Three years ago, I moved to Philadelphia after living abroad since college, a move that was necessary for my partner’s career – and completely derailed mine. As a person whose professional identity, national identity, physical place, and happiness have always been closely linked, this was a huge challenge. My work defined me and determined my place in the world. I mean that quite literally – I moved to Tel Aviv 3 weeks after college graduation. In part, I moved to come home. I was born and raised in Israel. But I also moved back because I wanted to play a direct role in building a more just and equal future for Israelis and Palestinians. My time in Philadelphia turned all those plans into chaos and has forced me to make the mental shift away from circumstantial, and toward unconditional happiness and gratitude. I needed to learn the impermanence of anything in this life. And through learning that, I’ve grown to appreciate life’s unexpected turns, and the unknown that is the only constant.
Cross-continental moves play a significant part in my family’s history. My paternal grandparents sought refuge in New York City after surviving the Holocaust, but their two adult children moved to Israel in the 80's and 90's, respectively. My maternal grandparents journeyed from Los Angeles to Israel, bringing their four little girls along for the ride, in 1968. My mom would later return stateside and settle in Boston, where she met my dad. In 1989 they moved to the Holy Land, where my siblings and I were born.
My grandmother told me once that our family is cursed. “Since you have two homes – Israel and the U.S.,” she said, “you are never fully at home in either place”. I know she’s right because my story, too, is full cross-continental moves: from Israel to Atlanta in fourth grade, Atlanta to Israel in fifth, Israel to Central Massachusetts in seventh, back to Israel after college, Philadelphia five years after that.
When I started my job search in Philadelphia in 2016, it was a sharp slap in the face to learn I wasn’t special. No one cared about the money I raised for economic development projects in Israel. Not one of the many non-profits I took interest in thought I could do the same for them. And truthfully, I wasn’t interested. My passions were in Israel/Palestine. How could I ever find professional satisfaction, let alone happiness, in a cold, grey city where I have no roots? For me, the connection between work, passion, and place ran so deep that reeducating myself to find happiness anywhere seemed like an insurmountable challenge.
And indeed, what followed was a messy time. A period of depression, deep confusion, lots of searching, little finding, and many moments of utter exhaustion. A non-linear and never-ending process of cultivating happiness amid chaos. All my identities were challenged: I was no longer a Tel Avivian. I didn’t quite fit with the Israeli community in Philly, and also not with the American Jewish community here. I had always considered myself unquestionably career-driven and independent. But we moved because of my partner’s professional aspirations, and I couldn’t continue the career path I was on here. Over the last three years, I’ve switched from one bad job to the next, struggled to find community, and made career changes that have left me with more questions than answers.
None of the issues I’ve described here have been resolved. In fact, this summer we’ll be moving somewhere new, again for my partner’s career. But time, plus many hours of meditation and routine self-care, has taught to separate work and place from identity. This might come naturally to some – it doesn’t at all to me. I often hold back tears when I meet someone new and have to answer the question “so what do you do?”. It’s hard for me to say I’ve been living away from Israel, the home I chose to return to as an adult and then voluntary left, for three years. My career is a constant rollercoaster. And yet, a critical mass of tears has revealed a simple truth: I am here now, and that is okay. Tomorrow I will be somewhere else, and that will also be okay.
There is no ending here – happy or not. I still have deep questions of identity and happiness that I grapple with every single day. But something big has changed. I sense a deep certainty in the uncertainty. If I’ve survived the last three years, I can cope with whatever comes next because I am constantly building the tools I’ll need. I know that life will likely throw at me things far worse than a few bad jobs and some professional uncertainty – I am also well aware of my privilege to choose where I live and what career paths I pursue. Whatever those challenges are, though, they too will come and pass. In knowing that, I can find calm, and I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn on the other side.