[cross-posted from My Urban Kvetch]
Last Friday, as rockets began to rain in the north, I found myself sitting in the Jerusalem offices of El Al. I had fixed my return date weeks before, while I was still on the bus with the birthright kids–had spent what seemed like an hour on the phone with the El Al office, extending my ticket from June 28, when birthright was over, to July 25, which would take me through the ROI conference, and beyond into a state of hopefully zen-like working at cafes on my book proposal and various articles, and making professional and personal contacts in the Holy Land, with a side of family and friend visitation.
But sitting there, waiting to make the date official and pay the $50 extension fee, I wondered if sticking to the original date was the best thing to do. I was here, and changing my ticket. Maybe it paid to just change it to a few days earlier, or a week earlier? I mean, if things were getting bad, and on Friday, we had every indication–with the Israeli tv stations broadcasting 24-hour news shows when original programming just airs news a few times a day–that they were, maybe leaving sooner was a good idea.
My brother lived here for years, through periods polkadotted by bombings, including one which happened on the day of his wedding, in audible distance of the apartment where I was getting my hair and makeup done. If my parents ever instructed him to come home, he didn’t listen. But I don’t think they did issue such a directive. Parents worry about their children, even when they’re not living in a region threatened by imminent war. But living in Israel is something that we’d been taught to aspire to, both through family connections to the Holy Land’s early pioneering days and through years of yeshiva education; a message from mission control of “Abort! Abort!” would have been inconsistent to say the least.
But the heart, while it can be moved to nostalgia and romanticization, can also feel compressed with panic and flutter wildly at the intimations of mortality. So it was with mixed, swirling thoughts and emotions that I sat there on the leather couch in the El Al office. I thought about the Wine Festival I had attended the night before at the Israel Museum, where 30 wineries (of varying kashrut levels) had set up tables for tasting by the hordes, who turned out in couples and families and singles in order to get a little tipsy and appreciate the fruits of the land for which they, their families and friends fight. And then I thought about how that night, after three weeks of my being here, during which my parents waited to hear from me, my parents had initiated the “how are you” call to me. Even if they weren’t going to tell me to come home, that call was an indicator. They were nervous about my being here. And that made me nervous.
It was my turn. I picked myself up and went to the ticket agent. I felt a little like I was jumping off a cliff, or even more primally, like I was evoking my biblical namesake. “Ka’asher avadti, avadti” (as I have lost, I have lost), I thought briefly, as I immediately replaced that thought with something more catchphrasey, a vestige from the days immediately after 9/11: “If I change my ticket, the terrorists win.” And then, I flashed to something nationalistic, undoubtedly a reactivation of the remainder of pioneer blood in my veins brought about by wanderings through neighborhoods with streets named after the people whose effort, sweat, blood and intellect shaped this land–a land through which I travel on the magic carpet of credit cards and privilege. My future is with the Jewish people.
Although I was not extending my stay to make a heroic point, or to join the army. And I wasn’t going to make any journalistically adventurous trips up north to see what a Katyusha sounds like when it soars overhead, I wasn’t cutting it short either.
“Matai at ozevet?” the ticket agent asked me. “I’m leaving the 25th,” I said.