Jerusalem hills, whipped with winter’s wind and soaked in its fog. Cries from crescent topped towers reverberate off the creamy facade of Jerusalem stone; bells from golden domes knell heavily with their call to prayer; a murmur from black clad swarms penetrates the air. The meddle of positioning – everyone in their place, seeking that of others. Walls, erect and looming – a nervous pulse beating against them.
My journey has brought me from two of the biggest countries in the world to one of its smallest. From the unconstrained wilderness of the Northern Americas to the endless borders and fences of Israel.
Though freedom and liberty are the keystones of America, it is here, amongst the oppressive circumstances of living and constant threat of danger, that the air truly smells of freedom. For no matter the current principles of any nation, only in Israel am I truly free to be a Jew, only here am I truly not a stranger.
The different shapes, sizes, colors and personalities here are all those of Jews. We don’t have to seek each other out, and we don’t have to get our rabbi’s permission to not wear a kippah for fear of not fitting in with the other senators, or managers, or waiters. No one questions our not showing up for work on Yom Kippur because there is no work on Yom Kippur.
And yet this is my sixth trip to Israel and I have yet to make Aliyah.
Is it because I have nothing in common with Israelis? Is it because everything is an effort here? Is it because salaries are low and cost of living unreasonably high? Is it because the little Green that exists is mostly planted by man? Or, is it the fear of uprooting my life, leaving my friends and closest family, and starting over – again?
A nation divided about the future of its very existence. Some willing to trade land for peace, others willing to die so as to not give up an acre. Some in an indefinite state of hatred towards murderers of their brothers and sisters, others looking toward the barely visible flickering light of peaceful hope somewhere beyond the distant horizon of (respect, understanding and acceptance?). A too common thread is the attempt to make the interpretive an absolute truth. Even in the midst of internationalism and conflation of culture and religion – living proof of the absence of an absolute – self-righteousness knows no bounds.
Collectivism is giving way to individualism and materialism. The middle class and its promise of access to social and economic development for the majority is shrinking, while cost of living and taxation grows. Higher Education is barely affordable and once received it offers little to no guarantee of gainful employment. Equally, if obtained, that employment does not guarantee finding affordable housing. A cultural rift ever widening between the generations: grandchildren as unaware of the trials of their grandparents, or of what they hold dear, as if the older generation were already gone. The intensifying obsession with Self…
These are the lessons Israel is to learn from the United States?
A nation built as a haven for Jews under the control of those who would see their brothers suffer for no reason other than profit? We survived anti-Semitism and exclusion and quotas and extermination for this? This is no strange land in our Diaspora, this is our home, and yet…
Precious, tiny parks and historical sites, some painstakingly made, others miraculously preserved over millennia, all of which fought and sacrificed for, are littered with broken bottles, cigarette butts and trash, often within view of a trash can. Every Israeli national park and historical site combined is not a tenth the size of America’s smallest one, and yet each contains more evidence of disregard than all of the parks I have visited in North America.
At the end of the day there is no heaven but the one you make. What seems unforgivable and jarring to proud racial sensibilities is only so because I am more sensitive to the faults of my own people. Do we not ignore in strangers what drives us insane in the ones closest to us?
What is more prevalent here is the draw – the draw of history, the draw of pride, the draw of belonging, and the draw of the challenge. The latter, I think, is perhaps the most important. Challenge is what reveals our strengths and shows us of what we are capable. It is precisely because life here is an effort, it is precisely because what are little political and cultural squabbles elsewhere, here, take on the gravity of events that could undermine the existence of a country. This makes you stand up, it makes you want to fight, it makes you want to be heard, it makes you believe in something. And when that something could be your very own home, and when that something could be your very own life – when these, what should be foundations, seem ephemeral – it is easy to believe in something… in Israel.
A brief heat engulfs the city in the middle of its winters reprieve. For a place so devoid of natural vegetation there is a surprising amount of bird song about the air. Their crisp chirps and calls ringing above the drone of a high flying f-16.
And yet it is more of a stillness that prevails – when the wind is resting along with the cries and supplications – in the hills above the turmoil. The gray wall separating feuding cousins is barely visible in the haze, but the windows stand above in the clear blue. In the moments of peace and quiet, with no rockets or fireworks or guns or rocks or tanks or helicopters, in those windows, like in my own, there are families making pita or hummus or pickling olives or moping the floor or reading a book or watching TV or putting children to bed.
Their soft sighs carry, too, across the Judean hills – more permeating than their cries.