Loving the real Israel

Three months ago, I received my teudat zehut, my Israeli Identity Card. Arriving on a Nefesh b’Nefesh group flight, I stood in Terminal 1 at Ben Gurion Airport with my wife, Rebecca, our two daughters, and my mother-in-law as they got their ID cards and while our son, coming to Israel for a gap year program, looked on. The teudat zehut is my tangible prize for making aliyah. Three months later, it still feels like I won!

I know, I know – we are still in the honeymoon period, people are nice to us because we just arrived, cab drivers say “baruch habah,” friends who are like family check in and always seem to know just when and how to offer support, and the bureaucracy still feels a bit like being a contestant on a game show (“Tell them what they won, Chaim? A NEW BANK ACCOUNT and a year’s supply of ahmba!”).  Meanwhile, native Israelis and North American ex-pats alike feel the need to remind me that this will all change, that the sappy American Zionist in me will be snuffed out, replaced by the cynic that inevitably develops after living here for a while. I understand why they think this way.

I know differently. Prior to making Aliyah, I traveled here so often that I stopped counting the number of trips. I lived here in 1990-1991 during the first Gulf War. Our family lived here during a sabbatical in 2007-2008. I have been here at the best and worst of times, from the bombing and murder at Café Moment to the second Aliya from Ethiopia. I knew what I was getting into. And, with that knowledge, I love Israel, flaws and all:

I love it despite its imperfections.

I love it despite the real challenges to living here.

I love it despite being located in a “tough” neighborhood (geopolitically, that is).

And, I love it despite the fact that people are not always polite, that there are cats everywhere (“think of them as squirrels!”), and that people honk their horns within a nanosecond of the light turning green.

In other words, the imperfections do not change my love for or commitment to the People, the Land and The State of Israel.

In truly loving relationships, you love and accept the whole person, imperfections and all. They accept you and yours. You help one another improve, become better, and reach full potential. The mutually loving relationship offers the opportunity to stay, appreciating flaws and hard-earned wrinkles. In marriage, you work through things and you work hard. Walking away becomes much harder, not impossible, but much harder.

Infatuation is different. You put the object of your desire on a pedestal. From a distance, you see only perfection. Upon closer examination, you discover imperfection and, as soon as flaws appear, you walk away and seek perfection elsewhere. Similarly, when you are dating, you are only somewhat committed. You can walk away at any time: Get in a fight? You can walk away. Stop finding the person attractive? You can walk away. Find someone you like more? You can walk away. Walking away from a dating relationship may not be easy, but it is far easier than walking away from a marriage.

This week, I was reminded of the distinctions between love & marriage and infatuation & dating while reading several articles whose authors were highly critical of and, therefore, questioning their commitment to Israel. In the fashion of one who is either infatuated or “just dating,” an imperfect Israel is nearly too much for these authors to bear. Why? Here are just a few of the reasons stated or implied:

  • The human and economic issues in The West Bank and Gaza resulting from the lack of a final Peace accord cause them to question their relationship to and support of Israel;
  • Fanatic loyalty to narrow understandings of democracy, pluralism and freedom lead to taking Israel to task for every perceived violation or imperfect implementation of their own self-defined understandings of the aforementioned values; and…
  • The overwhelming picture of modern Israel is so flawed and imperfect that “The fact that Israel exists is no longer sufficient to guarantee my unquestioning loyalty.”

When the infatuated becomes disillusioned with Israel, it seems he or she can make demands replete with implicit and or explicit threats of walking away if demands go unmet. And it must be a very special kind of love to write that one’s

“…love for Israel is strong enough to insist that it lives up to the values upon which it was founded and upon which generations of Jews dreamed that it should become…”

without stating clearly and convincingly what concrete contributions, not words but actions, you are making to help Israel completely embody the values which you apparently hold so dear. From where I sit, it seems that statements such as those cited above reflect either simple oversight (if I want to give the benefit of the doubt), failed infatuations or bad break-ups of one-sided relationships.

From the rooftop of my Arnona apartment, I see the glorious and the challenging Israel:

I see Heavenly Israel, the perfection we hope to someday attain, and Earthly Israel, flaws, imperfections and all.

I see the Knesset, the seat of government of a truly democratic country, and I see Heichal Shlomo, the former home of a Chief Rabbinate that needs to be either privatized or eliminated.

I see cultural pillars like The Israel Museum & The Jerusalem Theater on the one hand and Olmert’s Folly, as I refer to the $70 million dollar Calatrava Bridge at the entrance to the city.

I see the awesome beauty of the walls of the Old City and the ugliness of and need for the Separation Wall.

I imagine the Israel of Herzl’s Alteneuland and “wrestle and hug” with today’s Israel.

I love it all. From my rooftop, I understand that loving Israel doesn’t require liking every aspect of Israel. It doesn’t demand perfection. Loving Israel requires serious investment and commitment. It requires staying in relationship despite imperfections. It means giving critique from a place of love, free from one-sided demands and threats of walking away. In the end, loving Israel is more akin to marriage than it is to dating. It is true love, not infatuation.

Three months in, I love my new home. I love being an Oleh Hadash. I love that I still want to show my new teudat zehut, in all its vintage 1950’s Israeli blue glory, to anyone willing to look. I love that I can revel in all of Israel’s good, that I can give loving critique of its flaws, and that I can contribute to its achieving its full potential while being pushed to reach my full potential at the same time.

Join me.

About the Author
Loren is a new Israeli Citizen and a rabbi. He lives with his wife and their two daughters in the Talpiyot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Their son attends college in the US. Loren was the director of several Jewish overnight camps including serving as the founding director of Camp Ramah Darom and Camp Yofi: Family Camp for Jewish Families with Children with Autism.