Back to Israel. Home (although I still do not own one.) Some friends say “how courageous,” others say “you’re crazy.” There may be a grain of truth on both comments, but there are also other ingredients.
Consistency with what I believe in – the Zionist idea, in spite of its many shortcomings – is one. Our daughter and old good friends living in Israel are other. And there is also hope and vision, as I expressed it on previous blogs “Israel in 2044” and “Why Aliyah?”
Going back to Israel after 15 years in Southern California (L.A., Long Beach, Irvine,) without an insured source of income, is not easy. Moving includes a lot of stress in the family and it is also very costly. Although both my wife Ruth’s health and mine are excellent, getting from a nice comfort zone to an uncertain future is quite challenging. Yet, in spite of many obstacles, reinventing ourselves once again is invigorating, particularly when returning with the feeling that we have plenty to give back beyond self-realization and financial sustainability.
It is still early to make a balance of our last 15 years. There were ups and downs. It all started with an offer “that I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) refuse” from the University of California in Irvine. I accepted while managing the design of a master plan for 3,000 dwelling units in Beer Sheva (Ruth commuted four times during the first year) with a partner.
Then the Second Intifada started and derailed our plans. We settled in Long Beach, thirty miles from Los Angeles, without clarity about the future. After six month of living in a city of half a million people (when we came we knew only one person) the Mayor, Barbara O’Neill, appointed me as Board Member of the Redevelopment Agency, which had an annual budget of $110 million.
“Why me,” I asked.
“We need an architect,” O’Neill said, “and besides that, I heard that you think out of the box.”
“I speak out my mind,” I said. “That could be a political liability to you.”
“That is exactly what we need,” she said, “people that can criticize with an open eye.”
Getting a taste of life within government (I always dealt with governments from the other side of the desk) added a perception that I did not have. During the four years I served as a commissioner, I dealt with people from all walks of life, rich and poor, Latinos, African-American, Cambodians, businessmen and artists.
Then came the financial crisis of 2008, which hit us badly. All our projects came to a stop. The value of our condominium went down bellow the value of our mortgage. Moving back to Israel was not a feasible option.
We had to reinvent ourselves. I reinstated my real estate broker license and joined Coldwell Banker, which I call “the Harvard of real estate.” And I also “discovered” filmmaking, not as a consumer of good cinema (which we have been since we were students) but as a producer of architecture documentaries. I took courses, went to many Q&A’s with filmmakers, and above all, I practiced by producing over thirty short documentaries. In parallel Ruth reinvented herself as an urban farmer, which had been the subject of her Master of Architecture thesis at UCLA, “Architecture in an Urban Environment.”
And here we are, in the spring of 2016, restarting all over again. The political climate, both in Israel and in the United States, is far from being desirable. The Middle East is under a turmoil without precedent. Israel is more isolated than ever in recent history. However, I remain hopeful.
Hope that Israel become a leader not only in high tech, medicine, agriculture and science, but also in architecture, filmmaking and the arts.
Hope that the Israeli melting pot will continue to melt, uniting confrontational worldviews into a more unified life view, the Israeli life view.
Hope that Israel will get closer to a de-facto peace with most of the Arab nations.
Hope that Israel’s ranking 11th on the list of happiest countries will move to the first place.
Hope that twenty percent of the world’s Jewry will move to Israel in a decade and call it home.
On April 1, 2016, with Einstein and Spinoza’s God’s will, I will land in Israel as a Returning Citizen. American tradition marks that date as “Fool’s Day.” I call it “Hope Day.” Hope that my wife will soon join me. Hope that through her urban farming and my architecture and filmmaking, we’ll help Israel to move one inch forward towards becoming a Light Onto the Nations.