17 July 2011

Home: A Complicated Idea

I flew home to Brooklyn for 36 hours last week and upon entering the country of Israel again Thursday, was asked at the airport why I wasn't using my Israeli passport.  Guilty pleasure:  I had just flown round-trip from Israel.  "Because I don't have one," I said.  "I'm not Israeli." 

But like many American Jews--and many close friends--I arrive here each summer and play a kind of mental game with myself where I pretend I am certainly more than a mere American Jew.  If not an Israeli than I'm a kind of World Jew or better National Jew, that is, someone who places his destiny at home here in Israel, while recognizing that "home," still in the 21st century, is a complicated idea.

Should there be a third passport for people like me--American Passport; Israeli Passport; National Jewish Passport.  The latter should be used not only to pass through borders here in Israel; but for visits to Krakow and Warsaw; Vilna and Budapest; Minsk and Morocco.  Even when I come back through JFK again in August, I'd use my National Jewish Passport, announcing in legal terms, "I come in both pride and ambivalence!"

I see t-shirts, a kind of new social movement:  "I, too, am proudly ambivalent!"

The cab that brought me back from Ben Gurion airport (where do I get a bust of Ben Gurion?  That head!  That mythic head!) not via Highway 1, the route we ordinarily travel, but via Route 443, which cuts toward Jerusalem through Modiin, Givat Zeev and the West Bank.  Infinitely safer since the security fence was built, I was nonetheless deeply uneasy driving through a wall of cement, brick and barbed wire, Modiin Ilit, Ramallah, Kalandia, and Givat Zeev off to either side--Palestinians and Israelis at an uneasy proximity, Sharon and then Olmert having erected a barrier to protect their citizens in the interim until peace could be achieved but peace seeming ever farther and farther away.  The justification we National Jews used to give in careful objective observations about the situation was that yes, the security barrier was an imposition in areas but it undeniably saves Israeli lives from terror.  I still believe this.  But with peace so far away, it just seems a radically onerous separation where I have more rights than another. 

That I was driving toward Jerusalem, into the heat of the argument about the infamous Boycott Law, I could feel the constraining violence of the barbed wire itself, containing democratic dissent.  I was ill at ease.

Jerusalem calmed me.  I went for a walk, ate a slice, drank a beer.  But continued to ruminate on this deadening stalemate while voices of radicalization continue to rise.  Emboldened by the Boycott Law, Foreign Minister Lieberman set his sights on NGOs which criticize Israel.  Rabbi Dov Lior continued to puff out his chest in pride.  Knesset member Zeev Elkin seems to outmaneuver Netanyahu.  Apparently it's okay to make dissent about the Palestinian territories a crime but it's not a crime to write a book saying it's religious acceptable to kill non-Jews. 

The moon hung low and broad in the sky; jasmine's aroma hovered in the night.  It seemed unjust to be thinking such thoughts.  The land, it's most humble inhabitants, deserve better.

Friday we drove the Fellows to Bet She'arim where Yehuda Ha Nasi is buried and then on to Tzipori, one of the first rabbinic towns established two thousand years ago after the Romans destroyed the 2nd Commonwealth.  Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai famously figured out that adaptation is a good thing.  In order to survive, you have to compromise, give a little, and build a new structure to support and contain the eternal ideas of Torah. 

There seems to be, among some leaders here, a distinct lack of flexibility; a troubling absence of openness to change; a disturbing attachment to the idea of an infallible nation that corrupts more than it inspires.

We ended the day in Zfat, where we have been for Shabbat and a couple following days.  In Zfat, the Chief Rabbi recently led a political movement *not* to rent apartments to Israeli Arabs who attend a local community college.  A Hesder Yeshiva and Chabad Yeshiva house young men with opinions about Arabs that are openly racist.  Other Zfat natives slowly wander about, intoxicated by the Kabbalah, numerology and healing, displaying an other-worldliness that is both spiritual and material:  Zfat's poverty rate is quite high.

Seekers sang songs to welcome the Sabbath.  Souls seemed to catch fire with a love for God.  But deep within my own soul, another fire simmered, its flames drawing a message on the dark cave of my despair:  Be Concerned.  Be Troubled.  Find a way out.

At Shabbat lunch, I heard from two different Israelis in two separate conversations that the current vogue among some Israelis is to buy foreign passports.  Poland, Hungary, Romania.  "You can see the advertisements in the newspaper."

Astounded, I thought back to my experience at Ben Gurion a few days earlier.  It's precisely now when we oughtn't leave, I said.  It's just what Arabs want, I heard myself say.  We Jews!  Ever international!  Too used to moving from one place to another! 

Home.  Still a complicated idea.

No comments: