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  • Writer's pictureAnat Ishai

Israel was always inside me, even when I forgot its scents and landscapes.

I left Israel before I turned four, but I remember that El Al Jetliner like it was yesterday. To my toddler eyes it was a spaceship, blue and white with the magnificent Israeli flag on the tail waiting to take us to our new home outside of our home in Israel. We settled into Toronto like many Israeli immigrants who left during the first Intifada. Sunday mornings were religious hours in my home, my mother would fold all the laundry and listen to two hours of Israeli hits on the local radio station. We spoke Hebrew and English in those early years with our parents before we settled into just English while we assimilated into Canadian society.

When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, my parents took my brother and I to the local skating arena turned memorial centre for the former Prime Minister. My parents said nothing to us about the event or why we were going, but I remember hearing HaTikvah and remembering the familiar tune which was now replaced with a morning ritual of singing O'Canada.

Russian Israeli culture was the backdrop of my childhood. My parents spoke Russian between themselves, I learned to understand the language but couldn't speak it. I spoke Hebrew and English with my grandparents and sang "Singarella" and "Kan Naladiti" with my mother while dancing around the living room. I knew all the hebrew words to guide me around the kitchen, and ate countless falafels at the infamous "Sababa Restaurant" on Steeles.

I didn't go back to Israel until I was 14 years old. It was on that youth trip I met my now husband. Israel gifted me with the best things in my life. I was fortunate to be born a female in the only democratic country in the middle east, I was given a name "Anat" which reminds me of my homeland every time I speak my name. I met my soulmate in the holy land was was able to return a couple more times to Israel since. Once in 2016 to participate in a Birthright for Moms Trip with Momentum, and then again in 2019 as a leader for Momentum.

How can you long for a place you hardly remember? Israel was always inside me even when I forgot its scents and landscapes. When I returned as an adult, it felt like a homecoming. It felt like I had been walking those streets for a lifetime. Israel is for everyone, and I love that! I'm an eclectic person and enjoy the arts, food, religion, travel. Israel has something for everyone.

My parents instilled many values within me, but the one that stands out today is this. There is not safety for Jews in the diaspora without Israel. Israel is our beacon, our east facing laser focus to our home. We are all strangers in a strange land, and our host countries have provided security, prosperity and allowed us the freedom to live openly as Jews. The prophecy was true, we are dispersed amongst the nations. But Israel is our home, and if we can't live their physically, we must always remember to support and protect and defend our home even from afar.

Happy Birthday Israel, I miss you! May we be reunited soon!

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