Israel turned sixty two this week! Sixty two! Well on our way to a century but nowhere near the United State’s 230 years plus. The statistics make Israel seem so young, so little. But as we all know young and little can be feisty, strong and resilient.
While some find religion within prayer, ritual and practice (all of which I love, adore and hold dear), I found mine in Israel. In strolling down Ben Yehuda. In trying (and failing) to win an argument with an Israeli. In seeing a room full of Israelis sing along to American music perfectly, at the top of their lungs, at the discotheque. In drinking shoko basakit and munching on bisli. The way some people feel in synagogue, I feel in Israel. In my skin, at home and oh-so-very Jewish.
Does that make me a cultural Jew? I don’t really know. I do know that Israel is part of my identity. Like my family. Chocolate. And books. I have memories and photographs. Stories and friendships. From times living, and other times visiting, Israel. I speak Hebrew fairly fluently, slightly out of practice and with an American accent. I can just hear natives (“real Israelis”) calling out, “Hey! Americayit!” and I know, without turning around, that they’re talking to me. My clothes, my stance, my obvious awareness of being surrounded by soldiers, my “oh look! a shiny object” look-around-style all scream, “Not. From. Here!”
Except that I am. My parents and I left Israel when I was six years old, a brand new first grader. But even once living in the States, Israel remained a given for us because we had all lived there. Learned there. Loved there. We all speak Hebrew. Our memories tie us to Israel and keep us loving it even though we don’t always agree or approve of its decisions. Choices. Politics. Kind of like a Mama’s love for a child. But it’s oh-so-very different for my own children. Whatever memories, connections, love they’re going to build for and with Israel is on my shoulders.
What do I want them to know about Israel? What kind of a fondness do I want to foster? I think about these questions in terms of my own children but also for others around me. Living in the Midwest, I am often struck by the fact that I am the only Israeli that many of my friends and acquaintances know and come across. Because people are so politically (and religiously) passionate about Israel, I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to say the right words, express the right sentiment and answer questions “correctly.” Because asking those questions? That’s brave. And trusting. And just plain hard to do sometimes. I am so impressed by and fond of people who openly and honestly ask me questions about our little country. Is it safe? Would you go there? Would you let your children go there?
I do believe that it’s safer in Israel than we think it is in the States. When I was in Israel, watching American coverage back-to-back with an Israeli news station was absolutely striking. That was my first taste in media and how it too has temperament. Biases. Opinions. When something happens in Israel and the same clip is played over and over again in the States, it does indeed start to feel like every minute of every day in Israel is dangerous and that life in Israel is centered around explosions and bombs.
But fact is that Israelis are living their lives. They’re worrying about things just like we do. They’re working, cooking, cleaning and raising their babies just like you. And me. Their babies might know how to put on a gas mask before they can tie their shoes. Or serve in the the army before they can legally drink a beer in the States. But a lot of what we do in the States is hard for others to understand, right?
Do I see myself going back to Israel? Yes. With kids? For sure. For good? Probably not. It’s that dual citizenship thing. I love ’em both, but only one feels like forever-home.
What I do want to make a given for my family is traveling to Israel. I want our kids to be a bit older so we can experience Israel together fully, completely and meaningfully. I want to bargain at the shuk, taste bamba, float in the dead sea, climb masada, pray at the wall, cover up and walk through the old city, eat falafel and drink fresh squeezed fruit juice from a hot dog-like stand. All with my kids. That’s how they’ll know if they’re in their skin in Israel. I want to share with them what’s so loved. Why people are so fiercely passionate about it. What “all the fuss” is about.
Jason and I have kicked around the idea of skipping the Bat and Bar Mitzvah bashes that have become so customary, so the norm. And instead, when that time arrives, plan a trip for our family to go to Israel together. I can’t imagine a more meaningful celebration of our children’s coming of (Jewish) age. And I have shiver-inducing-visions of all five of us marking maps, negotiating how long we’d spend where, being loud, talking
Though years away, we bring up these travel plans today to model the given of our relationship with Israel. As they get older our children will become more aware, more savvy and perhaps more skeptical about Israel. I remember watching my mom take in criticisms about Israel. She nodded and listened. Agreed to disagree. And, chin up, stood by Israel throughout the entire discussion. Kind of like she would if she was faced with a negative conversation about me. She’d still love me. Still stand by my side. And still be passionate about my survival, my existence, my being.
I suppose that my hope, my goal, is through the years to help my children form their own connections and relationships with Israel. So then they, too, will know how to approach the news, how to keep their chin up and how to stand by Israel. For now, I’m wishing Israel a Happy 62nd Birthday. Cheers! L’chaim! Or as my kids say when they toast, “Clink” to you!
your article brings so many good memories. Hope we will be able to do this again with the whole family.
It’s so interesting to me to read this. Especially since Israel evokes in me two different responses (although I have never been & do hope to go, see 2).
1) the politics so often upset me & frustrate me. my heart bleeds for the disenfranchisement of those pushed out by israel & so often i feel israel is in the wrong (& the us for supporting it).
2) that said a dear friend now lives there & of course daily life is daily life & it’s aside from politics — & it’s also more aside from religion than my presumptions about life there were, something i didn’t know was really an option! so i want to see this lovely place, & experience this culture firsthand. i want to know what it’s like that judaism is more part & parcel than set out from daily life of a culture, & how that might make it less a big deal than it seems here, if one chooses it as central, conscious focus.
reckoning those two strands, something i have no idea how to do. but i love the questions raised here in your post. & that life isn’t so scary even though there are terrifying part is exactly what my friend says of living there.
This was fascinating, Galit!
