusual life including two migrations – NOT my son’s death as they did not know about it.

Sharleen Harty is a olah chadasha, and English tutor living in Akko. She can be contacted at sharpersona@aol.com

 The above blog is dedicated to her ex-husband, Patrick Childress, and in memory of her only son, Kyle.



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