I vaguely remember overhearing a conversation outside a coffee shop in Amsterdam years ago that has remarkably stayed with me. A stout, rather effeminate Scotsman was telling his Irish companion, A freckled lass with rosy cheeks and a pint of Guinness glued to her lips, that the true key to happiness lay in having two of the following three things: Someone to love (who, preferably, feels the same way about you), A place you can call home (whether or not you own or rent is of little importance) and a rewarding professional career. If you have two out of the three at any given time you should consider yourself lucky and therefore, by extension, be happy. Most of my adult life I had been hovering at a dismal 0.5 out of three on that scale. When I met my lovely wife the meter jumped to 1.5. When D. was born and we moved out of the grimy, soot-filled, warehouse-turned-apartment we had been renting on Herzl Street in Florentine to the quiet “suburbs” of Ramat-Gan-On-The-Yarkon-Park the meter climbed up to 2.0. By all accounts I should have been over the moon with joy. That’s the thing. I wasn’t.
I passed the first round of selections at the Jewish Agency sometime in 2010. It was a matter of filling out forms online detailing my professional background. The position in question was that of Shaliach, which, loosely translated, means messenger or emissary. The web site looked very promising boasting the tagline “See the World, Show them Home”. I imagined I would be a perfect cultural ambassador for the State of Israel. I made aliyah with my parents when I was twelve. I came back as a returning resident when I was 30. I did the army. I married an Israeli woman. I had a son in Israel. I had a uniquely Zionistic perspective on the State of Israel that would surely motivate any young North American individual or couple contemplating making Aliyah. I was certain they would be rolling out the red carpet for someone like me. And what better way to reach the coveted Happiness 3.0 than by spending my days helping Israel and young Jewish couples while exposing my impressionable young toddler to a whole new culture? It was a win-win situation.
After waging a war of attrition on my wife for weeks on end, I finally convinced her that moving to North America and working for the Jewish Agency could be an amazing experience not just for us but for our son. She didn’t love her job but she knew that her prospects in North America would be way, way slimmer, in most part due to the language barrier. There is also the matter of her family, with whom she is very close. Finally, I had to agree that, if selected, we would not move to a place with a cold climate. This clause was non-negotiable to her. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that that probably left us Florida and I would rather let a blind dentist perform a root canal than live there. Nevertheless I set up an appointment to meet with the representatives at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. They asked that my wife attend the interview. After all, we would both be emissaries, representing the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency and, I suppose, they wanted to make sure that she no longer had a working relationship with the Hezbollah.
The first part of the interview consisted of a test with multiple choice answers. Name the first Prime Minister of Israel. Easy. David Ben Gurion. List the Weekly Torah portion read during Purim? Not so much. I’m an Atheist through and through and since half the test was questions that related to Judaism I was in trouble. It might as well have been in Yiddish. I circled randomly and kept thinking about what M. had been telling me for the past few weeks. “They’re looking for religious people. You don’t stand a chance.” And I told myself what I had been telling her for weeks, namely that college campuses were full of young Jewish Americans that would relate to someone like me much more than a bible banger with a knitted kippa.
The two interviewers sat opposite from M. and I at a round table in a small office and it felt like an awkward blind date. They were both religious, Srugim I think they call them. She was Israeli and he was Canadian. She asked about my background and I went into a long-winded expository rant about my deep connection to the State of Israel, broken only by M. nudging me as a Captain would steer a ship that has gone wildly off course.
“Name one thing about Israel that you love the most.” I drew a blank. Like a deer in headlights. The aggressive drivers? The piss poor Education system? The fact that I’ll never own a home or be able to climb out of overdraft? The Heat? The fucking humidity of an August Sharav? Masada? Oh God, help me. I just stared blankly at the two of them for what seemed like forever. Finally, M. chimes in. “You love Tel Aviv, don’t you?” Of course! How could I have forgotten about the greatest city in the world? The beaches. The cafés. The beautiful women walking down Dizengoff Street. Oh, Tel Aviv, my own New York City on the Mediterranean. The city where I met my wife. The city where my son was born. The city that my heart pines for no matter where in the world I am.
“But they have busses on Saturday in Tel Aviv.” The interviewer says with a condescending smile. M. shoots a sympathetic look in my direction that says it all. She gently puts her hand on my mine and feigns a smile. The interview lasted twenty more agonizing minutes but we both knew that it was nothing more than an exercise in futility.
We had a great lunch in one of those workers’ restaurants on the outskirts of Machane Yehuda market. We enjoyed the crisp, autumnal Jerusalem air and walked around holding hands like a young couple in love. We had the day off from work and my mother in law was picking D. up from daycare. We came home to our beautiful apartment, shared a glass of wine and watched a movie. We felt alive and in love and so extremely fortunate to have found each other. “You know they’re not going to call you, right?” She says.
I may never reach happiness 3.0 but I’m beginning to believe that the Scotsman had a point. Having two out of three on the happiness scale is enough and probably more than most people will ever have. I should learn to appreciate it.