Living in Trump’s America is exhausting. The vicious news cycle, the never-ending horror stories, the constant thought of it can’t get any worse than this, right? But then it somehow does. I, like many others, was desperate for a reprieve from the socio-political torment.
For me, Donald Trump’s campaign, election, and presidency were particularly bizarre and inescapable, as I went to college in the nation’s capital. Amidst Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and countless other atrocities, I ached to escape reality, but it was impossible, as the White House was in my backyard. Just by stepping outside, I was bombarded with reminders of just how ridiculous — and, frankly, disturbing — the American political system had become. There was a new scandal every week and a new protest every month, and yet, nothing ever changed. Each red “MAGA” hat I saw on my walk to class or work felt like a glaring warning: The foundation of America was unsteady under Trump, and my safety, as well as the safety of so many others, was not guaranteed.
In the months leading up to graduation, I began seriously thinking about moving abroad. When weighing my decision of where to relocate, Israel stood out. Unlike the many European countries with rising anti-Semitism, I knew I would feel safe and welcome in the Holy Land as a Jew. Also, Israel wasn’t completely foreign to me; I had lived in Be’er Sheva, a gritty tech-city in the middle of the Negev, for six months on a study abroad program. Israel seemed like the perfect choice — familiar enough that I would be somewhat comfortable, but foreign enough that it felt distinct from America.
So, I made an appointment at the Israeli consulate, booked a flight, and somehow managed to pack most of my belongings into two (very heavy) suitcases. My last few days in America were full of excitement and a little bit of terror. The love and support I received from my family and friends greatly overshadowed whatever fear I felt for moving to a country where I didn’t know a single person, let alone the language. On the day of my departure, I insisted on going to my local deli so I could have one last taste of home: a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel. (When was the next time I’d be able to have bacon??) I kissed my family and my dog goodbye, and off I went.
When I initially began settling into life as a Tel Avivian, I felt good. There are small aspects of living in a Jewish country that make a world of difference in day-to-day life: nobody looks twice at men with sidecurls falling down to their shoulders; people exclaim Baruch Hashem at the smallest marvel, and every Thursday, co-workers bid farewell to each other with a casual Shabbat shalom. Nothing can prepare you for the euphoria of living in a Jewish country.
I felt on top of the world. That is until one day, during my first few weeks in Tel Aviv, my friends and I decided to walk to the beach. As we turned a corner, a billboard caught my eye. A 100-foot-tall Trump and Netanyahu loomed over me, smiling and shaking hands. Across the billboard read, Netanyahu liga akheret. In English, this translates to “Netanyahu is another league.” Surprisingly, this was the first time I had encountered anything political since moving to Israel. Honestly, I spent most of my time thinking about my job, shawarma, the beach, and nothing more. The billboard felt like an assault on the little piece of politics-free space I had found.
Of course, I have always been aware of Israel’s explosive political landscape. I was fortunate enough to take classes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Middle Eastern affairs in college and while studying abroad. During my first few weeks in Israel, however, I overlooked the political scene. Between adjusting to my new life and job, attempting to learn the language, and simply trying to make friends, politics wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.
After seeing the billboard, that changed. I started reading Israeli news more and attended candidates’ events ahead of the election. At lunch, I engaged my coworkers in conversations about the socio-political climate of Israel, and asked for their perspectives on the government, Netanyahu, and even Trump. I made a conscious effort to forego my politics-free space, take of my rose-colored glasses, and look at my life in Israel for what it truly was: not much different than my life in the U.S.
I began to see the parallels between the two countries, and they were alarming. There’s a pseudo-autocrat in power, police brutality towards people of color, and marginalization and discrimination against Muslims. Here, too, I find myself thinking it can’t get any worse than this, right? But then, like always, it does. (For example, I didn’t think it could get any worse when Bibi promised to annex the West Bank if re-elected. Then, he released a campaign chat-bot saying “Arabs want to annihilate us all.”)
It dawned on me that, truthfully, my life anywhere wouldn’t be all that different than my life in America. There are Trumps everywhere: Netanyahu here in Israel, Orbán in Hungary, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Putin in Russia, and so many more. Most countries face the issues from which I was running away: greed, corruption, immorality, and inequality. Maybe I would have been better off moving to Norway or Finland. After all, they have free healthcare, dignified leaders, and a top place in the World Happiness Report.
But I didn’t move to Norway (and I never will) because, truthfully, I wasn’t just looking to escape Trump or politics. I wanted to find a place that I could call home, one where I felt like I belonged. I never felt a sense of belonging in the U.S., but I feel it here in Israel. I feel it when elderly women in the grocery store invite me over for Yom Kippur break-fast. I feel it when I play a pick-up game of frisbee with strangers on the beach. I feel it every Shabbat, when the buses shut down, and families all over the country — secular and religious alike — devour freshly baked challah with their families. I feel it everywhere I go, and in everything that I do.
While I didn’t find a haven from politics, I found something much more meaningful: a home. And nobody, not Trump or Netanyahu, will ever be able to take that from me.
Header Image by GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Image