A Question Of Belonging
An identity crisis is described (according to the gods of Google) as 'A period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person's sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.'
I think I was BORN into an identity crisis.
You see, I don't remember a time when I wasn't, in one way or another, unsure of my identity and its place in society. You see, I was raised in a bit of an unorthodox neighborhood...: The old city of Jerusalem, Israel. At the top of Mount Zion, to be exact, at the entry of Zion Gate, which is steps from the Western Wall and Temple Mount. The old city is a tourist destination with an assortment of more historic and holy sites than most places in the world. My neighbors to my very first home were ultra orthodox Hasidic jews, Christian monks and nuns, devout muslims, and random tourists who would come and go, checking off the Old City of Jerusalem off their bucket lists. The famous 'Last Supper' room was behind my house, and so was King David's Tomb and other interesting sites in the streets I grew up in. I used to love getting 'lost' in the scenery while walking my Rottweiler dog Pinchy on the ancient stone wall surrounding the old city, exploring ruins in every corner of every alley, and smelling the spices in the Muslim market. The bus that would drive through the walls of the old city was bus number 38. It was a smaller bus than the other ones, because it had to drive under a few curved roofs and narrow roads. It seems as if even the bus had to minimize itself to belong to that environment.
Fitting into that particular environment, was hard.
And as a secular Israeli little girl in a heavily religious environment, it was EXTRA hard.
Wearing pants instead of a long modest skirt like the other little girls in my neighborhood, and roaming the alleys and cobblestone streets barefoot and free... were turning a lot of heads of my religious neighbors. I remember being spit on and feeling alienated.
I, and my family, were sent a message - that we didn't belong.
Nevertheless, I loved living in the old city.
I remember my imagination going wild in that environment. See, I grew up on stories of explorers, treasures in faraway lands, archeologists and kings and queens of biblical times. And in that environment? I saw all that I could imagine right in front of my eyes. In all the odd characters of my surroundings: Like the English man who uprooted his life and moved to the old city because he believed he was a reincarnation of King David. So he would situate himself every day near the Zion Gate, dressed in a robe and a crown, playing the harp to tourists passing by. I remember thinking he was a real king when I was a child.
Now I know he had a 'Jerusalem Syndrome' (according to the gods of google, Jerusalem Syndrome is a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of religiously-themed obsessive ideas, delusions, or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem). But when I was a child, he was the king of my neighborhood. Also, there was the redheaded Arabic man that always had a smile on his face. And always - a cigarette in his hand. I don't recall his name but his nickname was 'Gingy', for his 'ginger' hair. My dad once told me Gingy was a secret agent. I don't know if that was true (my dad is quite the storyteller) but I found Gingy to be a fascinating figure in my neighborhood. For years, he and I shared smiles towards each other - us redheads do that with one another. As if we have an understanding. A bond. It's a thing.
Another neighborhood friend of mine was a camel. Yup. A camel that tourists would climb on, giggling, several times a day. He was a gentle giant, a beautiful animal. His handler - a bedouin gentle man with a soothing voice - befriended my dad and so I was able to enjoy the camel's company as if he was my very own. I knew how to tell the camel to stand up, how to walk, and how to sit. I spoke the 'language of camels.' (Well, not quite, but ya know what I mean...) In several of my birthday parties, the camel was the real attraction for my friends who would build up the courage to visit Mount Zion. See, at that time, and what made my fairytale childhood rather dark in that unique environment, was the sense of danger that was always lurking. I kept hearing the term 'Intifada' as a child. But I didn't know what is was about. I started hearing that people, primarily tourists, were randomly stabbed in the streets of the old city, and that rocks were thrown on passers by, and cars were burned. Later on, when my family car was burnt outside our home, I learned that the 'Intifada' was the Palestinian uprise against Israeli occupation of Gaza. (Today, I know it is the violent despair that people turn to when they want a better life and don't know any other way to get it.)
There was, and still is, in the old city of Jerusalem, an intense heaviness that is always felt. It's historic. It's political. It's....charged. Some people are taken by it, call it 'energy', 'the divine', 'holy'... while others want to wash Jerusalem off of them the minute they enter the city of gold. I was born and raised into that intense heaviness. It was normal. It was home. It took me many years to realize how abnormal that environment really was. And it wasn't only in the streets around my home. It was in my very own home also: I grew up in a unique underground house - a restoration of an ancient ruin, ranging in parts from 1000-2000 years old. Yes, you read that correctly. Two thousand freakin' year old home. And yes, underground. It had a fossil in the kitchen, curved stone ceilings throughout, and dead haunted silence that can only be felt in - what people usually call - 'a haunted house.'
My home was a world in itself, and to it - I DID belong.
But even there, I always had an eerie feeling that I was only visiting. That I was observing. And that one day, I will find myself in another world.
It has been some... years since my childhood in Jerusalem. And ups and downs. And learning, and growing, and making mistakes and achieving some goals, but the sense of my identity in question - has never left. In fact, it is something I carry with me in my life pretty much always. I live in Los Angeles now, and I love the newness of the grounds of California. It rings very different than the grounds of my upbringing. This city offers a different kind of gold to me. And I love being its observer, its visitor, and its resident.
Lately, with corona virus putting the entertainment industry - my industry - in a bit of a pause, and the political state bringing up issues of oppression, racism and social injustice into the conversation more than ever (in my years here, that is), I have been reintroduced to questioning my identity within this community. For years, I have latched on to my identity as an actress - a chameleon who can take on many identities for the fun of it - because it was the most pleasant identity for me to take on. But when I meet my other identities, like my Israeli-Jewish-Immigrant-white-skinned-woman-raised-in-the-middle-east identity... the confusion often comes back. And it's back with vengeance. It keeps me up at night, it shows up in my dreams and make me see my world from a different set of eyes: An eyes of someone who belongs to not belonging. Who is comfortable as an outsider. And who also is deeply conflicted with all that.
To be continued...
7/17/2020 09:47:41 pm
So POWERFUL... can’t wait to read more.
8/11/2020 07:51:24 am
Tamar, I can totally relate...In Venice-on-the-Pacific we all belong to the un-belonged...You're Welcome...Namaste...Aloha...Shalom.
8/14/2020 03:35:01 pm
I'm a friend of Mirra's and had the privilege of meeting your grandfather. Mirra keeps me updated on the family, you included. Your article is well-written and expresses a longing to find acceptance in a foreign land. But it's your difference, your otherness that makes you special. Very different from my secular upbringing in Chicago, in a mixed community. My father always believed we should be brought up to understand the other.
8/28/2020 10:00:23 pm
את כותבת כל כך יפה. מרגישים את הקשר המיוחד שלך לביתך .בירושלים. ויש איזה כאב מהדהד. תודה
9/17/2020 01:12:37 am
I can't pull away from your writing. When you speak of your upbringing, it's like I'm transported to another planet. I'm so grateful you shared this unique perspective. It feels special in a world of homogenization and intolerance. Thank you.
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In April 2020, while experiencing her first ever global pandemic, Tamar Pelzig pledged to write something every day, even if it's only a word, so she welcomed to the world a daily blog to keep her creative writing wheels rolling.
Header Art: Daniel Landerman