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So green it hurts: notes from a shiva in Canada


“So green it hurts.”

Canada in June is so beautiful, so green, so clean and fresh and full of life and moistness that it breaks my heart.  But then, there’s a lot breaking my heart this week.

My brother went missing here in Canada two months ago, just as, at home in Israel, the last rains were ending… just as the earth was drying up for the summer and the last inklings of hope, of possibility were shrivelling. 

And then he died, and we left our home in Israel… to come home to Canada.

We have lived in Israel for ten months.  Not enough to be fully Israeli, but enough time that we don’t feel completely Canadian either.

And then, to get on a plane, on an otherwise sunny day in Tel Aviv, and feel the earth tremble beneath the plane’s engines, feel the rumble of the wheels on the runway, feel the body of the jet shudder as we tore ourselves away from that awesome holy place we call our home.

flowers3It hurt.

And then – arriving in Toronto after the interminable 12-hour flight, the city so green my eyes had to continually adjust, that first morning.

Too much clay; not enough sand

A friend who grew up in Israel came to the shiva, looked around, and said, “not enough sand.”  Indeed, there’s hardly any sand around here.  The earth beside Eli’s grave was clumpy, like clay.  I could barely shovel it, but shovel I did; fulfilling the right and obligation to bury our own dead as quickly as possible.

“Small clumps,” I whispered to YM, my 18-year-old son, passing the shovel so he, too, could bury his strange mentally ill uncle.  It was a cheap coffin, the most basic one they had, and I worried that the heavy blocks of damp clay would smash the wood, letting bright sunny daylight in where it didn’t belong, and revealing untold horrors.

Unlike on TV, nobody had to identify the body.  The police were very, very sure… plus, they didn’t think we’d have recognized him anyway.

The coffin didn’t crack.  Eli stayed buried, a few feet away from where we’d stood together to bury our grandparents, and then our father.

During the ten days before Yom Kippur, the year my father died, he asked if I would come visit him there, in the cemetery.  He knew I went every year anyway.  He didn’t know, at the time, that we would move so far away that regular visits would be impossible.

Travelling – but not alone

flowers2We decided to move to Israel the year after my father died.  Perhaps because of my father and his crazy-wonderful decision to send us to Israel in the first place.

It is a weird-but-true comfort, knowing that this sad journey, being torn away from Israel and thrust back into the hometown they’ve left behind, is a common journey for many olim.

We are not the only ones blinking at all this green, gawking at these great huge bodies of water (lakes the size of an ocean!), holding our hands under the tap to catch mouthfuls of the delicious, familiar cool water.  Staring, perhaps, deep into mud puddles, pooling in the bottom of a springtime grave, and be awed at all this green, all this water.

Canada is an amazing place.  The beauty here has almost knocked me over, almost literally, more than a few times since we got back.  I’ve always been a sucker for springtime, and a mid-June garden is the most beautiful kind there is, here in Toronto. 

An August garden?  Take it or leave it.  But June…. June here is utterly irresistible.

But Israel is our home. 

Tearing ourselves away – and the journey back

The first time I came back from Israel, for my father’s early January funeral, it was Israel that was green, and Toronto was trapped under a layer of grimy snow and ice.

I’m sure it’ll be a shock to fly in the other direction now – from the comparative rain forest of springtime here to the imponderable dust bowl that is the Israeli summertime.

Right now, we don’t completely belong in either place; at least, I don’t.  Too Israeli to feel at home here, and too Canadian to feel at home in Israel.

In the car, I started crying as I told my mother, “it’s just so easy here.”  Whatever you want, just ask for it; the clerks will understand.  Wherever you want to go, just drive there, on clean, well-marked streets. 

I’m sure Canada was perplexing and almost impossibly difficult when my grandparents arrived here nearly a century ago, but now, here, today, I am not an immigrant.  I am competent and even a little content.

Until that moment, in tears in the car with my mother, I had no idea how hard we’d been struggling, all those ten months in Israel.  Honestly, all along it has just felt like daily life.

imageReturning to Israel means returning to the struggle; sort of like making aliyah all over again.  Leaving all this green behind and returning to the sand, the heat, the summer.

This past week – our time out from being Israeli – reminds me of that minute or two between boxing rounds when the boxer is in his corner, getting towelled off, buffed up, fed sips of water… and then he has to get back up and get his head smashed in a little more.

Leaving Israel hurts.  Coming back to Canada hurts.  And going back, I’m sure, will hurt all over again.


  1. Hugs. It is so hard being neither here nor there on top of the mourning you are doing. I hope you are able to work it all out in good time.

    1. Thank you. I was grateful to have a week of not-shiva in which to live life and enjoy being with the people I love.

  2. Like childbirth, remember...
    You're making new life, new people here in Israel. You're bringing your little kids now, so they won't have to struggle like you are.

    1. Exactly. As my 80-something Auntie Sally said, "Nu? How do you think it was when we came here?" (ie to Canada)


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