An American-ish Girl in Tel Aviv

in Life, Culture & Sports/Monthly Report

I didn’t think I fit in.

It showed in the small and simple things. Instead of the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I would spend lunchtime biting into the delicious and eccentric combination of cream cheese and cucumber. Instead of going to Jewish summer sleepaway camp, I would travel to Israel. Instead of being named Jessica or Molly, I was named Zohar, a beautiful yet unfamiliar, and therefore unpronounceable Hebrew name. The Zohar is known as the book of mysticism – and the name sure mystified anyone who feared the unusual.

I was born in Israel and when I was 4 years old, my family moved to New Jersey. I spent the majority of my life living in a shore town next door to Atlantic City. Fast forward to twenty years later when I chose to return to my homeland to try out Tel Aviv, and have since settled there happily for the past 7 years. I go back to America about once a year, and my issue with fitting in remains – except now I know I don’t fit in.

When I’m in America, I feel so Israeli.

I feel disbelief at the lack of healthy food options on any menu, the commercialization of absolutely everything, how being polite and politically correct are more important than being genuine, and how hundreds of people will herd into a line and never ask what they are standing in line for. I find myself unable to add to conversations which involve labels, celebrities, television, or sales at the local mall.  I feel challenged in my desire to dive deep into meaningful conversation, because everyone seems scared or unable to go beneath the surface. I feel like I need to strongly represent my choice and desire to live in Israel, because nobody seems to understand.

When I’m in Israel, I feel so American.

I feel frustrated that everyone still speaks to me in English thanks to my American accent, that I still get asked if I’m on Birthright, that I get consistently questioned about why I would leave the “American dream,” and that cab drivers still try to take advantage when they don’t think I know the route. I find myself unable to join into the fast-flowing Hebrew conversations, express things the way I’d like to, and understand how every bureaucratic office still requires people to send faxes in 2017. I feel like I represent all Americans when people ask me anything about what goes on in America.

Growing up in one culture and adapting to a new one is a difficult and ever-evolving process. Why did I feel so defined by what I wasn’t, and why was it dependent on where I was? More importantly, if I didn’t fit in there and I didn’t fit in here, where exactly did I belong?

So I got to thinking, and I realized – why do I need to define what I am depending on where I am? Why am I allowing other people’s perceptions to influence my own sense of belonging?

I realized that I didn’t need to define myself or allow others to place me in some sort of box. I am not one thing. I am everything and I belong wherever I choose to be. I am my own unique blend of person – I didn’t need to fit in anywhere, because I could fit in everywhere. I am Israeli and I am American. I am loud and I am quiet. I am direct and I am polite. I am an entrepreneur and I am a hippie. I am a writer and I am a napper. I stopped feeling like I needed to be one thing – and I just started being.

I realized that I have a completely unique perspective and flair because I am the only one who has lived the life I have lived. I shouldn’t feel boxed in by these ‘boundaries’ – I should explore them, what they mean to me, and how I can create a place where I feel like I belong, and where others can feel the same way too.

I don’t need to fit in to anyone else’s definitions. I don’t need to define myself at all. I’m just me – and I’m okay with it.

Based in the startup city of Tel Aviv, Zo is a hippie entrepreneur who is professionally passionate about wellness, wisdom, women, writing, and chocolate croissants. By day, she works as a creative consultant, and by heart, she founded School of Shine a positive resource and community for spirited women who aspire to live happier and healthier every day.

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