Itai Carmeli

Dear Rome Letter 2

Dear Rome,

I have become a cliché. In the months since I finished my reserve duty and returned to civilian life, I can count on one hand the number of nights in which I actually fell asleep.  I have become a sleepless zombie, a night owl, nocturnal bat; basically, just a classical stereotype of the soldier returning home.  I tried not to be a part of this trope; I took showers at night, listened to whale sounds, read Edger Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” and even studied quantum mechanics to get myself to fall asleep.  Nothing worked.

I lie in bed, my body still, and my mind races.  So, while I have the time at nights, when every sound and creek could be heard, I look at pictures of you, my nephew. Pictures of you crawling on the floor, banging on drums, dripping from sippy cups. I can not stop looking at you exploring the world, seeing it for the first time, and enjoying all it has to offer.  It is mesmerizing to see not just that you are delighted by every little mundane thing around you, but also how you end up brightening up everyone’s mood around you. I can go hours looking at your smile at a simple funny sound your Dad made or a tickle your Mom gave you.  If I can’t go to sleep and have dreams, seeing you live your life is a wonderful consolation prize.

The problem is that I am not really seeing you live your life, but rather seeing pictures of your life.  How can I, you left Israel. Your parents, under reasonable judgment, decided that after Iran sent rockets over towards us, it might be best for you not to be here.  I love my sister and her husband, and I can understand why they felt they needed to protect you by going to the US, but still, I miss you. I miss playing airplane with you and I miss your shaky legs and infectious laugh. I miss holding you, and telling you everything is going to be OK.  I can’t do that anymore.  I can’t hold you, and I can’t tell you it’s going to be OK.  How can it be when we live in a world where people are dying every day, families remain separated from one another, and the anxiety that tomorrow will be no better never goes away?

How did we end up here? How did we end up so that in the home of the Jewish people, a Jewish baby feels safer outside of it?  We failed you Rome.  Me, your parents, your grandparents, and so many others failed you.  We were supposed to build a world where our kids can be happier, and safer than we were.  That is not the case.  We were supposed to build a world where our kids could be more hopeful for their future.  That is not the case.  We were supposed to build a world where to be Jew did not mean to be a target anymore.  That is not the case.  Today, no Israeli nor Palestinian feels that.

Now you are in New York, where so many people are protesting what the Israeli government is doing.  Against what the Israel Defense Forces is doing.  One of the many things that keeps me up at night is that these protesters have a point.  No one wants innocent people to die, just like no one wants hostages to remain against their will in their underground cages.  The ideas of the protests and the values are worth discussion.  Only through discussion and debate can we actually effect change in this world.  Yet, it seems to me that the shouting is what matters, not what is being shouted.  People find a scapegoat, an identifier, and they shout at them. So many times in history that scapegoat has been the Jews, and what is history if not bound to be repeated.  Not all people who are shouting do so with indignation of a people’s identity, but it is enough to make Jews feel scared, unwelcome and unsafe.

So where can you go?  It is not safe for you in Israel, it is not safe for you in America.  Where can you, my Jewish 6-month old nephew, go to feel safe?  When you get older, I’ll get you excited about the spaceships that will take us to Mars, but in the meantime, my answer for you is nowhere.  You will never be truly safe.  You are a Jew, for better or worse.  I am not telling you who or what you are, Rome, that is for you to find out on your own terms, in your own terms.  Rather I am telling you how the world will always see you. It is the same way they saw your great grandmother when she was forced to flee Bulgaria, even though she went to a Catholic school.  It is the same way they saw your great grandfather when he was forced to flee Iraq, even though he spoke Arabic and would meet friends by the mosques. You are a Jew, as they were, and you will forever pay the price for that. The important lesson I wish to leave you with is that this price should never be the home of the Jewish people.

We recently finished the Passover holiday.  When you grow up, you will learn all about finding the afikomen, the long and boring seder procedures, the hunger you feel when those procedures go on too long, and the yearning you feel when you bite down on your first matzah.  It’s an occasion to remember, however, this year I, like many in Israel, wasn’t really into the holiday spirit.  Your absence, your parent’s absence and the general state of the land that Moses wondered 40 years in the dessert to get to, took a toll on my mental capacity to celebrate the fact that we are free Jews.  Because we are not as free as we would like.  We are not free from persecution, higher standards, and threats of annihilation.  We are not free from judgments from people who do not know us, and do not want us to be alive.  But you know what Rome, though there is still a lot to be done, we can still be thankful that we have a home of our own.   No matter how much the world turns against us, we have Israel.   You have Israel.

This is your home.  Whether you are here, or in the States. Whether you are religious or an atheist, gay or straight, short or tall, Italian or Iraqi.  The world sees you as a Jew, and there is nothing you can do about it.  So, for all those that find that same persecution, we built ourselves a home.  It is not perfect, sure, but we are not going anywhere, and the people who want to destroy us aren’t going anywhere either.  So, we gotta keep working on it right?  These days, there is a big mess in Gaza, in the streets of Tel Aviv, in the halls of the Knesset, on the campuses of America, and so many other places.  Do not be discouraged though.  It is our opportunity to make use of the Jewish values instilled in us in holidays like Passover. It is our opportunity to make world a better place and do some of that “Tikun Olam” rabbis keep talking about.

There will always be a home for you, Rome. I once met an old WWII pilot, a Jewish American, who left his country to fight for Israeli Independence.  He said that to him, Israel is not a land, but rather an idea. The idea that all Jews should be free and safe, and as long as that idea lives in the mind of at least one person, then Israel exists. I promise to you Rome, wherever you are in the world, I will fight for Israel, because I believe in that idea for you.  When I say fighting, though, I do not mean just picking up arms and going to war.  I mean knowing when to go to war, and when to make friends.  I mean protecting this land by the best means possible.  Yes, previous generations have failed in doing so, but we do not give up!  I will not give up, and you will not give up. You will come back to Israel.  We will end this war.  The hostages will return to their families.  The Palestinian People will rebuild.  The Israeli government will be replaced. Things will change, but the one thing you will always have, Rome, is a home.

About the Author
Itai Carmeli is originally from New York. After high school, he made aliyah to join the IDF and served 6 years as a combat officer. He is finishing his degree at Haifa University for Political Science, Philosophy and Economics.