Oh, this distance.
This rift between my people in “the Old Country” — America — and my people here in Israel.
It’s killing us.
Even though we grew from the same seed: We drew water from the same wells on the way to Jerusalem. We survived the rough earth of Babylon. And expulsion from Spain. And pogroms, too many to count, uprooting, upending, like the wisps of a dandelion, we floated and fell. And then the Holocaust. Even that.
And you’re there in the Old Country — America — in that place I still dream about that holds my childhood in the palm of its hand. The Old Country, where there are bagels and lox, and a map of Israel next to the chalkboard, where we drove to Temple and sang hinei ma tov u ma nayim, how good it is to be together. Where we love IsREAL from afar, from a map, from the quickening we would feel in our hearts when we would do folk dancing in the social hall…(shafte mayim b’sason — draw water joyfully… mayim mayim mayim mayim…) Where the relationship wasn’t messy, but easily compartmentalized as I would drop a few coins in the blue JNFA box in front of the sanctuary.
(It’s a mitzvah after all.)
But now, with a few twists and turns, and a first kiss under a starry sky, I’m here, living in the details of that map that hung on the wall next to the chalkboard, where I see a side to this place that I don’t always like — the racism, yes, it exists. The economic instability, yes it exists. This country is young — oh, so very young — and we’re trying to figure out our identity, in the privacy of our homes, and in our public spaces, while the world shines a big old nasty halogen light on us and holds us to a standard that they expect of no one else — not even themselves. So what can we do? We throw up our arms, defensive, angry.
And I wonder how you see us in this cold, hard light while you watch us from across the world.
I know that when I was younger you embraced us — because I was there as part of “you” embracing Israel. But it feels like we embarrass you, now, and you shake your head.
“Look man, I’m Jewish,” I’ve heard you say. “But Israel isn’t important to me.”
Don’t pull away — come here. Come visit. Roll up your sleeves. Get your hands dirty with us, and work the problem.
I’m not saying you need to leave it all behind and move here — but come see how complicated it is, come hug and wrestle with this place as we are doing here.
Stand up and be counted.
And I’m waiting for you here, following ancient roads to the heart of our nation — Yes, “Our” nation. Yours and mine — and I will you take you with me when you come. I’m waiting for you here, planting lavender and sage on our land — Yes “Our” land. Yours and mine — and I’ll brew tea for when you come. I’m waiting for you here, raising children to speak our language of our ancestors — yes, “Our” language and “Our” ancestors. Yours and mine. And they can teach us together when you come.
Maybe you don’t see it — but I do, from here, from a safe place, I see what’s sweeping across Europe… Too many incidents to be “isolated,” too little “condemnation” to be reassuring.
Yes, America is still good, still safe. You can still hang your paper dreidel on the door, and sing Oh Hanukkah oh Hanukkah at the schools’ holiday pageant, you can slow dance to the Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody at David Weintraub’s Bar Mitzvah, and drink Manischewitz (concord grape) and get your jelly donuts at Krispy Kreme, and find Passover foods near the checkout stand at Albertsons.
But then, someone in Skokie paints a swastika on your synagogue. Someone in Kansas opens fire on your JCC.
It wasn’t like this when I was growing up — and the incidents are becoming less and less isolated… and the condemnation isn’t strong enough.
But as you distance yourselves from us, and as we distance ourselves from you, we dig this trench wide and deep that separates us, and it’s too bad because there will come a day when we will need each other.
I promise you, Jew hatred runs deep. It isn’t rational, and no one can justly explain it, but it’s there, sometimes in a snide whisper, and sometimes in a boom. And you, in the Old Country are safe for now, just as we are holding our own with a kickass army.
And this country IS a miracle. A little piece of land, surrounded by people who really don’t like us, we survive, and thrive. No one can justly explain it. We made this place bloom out of swampland, out of desert with no natural resources besides our own grit and determination. Our children are strong and loving, men and women have taken the principles of tikkun olam to new heights of high-tech, where they make the world a better place with incredible life-saving innovations. There’s a sense of shared purpose here, a quiet understanding that shines during times of war, and peace as well…
But we need you — your ideals, your principles. Not shouted at us from the other side of the world while you push us away, but suggested gently after coming here over coffee, after understanding how your family’s living here, (We just might listen then.)
And you need us, too, because history has shown us that we will always need a place to call our own. And together we can work the problem and the land, and grow Israel into a haven — and a heaven — on earth.