22 December 2011

It's Worth It

While the 2 train rumbled through the tunnels from the Upper West Side back to Brooklyn, my fourteen year old daughter and I processed the homework for her history class in which she methodically, passionately and at times, incredulously, digested her assignment:  to play Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a classroom exercise about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When she was a toddler, she was very precocious about pulling herself up to table height and moving about the room, smiling and babbling to anyone who would listen, eager to join the conversation that adults were having.  With similar amusement (and impatience) for the obstacles of obstinacy and having not made peace these last hundred years, she grabbed a hold of agreements, treaties, declarations and visions in order to filter them into what she understands to be Bibi's position on things.  Though I was moderately self-conscious of talking about the conflict aloud while riding the train, assailing commuters with our ardent dissection of various Zionist positions from the left, center and right, as well as various Palestinian and Arab national positions as they have evolved over the past century, my kid was anything but self-conscious.  She was downright incredulous at the inability of people who love a land so much to simply work it all out for the sake of peace.

Speaking loudly over the clanging of wheels on tracks and the pumped-up volume of another rider's playing Angry Birds on her brand new iPad, my kid betrayed not a single molecule of self-consciousness or trepidation about publicly weighing in on this grave matter of international fascination and exasperation.  On more than one occasion, with a bemused smile, she pronounced certain statements and actions "ridiculous" and "pathetic" from a variety of corners of the region.  Her confidence in taking this all on was insanely admirable.  With such certitude and moral straightness, she pronounced, oblivious to equally admiring onlookers:  "If Sadat and Rabin were willing to die for the cause of peace, why was Arafat such a coward?"

Her words hung heavy in the thick, surrounding air of the subway car:  Jews, blowing a hole in the holiday cheer with an inter-generational seminar on why people fight for a small sliver of land.

Guilty.

The first time we took our kids to Israel, they already knew all about it.  Its food, its language, its geography, its peoples.  The first time she and her sisters came back from the food stand at the Emek Refaim pool, having successfully ordered their late afternoon snack in Hebrew, we knew they were hooked.  Her oral histories of the intricacies of the locker-room hygiene habits of the old Russian ladies are real gut-busters.  You should hear them sometime.  In the four times that she's already been before the age of fourteen, she had begun to develop her own relationship to the place.  Afterall, a normal kid has no concept of the big picture:  it's the small stuff that matters.  The free grape leaves at the food stand; the flower salesman with one leg; lemonade with crushed mint leaves; all those damn cats.  As her child's focus on the immediate and the pleasurable makes room for the navigation of context, the geo-political dimension to things, and, alas, the daring, the achievement, and the folly of leadership, I take stock of this gift, this birthright, we've given.

Dear child:  We've asked you to fall in love with a place that will drive you crazy--but like all great loves, it's worth it.

She rolls her eyes; smiles; and like the small diplomat she was as a baby, pulls herself up to the adult table to begin to help clean up a mess of someone else's doing.

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