Monday, January 7, 2013

Israel Reflections ("Loving and Liking")

I love Israel, madly, beyond all reason.

That’s the way it is with love. 

Love—the kind of love I feel for this land and its people—is not rational.  It’s visceral.

To love is to be in relationship, to feel a deep connection with the beloved.  To hurt when the beloved hurts.  To rejoice when the beloved rejoices. 

And so it is for me with eretz Yisrael. 

When Israel is in pain, I ache.  When Israel is in danger, I fear.  When Israel makes mistakes and shows poor judgment, I cringe.  And when Israel demonstrates extraordinary virtue and restraint, acting as a moral exemplar despite the lousy neighborhood in which she dwells (as she often does, though the world is loathe to acknowledge this), I kvell

I feel deeply the words of the medieval poet, Yehudah HaLevi, who was also in love with Israel: “My heart is in the east and I am in the uttermost west.”

Because I love Israel, I spend much of my life defending her against her fierce critics, some of whom are, otherwise, my friends and allies on the political left.  I advocate for her, with my money and my life.  I send my children to learn and live in Jerusalem.  And I have made Israel my own home, when I was a student myself, and when I have been on sabbatical.

This is what one does for a loved one. 

Every morning, I search the newspapers and websites for stories from Israel.  I want to know what is going on in this beloved place, where the Jewish smells and sounds and faces speak straight to my heart. 

I love the way, on Friday afternoons, the cashiers and passing strangers on the street wish me “Shabbat shalom” and then, on Saturday night, “Shavua tov.”

I love the falafel—vegetarian fast food, everywhere!—and I love the beautiful young men and women in uniform, risking their lives for me and for the Jewish people everywhere, to protect and defend our Jewish state.  Our beloved home.

This part of my relationship is simple.  It’s love.

But here’s where it gets complicated: one can love someone or something dearly without really liking it very much.

By way of example: most of us have family members who we love but don’t particularly like.  That crazy cousin or uncle or niece or grandparent or brother or sister. . . whoever. . .  .  You love them and would do almost anything for them.  You just don’t want to spend too much time with them. 

That’s how it is with Israel and me.  After seven visits, some for many weeks or months, I have come to realize that as much as I love Israel, I don’t really like it very much. 

There are, of course, some things Israeli that I like very much, indeed: the rural Galilee and Golan, falafel bars, Shabbat and holy days, Elite chocolate, paddle ball on the beach, the radio programming.

But mostly, I don’t like being in Israel, no matter how much I love it.  I feel a thrill when the plane lands in Tel Aviv and everyone on board—including me—applauds.  But I also feel a deep sense of relief when I get on my flight back to my home in Boise, Idaho, which I both love and like.

I don’t blame Israel for my lack of “like.”  I am not passing judgment on this beloved place.  I know that many people like it very much.  Indeed, I see my inability to like Israel as a personal shortcoming.

It’s just that Israel is, culturally, a terrible fit for me.  It’s too small, too crowded, too constricted.  I need more wildness, more privacy, more peace and quiet, and a lot more personal space than Israel and Israelis provide.  I don’t have the stomach for confrontation and competition.  I don’t like haggling and yelling and pushing and shoving—and if you don’t like these things in Israel, you don’t get very far.  I like courtesy and stillness and order and respect for process.  I like kindness to strangers.  I like being able to yield in traffic to someone else without being taken for a sucker.  I like being able to sit at a green light for a few seconds and having the person behind me wave politely instead of honking her horn.

I like America, and Boise, Idaho, in particular.

For most of my life, it has bothered me that, as much as I love Israel, I don’t really like it.  But after this trip, I am starting to make my peace with this relationship.  Israel is my family.  It’s my first love.  And if, as can be the case with family, you can love without really liking all that much—well, so be it.

Family will always be family, and blood is thicker than water.  So it is with me and my beloved Israel.  The fact that I do not like her very much does not in any way diminish my deep and abiding love for her.

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