On Shabbat, the American children take over the perpetual soccer game across the street. They are exponentially whinier than the Israeli children. They are far less interested in the rules than in each having a turn (or five) to hit the ball into the net.
I’ve been doing this for the last week or so, observing the Americans. It started when I went to two English bookstores in the same day, having read my way through the fiction supply I brought with me. The Americans came into the store looking for Alexander McCall Smith, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, vacation reading, beach books. Sometimes they came to sell back books they’d bought there, bags and boxes of them, unloading their stash before they leave to go back home.
I try to imagine their apartments, in Katamon, in Nachlaot, on Emek Refaim-large, maybe only lived in for the summer, the chagim. If I had traveled to Israel as a kid, if I had been involved in a youth movement, if I’d spent a year or a summer here, maybe it would be for me what it is to other people-what that is, I’m not sure. It seems like it’s about a certain Jewish confidence,a comfort, an ease to being in this place that I don’t have, because I’ve never been able to take being here for granted.
To be clear: I don’t mean “for granted” in the “assuming that Israel will always be here” kind of way. That’s another issue entirely. I’m talking about taking for granted that means having relatives here, or an apartment, or some kind of roots other than the religious or existential kind. You can come and go with a level of ease, taken care of, buffered from the strange and scary, having a sense of the transient and also of the grounded. In short, a relationship of privilege.
As I write this, I have five days left here, and the panic is starting to seep in. I will have to leave soon, and I don’t know when I’ll be back. I’m traveling now on what is my fourth free ticket. In other words, I’ve only been here when someone else is paying for it. When I was working in the Jewish community, there was always a project, or a Birthright bus, or a learning opportunity, that would get me here. (Certainly, the fact that the Jewish community doesn’t pay a person anywhere near enough to be able to travel to Israel on a regular basis wouldn’t be an obstacle.) I don’t have family here, I grew up with no sense of Israel, and this is a relationship I’ve built, and continue to build, myself. I’m not alone in this. I just watched a group of 38 people struggling to build their own relationships- out of familiarity, a strange sense of connection, others out of nothing at all.
Grandiose geo-political implications aside for a moment (try, please), creating a sense of entitlement to Israel, one of the primary goals of world Jewish community be sure, results in a group of folks like me, who constantly feel like they’re playing catch up. To what, exactly, remains to be seen.