Why did I come to Israel? I get asked this a lot. By Israelis who live here with me, and Americans who don’t. Both, I suspect hoping for a glimmer of inspiration in my answer. Why would I leave everything I had going for me in The Land of Plenty and move to a perceived war zone?
Initially I came at the height of the intifada, with a newfound Zionism, grand ideas and dreamer’s visions. I came to be with my people in their time of sorrow, with lofty ambitions of heroism. Since that time, all I can say is I’ve been humbled and I’ve grown-up.
But why do I stay?
It’s as simple as this – because Love makes you do crazy things.
Sometimes I walk down the streets of Jerusalem singing love songs to it (even though we aint got money, I’m so in love with you honey…). Being in Love with Israel is like being in Love with a person; it defies all reason and logic. At some point the initial Zionistic honeymoon ends, times get tough and you go broke. Sometimes you might turn cynical and forget what you came here for. In terrifying, fleeting moments I have even considered going back to the land of hard wood floors, bank statements in English, and drip coffee.
But all the things I miss about America are superficial. Israel is real in a way America can never stack up to. Though I sometimes feel like ‘Laya Through the Looking Glass,’ this crazy foreign country has become my home.
Zionism, I’ve discovered, is a hopelessly romantic pursuit. This strange little tribe, after wandering around the world for two millennia, inexplicably surviving and having never forgotten about the land they once knew, finally gets to come home. They drain malarial swamps, make the desert bloom, and stand tall and tragically outnumbered in the face of those who consistently try to destroy them.
And simply by the merit of being born a 20th century Jew, I am somehow part of this narrative, this greatest love affair in History, between a People, their Land and their God.
So we return. And the whole nature of who we are as a people starts to change. We rediscover our strength, and realize that Exile is as over as we want it to be.
Everything is more intense here, the highs keep you floating for days, and the lows are mercilessly devastating, and they often happen simultaneously, but it’s Real. It’s a study in contradictions. It’s life with the volume turned back up, where every taste and smell adds to the vibrancy of existence.
I love living in Israel because it pushes me to know, at all times, who I am, what I believe and where I stand before God. It pushes me to be true.
Living here isn’t easy, but nothing great ever is. It is the hard that makes it great. That makes us strong. I’ve grown to love this country precisely because it’s so imperfect. Because it is still growing up and finding itself. The choices are either run away because its not yet what you want it to be, or stay and have a voice in what it will become.
North Americans in particular seem to want Israel handed to them on a silver platter, but the whole point is that it is not. The point is that you have to fight for it.
Sometimes I read the news about Israel, and it seems like the only thing that the whole world can agree on is that they hate the Jews. That they want to hate us so badly, in fact, that they will believe any propaganda telling them that we are evil wizards and perpetrators of the biggest social injustices the world has ever seen. While actual genocides still happen and dictators continue to rule elsewhere, the world’s eyes, cameras and sanctions are still upon us.
But maybe that’s how it is supposed to be playing out. Maybe this is our great chance to prove to the universe how badly the Jews want to be home and how precious this place is to us.
We will continue returning. And the desert will continue to bloom.
There was Black Panther song in the late sixties “The revolution will not be televised, the revolution will be live.” You know what, the world being what it is, the revolution may be televised after all, but I don’t want to watch it on TV. I want to be a part of it.