Eh…ma nishma? I thoroughly understand your thoughts, Galit. Thanks for sharing your true feelings. Some people offer up negative comments when they learn that someone is a “yored”; my husband and his brothers were born in Israel and the family planned to move to Canada in 1967, but then the ’67 War broke out. They left about a month later. My husband claims that he was 7 years old and had no choice in the matter but to leave Eretz Yisrael with his parents. The family became thoroughly Canadianized over the years — especially living in Winnipeg! — but the soul still remains in Israel. Our children attend a Zionist Orthodox Jewish day school, learn “ivrit b’ivrit” from a young age in the classroom,and are involved with Zionistic youth groups. Do their future plans include living in Israel or simply learning or touring in Israel? Time will tell…
We took our first family trip last summer, and it was as wonderful as you depict for your own family. It helps that my husband and I both speak Hbw quite fluently (I from day school and a simple love of languages and practicing throughout the years), but there is always something new to learn. I’m sure when you travel as a family, your own memories of experiences in Israel will come alive as you watch your children have that Israeli experience for the first time.
What a beautiful post (and thank you too for the link and the kind words – lucky for me I posted a photo of beautiful Israeli wildflowers today, not the Guiness billboard from Dublin that was my other option LOL). This really resonates with me, but from a slightly different perspective. I too walk in two cultures, carry two passports, but to me Israel is my forever home, the one I wonder whether my children will want to leave once they’re old enough to realize the value, and the burden, of that American passport. I know all my efforts to make them truly bilingual and comfortably bicultural could just as easily backfire on me later, when I find that they’ve done to me what I did to my parents. I’m happy here though, we have a good life and no plans to leave it. And as far as what to tell those who ask? Life in Israel is remarkably like life anywhere – you get up, go to work, raise your kids, take the occasional vacation, pay the mortgage, go to the beach… You just do it in another language. And then you wish each other happy new year in September, not December, and wake up to realize that yesterday was Christmas and it had passed by completely unnoticed ;).
But the bamba? Not with you on that one. Something that looks like a cheeto and acts like a cheeto should taste like cheese, not peanut butter. Ick.
thank you for the comments, ladies. you’re all seriously wonderful!
ima, that would be amazing, right?! whose calling dibs on chasing brody around?! 🙂
sarah, thank you for your honest thoughts. i think many chutz la’aretz feel that same pull and tug that you describe. i *do* hope that you make it there one day (preferably with kids). it’s really somthin’!
lisa, thank you lady! 🙂
pearl, thank you so much for sharing your story! it’s fascinating to put together family histories and see how they effect our own personal and parenting decisions. i’m impressed with all of the conscious teaching and modeling that you’re doing with your kids. and your trip! hooray for your trip! everything does taste, feel, sound, etc. that much sweeter once seen through our children’s eyes, right?! layla tov to you, too!
& robin- seriously fascinating on the flip-side of things, right?! i so completely appreciate your insight on the day-to-day and as you put so well, it so resonates! my mom left israel, i left ca and you know what? i really do think about what that models and teaches my kids about staying close! as you (& pearl) said we shall see how it all plays out. it’s too bad we can’t control such a big decision, right?!
and about the bamba? touche friend. touche. it’s hard to win an argument when cheetos are the defense! 🙂
I discovered came across this blog via Shavuatov. Great post!
Ooooops! I meant I discovered your blog via …. etc.
The tension between the two places is powerful. I feel it. But my husband doesn’t. I know that he doesn’t understand how I could consider a forever home not here in America.
One of my private pleasures is surfing the internet in order to discover what kind of life I could establish in Israel. I know that it is an unlikely reality. But a girl can dream…
That’s such a moving post, Galit. I think I was raised similar to you (although we left when I was a mere baby). I also grew up very attached to Israel, and in fact eventually moved back (on my own).
Life is so different here and there. Now that I have been here many years, I can appreciate so many things I took for granted in North America. I totally understand feeling like a dual citizen, loving both countries but knowing one is your forever home (for me, it’s Israel).
It sounds like you’re doing a great job sharing your connection to Israel with your kids. Hopefully they will love it as much as you do. Just don’t overdo it, or they may just want to move here!
(I’m the Shira from the Double Drudgery blog, which I closed for now because it was too limited in scope. I started another, more general blog instead).
ilana- hello! so great to hear from you and thanks much!
frume sarah- it’s tricky to not share that same vision or that same tension, for that matter. i love the dream and the on-line life building. you just never know and it’s *all* food for thought, right? thank you for the note.
& shira, hello! so fun to hear from you again; i’m excited to check out your new blog. and you’re right, i do think about the possibility of over-doing the israel love thing b/c the absolute last thing that i want to do is end up in a different place than my kids (ahem, just like i am from my parents!)
You could work for the Israeli hasbara office (government PR?) 🙂 Don’t forget krembos when you visit! (although they are only “in season” in the winter – and don’t ask me why candy has a “season.”)
As for you, Israel holds a special place in my heart. Always has. Had never lived there, before I had children. Lived there for four years with my first two kids, and then left; I returned for the first time 24 years later.
Three out of my five kids now live there: I raised them all on the specialness of Israel to the Jewish people, on Zionism. I’ll never forget my youngest daughter, now a commander in the IDF, saying to me that Israel was totally not the way I described it. Guess I’ve always had a ‘starry-eyed’ view of my people’s moledet.
Needs a lot of work, Israel does. But I’ll take it. We Jews need it; and we can change it for the better…
hi ladies! thanks for the comments.
debbie, indeed, there’s *always* options AND questions! ie: why winter for krembos?! for the curious:
& lady light, thanks for sharing your story. i can only imagine how bittersweet it must be to have your babes far away, but where you’ve taught them to love!
Great post! It’s nice to know that there’s no place like home!
miri, hi! thanks for the visit and comment. well put and *clink* to you! 🙂