I haven’t been to the UK for almost six years, and for very good reasons: the last time I went, it took me months and months to recover from it, and I ended up having a huge personal and spiritual crisis that was really icky.
In fairness, my last trip back occurred in completely abnormal circumstances. My sister was getting married in London, and less than a week before we flew out for the simcha, my husband’s dad unexpectedly died in Liverpool. So my husband was sitting shiva without me while I was celebrating my sister’s wedding without him.
If that wasn’t weird enough, my youngest came down with her first (and hopefully last…) case of strep two days before the flight out, which was so severe she started hallucinating little people coming out of her pillow. I was so worried about her, I took the massive (for me…) step of going to a doctor and getting her some antibiotics.
And then, there was also routine annoying stuff like discovering my kids’ passports were out of date five days before we needed to travel, when I was rooting around in the documents box trying to get my husband his passport for his emergency flight.
So I landed in England a wreck, continued to be a complete wreck throughout the wedding and initial sheva bracha, and then travelled up to Liverpool to visit my husband who’d just finished the shiva - and who was also a wreck.
An assimilated family member had wanted my father-in-law to be autopsied, and my husband and this person had got into a tug-of-war for three days while my father-in-law stayed in the local morgue, unburied, until God gave my husband the tremendous miracle of having the assimilated family member back down.
I NEVER WANT TO GO BACK THERE...
I came back from that trip so fried-out, spiritually, I felt like I never, EVER wanted to go back to the UK ever again. I had no idea who I was or what I stood for when I got back to Israel. I hadn’t been able to talk to God for an hour a day in the UK, I hadn’t been able to answer anybody’s questions about ‘what do I do?’, I had no fat financial conquests or assets to boast about. I came back feeling the biggest ‘nothing’ I’ve ever felt in my life.
Fast-forward six very eventful years, to May 2017, when my husband’s mother asked us to come to the UK for a trip out that she would pay for. She’s getting on, and finding travelling difficult, and my kids barely remember the UK, or Liverpool, in any way, shape or form.
Initially, me and my husband really weren’t keen. What if Moshiach comes while we’re gone? What if WW3 breaks out in Syria, and we can’t get back into Israeli airspace? What if there were more terrorist attacks (in the UK….) while we were there? What if we couldn’t find properly kosher food? What if we’d have to spend time with certain people we really don’t want to go near for any reason?
Really, though, the fear boiled down to this: “What if we lose our soul and self-esteem again so badly, like the last time?”
And last time, I still had a home of my own and much more external status than I do now, so it really was a sharp question.
Strangely, after doing a lot of talking to God about it all, I got the clear message to go - but to keep it short. Purely focussed on mitzvot, and not shopping or sight-seeing. So that’s what we did, and BH, I actually came back with my soul intact.
But that first day, as I opened up the curtains and looked out over a carpet of green trees and greenery that stretched as far as the eye can see, I suddenly got hit with a massive wave of self-doubt:
What if I’m a delusional idiot for believing in Moshiach coming, and the imminent geula?
What if I put all the ‘comfort’ available in the UK - the beautiful scenery, the house I used to own, the clothes I used to buy, the high-paying job I used to have, the social scene I used to be part of - on the line for nothing?
What if Moshiach isn’t coming after all?
You see, when you see trees and buildings that have been standing in the same place for hundreds of years, and people living in the same houses for decades, and a façade of uber-materialistic peacefulness and calm and green, it can really fool you into thinking that this world, the gashmius world, is all there is and it’s never going to be superseded by anything more spiritual or ‘rectified’.
For half an hour, I got caught up in it all again, and I felt very disconnected from God and Yiddishkeit.
What got me through is what always gets me through: talking to God.
Later on, I went with my kids and my mother-in-law to a local shopping centre, and while they were hopping all over the place looking for bargains, I went to WH Smith, a place that sells books, nice notepads and art supplies. I spent easily an hour there, browsing through a culture I’m now no longer part of.
Then I went and window-shopped a bit, overwhelmed by all the gashmius I could see. Then, I started looking at the other shoppers, and noticed how so many of them looked pale, miserable and stressed.
IT'S THE GASHMIUS, STUPID
Then, finally, the penny dropped, and I realised that it was materialism itself that’s killing people in the UK. Finally, I got why making a living in Israel is often so difficult: if it was as easy as it often appears to be in the West, it would entomb us alive.
But I also got another bit of the puzzle: A person who lives in Jerusalem, in the circumstances that I live in, so close to the Kotel, really doesn’t need to worry about ‘excess materialism’ anymore.
This trip to England showed me that if I still lived there, that would be a very valid worry. But now that I live in Israel, in Jerusalem, the way I do, having gone through everything I’ve gone through, a bit more materialism won’t hurt me and will probably do me a world of good, at this stage.
On the flight back home, I bought a small bottle of fancy perfume to celebrate this hopefully life-changing insight. This stuff may well be ‘poison’ for a Jew in chutz l’aretz, but for me, at this stage of my life, where I live, how I live, it’s become much more of a sam chaim (elixir of life).