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My Israel complex

My view from the ivory tower at Berkeley was vast, my friends; I could see clear to the Kotel -- never mind that the details were conveniently lost in the expanse

Once upon a time, this Jewish American Princess was a Middle East and Jewish Studies double major, with minors in Multicultural Conflict Resolution and Anthropology at UC Berkeley.

(Try saying that ten times fast after doing body shots at Blakes with the guys from ZBT or while smoking a bowl in front of Wall Berlin with a group of anarchists.)

I had big plans: I was going to bring Peace to the Middle East. Because, after all, I had a boyfriend in the IDF, and had read about the conflict in  books and listened to professors tell me about the plight of the Palestinians. And I always had an opinion: The latest headline, the latest election, the latest agreement or lack thereof… Just ask me, and I would tell you.

My view from the ivory tower was vast, my friends; I could see clear to the Kotel — never mind that the details were conveniently lost in the expanse.

(Academia 1 — Reality 0)

It really seemed so simple. Since I had spent three summers in Israel hiking the Hermon, swimming in the Mediterranean, rappelling down a cliff near Ein Gedi, caressing the Kotel, shopping in Shenkin, and sipping hafuh in every Aroma Cafe from TLV to JLEM, that, like, totally qualified me as an expert on Israel.

I just wanted to get there already.

Well, ten years and a 15-hour plane ride with an infant and toddler later, I got there.

And after spelling my name for the fourth time to the guy in charge of making my teudat olah at Ben Gurion Airport (and after getting shut down when I asked him to please retake the picture because I was rocking the whole deer in headlights thing and not in a good way), I realized that it wasn’t that simple. I wasn’t really Israeli.

Well, at least I wasn’t yet.  

18 months have passed, and every day I learn a little more about what it means to be Israeli.

Living here is poignantly complex; every day is like the song “Shirat HaSticker,” where lives and ideologies clash in a keening hum.

Sometime’s the harmony is exquisite. When I told the Arab taxi driver I needed to get from Yafo to Ramat Hahayal, he said, “Oy, this is such a schlep.” The little old woman who fled the Nazis and lives two floors down blasts Cheb Khaled from her apartment while she cooks cholent on Friday afternoons.

And sometimes, it’s dissonant. The friend who totally gets me on security concerns votes for The Other Guy because of a strident difference on a social issue. Or my coworker from Kafr Qasim, who I always drink hafuch with during the midmorning slump, won’t make eye contact with me during Nakba Day.

Two Israelis, five opinions: This is a country with a gay pride crosswalk. This is a country where women sometimes ride in the back of the bus. This is a country of “Polish mothers” who let their children take risks within reason, because real life is freaking scary and children should learn to be brave. This is a country where people daven to the sound of the muezzin.  This is a country where everyone can agree on three things: The summers are too hot. The cost of living is ridiculous. And Falafel is da bomb.

This is a country where bloggers who vociferously disagree can sit down for a frosty cold one at Mike’s Place. Together.

Beer. Bringing Israeli bloggers together since 2012.
Beer. Bringing Israeli bloggers together since 2012. (Photo credit: Sharon Altschul)

And I’ve been here long enough to know — unequivocally — that I don’t know enough. Yet.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel's New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.