PITTSBURGH, Penn. — There’s something whimsical about a foreign land.
We all feel the excitement that bubbles up when you renew your passport for that international vacation. Some are lucky enough to find enough refuge to make the vacation permanent; with that change, one’s entire self can also be swept up in an instant.
Dorit Sasson is unique in this regard. An alum of University at Albany, she’s lived on two continents. Born in New York City, she immigrated to Israel at 19 to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), where she got married and started a family. This journey, documented in Sasson’s first memoir, “Accidental Soldier,” would be only the beginning of the wild ride she would take.
Sasson penned a second memoir, “Sand and Steel,” which will release in April. “Sand and Steel” centers around life after the IDF and a different kind of change; after life in her kibbutz (think a type of commune) became shrouded by crisis after the second Israel-Lebanese War, Sasson and her family made the difficult decision to come back to the United States in search of work. Instead of being greeted by familiarity, she finds herself lamenting the life she lost in Israel and struggling with American culture.
The struggle is real for many of the 24 chapters “Sand and Steel” boasts. As Sasson, her husband, Haim, and her children, Ivry and Ayala, assimilate, they’re struck by the way Americans now operate. Sasson said life in Israel is about adapting to challenges and going with the flow, whereas Americans plot everything out in planners and panic about not having control. Israelites are blunt but honest and willing to help their neighbors; Americans tend to stick more to themselves, a trait Sasson noticed when going about town.
“I was shocked when we went to an apple orchard and my husband, who was born and raised in Israel, was talking to someone and leaning against a random car,” Sasson said. “The owner of the car approached us and asked him to back up from her car. We were shocked; people think nothing of that in Israel. It’s a sign of kicking back and enjoying a chat with someone.”
Another challenge presented itself when Sasson and her family are shopping and Haim disappears with Ayala. While this wouldn’t worry her in Israel, as “people have a way of finding their way back,” Sasson spends a good three pages trying to find her husband and daughter, only for them to reappear sweaty, disoriented and frustrated; Haim had turned down the wrong side street.
What struck me most about Sasson’s account is the idea of reverse culture shock, an idea I had never pondered before. Reverse culture shock is the idea that one can adapt to a life outside of their homeland and be struck by the differences when they return if they’ve spent enough time away or assimilated deeply into their new culture. It’s pretty common, as the United States Department of State has an entire subsection of its website dedicated to the idea. Despite her American roots, her account of having to unlearn the automatic jump to speak Hebrew instead of English, to think more in line with her family’s best interest as opposed to her entire kibbutz, to undo those traits that helped her assimilate in Israel is extensive.
“To see the Department of State recognize my feelings and know that what I was going through silently was valid was such a relief,” Sasson said. “I couldn’t fully understand why I was going through so much chaos, but it kind of put a rubber stamp on the storm in my mind and allowed me to find the right outlet.”
“Sand and Steel” is the result. Sasson said her writing was the way to disassociate from the soldier in the IDF and the mother and wife in America to better understand the journey. As pages turned into chapters, Sasson’s story unfolds into a flurry of education, with generous amounts of Hebrew vocabulary sprinkling the page.
“To think I left America as a teenager and returned as an adult, wife and mother is still something that is hard to wrap my brain around,” Sasson concluded. “The loss someone experiences when going through this is extreme, but there is always a common denominator among us, even if we don’t see it.”
To pre-order “Sand and Steel,” visit doritsasson.com.