Ode to Israel
I am usually more the type for opinion pieces than personal reflection articles but today is a special day for me. For today, I became an official Israeli!
Although I’ve lived in Israel for over eight years now and consider myself an Israeli through and through, this day still fills me with pride and joy. Proud of being an official citizen of the one and only Jewish state in the place it always was. Joyful because I can finally say that I am an Israeli, which I inherently feel myself to be.
I grew up in Switzerland, an island of stability and wealth. A country that is built on efficiency, has an outstanding education system, smooth running public transport where it’s scandalous for a bus to have a two-minute delay and generally boasts a standard of living that is probably unmatched. More or less, the total opposite of Israel. Yet when I boarded the plane to leave Switzerland back in 2008 I knew I wouldn’t return to live there. About four hours later, I stepped off that plane in Ben-Gurion airport and knew I was home. It couldn’t have been a more Israeli welcome; I was lucky enough to arrive during an airport strike so I had to wait about three hours for my luggage. But it was a fitting welcome.
In almost nine years since, I’ve experienced all the ups and downs this country has to offer. And there are a lot of them. I learned to deal with shouting at one another in the Misrad Hapnim and finishing off with a respectful handshake or a warm hug. I experienced the heavy toll that war takes on virtually every person’s life here, but also the unbelievable unity it brings about in our people. I picked up fast on Israeli driving (and parking) and I understood that while courtesy is more of a luxurious commodity here, as opposed to Switzerland where it’s a basic part of human interaction, I can always count on people to be real. Mechanics, plumbers, bankers, public servants, bus drivers, etc. each have their own language. It takes time to learn how to best deal with them. But once you do, once you’re not phased and offended by people letting their personal lives get the best of them at work, in the car or at the supermarket, you learn not only how to cope but even how to use it to your own advantage.
Coming to live in Israel requires an open mind, patience and a willingness to adapt. Many people that lack the dedication to these principles break off their experiment early and return home. Some for good reasons. But making Aliyah cannot be done half-heartedly. Israel is intense, Israelis are intense and life here is lived intensely. And boy, do we know how to live. The chaos, the yelling, the disagreements and the audacity one encounters in Israel are nothing else than expressions of life, waiting to be deciphered. While the bus’s punctuality will, in most cases, not affect me for more than a few minutes, the spirited human interaction will leave much more of a mark on me. A day is not a day if there weren’t at least several unimportant social interactions that completely changed the course of my day. For the good and the bad. Where else do you enter a clothing store and within 3 minutes either become the sales persons best friend or storm out not believing his or her chutzpa?
No country in history has managed to create a new nation state with such a diverse and disparate civilization. People from America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa all came together to live in one place. We might all be Jews, but we have such different backgrounds and cultures that it is far from obvious that Israel has come so far in less than seventy years. Obviously it is a bumpy ride but the bottom-line is nothing short of a miracle. As David Ben-Gurion once famously said: “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”
A country full of Jews is a shaky premise. Remember that joke about how two Jews will hold at least three different opinions between them? Now try that with six million! But that is what makes us and breaks us. We can decide for ourselves. We do not have to rely on our hosts’ courtesy. We ARE the hosts. How many millions of Jews over the course of 2000 years have longed to experience such a reality, even just for a day? We have yet to fully adapt to this situation, shake off the shackles of a Diaspora lifestyle, as the Jews had to shake off the shackles of slavery after the exodus, but we are well on our way and in many instances Israel’s development in a year takes other states ten or twenty.
So for me, today is a holiday. I am infinitely grateful to live in the time that G-d brings home his chosen people from all corners of the world to prosper in the land he promised them all along. The place where diversity does not need to be promoted because uniformity doesn’t exist. To exist as a Jew amongst Jews and understand that living in Israel does not come easy. But then again, have you ever really appreciated something that came easy?