I thought being away for Pesach was going to be hard, and it was, but I wasn’t prepared for my reaction to a Yom Ha’atzmaut in the diaspora. This time last year I was in Gan Sacher having BBQ and beer with the rest of Jerusalem. Israelis know sorrow and they equally know joy. It was a carnival. The Ethiopians across the way taught us how to dance with them, teenagers ran around causing mischief with Israeli flags covering different parts of thier bodies. There was an Iraqi family serenading the assembled with an Oud and, as at any festival with Israelis, people on stilts (??).
My friends and I chilled on the grass, eating, of course, or jammed on guitars and beat-boxed, humming Shlomo tunes, singing Marley and free style rapping about Hashem, peace and Israel. Another friend got on stage and participated in a Humus shaping contest against the Mayor of Jerusalem while another friend curiously continued to juggle while simultaneaously wearing his tefillin and hitting on some girl. It was one of those time I looked around I realized I was actually a part of the giant insanity that was this country we were all here to celebrate.
The sense of revelry was palpable as we took that day to step back and appreciate the glory of what was ours and who we were within Israel.
Today however, I was not in Israel. And the feeling, as you can imagine, is quite different. Today I listened to cheesy Jewish music with people draped in the flag of a country they have no real immediate stake in. “What are you celebrating?”, I couldn’t help but think “the fact that a theoretical ‘homeland’ exists which is not your home?” It’s like celebrating a sport you don’t play.
Theoretical Israel is easy to love. It’s low maintenance, and you can do it a few days a year on your own terms while still calling yourself a supporter of Israel because you read the occasional Alan Dershowitz article. You get to think you’re all ballsy cause there is the ‘threat’ of a dirty look from the anti-israel demonstators . But really, there’s no real risk or commitment.
I have heard North American Jews speak of how they are happy Israel is there just in case, like they want to be able to cash in on the advantages of Israel, if the cossacks return, but they have no interest in putting in the work. They will complain that it’s not the country they want it to be, but they are not prepared to give much more than their $18 for a nice little JNF tree to make it better.
Yom Ha’atzmaut in Canada was like “Jews come out and show ’em we’re still here” day. Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel felt like celebrating something authentic. Empowered by knowing our fate is communally made by the daily decisons we each make that determine just what kind of country this is, it was one of those magical moments of clarity that it was best decision in the world for me to have chosen to live in Israel.
Jews in North America lack edge. Israel has it in spades, and its sexy and relentless all at the same time. But it certainly makes life feel real.
Maybe I’m being cynical, or maybe I’m just homesick.