Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Israel After 30+ Years - A Very Personal Perspective

Over the years I have from time to time ruminated on the wisdom of moving to Israel from NYC. If I count from the time I first came to Israel and stayed to study I have been here for over 40 years. If from the date of Aliyah, the day I moved to Israel, it is over 35 years. No matter how one looks at it, it would be fair to say such a time period does offer perspective.

Recently, a best friend came to visit, which he does fairly often, and in one of our discussions he mentioned his surprise that after speaking with at least 4 other friends of his who have been living in Israel for 30 years or more that we all expressed a desire to "get the hell out of the country for a while". More surprising none of us were talking about a vacation of 3 weeks. We were all talking about the need to simply "leave" for an extended and very prolonged period. A sort of "cabin fever" which was surprising and certainly for him, came out of left field.

Many of you who read this may know me or have known me over the years and such a sentiment of "wanting to get out" may come as a surprise. Yet the Israel I moved to so many years ago, the Israel in which all my children and grandchildren have been born in, the Israel where I have lived through war and its destruction, the Israel which lay at the center of all my personal and professional decisions,  the Israel where my heart had rested - that Israel seems to slowly have faded into a mist-filled memory of the past.

I am not talking about the deep social, economic or religious change to the very fiber of this country. This, though radical, when looked upon in the perspective of history, and certainly swift, does not really make a dent upon myself or others like me. Nor do I think, though it is possible that this is true, that I am somehow facing suddenly a "life crises" of identity. What I personally have sacrificed in my lifetime, and what others who read this  have sacrificed - well we all know every person has their own baggage and their own bag of sorrows. Therefore talking about specific personal experiences, sorrows and horrors will serve no purpose nor would I feel comfortable in doing so.

I am certainly not sorry nor if given a chance to redo it would I do so, that my children were born and raised here. I thought and still do believe, Israel was the best choice and indeed a blessing in that area. 

When I came to Israel, there was no Nefesh Bi'Nefesh, and indeed the only support system for Aliyah was a very lose and antiquated system of Jewish Agency Aliya Counselors. I was lucky to have landed with one of the best at the time, but even so, over 30  years ago, a few days after coming to Israel, I had written off the Jewish Agency which at the time had full control over Olim. Even today, the name of the Jewish Agency just mentioned brings up cynical thoughts, and the absolute useless and even detrimental experience it caused for many Olim. I was one of the few of the lucky ones, in that I did not have to move into an Aliyah Center, and I was spared at least part of the ordeal and thus got out from under the heavy and useless arm of the Jewish Agency as fast as I could. Indeed, I ran from it and thank goodness I did. The Jewish Agency along with Rishut HaShidur (Israel's Official News agency) which is just another tool to tax people for no reason, are two examples par-excellance of arcane, useless and even destructive institutions which should be shut down and relegated to history.

However, despite the mini-rant above, none of this effected or effects the present. These were just bumps in the road, bumps to be traveled over and to move on. Life has a way of leading us and allowing us to lead. It can be beautiful and cruel, For some the path is hard and difficult, for others a bit more easy, for others brutal and devastating, for even others destructive and full of horror. Sometimes it is our choice - other times it is not the path we decide but the path that chose us. Mistakes are made and if we are lucky we get to correct them. Choices are presented. They usually are never black and white but in shades of gray. And to make such choices wisdom, knowledge, compassion and kindness are required or else we lose our own selves within a black pit which often more than not leads us straight to an Abyss which can only be  imagined by Dante.

Great joy is to be had as well - make no mistake. War, change, death and life all mix together, and over the years one must to stay even remotely sane, seek out the moments of peace, joy and happiness. Yet this is true of life all over not specifically in Israel per-say, so why in many of my friends and myself do we suddenly have and no longer fear to express this deeply embedded need to get the hell out of here. Is it disappointment? Is it age? Is it just an "itch"? Or is it something more perhaps sinister and depressing which goes to the very root of the society that we all have given a hand in creation. Do we see what others do not see yet? Do we view the world with different glasses, and find that Israel, the one we thought existed, the one we fought for should exist - no longer does exist?

Has the world passed us by as we grew older? Have we become so out of touch and so unable to adopt anymore that we are simply unable and lack the strength to continue? 

Many feel that Israel is a modern, culturally adept and fair country. Until you fall into the pit of dealing with a myriad of arcane laws and realize we live in a state which when needed will flex almost a "police state" mentality against its own citizens. And no, I am not talking about terrorism or war. I am talking about the day to day life and existence. We are taxed beyond any measure of sense or economic justice; the poor are left to their sorrows; the rich live in their own reality; laws which by all means should actually show enlightenment ad understanding are created to support and help the "have's" and not the "have-nots". This is on all sides of the spectrum in politics. I have long ago realized, at least for myself, it makes absolutely no difference whether the "right" or "left" run the country. In the end once in power they all do the exact same thing in terms of social inequality and injustice.

There are days when I feel it is time to leave. Even with my entire family here, it is time to leave. To set up home far away from here, in a place where not every decision has to be weighed and days can flow one into another in moments of peace. There are days when I feel the fight is not over. Where all that love and desire to create a country worthy of our people and heritage is worth the fight and worth all the deprivation and sacrifice. And there are days where I simply no longer care. Those days scare the hell out of me. The days where I can no longer care, where I am totally withered and bereft of dreams which carried me so long and so far. 

Maybe it is time to go. And I am sure those of you with the flame of ideals still lit in your eyes and soul, will say to me "then just go. Get out. Who needs you?" and perhaps you are right. Perhaps on these things one should stay silent and one should just move "quietly into the night". Or perhaps if this is truly how many feel who have come here years ago, some red lights should go off. Alarm bells and sirens should sound loudly and the question must be asked, "Why? Why do all these people suddenly want to leave their home? Why do they feel after so many years betrayed and abandoned by the country they fought for and devoted their entire lives to?"

There was a time when I believed all should come and live here. I can no longer give the Aliya speech with any sort of conviction. I can no longer look into someone's eyes and say "You should live in Israel". Indeed, if asked, I stay silent on the matter these days, terrified, truly and totally terrified that if I do answer, what will come out of my mouth will be a scathing and cynical attack on the country that for so long stood at the center and apex of my belief system. Indeed, I sometimes feel sorry for those planeloads of Olim coming from the US and Canada, and think to myself that they have no idea what they are truly getting themselves into. And yet, that is the beauty of life. In that we do not know what the future holds in store for us.

As the sun rises on a new day, I can still see, to my utter surprise and even joy, a Jerusalem of Gold - a precious jewel I had thought lost to me long ago. I can see it shimmer and flicker as it always did. And for some unknown reason I feel it pull at me - weaker I grant you, than it pulled at my heart so many years ago, but still the pull and attraction is there. It cannot be denied. 

I sigh. I look away. I search deep inside. And I pray for the strength to ignore the rubble and find the gold. Another day has come to the country I helped in a very small way to build. Another day has come in which I will see things which I no longer want to contemplate. Another day has arrived where perhaps I will finally decide to leave. Or perhaps I will look up and the mist will be lifted.

It is a complex reality brought about by a dream of thousands of years. And it comes down to leaving or staying. Or as I truly have come to believe the choice is not even mine to make. As life will lead me upon another path and road. And all I can do is hope that I will have time to take a breath, to think and look forward to those ever-rarer times when the sun will smile upon my face, and the golden tint of the magic of Jerusalem and Israel will shine through.