Well, my children have adjusted great to Israel. I, on the other hand, have adjusted about as well as my mother says I adjusted to daylight savings as a baby which is to say horribly. My “worst case scenario” for them for the first night actually became my own worst case scenario, with me sleeping only a few hours before darting awake, unable to sleep and armed with the energy to take a jog or make a cake, neither of which I can do in the kibbutz apartment I am in. My boys snored quietly and rhythmically in a cold room, warm under blankets and content in their dreamy homeland.
Leaving aside politics and religion (because that’s the best way to come to Israel: leaving those aside if you can), this is a rare beauty, this Israel thing.
There is nothing like El Al. We flew El Al, which is the national airline of Israel. My sons could not believe the security screening process, whereby hansdome and dashing suited Israeli agents of both sexes grill you on your plans, your packing, and how you got to the airport. They are looking not only for suspicious answers but for suspicious behavior, and even I with nothing to be nervous about, found myself a little hot under the collar as the agent explicitly explained that there is a concern that someone might use any family to try and hurt people and that that is the basis for the questioning. Gulp.
There is nothing like the community feeling of Israel. I have traveled to a lot of places in my life: extensively throughout the United States (covering about 40 states I’d say), Canada (east and west), a dabbling of Central America and Mexico, a healthy dose of Western Europe, and two crazy days in Cairo. There is nothing like feeling like you are on a plane or in a country with your extended family as there is in Israel.
Strangers become instant friends and buddies, discussing their plans… “I’m coming to look for an Israeli girlfriend,” one nebbishy first-time traveler on my flight declared to a handsome brawny Russian Jewish hunk on his aisle, adding, “but girls only seem to want guys who look like you.”
I could ask anyone on my flight to watch my kids for a second, or hand me a tissue, or help me with anything. You can ask anything of an Israeli and get help, or a stern talking to about why what you’re asking for is unnecessary or what they can offer that’s better than what you think you need. People may be pushy, but they are generally helpful. Travelers stop and help others get their luggage from the airport conveyer belts with regularity, not as a rarity. It’s astonishing and it’s lovely.
There is nothing like the safety of Israel. I told my sons that while of course they need to stick close to me (as they always tend to anyway), Israel is a very safe country and if they ever got lost, they can ask ANYONE for help and they will get it. In America, I have explained to them how “tricky people” should be avoided such as any adult asking them for help finding a puppy, for example, or offering them candy in exchange for their assistance. I also tell them that if they ever get lost, find a mom with kids as the first attempt for help because that’s a “not-tricky person.”
In Israel, I know that my kids would probably be spotted if they were lost before they even realized they were lost, and that I would find them returned to me before I could even start to panic. That’s not an absolute and I should never have to know, but there is a sense of responsibility for people here that you don’t find in other places the same way.
There is nothing like a kibbutz. Even with the kibbutz system a shadow of its former self, walking the grounds of my family’s kibbutz is a thing of beauty. When I used to come and work in the kibbutz dairy in my teens and 20s, I woke to the sound of roosters and the smell of fresh cow dung which is strangely comforting to me. I would drink a strong cup of tea and work all morning, cleaning water troughs, painting things that needed painting, doing gardening, socializing with all of the foreign workers over biscuits and more tea, and I would eat in the communal dining hall reeking of cow spit and cow poop and loving working with my hands. I would work in the afternoon more and shower off and relax in the evenings, exhausted and invigorated. I used to lock up my wallet on the kibbutz, and I felt truly free of money and the ties of money.
Now it’s not like that. And people build big houses now where they all used to be the same same same. But there are still the dogs and the kids’ bikes strewn about and the herb gardens and the artwork here and there and the community is strong even if it’s not like it once was. It is a place where we don’t lock doors, and where the shower has no beginning and no end, but simply a squeegee on a stick to reorder the disorder of all of that water. Kibbutz life is chaotic and it is orderly at the same time.
There is nothing like chosen family. My family I have been staying with is family by marriage; it’s my mom’s sister’s in-laws, but they have hosted me and cared for me for years. I feel so comfortable with them, and they love my kids and give them things to play with, and I put my feet on their couch and they cook us vegan food and they ask how I am and they actually really want to know. I wish I lived closer so I could know more about them, and their kids–my cousins who are now men when once they were boys like mine. I feel at home here. My destiny is not where theirs is; I cannot commit to building and protecting Israel the way they have. I envy them, and I also don’t. It’s so far. They have missed out on so much simply because they are so far. But I see why they did it. It’s Israel. There is nothing like it.
As our airplane touched down, the plane erupted into applause. Just because. My kids looked startled. And then they started clapping and smiling and sighing too; the collective sigh of a wandering people. I showed them the border of Lebanon, and I explained how Israel is surrounded by enemies who time and again have attacked it–all at once and often with no warning. A tiny country forged from the desert, born out of dry dirt and sandy misery. I reminded them that Moses never reached the land. He couldn’t enter it and I asked did they remember why. We discussed Moses killing the Egyptian who was beating the Jewish slave when he was the young prince of Egypt. We discussed him striking the rock in the desert and his impatience with his path. And then I shrugged, because our tradition isn’t linear. He could just as well have entered the land. But he didn’t. And we can. And that is our story.
I passed down one of my deepest personal traditions of Israel to my sons. I told them that when we first touch ground in Israel, we kiss it. “Like on our knees, lips on the ground?” asked my little man, not entirely enthralled with this idea. No, I said. Like you kiss a Torah; put your hand to the ground and raise it to your lips. Because when God spoke to Moses out of a bush, he told Moses that this is holy ground. And it’s still holy ground. As I told my boys this, I got all emotional and I wasn’t even sure why. Do I believe this? I guess I do. Should they? Maybe? Does it matter? Who knows. Who knows.
Planes used to land on a tarmac and they would pull up a rolling stairway to the plane. Not anymore. Now you enter straight into the airport building and go through customs and get your luggage and your rental car and then you walk into the airport parking lot and that’s when you touch ground for the first time. When we hit the pavement of the parking lot, we three stooped down and we kissed the hallowed ground. We had arrived.
I hate politics and I hate religion for so many reasons, and I don’t understand the government of Israel most of the time, or who runs the nation’s publicity campaign either for that matter. But I love the homeland of the Jewish people. I have wanted it very badly since it was a collective dream of an ancient set of wandering souls, gathered from the communities of despair and oppression and hope and desire. For thousands of years I have wanted that so badly.
I go to Israel because I believe in the possibility of the state of Israel. The journey to possibility is personal and it is collective. And this is a land overflowing with possibility of so many things. Miracles, dreams, salvation. It is mine.