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|Author: Deborah Meghnagi|
It's the end of a long week. Of course, in Israel, that means it's Thursday night, not Friday. I dump my laptop at home, pick up my weekend bag, and jump into the passenger seat of my friend's new car. We're off to Caesarea for a performance of the UK dance sensation 'Stomp.' Six of us are going, in two cars, and as we pass each other on the motorway, I exult in the feeling of getting out of Jerusalem. I love the city, but there is an exhilaration inherent in escaping the norm; and I've never been to Caesarea before. It's also not often that a high-quality foreign show makes it to these shores. Once we've got past the Tel-Aviv traffic jams it's plain sailing – or driving – up to Caesarea. As we enter the town, we cruise past large houses that look like they'd be more in place in Spain. The manicured lawns and well-kept roads bear witness to a very affluent part of Israel. Policemen here seem to be paid purely to direct traffic; we are very courteously informed of the way to the amphitheatre.
It's one of those beautiful days in Israel when the heat is not a curse but a blessing. There's a gentle breeze blowing that feels like a benison bestowed from on high and a sense of palpable excitement is in the air. There's a feeling here, as we park our cars and make our way into the amphitheatre, that is not present in more traditional theatres. Maybe it's the fact that it's open air, maybe it's the fact that our seat numbers direct us to a particular portion of stone step rather than a velvet-covered chair, but the atmosphere is very relaxed and informal. You almost expect someone to pull out a guitar and start strumming a popular tune. Perhaps “Yerushalayim shel Zahav”, or “Kan Noladati” (Here was I born). And there's the rub. For as I sit waiting for the show to begin, gazing out at the sea just in front of us as the sun begins to go down, I can't help pondering all the historical twists present in my sitting in this place. For I was not born here, but made a conscious decision to move here.
Many people throughout the last 100 years have come to Israel fleeing something, whether it is poverty or persecution, but I had none of these push factors at work in my decision to make aliya. In the last years of the twentieth century, born and bred in England, I didn't need to escape anything. Instead, what I had was the pull factor of a religious Zionism that guided me to the belief that my place was in the historic homeland of my ancestors, helping to build a new state, a State that is mine in a way that England isn't. But making aliya is not an easy process. The sense of 'coming home' that I imagine most Jews feel when they come here on holiday can disappear, or at least wilt somewhat, when you come here permanently and realise, with pained comprehension, that you are, actually, an immigrant, a foreigner, in a country whose culture, habits and language are not your own. Abstract idealism can sometimes get subsumed in the rhythm of daily life. But as the sky darkens and I prepare to watch a stunning performance of a hit dance and rhythm show by a group of fellow Englishmen and women, I realise anew why I am here.
There is something about Israel that takes you beyond the mundane realities of life as an immigrant in a foreign country. I sit in an amphitheatre built by the Romans two thousand years ago, in what was for them a troublesome, rebellious province in their great and ever-expanding empire. A province to be crushed, as it was, and its people dispersed. Indeed, the modern day town of Caesarea is still named for the emperor that destroyed Judea as it was. But the name is all that remains of that ancient superpower. Despite their conquest, we who have endured in exile for all those years have come home again. Come home, and restored their amphitheatre for our own cultural enjoyment.
To watch English people perform with talent, energy and wit is a pleasure. I am English, and I always will be, and these people strike a chord in me, of recognition and affection, even though in truth our cultural worlds within England would be miles apart. But as I watch these performers from my native land build the rhythm and dance that 'Stomp' excels in into a pounding crescendo, sitting in an amphitheatre built two thousand years ago by those who thought they could supplant all that we stood for, I rejoice in the fact that they could not, and did not. That two thousand years later I could make the choice to uproot myself and move to a strange land, that really, is not so strange after all. I am in my rightful place, my chosen place, and the place that was chosen for me. I may be an immigrant, but I belong here, truly belong here, and I am glad of it.
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