The day before I started my move to Israel, I was babysitting at a Jewish wedding for a two-month old girl who was the daughter of two of the guests. While the baby slept in her stroller, I took the time to call my best friend, Cassie’s father, Paul. I met Paul my sophomore year of college when Cassie and I were roommates for the year. Since then, Paul has been an excellent surrogate father to me. When I was telling Cassie about my acceptance to the Israel Teaching Fellows program back in March, she told me if I called her father that he would talk my ear off. He did as she suspected, but since my own father had not supported my new endeavor, I was glad to have someone who did. He gave me some money for Israel and we communicate via email and Facebook. He and Cassie are trying to visit me in Israel next year and I certainly will welcome them with open arms.
I have always enjoyed listening to what Paul has had to say. As we chatted the day before I began my Israel journey, he said something that really stuck with me. He said my job while I am in Israel is to be an ambassador for America. Moreover, he wants me to be the person that Israelis will stick up for when they hear something bad about America. Paul wants the Israelis to say to their comrades, “Not all Americans are bad; I met this great American named Taylor and she was really something.” Apart from being an Israel Teaching Fellow, is being an ambassador for America my job, too?
I have lived in America—and more specifically, Massachusetts—all of my life. I know other countries like to rag on America and really, their criticism is warranted. America always proclaims how it’s the best and most important country in the world. If America faces an issue, the entire world has to hear about it; this is why I read news about other countries so that I am not trapped in my little American bubble. When America gets made fun of, America complains about it. America is hypocritical when it comes to whining about how Britain is imperialist, despite the fact that America owns the Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico, to name a few places. America says it’s free, yet the never-ending NSA scandals and continued assault on the Bill of Rights prove otherwise. America focuses its efforts on countries that have nothing to do with them instead of fighting its own battles. America has been involved in some degree in every major war during the past century. American politicians cannot get their act together—I can’t keep track of how many times the GOP has delayed the implementation of “Obamacare,” a piece of legislation that was signed into LAW in 2010 and UPHELD by SCOTUS in 2012.
America does have its strong points as well like excellent doctors and education—for those who can afford them, anyway—but constantly hearing about how America is the best place on the entire planet makes me tone down my American-ness when I’m abroad. When I lived in London, I tried to hide my accent because I didn’t want the snarky snares or comments from the British. I never even thought that I had an accent to begin with, until one night when DJ was too drunk to order French Fries at McDonald’s and asked me to do it for her. A guy from New Zealand who was standing next to me immediately proclaimed how he loved my accent. I blushed and said thank you. I don’t mind people commenting on my supposed accent, but if one more person tells me to “pahk my cah in Havahd Yahd,” (park my car in Harvard Yard) I won’t hesitate to snap at them. Not all Bostonians drop the letter “R.” And, as I try to not be associated with negative American stereotypes, I rarely eat fast food, I consider myself educated, and I don’t think my country is the center of the universe. My father says I am unpatriotic. I am not unpatriotic; I am a realist. Heaven forbid that I moved to a second country in the past three years so that I could see the world through a different lens.
I have done my best in Israel to try and assimilate with the culture, something Birthright really helped me to do last July. I know what clothing to wear at religious sites. My Hebrew is improving little by little. I actually pay attention when crossing the street instead of jaywalking like I do in Boston. I read Israeli news every day. I talk to the locals and dispel rumors about Americans. Maybe I have to do what Paul says and be an ambassador for America. But why do I think this? What am I fighting for? What keeps me going?
I fight for children. I fight for cultural understanding. I fight to not be the uneducated, self-absorbed, promiscuous American that dominates popular media. Even still, while I continue onward with my life in Israel, I still do miss my crazy country sometimes. I’m proud of myself that I’m mostly able to put loss in a place where it doesn’t poke at my heart all the time. I spoke to my father on the phone earlier this evening for the first time in a couple of weeks and he asked me if I would consider staying in Israel when my program ends in June of next year. I sighed and told him that I doubted it. I then felt the sudden need to lean on something firm.
Several times over the past few days, I’ve heard some of my cohort talk about making Aliyah. I know that if there ever was a severe enough crisis in America that forced me to leave, I would probably be able to move to Israel again under the Law of Return. While I enjoy this country and the kindness of the Israelis, I don’t know if I could make Aliyah. The language barrier is a huge issue. I never learned how to drive, and while I can get to pretty much anywhere in Israel via taxi, sherut or train, not having a car is a problem. Despite the issues that plagued me when I lived in London, England—so far, anyway—is the only country I could ever see myself relocating to if I so desired, due to the language, public transportation and my family being there. I actually did try to move there two years ago, but since I’m not a student anymore and I’m not marrying a British man, getting a work visa is next to impossible. At least every time I feel the beginnings of nostalgia driven tears, I do not sense shame in them, but I don’t find any wisdom in them, either.
I wonder now, as I have lived in Israel for just over a month, if I’ve kept my promises to Paul, if I’ve taken enough risks, if I’ve sampled enough Israeli cuisine, if I’ve spent enough time on the beach and if I’m doing enough to be America’s ambassador. I don’t think Israel resents me for being an American. I don’t think the Israelis feel slighted that they have to use my mother tongue with me because I don’t understand theirs, although I am getting better. For such a young country, Israel seems to understand the difficulty of my predicament—trying to balance an appreciation for my home country with the appreciation for this new one. When my cohort says, you seem happier now, I try not to think about my London cohort who left me scarred. I believe that when I don’t feel anything at all, that it’s easier to deal with than being sad.
As the nights grow colder here, I find solace in my afternoon walk near the beach in Netanya because I can look at the sea and the sun reflecting off of the waves. One of my many joys here comes from watching the palm trees sway in the breeze, feeling the wind from the sea in my hair and watching the sunset. The joy of being in Netanya, the joy of being alive, is always concentrated in me, boiled down and intense. What I feel in my heart right now is that somewhere inside Israel’s, She will always carry the ache that America’s absence leaves. I have learned that life entails a big responsibility to deal with the threat of things that I either do not understand or can do anything about. But I do what I can do. I know that I have a share of blessings, without even counting past Israel. When I look at the sunset, I am reminded that the sun is the same sun that shines on America. America may have its share of problems, but it’s my home. I can appreciate my birthplace and my new home concurrently.
As I continue to learn more about this country, I will make Paul proud and be the American that the media won’t show. And, when I go back to America next year, I will be the ambassador for Israel.