The other day I was in Costco, which every American knows is a giant warehouse chain store that sells just about everything from food to pharmaceuticals. They also sell auto parts and I was standing near the customer service desk when a man brought in his ancient car battery and asked for a refund. He told the representative that it no longer worked. The rep inquired as to the age of the product and he told her it was 11 years old. I kid you not. She promptly issued a refund. I kid you not.
So when I compare and contrast my life in the two countries I live in, consumer affairs is only one of the aspects of daily living that I consider. And, by the way, being an American consumer with all its numerous issues, is way easier than being an Israeli consumer. At least for me. When I do battle with some huge corporation (something I consider a hobby) I’ll always gain satisfaction from, say, United Airlines, and rarely from, say, El Al. I’m not denying that part of it may be my superior skill in English as compared to my quite inferior skill in Ivrit, but I honestly think it’s more than that. Since we Jews are known as rather capable debaters I can’t understand why this is so. But, trust me, it is.
Straddling two countries and comparing them is an interesting pastime. Jewishly, for example. On Shabbat morning, when I walk to shul from my West Orange home, I see many other people doing the same. There are quite a number of shuls in our little Pleasantdale section of town and it’s common to see Jews passing each other scurrying across the streets to get to the shul of choice. We will all always do a quick evaluation and determine if the other is a Jew off to shul or a jogger off to run. The clothing is the giveaway and the instantaneous review will always bring a Shabbat Shalom to the Jew or a good morning to the jogger.
In Herzliya, on the other hand, our neighborhood is pretty much chiloni so neither greeting is likely to apply to a person you don’t know. It’s an urban area and folks are normally wrapped up in their own whatever. Ignoring each other is more the norm.
But, shed a tear for four murdered chayalim and, suddenly, the encounters in Herzliya become personal. If I sigh, you know why I’m sighing. If you shed tears, I will embrace you. When it comes to important stuff, serious stuff, sad stuff, we’re all on the same page. We don’t agree on solutions to the myriad problems we face. But when something bad happens we stand united. And we feel the pain and suffering of others. Genuinely. We all identify with murdered soldiers. They are our kids.
Some think that Israeli children are too indulged. Ever see how much money a middle class family lays out for a Purim costume? A fortune. Some think it’s because in just a few years the toddler in gan will be wearing the uniform of the army. Indulge them when you still tuck them in at night and sing a lullaby. Soon enough they’ll be toting guns with real bullets. And this is not a pretend army. Oh no. For sure it’s not.
Not so the American Jewish kids. They are not faced with the awesome responsibilities of Israeli 18 year olds. Except for a very few I know who choose to serve in Israel’s military. Josh. Binny. Carmelle. These are the exceptions. They too straddle two countries. Many other American Jewish young adults are first in line to criticize Israel. They are active in the BDS movement. We can’t reason with them. We can only hope that they will mature and become smarter and wiser and more Jewish.
So, aside from the superior phone service in Israel and the fact that the supermarkets relate to my holiday and don’t put out the matzah on Chanukah like my local Shop-Rite in New Jersey, the fundamental difference is in real peoplehood. Cohesion, chevra and unity, despite all the numerous things we disagree on, is overwhelmingly in Israel’s court.
In America we’re strengthened by our Shabbat greetings but if you take us a few blocks away to a different neighborhood we’ll be unique in our Shabbat clothing. In Israel we can comfortably ignore each other. We’re Jews in our own land. Greet me. Don’t greet me. I don’t care. It’s still Shabbat and I’m still Jewish.
The truth is for those of us who straddle (and there are many……some students, some Israelis living in America…..lots of categories) we are never completely at home in either place. We aren’t completely foreign either. It’s a duality that we’ve done to ourselves…..and to our children as well. Sometimes we Americans take the credit where it isn’t due. I suppose it’s because American Jews feel their opinions and money matter even more than their boots on the ground. Maybe they do, but I don’t think so.
Right after the Yom Kippur war when our family was living in Jerusalem, a friend came from New Jersey on a mission for a prominent Jewish organization. This was one of these whirlwind trips of a mere few days with the intent of getting the missionaries to shed some bucks. Flattery works and being on a mission is more self congratulatory than being on a trip and this guy was taken by it all. His brief visit to us on Rehov Hahaganah is forever etched in my mind. He took out a bullet shell that he had found in the Sinai and showed it to our kids. Puffing out his substantial belly he touted: we showed them. We? That’s one of the problems of living in America and caring about Israel. You don’t go into danger but you are ready willing and able to take the credit. So many dead kids, many barely out of adolescence, and we showed them. I can never forget that insane moment.
So what’s the point? The point is merely that living in America means not understanding Israel very well. And living in Israel means not understanding America very well. But the worst of all is living in both. I don’t understand either place very well. And after all these years it’s not getting any clearer. I’m not a real Israeli. But I’m not a real American any more either. I can compare the supermarkets better than the souls. But then again, given a choice, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I think I’ve got the best of both worlds.