I have been writing this post over the last three weeks of being in Israel. It doesn’t have a lot to do with traveling with kids and a camper van but I feel the need to include it in my observations of travel in Israel. I will write a post about all that but if you’re interested in my observations about the country itself and my experience – read on.
I’m coming to the end of my month visit to Israel and I haven’t been able to finish writing about being in Israel. I started and stopped and yes, I have been busy, but busyness will not be my excuse on this trip. I swore I wouldn’t get political, especially about Israel, and I will try not to get into the nitty gritty, but the fact is it is part of the Israeli experience and to deny this is just dishonest. Well at least for me.
I write poetry to my friend Ella in Melbourne, Australia. We made a pact nearly a year ago that every Sunday we would write four lines of poetry and send it to each other. On day two of being in Israel, sitting in the backseat between Noa and Lina, driving on the highway, the heat and the traffic tugging at my energy, I wrote this:
It’s love and hate
And you beckon me with your nostalgia
You try to wield your old magic, your fanfare
But anger is winning the race.
Ella asked me who is it about? And yes it could be about a person; a rocky relationship, an angry lover, a past romance, a broken friendship. And in many ways Israel is all those things to me. We do have relationships with places. We feel things, we form opinions, we revel in familiarity and can be repelled by the discomfort of newness and the unknown. It is a full body experience to be in a place. And if you tune into the land, the land can talk back to you, it will echo your longings, embrace your loneliness, or shun you from its streets. I have experienced every emotion in this country; found myself nearly homeless, fallen in love with one too many Israeli men and have felt completely immersed in Israeli culture.
As a teenager on camp and through my Jewish high school education in Melbourne, I was fed Zionism for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I never joined a Jewish youth movement, never found my tribe, and rebelled against adhering to any strict ideology. When I finally stood on Israeli soil at the exploratory age of 19, my desire was to go to a kibbutz and live there in a socialist environment, meet people from all over the world and stop. Israel did not fail me on this quest. Kibbutz life was The Truman Show I had been looking for – a bubbled life of nature, work, siestas, the kibbutz pub, gorgeous Israeli men, and familiar faces at every meal. There was one shop with one type of toothbrush, one type of shampoo and enough chocolate to sweeten the afternoons sitting around a nargillah pipe chewing the fat about life and love and war.
And being a diaspora Jew who had always felt like a Jew first and then an Australian – being in Israel was freedom. My identity wasn’t questioned, I could date everyone, I wasn’t different, and the burden I had been carrying, especially in my late teens following on into my early twenties on subsequent trips to Israel – was alleviated. I was home in a sense. The land and I were connected and all those bible stories finally had leaped from the page. I had travelled by camel in the Judean desert, lathered myself countless times in Dead Sea mud, hitched rides in the Galil between kibbutzim and Tiberius, watched the sun set over the mountains, been dazzled by the mystical old cities of Jerusalem and Tsfat and plucked the fruits of the land.
Years later however, my land of milk and honey started to spoil a little. I was married to an Israeli who had left Israel. Our annual visits were wedged in city life. There was no more kibbutz, no more living on the land that had been pioneered for decades with purpose and fervour. We stayed in a high-rise, went to shopping malls, swam in the oceans, enjoyed the Tel Aviv nightlife and explored the land by car. It was fun – don’t get me wrong – but as the politics of the country slowly worsened so too did my Israeli dream. And I have started to lose hope.
I am not going to go into political details here, left, right, centre. We all have our unique news feed, all have our judgements and all have our agenda. I can only share how I feel and for years now I have been feeling angry. The more high rises that go up the more anger I feel inside me. So much progress but no progress. I feel like something will implode, that the blue and white balloon is being filled and filled with modernity but there are tiny holes that will eventually cause a colossal blow up. And I feel the land pulling me back down, the roots of the trees grabbing hold of my ankles saying stop, wait, we haven’t worked it all out yet. There is an existential vacuum somewhere full of chaos and it’s gotten a hold of me. Driving on the highway, I see more highways being built, more roads to connect us all. Or disconnect us. I see the wall. I see the borders. I want to cry.
Tonight as I finish writing this, a 13 year old Israeli girl has been murdered in her bed in her bedroom in the West Bank. I think of her parents, I think of that knife and everything fades away.
Murder of an innocent child will do that. It will bring you to your knees. And there we will start again. From grief. From pain. From anger. From an eye for an eye. The separation cemented further, the ‘other’ not reflected in our global mirror. We retreat back, they retreat back. The dance of anger continues.
As a diaspora Jew, or even as just someone who doesn’t live here, I know I am not allowed to comment. How dare I judge a country that I only visit? But of course you can lose perspective in a bubble – sometimes a hand needs to reach in and gently say – maybe, just maybe there is another way?
My only hope is listening to a friend of mine speak of his Israel. He has returned to Israel as an adult, a father, and is dabbling in politics here, being brave and reading a lot. He is so optimistic. He speaks of Israel in a way I haven’t heard and it touched my heart. When I tell him I see Israel as a teenager – for good and bad – the passion and the stubbornness – he gets what I mean. The growing pains. I hope Israel grows up and I hope it is soon.