Saturday, July 22, 2017

On Israel

I haven't written anything about Israel since I've gotten here.  This is mostly due to the fact that I've been wiped out, but also because I never really know what to say about Israel.  It's an odd place for me to visit.

There are some Jews who get off the plane in Israel and think, "I'm home."  I get off the plane and think, "That sign is in Hebrew; which way for international passport holders to clear Immigration?"

It isn't that I'm one of those Americans Abroad who expects the rest of the planet to speak English for them.  It's just that I *like* being independent and self-sufficient wherever I am, and, in Israel, the language barrier means that I either rely on someone to translate or am left missing a good 95% of what's going on.  I do not think, "I'm home."  I think, "I am an outsider."

But what makes Israel different from any other foreign country on the planet (with one small asterisk), is that it's the only country outside the U.S. where I actually have family.  My father's brother moved out here, with his family, when I was just a little kid.  That family has now grown to:  my aunt and uncle; four of my cousins (plus three cousins-in-law); and seven first-cousins-once-removed.  That's a lot of people I'm related to.  And nearly all of them live here.  (The aforementioned asterisk is that one cousin + wife just left Australia for a somewhat nomadic existence.)  Heck, my grandmother even moved out here, a couple months before she passed.

So, when I come to this place... this very politically-charged place... this astonishingly religiously relevant place... this place where I don't speak the language... this place where religious extremists of My Own Damn Faith have a home... this place where my hotel casually mentions its bomb shelter... this place where cutting edge farming innovations coax food out of the desert... this place of mind-blowing history... this place of seriously tasty kebabs...

... I push all of that aside (except maybe the bit about the kebabs), because, above all, this is the place where a big chunk of my family lives.  And I came here to see them.

There will be some touristing over the next few days.  So far, mostly, I've hung out at my aunt and uncle's house on a moshav, attended my cousin's kid's Bar Mitzvah, and basically reconnected with cousins I haven't seen for anything ranging from about a year to very near 20 years (based on when they've last made it to my part of the planet).  I met a handful of the first-cousins-once-removed for the first time.  Even the ones I'd met once before were met seven years ago, which isn't all that much time from my point of view, but when the eldest was, like, TEN, then, seven years is HUGE.  She's, like, a grown-up person now, and I'd pretty much missed it entirely.

So that's why I'm here.  To tease a Republican cousin about how that possibly could have happened growing up in his liberal home.  To argue the relative merits of "Wonder Woman" and "Spider-Man" with my peers.  To enjoy that surprisingly tasty mango-flavored dessert thing my cousin's kid whipped up.  To make silly faces at one of the two-year-olds from across the table and try to get a giggle.  To give the Bar Mitzvah Boy a tangible gift, so that maybe, when he uses it, he'll remember he's got a distant cousin off in California who cares about him.  To put a stone on my grandmother's grave.

No comments: