I was working as a lawyer in Chicago, sitting at a meeting with my musician-client. This means that we were having drinks after her show, in a posh bar at 1:00 AM, yet unlike my client, I’d been up since 7:00. Representing artists takes stamina!
My client had a new boyfriend who was Palestinian, which is to say that his mother was Yugoslavian, his father was Egyptian, and he grew up in the suburbs of Chicago reading Al Jazeera online, but who am I to judge? My client asked me if Israel was as terrible as she had learned from her boyfriend. I wanted to maintain positivity and dignity for myself, and my heritage, but without speaking ill of her boyfriend. I spent the next twenty minutes delicately speaking about the complexities of Israel. I was careful to add that I respect her boyfriend’s sincerity but that Al Jazeera isn’t always right. Just when I thought I had reconciled a difficult situation, one of my client’s fans recognized her and asked for an autograph. She invited him to join us for a drink, and she asked what he does for a living. He cheerfully replied, “I’m a reporter for Al Jazeera!”
At my client’s encouragement, this reporter shared his (rather disturbing) thoughts on Israel, and I found myself in an awkward position: I knew he was bending the truth, but I did not have enough knowledge to respond intelligently. Even worse, I knew that my relationship with my client could be at risk. I felt under attack, and rather alone.
Not long afterwards I attended a conference in Jerusalem, and stayed a few extra days on my friend’s floor in Tel Aviv. Davka (as they say in Israel) I was sleeping on a floor 6,000 miles from Chicago, yet I felt completely at home. I kept finding excuses to come back, including conferences with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I learned how to speak about Israel in a way that is sensitive and balanced, yet without sacrificing moral clarity or intellectual honesty. I built a network of friends, colleagues and professional diplomats around the world who also attend conferences, share ideas, and provide support when our global Jewish community faces hard moments. I was no longer alone.
Remembering how I used to feel, I began a blog designed for people who want to be able to speak about Israel but aren’t sure what to say. The articles are short, clear and well researched. You can find it at: http://israelreview.blogspot.com.
I wondered if my feeling of being “at home” was merely the excitement of visiting Israel. It wasn’t. I kept coming back, and kept feeling more and more at home. One day a friend in Israel asked me if I ever get homesick for Chicago. I realized that I did not, but when I was in Chicago I felt homesick for Tel Aviv. In that moment I knew I had to make Aliya, and six months later, I did.
As our flight began its descent, the pilot announced in Hebrew, “We are approaching Ben Gurion airport, and we’d like to extend a special welcome to the many ‘new olim’ on our flight today. Now please take your seats and fasten your seatbelts for our descent.” Then in typical “tachlis” Israeli style, he translated into English, “Ehhh, ok… everybody…ehhh SIT DOWN!” Finally, we arrived in Ben Gurion airport to be greeted by that famous sign that says, “Welcome home.”
I live in Israel not as a refugee, but because I feel more at home here than anyplace in the world. I continue to feel a sense of responsibility for advocacy in my “country of origin” because I feel that Jews all over the world need our support just as much as Israel needs theirs. In the coming months I hope to share with Times of Israel readers my personal stories of Aliya and culture, as well as political pieces that help us discuss our country in a clear and honest way.
Thank you for reading, and “shalom” from Israel.
Daniel Pomerantz is a business attorney, political analyst, and a recent “ole” to Israel. His blog can be found at http://israelreview.blogspot.com.