It’s been nearly a half-century since I first visited Israel to tour the country and pick apples on a kibbutz. I’ve been back more than a dozen times, and I will never visit “the Land” again. That’s because now I live here.
For the record, on August 14, 2019, I became a new Israeli citizen. So my status as an American tourist is history. Here’s proof —>
As I was saying, my wife Judith and I are now Telavikniks paying our city taxes and monthly condo fees. We’re getting to know our neighbors, taking ulpan classes, finding the most suitable synagogues and cafes to frequent, kvetching about the dog !%$# on the sidewalks, and having fun.
Really, even with the elections engulfing us, we’ve been smiling a lot. I mean, the Mediterranean, according to Judith’s fitbit, is 1,000 steps away. What more can I say?
Okay, we’ve had our moments with the bureaucracy, and the loud-mouthed politicians, but mostly we’ve been taking things in stride. Judith tends to be more graceful than I am about meeting certain challenges, but I’ve surprised myself, like the Friday before last when I got locked in a Jerusalem library as the Sabbath was approaching. The experience actually made me laugh. Here’s proof —>
As I was saying, though moving to Israel has felt right, almost everyone we have met has asked the same question: Why did you come?
Some have asked with a proud smile, others with an incredulous, glare. We’ve crafted a detailed answer that we give in full, or part, depending upon the demeanors, and depth of curiosity, of our interlocutors. It goes something like this.
1- THE CHILDREN
This is our easiest and most predictable answer. Jake, 31, and Louisa, 27, both made aliyah five years ago, and we wanted to be near them. At this point, there are no grandchildren in the mix, and no pressure on our part to help bring them. (Sorry, no proof on that last point.)
2- FEELING LIKE THE OTHER
Having both been born into successful Jewish families who have lived the “American Dream,” Judith and I are proud US citizens who look forward to voting in the 2020 presidential election. Still, when we came to live for a year in Tel Aviv back in 2016-2017, one night it suddenly hit us that as privileged as we felt in the US, we had always been “the other.”
I’m talking about needing to explain why we didn’t want to send our kids to school, or a soccer game, on Yom Kippur and running into Christmas decorations everywhere during the winter holiday season. See what I mean—>
I’m talking about being asked to serve as a spokesperson for the entire Jewish people in conversations with non-Jews; being chastised for supporting the imperialist Israeli state with left-leaning friends, while being embraced by conservative, religious Christians who look at us as harbingers of the Second Coming, and my being told that I talk too fast and loud, am too “East Coast,” to live in the Midwest.
I’m thinking about what Donald Trump said about American Jews who vote Democrat. Here’s my armchair analysis—>
And I’m thinking about what Ihan Omar said about Jews and the Benjamins. Here’s my color commentary—>
3- FEELING MORE AT HOME
You can find Christmas decorations in Tel Aviv during the holidays, but the default celebration is Chanukah, and in Israel when we say the Hebrew word for it with the chet vibrating in the back of our throats, people don’t find the sound exotic.
For the record, my liberal tendencies bring out the Jewish guilt in me on the topic of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the “occupation,” the Right of Return, and the like. Here’s Judith’s and my take—>
That said, I also feel that modern Israel is a miraculous phenomenon that has provided Jews a place they can call home like no other. I mean, New York City, as much as I still love it, is “Hymietown.” Berlin is where Jews once called themselves true Germans. And Paris? Ask the latest wave of new immigrants to Israel about France.
Judith and I have come to Tel Aviv old enough to retire, but still spry enough to work part-time and volunteer. We’ve come to serve and find a sense of belonging. Hard as it has been to give up the comforts of our American home, the ease of doing everything in English, the glorious change of seasons, and the overall familiarity with the ways of our birthplace, we’re excited about living in Tel Aviv, arguably the coolest place in a very hot country. We invite the adventure of adapting to a foreign culture and learning new things to keep ourselves from tottering into old age.
5- THE FINAL CHAPTER
My mother was the one who chose to send my siblings and me to Hebrew Day School in the States when we were children. She was the one who encouraged my sister Maddy and me to visit Israel when we were teenagers and supported my brother Efraim’s decision to make aliyah more than 30 years ago. Her death two years ago cut my deepest tie to the United States.
My father, now 96, is still hanging in there back in New Jersey, but who knows for how long? My sister and I remain very close, and I have cousins and friends in the States who are dear to me. But with my brother, his children and mine, all Israeli citizens, it seems fitting that I have come to Tel Aviv with my wife to spend our final years here. I don’t yearn to live until I am 120, but whenever our final day comes, it will be here. (Judith is dead set on being buried in the Land.)
Oh, one more thing. Turns out that after we passed the Israeli government’s background checks, got a rabbi’s sign-off on our Jewish bonafides, received our citizen ID numbers, and the rest, Judith and I discovered that we have to live in the country for 90 days as new Israeli citizens before we can vote.
So, we’ll be sitting out the September 17 election. If it should happen, again, that Israel’s president must call another special vote, because neither Bibi nor Benny can put together a governing coalition, we’ll be more than ready to cast our ballots.
In the meantime, I’m not sitting around wringing my hands.
Here’s proof —>
Until next time, l’hitraot