Times travel writer on Israel: ‘A politically iffy burden’


Matt Gross, the former Frugal Traveler for The New York Times, went to Jerusalem and reported for the paper’s Travel section on his stay. He seemed to have had a pretty nice time there, but the way he prefaced his article was more than a little bit off-putting:

In fact, of all the world’s roughly 200 nations, there was only one — besides Afghanistan and Iraq (which my wife has deemed too dangerous) — that I had absolutely zero interest in ever visiting: Israel.

This surprised friends and mildly annoyed my parents, who had visited quite happily. As a Jew, especially one who travels constantly, I was expected at least to have the Jewish state on my radar, if not to be planning a pilgrimage in the very near future. Tel Aviv, they’d say, has wonderful food!

But to me, a deeply secular Jew, Israel has always felt less like a country than a politically iffy burden. For decades I’d tried to put as much distance between myself and Judaism as possible, and the idea that I was supposed to feel some connection to my ostensible homeland seemed ridiculous. Give me Montenegro, Chiapas, Iran even. But Israel was like Christmas: something I’d never do.

The American Jewish Committee’s David Harris had a few thoughts in response:


Does Israel somehow make his life uncomfortable as "a deeply secular Jew," while those pesky Israelis endlessly deal with the messy demands of sovereignty and neighbors who aren’t always ready, even after 63 years, to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist? Would his self-image and place in the world be enhanced if only Israel closed up shop?

Funny how no other country awakens in him such feelings. He’s ready to go anywhere, he says, as if there were no other "politically iffy burdens" in the world, no other countries in conflict, no other territorial disputes, or, unlike Israel, no countries with major issues of domestic political legitimacy.

I understand that Judaism means little to him. He’s not alone. But if he’s willing to call himself a Jew, as he does, was there nothing about the Jewish state — its history, archaeology, society, complex tapestry, geopolitics, culture, or psyche — that aroused the faintest curiosity in all these years?

Does Gross think he was dropped by parachute onto this earth, disconnected from a past that, yes, originates in the Middle East, and not in the shtetls or in the suburbs of Boston where he was born?

Interestingly, the none-too-Israel-friendly Jewish blogger Philip Weiss also didn’t like Gross’ article, but for very different reasons.

Meanwhile, Tablet’s Marc Tracy scores Gross for his “bizarrely, deliberately impoverished identity.”

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