Maybe it was the great Herzl who noted, the sure path to defeat is your own hot-mess nonsense. Maybe it wasn’t him; I can’t remember now. Either way, the words ring true. Because the haunting is subtle.
I’m wandering through a makolet here in New York and it is the perfect façade: baskets of nuts and garinim, bins of cheese, fresh rugelach, and overpriced pudding. Internet radio plays hits from Israel, now and then completing my transport into that mundane with the perfect note of commercials. And for a brief moment, my life starts and ends in this construct.
But then, in some dream-like shuffle the details realign themselves and whither. The aisles and the accents of the shopkeeper suddenly seem off, hollow. The front door clangs open and Broadway sounds spill in. And as the register rings up I realize, if this were actually Israel, the pudding would never be that expensive. With this, suddenly, the whole veneer cracks down the middle. I pick up the pieces, and the shopping bags, and head home.
But the haunting follows me there.
Maybe I log onto Facebook, and see a friend’s posts counting down to the day they board a plane and move to Israel. And I am so happy for them. It is a miraculous thing to see people give birth to their own new selves, deliberately and meaningfully. And I want to blow them kisses, and send them with meatloaf so they have one less thing to worry about. And I want to envelop them in all the cheering from my gut: Go. Live. Soar.
But then maybe I come across a blog post of someone who made aliyah last year. And now they are happily settled and employed, with photos of the family eating ice cream on the beach to prove it.
Or maybe simply when my kids come home from school they are singing old folk songs they learned that day, and I am struck anew by this remarkable point in history where there is a homeland, which I don’t take for granted, but somehow, de facto, I do because here I am, in New York and not there.
Then it comes on in full — an ugly, creeping spiral of aliyah-envy.
First, it is simple jealousy that someone else has done what I always wanted to do but didn’t. And that there is only myself to blame, for the lack of gumption and initiative, for morphing into the spectator on this side of the ocean that I always questioned. For not walking-the-walk.
After that it is the embarrassment. For being such a nervy narcissist at all. That upon hearing of someone else’s joy, I project myself into it. For thinking this choice of mine — little old me — is at all important, because by the grace of God and millions of people with more grit, the beautiful country is doing just fine, thank you very much. And embarrassment, too, because my New York life is blessed in countless ways, and what ingratitude to second-guess it.
Usually, the spiral will conclude with a drink or two, a Kaveret marathon (where I will sing every song, even if I must ballpark the lyrics), and then a heart-to-heart with my 20-year old self.
That conversation is usually not an easy one, and not just because that younger version of me — more juicy than I am today, more boundless — sits nestled into the arm of a witty Golani. But they have foaming beers before them and a bowl of garinim, snapping the salted shells off one by one. And maybe the beers are Bud, maybe they’re Goldstar, but those garinim for sure are from the makolet.
Still, the only thing that’s real is my talk with that girl. And I will try to tell her: Listen, eventually, you grow up and make choices. And while in some ways you will choose your life anew each day, you will also have to just own the path you’re on.
And then that younger me, sassy thing, feeling immortal and sun-drenched, will whisper something to the boy at her side and roll her eyes a bit, because she think she knows better. And maybe she does?