Leaving Israel in a few hours. I’ve been searching for the word to describe my 2.5 weeks here, and it eludes me. It’s nearly impossible for me to see this place with fresh eyes, or even with narrow eyes. Every place, every person, every story — everything plays out in multiple dimensions here and I’ve found it really hard to shut out the excess noise and just focus on the matter at hand.
Israelis of course are expert at that. They have to be. When sitting in a cafe becomes a political act, and one that on occasion is rewarded by the detonation of a few pounds of TNT, if you don’t possess a mental box in which to deposit all that other stuff it’s hard to enjoy your coffee.
I don’t have that kind of mental stamina. And it’s not just the terrorism threat (which also exists back home in New York), but all the unrelenting questions about Zionism, and the occupation, and what kind of country this really is, and why there isn’t more religious pluralism, and why no one cares that more Israelis die in car accidents than in wars, and why Israel still — still! — can’t seem to find a spokesperson who doesn’t come across as a total boor, and why that guy insists on continuing to beep his horn at the girl who isn’t moving her car when it’s so plainly obvious she couldn’t care less?
And — and this is a big and — all that is refracted through the prism of my own Zionist evolution. From dreamy kid whose most vivid memory of his first trip to Israel is of having to hold his bladder for what seemed like an eternity, but was really just the length of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv bus ride. To the passionate yeshiva student who survived a shooting attack on Ben Yehuda Street that left several dead and a friend with a hole in his leg. To the college student who penned missives defending Israel in the school paper, to the idealist who embarked for Jerusalem within weeks of graduation, to the Foreign Ministry speechwriter who saw the whole thing from the inside and it nearly made him retch.
And now I’m back here trying to write about compost toilets at an eco-farm in Modi’in? Seriously.
So I’ve really felt at a loss here, in a way I never did in Europe. Which is really strange, considering I spent three years of my life here, speak the language, know where to eat, and routinely run into people I know. After New York, the city I know best in the world is Jerusalem. And yet I find it hard to formulate a coherent thought about what I’ve experienced here that doesn’t immediately devolve into an endless series of contradictions and yes-buts, compounded by all the above.
So that’s my parting thought – ambivalent, sure, but at least not too depressing. I’m technically off next week, but some stories and videos will trickle in, and I’ll post them to the blog as they come. And of course, Wandering Intern Gil will have much to say (I hope) about his Jamaican adventure.
Till then, yallah bye.