I get asked one of two questions on almost a daily basis:
1. Are you here to stay?
2. What is it about Israel?
Let me say that no two questions confound me as much as these. Perhaps because I have no definitive answer to either.
In the case of the first, I get asked this by Israelis, family and friends. I assume Israelis ask it in two veins – the first to see if I am worth investing their time; the second because many honestly can’t figure out why someone who didn’t have to would choose this place. Family and friends ask it selfishly (and in that, I mean that they have a vested self-interest in the answer because I am so far away.) Something I genuinely love them for. Choosing to live here has been the most difficult decision of my life thus far.
What many who have not made this choice don’t understand is that those of us who do almost feel that we are compelled to do so. That there is something fundamentally missing in us when we live elsewhere.
Which leads me to the question: Am I here to stay? Life itself has no guarantees. Opportunities and circumstances present themselves, and we cannot foresee what those may be. But I think the answer is in the second question: What is it about Israel?
What IS it? Last week I was asked this question by a new friend/mentor who asked if I would like to work in the US – truthfully, in a field that I love, doing in many ways what I was born to do.
And as I sat across from him, I tried to explain the unexplainable with a universal metaphor. One day I will be sitting in my kitchen (somewhere in the world – hopefully here)…and earlier in the day I will have picked up my kids and one will have a temper tantrum, argued with my (as yet unmet) husband about something mundane, spoken to/worked with 20 people for various reasons, and be tired beyond belief. And then, for some completely inexplicable reason, I will look over at my family and have a flood of emotion that will hit me in my chest without even the chance to breath. It will cause me to want to wrap my arms around my family and the emotion and not let it go – because inevitably, life will move on, and another temper tantrum or dirty dish or mundane argument will be around the corner. But for that one moment (and other sporadic moments), I will be in love as wholly and fully as a dream will allow.
That moment happened last week – totally and wholly inexplicable – as I stood outside in the Jerusalem evening of the event Contact Point at the Israel Museum. What had otherwise been a busy, exhausting day where I rose at 6 a.m. to commute by sherut from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, sitting in an all-day seminar, to cross Jerusalem for a committee meeting, to sitting in the shuk alone eating, to joining a friend and her grandmother as we took a cab to the museum event turned into one of THOSE moments. By 9 p.m. when the event only began I was ready to leave to start my commute back to Tel Aviv. But, since I was already there I forced myself through the halls of amazing exhibits where artists, musicians and chefs weaved and spun stories and music, and we could literally paint on the walls. By 11:00pm I had had it…I was falling on my face when the silent music dance party began. I half-heartedly put on the earphones and danced to a few songs before begging off from my friends and walking towards the exit. But then, it happened.
The night was magical. The atmosphere was perfect – energy, quiet and air all mixed into one perfect concoction. I couldn’t leave. So, I took one more swing around the “dance” floor. I soaked in the energy. And if I could have, I would have extended my arms, stretched them out around the entirety of the museum – in fact the entirety of the country…and not let go. It was THE moment. The moment you understand without words, without explanations, without rationality, and without reason. I chose to extend that moment until 3 am when I reluctantly left – only because the event was ending.
Four years ago I was asked to give a speech at the goodbye event for olim leaving from NYC and their families. I told them I was the wrong person to make the speech. That they wouldn’t like my answer. That I probably wasn’t the Zionist they were hoping for. What I wanted was simply to get off of the plane in Tel Aviv and head straight to my office – not the Kotel, have a drink/dinner with friends, and call it a night. And pretty much have life continue as normal – just in a slightly different place. What I said in the speech is that “I am making aliyah for the cucumbers.”
What I meant is that I was making aliyah for the moments, and that I was in love.