I was waking along the beach in tel aviv today staring at the depth of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea , wallowing admittedly in a bit of self pity but generally feeling sad for Israel. I have looked at this sea so many times, in awe; and it has always been able to restore my mind to peace when I have lost faith in myself of this beautiful country.
Today, however, despite my best efforts to stay optimistic .: My thoughts lately have been laced with discouragement about Israel.
Recently, several of my extended family have made the decision to leave. In Hebrew this is called “yirida” which literally means to go down. It is the antithesis of becoming a citizen in Israel :”aliyah” (or to rise as it translated literally from Hebrew).
I personally have never have had to confront this choice Partially due my commitment phobia, or my obsession with living on the cusp, my overly analytical brain causes me to over think my decisions. Sometimes never making them. As a result I have never skinny dipped, so to speak, uninhibited in the inviting waters of being an Israeli.
Like a recovering alcoholic who tries to resist the urge to drink, I fight against my impulse to wade knee deep in the Israeli sea, instead I try to keep my sensible feet grounded on dry land.
If my Israeli counterparts ask me why not? I respond with my logical sensible armor. My defenses stand at attention, “It’s the taxes, it’s the distance from my aging parents, I’m trying to save my benefits..” I run down a litany of excuses and explanations, resisting the urge to feel shame and guilted by my peers who I feel look down at me for my middle ground stance, seeing it’s a self fulfilling reason to justify why I don’t feel I belong.
In fact I’ve come to script and carefully choreograph this dance to navigate my pirouette b’emtzah (in the middle).
Though daily I think JUST do it, the discerning, the skeptical New Yorker In me always returns with it’s nagging warnings: ” Slow down. Think it through.The country is dangerous, the people are aggressive.There is simply no time for flattery, politesse here. Even the language does not caress, it confronts. “REGA” Lama, Yala!”
Don’t be mistaken, it is a take no prisoners culture (unless of course the prisoners are our so called enemies,) of which there are many. To the North, and south the menace of an impending terrorist attack looms like a sleeping Lion: yet another measuring reminder that life in the holy land will always be landscaped upon an architecture of conflict.
From the daily bureaucratic struggles with Hot, Orange, Kupat cholim, some days can feel like a nonstop challenge.
The holy land sits on century old scars, wounds etched with the unrelenting memory and paranoia of persecution.
My love affair with this country was cultivated on the cusp of this instability, this defiance. The dream of Aliyah baited me, coaxed me, a country with tenuous boarders, struggling to survive but a country that perseveres. in spite of and sometimes because of its enemy. The words of my “madreech, “Israel is a tiny county surround by enemies,” from a UJA mission to Israel in the 90s had an indelible impact on me.
Israel needs me, I thought: the underdog, the State struggling to survive adamantly against the relentless calls for its destruction. I will be more than just a number here. My existence will matter.
This passion this sense of purpose drove me to pursue a place in this chaotic, colorful and enduring landscape : as a volunteer on a kibbutz ulpan, next as an intern in a children’s rights agency in Jerusalem, and now in Tel Aviv.
But I fear, as I watch more and more of my extended family ” go down” and step down off the pedestal of pride upon which they rested their heart, faith and passions to join this beautiful country, that our myopic obsession to defend ourselves against our enemies has caused us to lose sight of the reasons our relatives built this beautiful state and even make enemies of ourselves.
My closest friend came to this country five years ago, leaving behind ties to his family and friends, the beginnings of a successful career. His dream we to contribute his talents , ambitions Zionist passion to serve the IDF.
Armored with an unbridled sense of adventure combined with a fearlessness, idealism and indelible pride in his new country, he came to build the bonds of brotherhood, join the army and find family to protect and secure the security and future of Israel.
At the end of March, a week before Passover, he will leave Israel and his extended family behind. Unlike the idealistic young 23 year old, his view of this country is now stained with cynicism .
He leaves discouraged with not simply the lack of financial opportunities here, but more importantly by the growing dislike for the behavior and disrespect he sees around him. In a sense he feels betrayed by his family.
I too came in my twenties filled with optimism and idealism, swept up in the momentum of the dream of Aliyah hoping to step in footprints of my family and pave a new path to the future for myself and Israel.
In many ways the beauty that I remembered remains: the openness and incredible warmth of my extended family here, the warmth, passion and generous sprit of the people combined with an unapologetic directness and no nonsense realism that can be harsh, though sometimes well intended.
In the cradle of this familial embrace, however I sometimes find myself suffocated, stifled by the tensions amongst us, and the mistreatment I see around me in the shouts between adults, greedy or dishonest behaviors of my fellow Israelis. “Don’t trust them with your money, ” I am warned by my native Israeli friends , they will try and take advantage.” Lama? “אני שואלת ״Kacha!״
I too have found the scars: scars of mistrust, scars of years of fighting a relentless enemy, who, despite its primitive form, seems intractable and intent on destruction. But has our obsession to protect ourselves from this threat, our determination to preserve our geographical boundaries, and to protect the state whose survival rest upon the losses of so many generations in fact cultivated an intolerance to our fellow Jew. If so we have lost the values upon which this country was built.
Has our existence become so defined by our struggle with our enemies, that our existence itself now requires one?
When we cheat one another, take advantage of those who came here to support and strengthen
this country, disrespect each other, throw trash on our beaches, and fuel a growing intolerance in our environment colored with greed, petty jealousies and carelessly speech, making Olim feel they do not belong, we cheat not just them but ourselves. it empowers those who seek to destroy us by eroding the very fabric of out communities. A land simply “occupied” by Jewish people does not build a strong Jewish State, it’s people do.
The sense of urgency in daily life here, and this sense of urgency can cultivate an impulsive, sometimes erratic now or never mindset: one of extremes that leaves no room for analysis, or worrying the consequences of our behavior or what happened yesterday: even 10 seconds ago.
It’s blink and you’ll miss it mentality: If can’t handle it then feel free to go. Move on
The paradox is that history is everywhere: From excavations, beneath Old City of Jerusalem where archeologists passionately excavate the remains of Arab villages, and in the fossilized fabric of the Western Wall and Arab shuk, the voices of ancient communities have endured.
Despite our stubbornness and insistence that the “Arabs” our constantly nipping at out heals waiting for the next opportunity to seize our homeland, our children and their future, we endured.
I struggle internally with this dichotomy, History can be an invaluable teacher that helps us to learn from mistakes, progress and evolve. The past can be an invaluable tool, but when that history blinds us, : distorts out perspective, and blurs our long term vision, I fear that our history will become an obstacle to our security and our state.
As we are pushed and pulled , the relentless and turbulent tide of our daily lives we cannot let stains of incivility, color the beautiful landscape of this culture, and overshadow the vales upon which the country was built.
Yes I still stand b’emtzah b chutzpah, on the border of belonging to this confounding place where we call our homeland, Here: where no one is a stranger, privacy a silly dream, and traditional values silhouette a culture and society on the cutting edge of innovation.
We cannot forget those who took the chance, made the commitment, took the leap in faith to enter the beautiful, unpredictable and even turbulent waters of this country to join an extended family. We cannot let those who came before us leave here cynical, and defeated and feeling that they have been cheated.
When my friend boards his plane on March 31, I will miss not just my friend but a member of my family: the family I came here to build: the family we all did. I hope we can begin to look past out history, look inward and examine our own mistakes, and start to rebuild and preserve the bonds of our own family: our Jewish family: And hopefully the next time an idealistic Aliyah seeker arrives he or she will find not only a homeland, but a HOME.