Identity, Israel

The Entitled

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.

10 thoughts on “The Entitled

  1. Interesting that you call the people you’re watching “the Americans” when it seems like you are, yourself, an American.
    Four free tickets? Isn’t it time to strike roots?
    Come away from the voyeurism of your vacations and see what life in Israel is really like – it’s not just a nice, Jewish vacation spot, but a place to live, with its real-life problems and real-life paybacks.
    Try staying for longer than a month or even a year.
    Aliyah takes three years, I believe. Leave before that and you will never know if it could work. That is, three years of really sinking in, really making life work here. Five until you really have friends. Ten until you really speak the language. Twenty until you’re really Israeli – that is, 20 years, or until your children are drafted into the IDF, whichever comes first.

  2. Man, claiming that someone else’s perspective is not valid because they haven’t *moved to your country* is so strange! (not to mention cliche)
    I always imagine what it would be like to reflect that idea to visitors to *my part of the world*; challenge people what the hell they think they know anyway about the Pacific Northwest if they haven’t taken the step of *moving here already!*
    The universal application of Zionism (in the moving-to-Israel sense) is nearly laughable when you try to apply similar thinking to another land.

  3. It seems like the only one saying a certain perspective is not valid, Jacob, is you. Strange and cliche, indeed.

  4. Simcha, I’m sorry that you think “striking roots” is as easy as simply doing it.It is far more complicated than that. If you had read the article carefully, you might notice that the author is addressing the complexity of a relationship with Israel that transcends what you refer to as a “vacation.”

  5. Simcha,
    In reading your response to what I thought was an insightful and reflective post, I’m a little bit confused by your comments.
    The point of the post was not at all about finding “the true Israel” – a point was being made about how unless you are positioned in a certain way, relating to Israel and feeling at home because even more challenging. The poster not only acknowledges the fact that she is an American in a foreign country, she takes the time to explore how common experiences (like the trip to the English book store) have very different meaning than for other Americans who have an easier connection to the state.
    In short, I think you missed the point of the post – it’s not about becoming part of Israel, but about missing certain tools that most others have to facilitate a connection.

  6. Feeling alienated from someplace does, I think, make you a more powerful observer, and that’s a helpful and important thing. There’s also something to being comfortable somewhere. Imagine of every American in Israel was incredibly self-conscious and stilted. That would also be unpleasant to deal with. I think/hope there’s a way to be present and not entitled.

  7. … no, actually, I think it IS a good standard to apply to every country – that there is a type of understanding that you just can’t reach until you’ve lived there for a decent length of time.
    I thought this was a fascinating article. I also find the entitlement strange; it’s an entitlement not only to come whenever, but the expectation that when you’re here you will get to occupy a certain awesome, semi-detached position in society.
    It seems like pro-Zionist organisations in the US push Israel as if it were a product – and in response, American Jews seem to judge it as one, liking or not liking it, proclaiming it good or bad or old or out of touch as if it were a can of pop and not the collective sum of so many millions of extremely different lives.

  8. in thinking about the authors yearning to feel the “entitlement” i think what he/she is after is a more intimate connection- feeling at home here right?
    in my experience, there are two main ingredients that make me feel that here, and they are not the exclusive property of having family or money…
    1 is the sense of what was called entitlement that comes from the past… it’s bolsetered by knowing the history, sensing the magic of our peoples return home and where we stopped on the way- it doesn’t have to be sappy or indoctrinated- it can be simply the story of our people that is- extant from politics and nasty nationalist illusions- i think if Jews can’t reclaim our simple retelling of the story (without discounting from the get-go because of course there are other stories in the world) we will not stand up and remain jews. but to have that inner pride in having survived and made it this far– and come to the struggles of this land with a historic sense behind us…
    then the next part of what helps people make it here- is about looking to future- to face the ugly, shameraising, not-so-perfect aspects of our society here and be grateful to be here working on the natinoal project of the Jewish people. TO know that our lives here in israel are part of building an economy, neighborhoods, schoolsystem army etc that is on us to do. And then to relate to the problems becomes an aspect of our self- it hurts so much to see the ____ doing that because they are my withering right hand.. but it’s my hand that hurts with it- and it’s my hope that will face it… that sense of future and hope and ideas and avoda for the process is crucial….
    I don’t think these “native” perspecitives are available without really living in any land- in its language and history and are the exclusive realm of locals— be it seattlites, nepalis or jewish israelis…

  9. There’s certainly something ineffable about a place you’ve never lived.
    There’s also something ludicrous about suggesting that someone spend three years in a new place just to try it out. That’s not trying it out. That’s making a real commitment.
    Simcha, I can’t imagine that you went to Israel just to try it out.

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