I recently spent a week in Eilat with my son Ari. In addition to being a particularly enjoyable time, it fulfilled two promises: one we made to Ari to let him take a scuba diving course after he achieved high grades last year in high school, and a promise I made to myself to finish writing my new book by Passover. But most important of all – it was quality father-son time.
In January, Eilat is a great place for a vacation in Israel. A beautiful beach with clear waters, a feeling of relative isolation from the world and reasonable prices (prices soar in the summer and during holidays). For six days we disengaged from everyday life. Ari learned to dive while I sat and wrote, and in the evenings we enjoyed ourselves together.
The hotel, on Eilat’s south beach, was almost empty. In addition to us, there were a few couples from Europe and one Israeli couple. It was so empty that one morning they sent us to the neighboring hotel for breakfast. (Ari would have preferred the Israeli breakfast to be served at lunchtime, because who can eat so much food in the morning before diving?)
As we sat at breakfast on Tuesday, the peace was suddenly shattered by a woman yelling, “Uri, shall I bring you an omelet? They’ve got omelets with all kinds of fillings… “
I turned towards the shouting and saw a woman bringing several plates laden with food to the corner table where her husband sat. He looked from his boisterous wife towards me, a little embarrassed by her behavior and yet a little annoyed at my intrusive gaze. I politely averted my eyes, but my ears could not escape the woman’s loud voice.
She went to the omelet station, where a hotel employee was frying omelets.
“Where are you from?” she asked him in English. “From Africa,” he replied in Hebrew. She insisted on continuing in English, so the conversation was conducted in basic Hebrew on his part and broken English on hers.
Her: “Isn’t it dangerous in Africa? I heard that there’s a lot of violence. Explosions and shooting.”
Him: “Not really. If you have work, it’s a beautiful place to live. It’s a wonderful place for tourists.”
Her: “I wouldn’t want to go there, it’s too dangerous. I don’t understand how anyone could live there without being scared… “
Overhearing this, I recalled recent events in Israel and thought to myself: In just the last few weeks there have been terrorist stabbings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, attacks in the West Bank and on the Lebanese border, shooting from Syria, terror in the Sinai Peninsula, tension in the south, several senior police officers accused of sexual harassment have resigned or been removed from office…. A mere two years after the previous elections we are going back to the polls and will probably elect yet another government that will be unable to govern. And she thinks Africa is a dangerous place?!
Then I remembered a conversation I had a number of years ago in LA, during a dinner with a pleasant Jewish couple. I invited them to visit Israel and the woman responded that she was afraid to come. “Israel looks too dangerous, full of bombings and shooting.” I did not pressure her. But when we left the restaurant and the man pointed out a high school where the previous week a student had been killed in a shooting incident, I could not restrain myself and I said with a smile, “Are you sure it’s Israel that’s the dangerous place?!”
So where does that leave us? Perhaps with the conclusion that danger is relative. That the known is generally less scary than the unknown. That there’s no place like home. And, of course – with the recognition that we have no other country.
Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee. He serves as Vice President of External Affairs at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College. Sagi received his Masters degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. His book “Son of My Land” was published in 2013. Sagi can be contacted at: email@example.com.
This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.